Mehcad Brooks was already in the gym becoming the Earthrealm supersoldier Jax before he was even officially given the role in Warner Bros’ upcoming reboot of Mortal Kombat. The actor was a long-time fan of the classic fighting video game being adapted in Simon McQuoid’s film, and as a believer of visualization, he would only accept one possible outcome. Son of an NFL wide receiver, and a former All-State basketball player himself, he’s no stranger to putting the extra effort to get a job done.
Those efforts were not in vain: He nabbed the role, and the momentum continued. Brooks worked with trainer Andrew Scutch to put on 35 pounds of muscle on his hulking frame with heavy lifting and voracious eating. That physicality combined with intense boxing drills gave him the tools needed to portray a human capable of protecting Earth from Outworld monsters. Men’s Journal spoke with the actor about grueling workouts, eating like a caveman, and finding Jax at Burning Man.
Men’s Journal: How did you feel when you had a shot at playing Jax in a new movie adaption of Mortal Kombat?
Mehcad Brooks: The fact I was up for the role was surreal, because I’ve been playing this game since I was a kid. I was leaving Supergirl and knew that I wanted to do something completely different. So when I heard about this opportunity I dropped everything that I was doing, and went into the gym. I knew that I had to be this guy. I know that sounds crazy. I didn’t want to give them a single excuse not to give me the part, and I felt like it was meant to be. That wasn’t arrogance, but my whole heart was invested in getting the result I wanted. I know people are probably scratching their heads at the idea that someone would put on 20 pounds of muscle for a role they might not get, but yeah, that’s what I did.
Once you got the role, how did you start to develop the character?
I’m a Burner. I’ve been to Burning Man five times, and it lined up as I was preparing for the movie, so I used that Burning Man experience to find Jax on a deeper level. I know what it does for my psyche, consciousness, and focus. I started by changing my playa name to Jax when I was there. I’d already gained 20 pounds at the time. I took off my gas mask that people wear to protect from the dust, because I thought Jax doesn’t wear any mask. I spent a lot of time out in the desert by myself. What better way to connect with a guy who’s done several tours in the desert than go out into the desert, stripping yourself down to the bare bones.
He’s the baddest dude the military has to offer—the kind of guy they’d send to chase down monsters and intergalactic ninjas. He’s not exactly a good guy; we’re lucky he picked Earthrealm to fight for. During that time, the visualizations I made about being Jax were coming to fruition. I would be on set playing him in a matter of weeks at that point, which was a bit of an out-of-body experience.
How did you start to build the physicality for Jax?
I found an image of Jax online I thought I’d be able to achieve. I woke up every day and visualized this one scene where I’m fighting Sub-Zero from the audition for 15 minutes. Even when my body was tired, I didn’t give into exhaustion, I just pushed harder. I saw my highest potential. I saw the optimized version of myself in my head, and I worked hard every single day to get there. I have a trainer I work with out of Los Angeles named Andrew Schuth. This guy is a beast. I think my first time working with him I almost vomited. I had to put ice on my wrists and on my neck. That’s who we’re dealing with here. I worked out at every gym I could. For this role, he created a bespoke workout where we did heavy weight and a ton of reps. I’d follow that with fast-twitch movements and plyometrics.
What would you say was the most grueling?
I wouldn’t wish those workouts on my worst enemy. I was stumbling out of the gym, sometimes crawling. He’d make me run full speed on the treadmill while doing jabs with 25-pound dumbbells, then put the weights down and run full speed with the incline up, followed by another minute with the incline back down. And that’s just one set. That’s when you think about killing him. But you start seeing results in days. That’s what makes you submit to it.
Did you train while you were filming as well?
There were days where I’d have a 12-hour shoot, then box for two hours, hitting the gym for two hours, then stunt rehearsal for an hour. There were weeks at a time where I was only getting about four hours of sleep, but I was still moving. I was doing everything. If I was getting on a plane, I’d be curling my suitcase.
Boxing is a big part of Jax’s fighting style in the game. How did you like training in the ring?
