Mortal Kombat author Greg Russo was not some hotshot 20-something who rolled into Hollywood and made waves off a film-school quick. When he graduated from Vassar School within the early 2000s, he shipped off to Hoboken, New Jersey, the place he labored as a Manhattan headhunter by day and wrote at evening. Russo describes it as “probably the most soulless occupation possible,” nevertheless it afforded him the possibility to ultimately upend his life at 27, transfer to Los Angeles, and begin pitching scripts. Fortunately, headhunters can pitch something.
So Russo pitched thrillers. He understood the basics of pressure and character, and he may write at any scale. His first huge studio sale was a Hitchcockian two-hander set in an elevator. Finally, New Line Cinema employed him to sequelize the catastrophe film Into the Storm. Neither script was ever produced, a frustration that may turn out to be a theme — Russo has spent almost 10 years writing film after film in an trade that’s notoriously choosy. Mortal Kombat is his first script to really go earlier than cameras.
Ardour has one thing to do with MK being The One: On prime of pounding away on the keyboard, Russo has worn down his justifiable share of controllers over time. Once we spoke earlier this month, he had simply wrapped up Zombie Military 4 and was enjoying by means of the Sniper Elite video games. He’s anxious to get his palms on The Medium from Bloober Group. Enjoying is as huge part of his life as writing (and he has the Gamerscore to show it — extra on that shortly). So when the concept of a brand new Mortal Kombat film got here up, he instantly jumped on the likelihood to adapt the lore-heavy supply materials. Since getting the job, he’s been actively creating movies based mostly on every little thing from Saints Row to House Invaders.
Greg Russo didn’t arrive to the scene as a hotshot, however he’s turn out to be one within the burgeoning Taking Video Video games Significantly film period. With Mortal Kombat set for launch in theaters and on HBO Max on April 23, we talked to Russo concerning the showbiz hustle and placing his firsthand fatality information to good use.
[Ed. note: This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.]
Polygon: Did figuring out video games enable you to get the Mortal Kombat job or was it a coincidence?
Greg Russo: It was only a joyful collision. I’ve at all times been a gamer. I’m nonetheless an enormous gamer. I’ve an obnoxiously excessive Xbox Gamerscore, which I received’t point out.
There may be actually no higher place to say it.
I’ve like 1.5 million Gamerscore on Xbox, which places me in, like, the highest 50 on the earth … and prime 15 America [laughs]. Nevertheless it’s humorous, you don’t go in being like, Hey, look, I’m the gamer man — decide me. It’s important to show your self as a author.
With Mortal Kombat, it was a property that I knew was at New Line. I’d labored with them earlier than on a sequel to a movie known as Into the Storm, which was this little twister film they put out throughout the summer time one 12 months. And Mortal Kombat grew to become accessible, and I used to be like, “Please simply give me an opportunity. Let me let me take a shot. I do know these things. I do know it very well.” And so they did. That was 4 and a half years in the past. So I’ve been on the film for nearly 5 years.
What was step one in turning Mortal Kombat right into a purposeful, fashionable blockbuster?
I got here into the venture with a script already there. I may see some potential, nevertheless it didn’t really feel like Mortal Kombat, was my general evaluation of it. I simply felt prefer it was … too distant from the lore. It was too distant from the mythology. It was doing issues with the characters that simply didn’t really feel correct. And as a fan, I assumed we wanted to respect it somewhat extra. So then it grew to become only a technique of slowly creating it. The director [Simon McQuoid] got here in after a few 12 months, and he introduced lots to the desk.
Whenever you discuss a film, you’re speaking about maximizing your viewers. You need all people to have the ability to come to the film and and perceive and have an excellent time. It’s unattainable to put in writing a film only for the followers — it will by no means get made. However I needed to provide as a lot fan service in that script as I presumably may. I needed to be trustworthy to it wherever we may very well be. I actually tried to not change what was there. If we have been going to do something, we have been going so as to add to it, convey one thing new to the desk.
How a lot time did you commit to selecting fatalities?
