Kelly Hu: Beverly Hills Black Belt Takes on Karai for TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES
by Greg Lynch Jr.
If anyone is to be crowned Queen of Comic-Con, it has to be Kelly Hu. She did voice-over work on KNIGHTS OF THE OLD REPUBLIC. She partnered with Sammo Hung on MARTIAL LAW. She has written comic books. She spars with ARROW as China White. She plays poker. And, most of all, she fought Wolverine as Deathstrike in X-MEN 2. Not only does she have tremendous geek credibility, she won Miss Teen USA. What more can you ask for in your Comic-Con queen?
To add more credits to her genre resume, you can now hear Kelly Hu on Nickelodeon's TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES. Nickelodeon rebooted the show back in October 2012 with stars Sean Astin and Jason Bigg. Ms. Hu voices the character of Karai, a devious member of the Foot Clan, who only causes trouble for Leonardo and the rest of the turtles. Ms. Hu's first appearance on the show aired February 1st on the episode entitled "New Girl in Town."
KFM: How did you get involved with the series?
Kelly Hu: I actually auditioned for it. I do quite a bit of voice-over work. I'm also on a show called PHINEAS AND FERB. I went in for this audition and I was lucky enough to land it.
KFM: Why did you pursue this role?
Kelly Hu: TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES is legendary. It's such a great cast and such a great franchise to be a part of. Who wouldn't want to be? I'd be crazy not to.
KFM: What can you tell me about your character, Karai?
Kelly Hu: (Karai) is a young character. She is sort of a thorn in Leonardo's side. She does a lot of martial arts so I spend a lot of my voice-over time doing a lot of martial arts sounds like grunting and landing and kicking. Things like that. I think the only reason I got cast for this is because I can do all those things in real life. I know what it's like to get hit in the head.
KFM: Are you still working on the series?
Kelly Hu: I am. We are still in the middle of taping the series.
KFM: You seem to do a lot of voice-over work, is that by design?
Kelly Hu: I think I sort of fell into it. I think the very first thing I did was KNIGHTS OF THE OLD REPUBLIC 2, a video game. And I really enjoyed it so much. It's a whole different way of acting, because you don't have to worry about how you look or your lighting or your make-up or hair, if you are standing in the right spot or anything. You can show up in your pajamas or your underwear. No one would know. People might think it strange in the room. But no one would care, really. But when you are just concentrating on your voice and that's the only thing you have to pay attention to, it's sort of freeing in a way. You only have to think of one thing.
KFM: You also seem to do a lot of genre work. What draws you to those types of roles?
Kelly Hu: I think I just exist better in fantasy than in reality And I'm talking real life. I love being able to do this type of stuff. I'm also going to be on WAREHOUSE 13 which is a type of fantasy. I exist really well in this fantasy world. I love not being locked in by reality. In fantasy you can be over the top and you can do all these crazy things. I love being able to live in that world, far bigger than my real world.
KFM: Did you get to interact with your fellow actors?
Kelly Hu: Often I'm alone in a room. When I do PHINEAS AND FERB, I am always alone. But in Teenage Mutant Ninja, they always have me in the room with other people. But it is so much more fun when you get to interact, when you get to hear these other actors doing their thing. I'm always impressed by these guys who only do voice acting, who are just unbelievable. When you hear how talented guys like Rob Paulsen (plays Raphael, but Donatello from the original series) or Kevin Michael Richardson. These guys have so many different people living inside of them. Unbelievable. And all they ever seem to do between takes is do silly voices and crack jokes. It's really hard not to be laughing while they are doing their thing.
KFM: It must be a bonus to have the actors in the room with you.
Kelly Hu: It is. It is so much better to be able to bounce off somebody else. Sometime it's harder, because those guys are so funny and it's hard not to laugh. That's the biggest challenge for me when I'm in the room with these guys.
KFM: You've played a lot of cops and a lot of villains. Which do you think suits you better?
Kelly Hu: Cops aren't always the good guys, you know. But I love bad guys. Bad girls have more fun.
KFM: What is involved with creating a voice role for an animated character?
Kelly Hu: This character is younger than I am. So, I pitched her up a little bit, give her a bit more energy. All the characters I do are younger, early twenties or teenagers, so I often have to find that tone. I don't have kids of my own. I'm not around a lot of young people. So, I actually have to go out and study it and listen to young people and see how they talk and their voices and what their rhythm is like now - sort of their slang - and work that into the character.
KFM: What is your martial arts background?
Kelly Hu: I have a black belt in Karate. I didn't start Karate until I was in my late twenties. But I used to play around with my brother as a kid. He took Kung Fu on Saturdays while my mother took me out to ballet. I wanted to take Kung Fu but she said, "No, you're a girl." I had to take ballet instead. Which I enjoyed, I have to admit. But my brother would come home after school and teach me all his Kung Fu moves and then he would set up fights with boys in the neighborhood. And he would play like he was my manager and take bets and all of that. He was a little businessman, a little Don King.
KFM: Were these real fights or pretend fights?
Kelly Hu: Well, when you are only five and six years old, whoever cries first loses. It was back then when you could fight and not get into trouble. Now, of course, I don't recommend doing that.
KFM: What made you start taking lessons at such a late age?