I found I was really slow because I’d put on so much weight, and moving all of that torso takes a lot more energy. I started watching old videos of Mike Tyson and Joe Frazier every night. I took their styles and blended that in with how Jax moved in the video games. He bounces a lot, then almost does a little shimmy when he’s coming in. I’d take videos of myself to check on my progress. I enjoyed getting to watch legends for work, and using that in what I brought to the character.
What did your diet look like while you were prepping for this role?
I was eating vegan before I started training for the role, and went to maybe eating the equivalent of half a cow a day. I think as a country we definitely overeat meat. We usually don’t appreciate animals, and aren’t replenishing the world in the places we’re taking from. I’m all for people making whatever choices they want with diet, however our ancestors were hunters, gathers, and scavengers.
That means they ate a lot of fruits, vegetables, and nuts, but also every now and then they’d gorge themselves on meat. So that’s the diet I went with—where I’d eat one animal protein for a week. That could mean I’d be eating a lot of lamb, or anywhere from 12 to 16 chickens over the course of the following week.
What did a sample day of eating look like for you?
I was doing vegan protein shakes all day, right from the start. Earlier in the day I’d do somewhere between 12 and 18 eggs. If I was eating chicken that week, I’d do four to six breasts, always with vegetables. I’d cut the carbs somewhere around 5 p.m. in the evening. I didn’t have a drop of alcohol during the whole process.
How did you feel while you were eating like that?
I felt like a caveman. It was kind of like the most hardcore paleo diet you ever heard of, and I ended up with a caveman body. I felt great and got amazing results when combined with the work I was doing. It’s not something I’d sustain, because it’s expensive and I was eating somewhere around 12,000 calories a day.
Did take supplement your diet with anything else?
I was taking these elixirs called Black Root Tonic, that are made-to-order. They’re incredible. They have all these extra elements and minerals you need. I’ve continued with them since.
Jax has a very memorable look in the game, starting with his bionic arms. What was it like being on set and being in the costuming?
The first time you get in costume is the first time you fully embody the character. Jax’s costume wasn’t all that complicated. It’s utilitarian and military. He has to be able to move in it. If shit hits the fan, he has to grab the sawed-off shotgun and be able to roll immediately. I can’t get too deep into how the bionic arms came together, but it’s a lot of work. I try to find the fun in everything, even if it means I need to be at set three hours before I usually would. I’ve seen the movie. It’s incredible—and my arms look incredible.
Did any of the combat energy come through in the way everyone carried themselves on set?
The only face-off I can talk about is with Sub-Zero, who’s played by an incredible actor, Joe Taslim. In Hollywood there are only two actors the camera department asks to slow their movements down because it’s too fast for the lens to catch: Bruce Lee and Joe Taslim. I’m personally not fucking around with Joe Taslim. You know what I’m saying? I’ve never seen anyone move that fast. It’s like watching Michael Jackson dance up close. That’s what it’s like to watch Joe do fight choreography. Doing fight sequences with him made me raise my own personal game. Did I walk onto set thinking I could take on Joe Taslim? No. Did I leave set thinking I could take down Joe Taslim? No. Would I put on money on anyone else but Joe Taslim? No.
How did you feel about the amazing reaction to the red-band trailer?
It’s everything I could want. I felt if one of the trailers was going to do better, then it was going to be the red-band trailer because of the nature of the fandom within Mortal Kombat. Nobody who plays Mortal Kombat just wants to knock someone out. They want to rip their hearts out. That’s what the movie gives them. People may be skeptical, but I truly believe this is the greatest movie adaptation of a video game ever. I saw what I saw in that movie theater. This will be the new benchmark.
Given the movie is a success at the box office, which seems likely, would you be down to put on the arms again to play Jax?
I feel like I am Jax. There’s a lot of love for these characters, and for many people this will be the first time they see these characters be autonomous. We worked until we bled. We pushed through our own fears and imposter syndromes. We love these characters. We needed to bring it home, for the fandom and for ourselves. I’ll have him with me forever.
Mortal Kombat premieres in theaters and on HBOMax on April 23rd.
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