So the primary dialogue we had about fatalities was about how they wanted to be balanced tonally, that they didn’t go into that ridiculous, over-the-top place. And that that they had a spot within the story, that they weren’t simply thrown in to be the candy-coated, firework second. As soon as it was found out the place they have been going to go and who was on the receiving finish of them, then I acquired to sort of mess around with it. I needed to place a number of the classics in a number of the ones. There’s some iconic stuff, like everybody’s favorites from MK1. My favourite fatality is in there — it’s truly a later one which got here on MK8, or 9 or 10, I can’t bear in mind. Nevertheless it’s a Kung Lao fatality that I’m actually enthusiastic about that entails his hat. Everytime you give someone a razor hat, you sort of open the toy field. Issues are going to be severed off.
What lore felt sturdy sufficient to prop up the film?
There’s plenty of lore they usually’ve additionally rebooted, switched timelines, and retconned issues. So what I needed to do is, I needed to sort of take a look at that dense patchwork of mythology, and mainly extract as a lot of a linear storyline as I may that was trustworthy to materials. One factor I actually needed was to begin with the Sub-Zero and Scorpion origin, as a result of I’ve at all times been affected by it. I believe there’s plenty of emotion in that storyline. When you take a look at everything of the Mortal Kombat mythology, that’s most likely one of many richer storylines from a personality perspective: It units Scorpion off on his path of revenge. It units Sub-Zero off on his path by means of the story. And it felt like a pure place to begin. In order that was my onramp, and if I used to be going to begin there, I used to be going to discover a strategy to finish there.
And all through the remainder of the film, it’s plenty of studying about what Mortal Kombat is and studying about what the match is, studying concerning the stakes, studying concerning the totally different realms — there’s lots to arrange, and I had two hours to do it. I additionally had about 12 characters. That’s the opposite factor individuals don’t are inclined to neglect with Mortal Kombat. We jumped proper into Avengers mode. I didn’t have the posh of organising all these characters in their very own motion pictures. So it’s lots to get to. And so, as a author, it’s a must to just remember to’re not drowning in an excessive amount of mythology, that you just hold it easy as a lot as potential.
Why did you have to invent Cole Younger, the brand new hero performed by Lewis Tan?
The thought of a brand new protagonist predated my involvement within the venture. In order that was within the draft that got here earlier than me. And it was one thing that the studio needed to place within the film. And after I got here in, I stated, “OK let me work with this.” And the best way it was initially written, nothing related to the mythology. Bringing in a brand new character does two issues: It provides the viewers sort of a recent set of eyes, permits them to stroll into the world. It’s the simplest supply system for all of that intense mythology. When you have been to begin with a Mortal Kombat character, they arrive in with their preset backstory and preset perspective. The issue with doing that’s, to be able to make that character work as a surrogate for the viewers, we’d have to alter elements of the character. I didn’t wish to try this. I’d reasonably wait and introduce them appropriately than attempt to jam them into the story and pressure them to be in a task that they actually shouldn’t be in. So a part of it was giving the viewers a means in, and it was additionally permitting us to convey one thing new to the desk. We felt there was precedent in Mortal Kombat, as a result of each sport, they create in about seven or eight new characters. So my job then was to say, “We now have this new protagonist. I’m going to ensure that he suits organically into the mythology, that he ties organically into it.”
You took the fabric significantly, however Mortal Kombat video games will be fairly foolish. Goro is there! So what methods have been you in a position to push that aspect of the franchise?
With one thing like Mortal Kombat, the place we’re speaking about soul-sucking sorcerers — which is nice — however should you’re not too cautious, it could possibly very simply slip into camp. Everyone concerned actually tried as arduous as they may to not let that occur.
I like the ’95 movie, nevertheless it drips in nacho cheese. In the easiest way — it’s deliciously tacky. However we have been in 2021, and we needed to ship a film that felt extra genuine, somewhat extra practical. So that you’re at all times battling towards sort of the pure components, however you don’t wish to extract these components of Mortal Kombat, as a result of that’s what it’s. So, Goro: He involves this film and he’s terrifying. He’s villainous. He’s only a beast. And we embrace the scariness of Goro, you already know. As a lot as I like the puppet from ’95, it was determined that should you’re going to convey Goro again, we needed to make him an intense, scary factor.
You mine plenty of comedy out of Kano.
