In case you were wondering, Andrew Koji clears up a martial-arts movie fact: “Two swords are always better than one!”
The British-born actor wields twin blades as Tommy, aka Storm Shadow, in the new “G.I. Joe Origins” action film “Snake Eyes” (now in theaters). Koji’s Japanese character brings American loner Snake Eyes (Henry Golding) into the fold of his family’s Arashikage ninja clan and even gifts his new friend with a sword of his own. (Just one, though.)
With his new film,Koji, 33, adds cool sword-swinging sequences to an already impressive body of screen stunt work after two seasons of the Bruce Lee-inspired HBO Max crime drama “Warrior.”
“Weapons in the martial arts are basically extensions of our body, and the two samurai swords very much became that,” Koji says. “You do the basics, but once it clicks, then you can add your own flare to it.”
He’s also carving out his own place in the movie business: After breaking out in “Snake Eyes,” Koji next shares the big screen with Brad Pitt in the action thriller “Bullet Train” (out April 8) directed by David Leitch (“John Wick”). Plus Koji also is looking forward to a third season of “Warrior” playing Chinese immigrant Ah Sahm, who comes to 19th-century San Francisco seeking out his older sister.
Here’s what else fans need to know about Koji, Hollywood’s newest rising action star:
Andrew Koji brings an enigmatic G.I. Joe figure to life
While Snake Eyes might be the most popular character in the 1980s cartoon-and-toy franchise, many youngsters had (or wanted) Cobra ninja Storm Shadow in their toy box, too. With the movie version, Koji found “a lot to unpack and explore” with Tommy, who finds himself caught between old and new schools as he tries to bring the Arashikage into the 21st century.
“Tommy fights with grace and purpose, and I wanted to find a movement style that was more still and grounded,” Koji says. “Ah Sahm is very much looking at (his foe). Tommy doesn’t even look. He’s watching, waiting for your move, waiting for your strike.”
Koji has a ton of respect for ‘Bullet Train’ co-star Brad Pitt
Filmed during the pandemic, “Bullet Train” centers on a bunch of assassins who find themselves on the same speedy Japanese bullet train. Koji calls it a “surreal” experience looking around at his all-star castmates, including Lady Gaga, Sandra Bullock, Michael Shannon, Bad Bunny, Zazie Beetz and Pitt. The A-list Oscar winner is “a craftsman, for sure,” Koji reports. “Brad is just constantly thinking and working and figuring it out.”
Strict COVID protocols did make it trickier to connect with his co-stars. “You get more of a feeling of people rather than develop deep friendships just because you can’t hang out, really,” Koji says, before joking, “Brad still hasn’t invited me to his house. A little bit rude, Brad, but we’ll get past it.”
’Snakes Eyes’ inspired Koji to examine his Japanese heritage
Growing up in Surrey, England, Koji was a fan of Akira Kurosawa films but “Snake Eyes” director Robert Schwentke wanted him to dive deeper into culture and cinema to play Storm Shadow. The actor was introduced to films such as 1966’s “The Sword of Doom,” about a samurai’s descent into madness, and studied performers like Toshiro Mifune and Hiroyuki Sanada.
“I was trying to channel all these great actors,” Koji says. “There’s such a sense of honor and respect that I think we’re losing touch of nowadays.”
He’s seen a definite shift in a positive direction for Asian actors
Koji hasn’t started training for the third season of “Warrior” yet – “I’m going to enjoy chocolate for now,” he says with a laugh. His high spirits are a stark contrast to the period before landing his breakthrough TV gig, when Koji considered a career change because of the lack of strong acting roles. “Compared to a couple years ago, even five years ago, it’s completely different,” he says. “It’s definitely getting better.”
Koji didn’t have a “Snake Eyes” growing up, “a fun film like this with a predominantly Asian cast,” and hopes it’ll have a similar effect on the Asian community as “Black Panther” had for Black people. “These kids will be able to feel a bit more empowered and feel represented and seen and heard. That’s important for the future generation.”