You might know Byron Mann from his stint on the CW’s hit series Arrow (I’m still rooting for Yao Fei to make a miraculous return), but if you’re unfamiliar with one of the best shows on television right now (shame on you) then I’m pretty sure you’ll recognize him from his performance as Ryu in the iconic action film Street Fighter. Yep, now I’ve got your attention. Whether he’s wielding a bow and arrow, gun, or merely his fists– this talented actor is at it again! This time as Chi in Absolution, a new movie directed by Keoni Waxman starring the one and only Steven Seagal. The movie, which is one of those high action, crime films you just have got to see is the sequel to A Good Man.
When given the opportunity to interview this talented actor, I leapt at the chance… I mean, come on– IT’S YAO FEI FROM ARROW (brief fangirl moment). Mann was kind enough to not only talk about filming Absolution in Romania but gave us a taste of his character Chang in the fifth and final season of the railroad drama Hell on Wheels, which by the way, returns July 18 on AMC. Mann even told me that he’s itching to take on a love story– which would be unlike anything he’s done before.
Let’s jump right in…
MCKENZIE MORRELL: So let’s kick things off by you telling us about your new movie, Absolution, and the character you play.
BYRON MANN: The premise of Absolution is: John Alexander, the character played by Steven Seagal—and my character, his name is Chi, we are on a secret mission to Moscow to free a girl… actually, that’s not the mission. We’re there to do another mission, but we got sidetracked because we bumped into a girl who is being chased and killed by some very bad people. And we kind of stumbled ourselves into this plot that involves The Boss played by Vinnie Jones. The Boss is a very evil person who tortures women, and he kills them and dismembers them. We’re on a mission, we got sidetracked into another job, and we find out at the end that it was all set up by someone that we trusted. So that’s essentially the movie.
MM: Ooh! I see! So what was it about your character, Chi, and the film in general that piqued your interest?
BM: There were several things, really. I worked with the director, Keoni Waxman, and the producer, Phillip Goldfine, many times. Several times. Like, four times, actually. This is the fourth collaboration. They’re like family, and I always have a lot of fun with them. When they called, and when the director sat me down, we had a coffee, and said, “Hey, would you like to do a movie with Steven [Seagal] in Romania? And by the way this is kind of your character’s movie because you’ll be on a separate mission when you’re in Moscow, and you’d be doing a lot of action sequences.” I said, “Yeah, absolutely!” Because I like working with them. And I’ve never been to Romania—that’s where we shot the movie. I said, “OK, I’d like to check that out, too.” Actually, as we speak, they’re shooting another movie in Romania, and I was going to do that movie with them. However, I’m doing Hell on Wheels right now in Calgary, so I can’t do it, so I’m a little bummed.
MM: Your character kind of goes through the ringer in this film. How many of the stunts were you able to do yourself?
BM: Oh, I did most of the action myself. I had about eight action sequences. They told me I had to do a lot of action. I just didn’t realize how much. It’s not just running around; it’s actually kicking, high kicks, hand-to-hand combat. I did like eight or nine sequences, which is a lot for any movie. I did most of it, so I was very tired. But I’m very proud of the movie, actually, because I put a lot of input into choreographing the action in a way that made sense. In other words, it’s not just non stop action. There’s a reason. There’s humor to some of the action. For example—I don’t know if you’ve seen the movie—but in the beginning of the movie, there’s a sequence where these two bad guys are watching soccer, and then I come in and take them out. I said to the director, “Why don’t I just kind of creep up behind them and watch the soccer game with them for like a minute, without them knowing? Just kind of getting closer to the soccer game.” I ask them what the score was, and they turn around, and then we start the action. So it kind of makes it more fun. It makes it more unpredictable, the action. It’s not just non stop action. It has a sense of humor to it. So I tried to infuse that type of flavor into every, single action sequence, and I think it made a difference.
MM: That’s great to really just have that say, to be able to have your creative input. Which do you find more challenging: doing stunt scenes or doing emotionally taxing scenes?
BM: That’s a good question. You know, I’ve done both, and they’re both challenging in different ways. They’re just using different muscles. Literally.
BM: Really, it’s just using different muscles. I’ve done a lot of action in my career. So I know what it takes to deliver good action. It takes a lot, actually, physically. And then I’ve done a lot of drama, as well, so you just have to be there emotionally. Different challenges. Very different challenges.
MM: Are there any types of roles you have tackled yet that you’d like to take a stab at? Like comedy, or more thriller-y?
BM: I haven’t done a lot of love stories. I’ve done a few, not many. I haven’t done any romantic comedies before. If Hugh Grant is sending away a lot of scripts, please send them my way.
MM: [Laughs.] That would be awesome. You mentioned that you guys filmed in Romania. What did you do when you weren’t filming?
BM: I was filming every day, literally. [Laughs.] So, nothing. In other words, I toured around the city once in four weeks. There was no time. [Laughs.]
MM: Would you like to back to explore and see what really goes on?
BM: Yeah, yeah, yeah! I wouldn’t mind. Yeah, I wouldn’t mind. It’s quite a nice city. I’m in Calgary right now, which I haven’t really seen much of either.
MM: They’re just keeping you locked up and working, working, working.
BM: Yeah, that’s right.