When you take a look at Mortal Kombat, there’s humor all through it. You wish to be true to that a part of it. […] The Kano character felt like such a enjoyable strategy to so as to add a few of that in there, as a result of he’s such a bastard. He’s such a smug asshole. We had all our heroes. We now have Sonya, now we have Jax, now we have Liu Kang, Kung Lao — loaded with the great guys. And to me, from a storytelling perspective, I at all times love once they throw one actual jerky character into the combo. It breaks up the good-guy feeling. I grew up as a fan of the Beverly Hills Cops [movies], 48 Hours, the two-handers like Die Onerous, him and the cop. I like that model of motion film the place there’s simply plenty of good banter. So Kano grew to become that sort of nice character, the place we simply let him run with it and he’s always a ache within the ass for the heroes. He’s always dragging them down. And he simply makes the journey harder. Kano felt like a pure means to do this. If we had simply taken Kano out and subbed in one other hero — like, a Johnny Cage-style hero — it’s simply all good guys. It’s simply not as enjoyable. That grew to become Kano, and Josh is a superb improviser and he did an important job with the scripts.
You talked about Johnny Cage — how a lot time did you spend selecting the lineup?
Let me let you know how arduous this was; individuals assume that you just decide stuff out of the hat. However there have been hours and days of conversations about how we’re going to do that film, and what’s one of the best for the film. My fan favourite isn’t even within the film! My favourite character’s Katana. That’s the sort of sacrifice you make. I had so many cool issues I needed to do. However I noticed for the story that it didn’t make sense to begin bringing within the Edenian characters but, as a result of that was a complete different realm. And we’re so packed on this story with Earthrealm and Outworld to begin bringing within the Sindels and Katanas, and it simply — it will have been overload. It could have been [Mortal Kombat: Annihilation], the place it was simply each character they may consider.
So selecting the roster was actually tough. And when it got here to Johnny Cage, it was actually a narrative choice. It was. We had Kano, and all people beloved the best way that Kano was becoming into that story. And the factor is, Kano and Johnny Cage have very related personalities. They’re each that egotistical, noxious character. And after I was placing them subsequent to one another, it was means an excessive amount of. After which it acquired all the way down to the purpose of being totally different. We didn’t simply wish to recycle the identical three individuals getting on a ship that you just’ve seen in each iteration of Mortal Kombat within the final 25 years. So it felt like, OK, let’s not do that very same core group of individuals once more, and if we’re going to take a personality out, let’s wait and ensure that we are able to do them justice.
Mortal Kombat is your first produced movie, however you’ve got various tasks within the works, lots of them video game-related. How shut are they? Is the Saints Row movie nonetheless occurring?
So, Saints Row is one thing that I’m working with F. Gary Grey, who is a superb director. One among my favourite movies known as Set It Off, which he did within the ’90s. He’s completed some nice greater stuff not too long ago, clearly Quick and Livid. However [Saints Row] is a property that I’ve at all times beloved, they usually got here to me with it. The primary query was: What’s the tone? Saints Row is one other sport that, tonally, goes everywhere. The primary two are like gritty avenue motion pictures. And then you definately’re preventing aliens [with] Santa Claus. So we’re taking a look at like issues like The Warriors and Escape from New York. I like that ’70s grittiness. And we’re nonetheless gonna have a shit ton of enjoyable with it.
Are you concerned with the live-action Resident Evil movie arriving later this year?
I wrote on Resident Evil. I wrote a draft with James Wan again within the day. However then the rights holders and us, vision-wise, we didn’t fairly see eye to eye. [Our vision was] simply scary. Again to the roots. Contained. Nasty. Every thing that made Resident Evil so terrifying. I performed each sport. So it was simply going again and making it brutal and horrifying. And yeah, [the rights holders] had some loopy concepts like time journey. I want them one of the best of luck.
You wrote a script for House Invaders, a sport property New Line’s been attempting to get proper for years. What does getting House Invaders “proper” even imply?
It’s a venture that I completely love a lot. The one factor I needed to do with House Invaders was, I didn’t wish to do Independence Day. Whenever you consider that title, your thoughts goes to these huge ridiculous alien invasion motion pictures. I didn’t wish to try this. So I labored on it for some time, simply looking for a brand new means into an alien invasion film, and that is actually early so I can’t say an excessive amount of, however I discovered a very enjoyable, shocking means into an invasion film that has plenty of coronary heart, has plenty of emotion, and that I believe individuals will probably be blown away by it and say, “This respects what I beloved about that basic sport.”
Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These don’t affect editorial content material, although Vox Media could earn commissions for merchandise bought through affiliate hyperlinks. For extra data, see our ethics policy.