Snake Eyes‘ Andrew Koji: “I Grew Up in Cinemas. That Was My Place to Escape.”

Photo Credit: Ed Araquel. © 2021 Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved. Hasbro, G.I. Joe and all related characters are trademarks of Hasbro. © 2021 Hasbro. All Rights Reserved.

Hitting theaters exclusively this weekend, Paramount release Snake Eyes brings a favored ’80s property back to the big screen. Absent from cinemas since 2013’s G.I. Joe: Retaliation, with Snake Eyes the G.I. Joe franchise shifts gears to focus on a different new of characters, led by Henry Golding’s nameless lead. The foil to his roguish, independent Snake Eyes is Tommy (Andrew Koji), the heir presumptive to a powerful Japanese clan that invites Snake Eyes into its ranks. In an exclusive interview with Boxoffice Pro, Koji (Cinemax’s “Warrior”) talks about his own history with movie theaters and the films that inspired him.

Congratulations on the film. I gotta say, after a year and a half of watching movies on my junky little TV, it was nice to see an action spectacle on the big screen.

Oh, nice. You saw it on the big screen? That’s good. That’s good. It feels different, doesn’t it? I grew up in cinemas. That was my place to escape. And now we’re so distracted by phones and watching streaming stuff—I think the cinema is such a different place. 

I’m glad to hear your love of cinemas—I’m with Boxoffice Pro, the official publication of NATO. If you’d said, “Eh, it’s fine on streaming,” it might have been awkward!

No, I just think there’s nothing like being [in a theater]. I love it. This big thing. Purely escape. 

Have you gotten to see it on the big screen yet? Or bits of it?

Rebecca, I don’t watch any of my own work, if I’m being honest. Just because I’m highly, highly, highly critical of anything I do. So I haven’t seen myself in this.

I think any journalist would say that listening back to their interviews to do a transcription is the worst part of the job, so I can relate.

That would be me!

Your character was one of my favorite parts of the movie. I was never into G.I. Joe as a kid, so I didn’t really know anything about it. I went in with a blank slate and found your character to be the most complex and intriguing.

Thank you so much. I was very new to it—well, I was completely new to G.I. Joe going in. I’d just heard about it. Because we don’t have it—there’s Action Force in England. So it was a whole education going into it.

You obviously have experience with stunt work and fight choreography through “Warrior.” On a big Hollywood production like this, there are concerns about insurance and all that—did you get to do much of your own fighting?

Yeah, basically we did it all ourselves, except—I didn’t do the motorbike bits, because I can’t do stunt motorbike driving. And there are some of the most dangerous [stunts] that we can’t for insurance reasons. But we did all of it ourselves, then they did a double version of the same scenes so they can pick and choose what bits [they want to use]. We basically did everything, all the fights, ourselves. And then they got a choice in the edit. So yeah, I can kick ass! Henry [Golding] did an admirable job for someone who’s new to the action thing, as well.

I’m a big fan of action films—the Shaw Brothers stuff. Were you into those kinds of films growing up?

Yeah, yeah, I was a Hong Kong cinema fanatic. Jackie Chan was my thing. Because of “Warrior,” the TV show, I did a whole Bruce Lee education. The Shaw Brothers. He worked with Jackie Chan quite a bit. There’s Donnie Yen. There’s Sammo Hung. Obviously Jet Li. Don’t get me started on that.

I saw Pedicab Driver in a theater, and I got there late so I had to sit in the front row, but it was still an amazing experience. I’m like, ‘Jesus, Sammo Hung can move.’ I don’t know how he moves like that.

It was the Peking Opera. Back in the day—they were so phenomenal. I think Jackie Chan is one of the genius-level people. It’s a shame he’s getting old. That’s the way life is. He’s a legend. I do think people like Jackie Chan are the very few—you know, we’re gifted with him. It’s like Robin Williams. People who are so good at what they do. I’m not that good!

Comedy, action. He can do it all.

And he can act, as well, I think. He’s so likable.

Do you remember the first movie you saw in a theater?

I can’t really remember, because I have terrible memory—except I can remember my lines. That’s weird. I can’t remember what I did last Tuesday, but I remember Shakespeare monologues and stuff. One of the first films I remember seeing was The Lion King, in the cinema. I used to go to the cinema all the time. I’d go to the cinema—obviously, before lockdown, Coronavirus—I would go by myself. Sometimes two, three times a day. I think the American audiences are so much more vocal, and they participate more. There’s something really magical about that, because you really feel like you’re coming together and watching this thing. That’s why I love watching the cinema in America even more, I think, than in England. In England, we’re very conservative. If we laugh, it’s just like [extremely muted chuckle]. Someone might look at you because you’re laughing. But I think that’s what’s fun!

With “Warrior” it’s a show that’s infused with the spirit of Bruce Lee, but you had to provide your own take on the character. With Snake Eyes, what was your take on Tommy? What’s the in-road that made you think, “OK, I have a handle on this guy?”

With Tommy, I had to approach him from all angles. I really wanted to try to find and figure out a way that I can do him justice and bring him to a whole new level. With Tommy, I was studying all the samurai films. Kurosawa. The Sword of Doom. Hara-Kiri. And then The Twilight Samurai, with Hiroyuki Sanada. The Last Samurai. All these films I watched obsessively over time. If I could get any glimpse or hint or their greatness, that’s what I was trying to capture. So that was the way in. I wanted to really root him and ground him in this sense of honor and his, I think, Bushido code, which he grew up with, which he ends up basically questioning by the end of it. I had to attack him from all angles. I even thought–as an actor, you do animal work. And I thought, “What kind of animal is he?” I was going through my notes for this press, and I remember at one point I was watching eagles. Because I was thinking, “He’s an eagle! He’s like an eagle!” I was going for all angles, basically.

I definitely got that classical gravitas.

But the eagle? Did you get the eagle bit?

I got the eagle!

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