Lewis Tan is an actor, writer, director, photographer, and martial artist. Cast as Zhou Cheng in Marvel’s Iron Fist, Tan is given a chance to combine acting with martial arts, which allows him to express himself both artfully and physically. However, becoming a part of the most recent addition to Marvel’s Netflix universe did not come without controversy. Fans wanted to see an Asian American Iron Fist, and with Tan himself being considered for the part, it was as though it might happen. But when actor Finn Jones was later cast as Danny, coming so soon after Marvel’s missteps with regard to Doctor Strange, it just exacerbated an already tense situation. Here, we speak with Tan about Iron Fist, Asian American representation in Hollywood, and his work behind the camera.
Cliché: Can you tell us a little bit about your character in Iron Fist?
Lewis Tan: I play a character called Zhou Cheng. In the comic book, he is a villain who is a dragon. He has a dragon inside of him, and basically he has killed all Iron Fists up to this point. I can’t give away exactly what is going to happen, but it’s the last Marvel show on Netflix that’s going to be a part of the Defenders team, which consists of Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, and Daredevil. It’s definitely an action-packed martial arts show.
What were some of your favorite moments on set?
I really like filming in New York because New York has that classic kind of cinema feel, and when I’m walking around Manhattan, there’s just so many movies that I love that are shot there. Getting to film a TV series in New York was, for me, just very nostalgic.
What is your favorite thing about your character?
I can’t say! I can’t give away any secrets.
The dragon inside him sounds pretty cool.
My character has a lot of very cool attributes that people are going to really enjoy. He’s a very exciting, dark, funny, and violent character, so I really enjoyed playing him. I can’t really give away too much detail about exactly what he does or how he does it, but the fans will be excited. He’s a really interesting character.
Speaking of martial arts, I read that you do your own stunts on the show. Is there any stunt that was particularly challenging for you?
The thing is, I’m a martial artist—and I’ve been in martial arts for many years—but my character practices a style of martial arts that I don’t do, so I had to train with the stunt team and learn a new style of martial arts. So I got to do all my own fights and all my own stunts. It wasn’t just stunts, but also learning the choreography [for fight scenes]. Learning the different moves and then actually getting to perform them was amazing to me because, as an actor and a martial artist, I get to express myself not just in my acting, but with my body, too. I had a great time doing all the action.
I consider myself a filmmaker, not just an actor.
How did you prepare for it?
There’s a team called Hits International. They flew me out to New York and they trained me before we began shooting. Since it’s a style that I’ve never done before, I came to New York early and I worked literally 10 hours a day, every day, training, just to get this style down. I think it really paid off.
Speaking of Iron Fist, I’m sure you are aware of the controversy surrounding the last few Marvel movies, especially Doctor Strange. What are your thoughts about Asian American representation in Marvel?
Yeah, I mean, look—the bottom line is this: the character in Iron Fist is a Caucasian character; he’s a blonde guy with blue eyes, so they casted a blonde guy with blue eyes. They casted the show according to the original comic. Now having said that, my whole thing is that I just want to see more people of color in hero roles, in love interest roles, in roles that are not stereotypical roles that we always get, like the smart best friend or stereotypical Asian roles. The fans wanted to see an ethnic Iron Fist, and so there was a lot of controversy. I’m not saying Marvel’s wrong in making that decision; I’m just saying I think there should be more roles for actors of color. I was considered for the role of the Iron Fist as an Asian-American, but I ended up with the role that I have now, which I am very grateful for, but that’s why there was controversy. A lot of fans wanted to see that.
I read somewhere that you also dabble in writing and directing.
I do. I write and I direct. I would love to eventually just direct movies later on in my career, but in the meantime, I’ve been directing and writing. I shoot music videos, short films, anything that I can do to be creative. When I’m traveling, I like to make videos. I like to learn how to use the camera, and I consider myself a filmmaker, not just an actor. I consider myself an all-around filmmaker.
Could you tell us the name of something that you’ve done?
I directed a music video for Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin called “Rainbow,” and I directed a music video for David Guetta called “Every Chance We Get, We Run.” I directed a short film, which you can find online on my Vimeo channel. I’ve directed a lot of fashion videos, a lot of travel videos, and I think people have seen some of that stuff on my Instagram. As far as writing, I have two screenplays that I wrote that are currently being shopped around to studios. I have a lot of directing work, photography, acting work, everything. I like to be very creative.
What’s next for you?
I am working on a passion project of mine, using my own father’s backstory and combining it with an action mystery story. It’s an original superhero concept that I will write and star in. Be on the lookout for it at the end of March.
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Lewis Tan Chats ‘Iron Fist’ and Asian American representation in Hollywood: Photographer: Victor Hugo, Styling: Ivan Morelos, Hair & Makeup: Karl Pua