MM: [Laughs.] You’re a very busy man. You’re also on AMC’s Hell on Wheels. Can you talk about that character and how it is working on a show like that?
BM: Well, Hell on Wheels is about the building of a railroad in America. Currently, we’re filming the fifth season, which is also the final season. This season introduced the Chinese workers to the railroad. As you may be aware, the Chinese workers were very instrumental in building the railroad from west San Francisco outward toward the east. My character—his name is Chang—he is basically a power broker. He controls the 15,000 Chinese workers on the railroad. That’s his leverage. So he comes into conflict with Cullen Bohannon [Anson Mount], the lead character. And also with the white union bosses. So there’s a lot of conflict. There’s a lot of violence that results from this conflict. It’s a very gripping drama, I must say.
MM: How’s that, being a part of it knowing that it’s in its last season? Is it strange coming in when it’s already had so many seasons?
BM: No. To be honest, I’ve never seen the show before, so everything is new to me. I actually have no preconceived notions of what the show is like because I’ve never seen the show before. For me, it’s like doing season one.
MM: I have to throwback to your days on Arrow. Yao Fei was one of my favorite characters. How was it playing that character? It’s similar in a way, but your character kind of shaped Oliver’s whole hooded persona. How was that experience?
BM: When I was filming that, it was the first season of the show. There were no expectations of the show. When we were filming, no one knew what the show was. The show had not aired yet. So we were just filming a regular TV series about a guy who shoots arrows, basically. In a way, that’s good because there was no pressure. I liked playing my character because he’s a very mysterious character. He had a mysterious past. But I knew, personally, I knew very little about him because the producers kept his background quite secret. I only worked with Stephen Amell [who plays Oliver Queen on Arrow]. I didn’t work with anyone else. [Laughs.] I’ve actually never seen any of the other characters on the show. In a way, it was a very singular experience for me. When people talk about Arrow, the only thing I think about is shooting on that island with Stephen Amell. And that was it. That was my only experience! [Laughs.] I never interacted with any other characters, really… oh! Actually, come to think of it, I did. I interacted a little bit with Celina Jade, who plays my daughter. And then also with another bad guy who was on the island. That was roughly it. For the most part of it, it was just me dealing with Stephen Amell’s character.
MM: I know we saw the character meet an untimely demise, but would you ever be up for another stint on the island if they went back with flashbacks?
BM: I understand that Celina Jade came back as a twin.
MM: She did! So there’s always hope for your return.
BM: There could be Yao Fei’s twin.
MM: That would be wonderful. I definitely would love watching that.
BM: Yeah! Maybe Yao Fei’s twin is called Yao Mei!
MM: [Laughs.] That would be great! So, you’re obviously well-known for your role in Street Fighter. Do you get recognized for that? How are the fans in-person or on social media?
BM: Yeah, I get recognized in the most unusual placed. Like, in the men’s bathroom usually.
MM: Oh, boy.
BM: When I’m doing my business in the urinal, somehow a guy extends his hand right next to me and says, “Hey, aren’t you that guy on Street Fighter?” Seriously, I get recognized in the most unexpected places. It’s ironic because for me, it was just another movie. We filmed that in 1994. It’s 20 years ago. Only in the last two years, apparently, Street Fighter has become a big cult movie, you know? A lot of people are interested in finding out more about what happened. So I’ve given several interviews about what happened. I don’t know what to tell you. For me, it was just another movie, and I’m glad have grown up with the movie. It was a very interesting shoot, I will tell you that.
MM: I would imagine. Do you find the process for filming a movie and TV series to be vastly different? Do you prefer one over the other?
BM: Shooting a movie is—that’s it. You’ve got one shot at it. You can’t go back, right? And shooting a TV series, if you don’t get everything right in the first episode, you can make it up in the second episode. And if you don’t get it right on the second episode, you can make it right on the third episode. But a movie, two hours, that’s it. Which do I like more? I mean, I come from movies. I started doing movies first. So I still have a slight preference to movies. But having said that, we’re no doubt in the golden age of television, with all the cables shows and everything—Netflix, Amazon. What I’m shooting right now, Hell on Wheels, it’s written almost like a feature film, the writing. In some ways, there really isn’t a different. You’re telling a story. Except in a television series you’re telling it in 14 episodes or 22 episodes. In a movie, you have two hours to tell the story.
MM: Now, a kind of random question: What are some snacks you like to eat to keep your energy up, especially when you’re filming movies or shows with high action sequences?
BM: Well, nothing! I don’t eat anything in particular. I don’t. I just eat whatever’s around. I do like to eat a lot of vegetables and fruits. And I drink a lot of water. All that helps. When you’re doing a lot of action, you don’t want to be eating a lot of junk food, because it will affect you.
MM: Now to conclude, what would you say to people to entice them to watch Absolution?
BM: If they like good action, if they are a fan of Steven Seagal from the ‘90s, this is probably one of his better movies in recent years. It’s entertaining. The action is very good. It’s not Mission: Impossible; it’s a different type of movie. If you like good action—you’re not watching a slow-burning movie, it kicks off with high action. That’s my pitch for it!
MM: I know you’re a busy man, so I want to thank you again for joining me today.
BM: Thank you, McKenzie! All the best.
Hell on Wheels returns July 18 on AMC