‘I’ve Played Enough Gangsters And Evil People For A While’: Jason Wong – Interview
Olivia Emily sits down with the standout villain in Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves
The epic fantasy adventure film, Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves – in cinemas now – received rave reviews. The standout character? It has to be Dralas, the fierce undead swordsman, played by Jason Wong, who is the main villain opposite an ensemble of Chris Pine, Michelle Rodriguez, Regé-Jean Page and Hugh Grant. Does he enjoy playing the villain? ‘I think I enjoy it too much,’ he tells C&TH. ‘The last two years, all I’ve been doing is being angry and evil.’ He names Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci and Tom Hardy as his menacing idols. ‘I feel like I’m in good company!’ he says. We sat down with Jason to chat all things villains, doing his own stunts, and loving.
Interview: Jason Wong on Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves
Hey, Jason! How is life going at the moment?
Life is a bit crazy at the moment. I just finished filming season three of Alex Rider, then I jumped straight into the press for Dungeons & Dragons. Now I’m getting ready for the next press run for The Covenant. So it’s pretty full on, I’m not gonna lie! It’s the first time it’s been this manic. I look at the other actors that have to do this and I just go, ‘How do they keep that stamina up?’
You can currently be seen in Dungeons & Dragons – how does it feel to have that finally come out? It’s received some rave reviews!
It’s been about two years [since filming], so 100 percent, I’m really excited about showing everyone. But also you never know how fans are going to react to it. Reviewers are one thing – they’re analysing it from a different standpoint – but if the fans aren’t laughing at the moments that you should be laughing at…! One thing I thought when I was watching the screening of Dungeons & Dragons – only around a week before it was going to come out – was, ‘this is a great movie just to escape’. There’s no politics involved. There’s nothing shoved down your throat. You can just sit there for two hours and enjoy the time passing by, and watch something entertaining.
The franchise hasn’t had the best of reputations from its previous film – it didn’t do very well – so I guess we had a low benchmark to break. But we also had such a big ensemble cast and budget, so we just tried to find the middle ground. The fact that we reached expectations and a bit more, especially for the diehard D&D tabletop fans, is a really lovely feeling.
Obviously it’s based on the game, but can you give us a little elevator pitch summary?
Dungeons & Dragons is your classic heist movie. It’s Chris Pine and a bunch of reprobates who are thieves, con artists, a warrior, and a useless sorcerer. (Later on, he steps up to the plate and he becomes a very powerful sorcerer.) Hugh Grant is playing a classic con man – he’s just playing the devil. He’s very funny in it; his performance has a Monty Python tone to it. For me, we see him in all of these serious, romantic and dramatic roles. I think he really enjoys playing that, because he’s far from it; he is the nicest person and honestly one of the funniest people as well.
Chris Pine is a useless protagonist in this – he doesn’t do anything but plan, and he doesn’t save the day with his fighting skills and powers. It’s actually Michelle Rodriguez who is going in there and beating everyone up, and Chris is just there being a bit of a wet blanket in the back. It’s not your traditional hero film: it’s watching a bunch of underdogs do a bad job. Underpinning the whole story, though, it’s about family. It’s about a man who just wants to save his daughter, make her feel proud, and be there for her again – and, at the same time, trying to save civilization from the evil red wizards, which is who I’m a part of. I want to take them all and make them evil!
Yes, you play evil villain Dralas – can you tell us about him?
Dralas is your classic antagonist. He’s bad. He’s a warrior assassin, he beats everyone up, he enjoys eating souls for breakfast. He encounters Zenk, who’s played by Regé-Jean Page, and we end up having an epic battle scene. It was about three and a half hours of makeup, and we had a great time learning all the stunts and fight scenes.
Me and Regé trained every day for three weeks, for four hours a day. We had lots of sore fingers, and we were so sweaty. We did 90 percent of the fight scenes that you see in the film, wearing heavy, thick armour. Regé’s costume was like if you imagine wearing four sleeping bags, so he was just in a sauna – drenched in sweat. I sort of knew that it was going to be warm, so I asked to be sleeveless. What you see on camera is about a two and a half minute fight scene. We actually rehearsed for a four minute fight scene, so there’s loads more footage and loads more to that fight sequence than what you see – they just had to cut it short. But there is some behind the scenes footage of us doing the full thing. And it is pretty epic.