Kelly Hu: My roommate, at the time, had just gotten her black belt and invited me to her ceremony. I was so taken in by the tradition of it all. I loved the tradition of Karate, the meditation of it. I loved doing the forms. And coming from a dance background, for me, that was the most interesting part of it. It is sort of like a meditation almost. It was like learning choreography. I always had that little seed inside of me as a kid of wanting to learn martial arts. After the first class I was hooked.
KFM: Does being a martial artist help you as an actor?
Kelly Hu: I think it really does, especially because I get cast as the authoritative roles all the time. I'm always the bad girl, the assassin, the bodyguard, the cop, and I think that, having martial arts in my life, it gives me a little more confidence in that area. It certainly helps with all the fight scenes that I do. I'm always doing that kind of stuff. But in the acting itself I think it really helps with the confidence. I always say that martial arts is great for little girls - because as little girls we don't often get hit and thrown around. We're not used to being roughed up. I can't say that I could use my martial arts to get me out of a situation if I were attacked. However, if I were attacked, because I'm so used to getting hit, that I can still think on my feet. It wouldn't phase me. It wouldn't take me by surprise like it would a girl who has never been hit, who has never been in fights. I think martial arts is awesome for little girls that way. It gives them confidence.
Kelly Hu: I don't think my martial arts are good enough. I realize I have a black belt, but I have Beverly Hills Black Belt. My studio was literally located in Beverly Hills, next to the Gucci store.
KFM: Do you still have a martial arts training regimen?
Kelly Hu: I don't do martial arts as much anymore. It's a bit harder on my joints. I do a lot of yoga these days. And I'm taking a lot of dance classes which I really enjoy. It really helps me keep up with the mental part of it, the choreography.
KFM: What is up next for your character China White on ARROW?
Kelly Hu: I just got back two days ago from Vancouver (where ARROW is filmed). I filmed two more episodes, so you will be seeing me - and all I can say is, I'm not dead yet.
KFM: What was it like filming the fight scene in X-MEN 2 with Hugh Jackman?
Kelly Hu: He was amazing, such a gentleman. And he doesn't have any martial arts background. He has a dance background. And he was fantastic. It was a huge challenge though. I had to wear those crazy contacts. For some reason, my eyes, the way they are built, they don't hold the contacts right in the center, and they were white, sort of opaque, and they kept floating through my pupils and so I did a lot of the choreography with this sort of cloudy blurred vision. It added an extra challenge. But it was great. I loved doing it. It was so much fun to work on.
KFM: How did you get along with Sammo Hung on MARTIAL LAW?
Kelly Hu: He was great. Doing fight scenes with Sammo is like butter. He's just so pro. And if you aren't in the right place, it doesn't matter. He makes up for it. He's just amazing. As big as that guy was, he could move as fast as Jackie. You should see him cartwheel off the top of a car.
KFM: Did you pick up any martial arts or fight tricks off of MARTIAL LAW?
Kelly Hu: I picked up so much. Not just from him (Sammo), but that whole Hong Kong crew. He brought the whole stunt crew with him. Working out with these guys every day doing martial arts, I learned so much. It was awesome.
KFM: What else can you tell me about Sammo Hung?
Kelly Hu: It was amazing this guy could carry a series, because his English wasn't that great. And they gave him quite a lot of dialogue that he would have to memorize. I can only imagine what it would be like to have to memorize stuff in Chinese. After a while they got smart and gave him this little earpiece so that his wife could read his dialogue to him. But he would have it turned up so loud sometimes that I could actually hear it while I was in the scene with him. It was kind of weird - as you were talking you could hear his next line coming at you.
KFM: What is it like for you to show up at Comic-Con?
Kelly Hu: I haven't been to Comic-Con in quite a few years, certainly haven't been since ARROW. I went a few years ago for PHINEAS AND FERB. But it's not like I have to walk around wearing a mask or anything. I know a lot of my actor friends do. They go in costume and wear a mask so they can be anonymous and check it out. I'm hoping to be able to make it this year and see what it is like, coming in from Arrow, especially.
KFM: Any fights with Nickelodeon over your being on the PHINEAS AND FERB show on the Disney Channel?
Kelly Hu: Not that I know of. I guess it's different in the voice-over world. It doesn't matter as much. Because I guess you are more anonymous. Your face isn't out there as much. There aren't very many Asian actresses who do voice-over, I think. When these roles come about, there is just a handful of us.
KFM: Is there something about your acting training that makes you a good poker player?
Kelly Hu: I think it does. I really do. My thing at poker is I never really take it seriously. I talk and smile and joke a lot and people who are very serious at these tournaments aren't used to that. And it kind of throws them off some time. I rarely have to pay for my own buy in, so I never take it seriously.
KFM: Any more celebrity poker tournaments coming up?
Kelly Hu: I do have one that I am supposed to be doing, but I don't know when it is going to be. I host one for Best Buddies every year. This last one, we did it on the Harley-Davidson floor in Marina del Rey and it was fantastic. It was so much fun. So, you're playing poker alongside motorcycles and stuff.
KFM: What is next for Kelly Hu?
Kelly Hu: Well, besides TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES, I've got WAREHOUSE 13 coming up. I have 5 episodes of that. And I think they are going to start that around April so I have that coming up. I'm pretty busy. I'm recurring on three different voice-over shows and two different TV shows.
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About Greg Lynch Jr.:
Greg Lynch Jr. is the head writer/director/bottle-washer for Badass Bunny Productions. Badass Bunny will shoot anything. You can find them at BadAssBunnyProductions.com. For more on TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES, visit nick.com.