That sounds so physically demanding – have you ever done something like that before?
No, Dungeons & Dragons was my first real big stunt introduction. It was my first time wielding a sword and daggers. Learning how to fight hand to hand is a different ballgame. Learning with a sword is next level. It takes a lot more training and then doing dagger work, too – it’s a different distance perception when you’re trying to do that on camera, so it’s a lot harder than you think it is. You’re holding something sharp! Even though it’s rubber and it’s safe, you know, there are moments where you’re like, ‘whew, that came really close to my face!’ Or when I smashed Regé in his hands, or when he stabbed me in the leg. These things happen, but it’s still painful! Regé and I really wanted to make sure we did as much as we could – you can’t play a protagonist and an antagonist with a big one-to-one fight scene and not do it.
It was good fun, but it’s very different from all the other things I’ve done. Like The Covenant that I’m doing with Guy Ritchie, that was a lot of firearms training. The drills – releasing a magazine and putting in a new magazine, cocking it back and then going straight up to mount your weapon – are a different type of muscle memory. And also not flinching when you’re firing or when there’s an explosion, because they drill it into you so many times. That said, it doesn’t matter how many times you’ve done an action scene, when you’re running away from an exploding car, it’s an exploding car.
Does doing action make you want to do more action?
No… Although the last two projects I’ve done post D&D have had a lot of action. I just did The Warrior with HBO Max – I had to do a lot of fight scenes in that as well. The stunt guys, as soon as they know I’ve done martial arts, they go, ‘you’re doing your own stunts!’. And you’ve just got to suck it up and do it, because you want to bring that realism to camera. And then Alex Rider has loads of action. I’m firing, running, doing all my stunts. We just finished last week, and when I was looking at my stunt double, I was like, ‘You’re literally sitting on the corner having a cup of tea and biscuits whilst I’m jumping and running and punching and kicking and I’m drenched in sweat! What are you doing?!’ [laughs]
I really enjoy it, and I would love to do more. For me, it is also part of the performance. People can see when it’s a stunt double. You can mask it, but you want to have that pride. You want to wear that badge and say I did it myself.
How does it feel to play a villain? Did you enjoy embracing the dark side?
I think I enjoy it too much! All I play is villains at the moment, post Silent Witness. Silent Witness was the only time I got to smile and be vulnerable and have the lovely Amelia Fox and David Caves, be nice and have these little small jokes and moments. The last two years, all I’ve been doing is being angry and evil. I don’t know if that’s a type cast, but I’m definitely the opposite, which is probably why I enjoy playing those characters more! Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci – they’ve made careers of playing angry, menacing people. Tom Hardy, he’s very good at menacing, but he’s also very good at being vulnerable at the same time. So I feel like I’m in good company when it comes to these roles. It’s not easy playing menacing on camera. It’s a different mindset.
Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves is a hugely star studded ensemble. How did that feel? What was the dynamic like?
The dynamic was hard, because we were shooting during COVID. Everyone was kept in their own little Easy Ups. But when we were on set, we had those moments and it was fun. We joked around a lot. Michelle has a fantastic energy. Hugh just makes you laugh on set – he’s always muttering something or complaining about something – usually about himself. Chris was doing so many things at the same time, so he was really focussed. But everyone was really lovely. I feel like COVID killed the vibe a little bit, because we couldn’t just hang out together and talk. We were all separated and had to wear masks and everything. But now that we see eachother on the red carpet, it’s so much fun. They came up to me, gave me hugs, and we were chatting loads at the premiere.
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So on set, were you mainly filming with Regé?
Yeah, we spent a lot of time together. Three weeks! I think we saw each other more than anyone else. I also spent a lot of time with Daisy Head [who plays Sofina]; we would go out and grab drinks with the makeup crew and have dinner and stuff like that. But everyone else was just so busy, and we were there for such long hours, we were just exhausted. We did spend some time offset, but again, because of COVID, we just had to be good and not break the rules!
Do you have any standout moments from filming?
Yes! The first fight scene that we did was improvised on the day with the fight choreographer, because we had no time to rehearse. What you see on screen is the fifth take, and it’s one shot. One of the stunt guys was quite a heavy, stacked guy – built like a rugby player – and I had to kick him over the wall. I literally had to put 110 percent power into that kick, because the armour was caved outwards. Every time I kicked him, my foot would slide up to his chin, so I kept kicking him into the throat! And he was like, ‘no it’s alright, really kick me!’. And I was kicking him so hard! It was quite stressful. I finally managed to kick him over, and you can see he flies over the wall.
There was another one with Hugh Grant where he sort of lost it, but that’s already been reported, so I won’t go through that! [Hugh told Total Film that he had to ‘grovel’ after losing his temper on set with who he thought was an executive, but was actually a chaperone for a child actor.] All actors get frazzled sometimes. Even though you’ve rehearsed the line so many times in your head, sometimes you can just forget what the line is – so when Hugh corpses or loses something, he goes off on this long monologue, and it’s the funniest things that he’ll say. I can’t repeat it. But it is funny.
How do you get into character?
I do a lot of voice resonance stuff. You know that thing Matthew McConaughey does on The Wolf of Wall Street? He does that on set, too. Just to centre himself. And he’ll breathe, and then go, ‘OK, let’s fly, boy!’. So I started doing that, and that’s how I get in my zone.
Sometimes you have to really hype yourself, though. Before the fight scenes, Regé and I would shout to each other, almost doing the haka to each other. Our stunt coordinator, Troy, basically asked us to scream out loud before we go in for a fight, so when we’re fighting, we’re really going at each other. That fierceness, power and loft has to be there. So before, we were hyping each other up, trying to get our heart rate elevated, trying to get that adrenaline going. It’s all controlled and safe, but that fierceness in the facial expressions was definitely real. There’s a moment where he’s trying to stab me in the face, and I’m looking at him going, ‘No! Never!’ So I was cracking up when I was watching that fight scene.
How do you prepare for a role in the lead up?
I didn’t do as much as Sophia – she worked with a movement coach and started incorporating owl movements and bear movements. I didn’t do that. I did a lot of that in drama school, and I refuse to do it again! I generally watch a lot of films that are associated with the genre. So I watched a lot of Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones before I did Dungeons & Dragons – a lot of that fantasy style world. If I’m doing more military films, Black Hawk Down is always my first one that I go to, or 12 Strong. So I’ll watch a lot of these films just to get into my head and to see how they work the camera angles and movements. When you’re doing these fight choreographed scenes, whether it’s firearms or swords, it’s all about camera angles. I’m watching how the actors are doing that on screen as well. There are some great people who do it really, really well – like Keanu Reeves, amazing, or Jason Statham. When you watch him, he’s actually really good at what he does – finding those pauses on camera to sell a fight. It’s very hard to do, and these guys have been doing it for so long, and they do it so well. So I watch a lot of films just to steal from them.
Who were you trying to emulate for Dungeons & Dragons?
Viggo Mortenssen in Lord of the Rings – the power in his sword scenes is incredible. And Russell Crowe in Gladiator. I watched a lot of kung-fu films, too, and Donnie Yen is really good at staying emotionless. So it almost looks like he’s effortlessly fighting. And that’s what I tried to do with Regé – I tried to look like it was effortless for me when I was fighting. But it’s hard when you’ve got a sword coming at your face, like, really close.
You’ve previously starred in lots of things, like The Covenant, for example. What has been your favourite project so far?
The Gentleman was really fun to work on with Guy Ritchie, purely because I got to work with such an all star cast. Henry Golding and I are the only actors who really got to really work across the board with Matthew McConaughey, Charlie Hunnam, Michelle Dockery, Colin Farrell… I got to work with the majority of the main cast there, which was really nice. At the reading, I got to meet other people, like Jeremy Strong as well, who was lovely. I didn’t watch Succession, so I didn’t know who he was until I met him! We went for lunch together during the reading and we got to catch up and get to know each other a bit more.
Going on to Silent Witness was also fun, because you’ve got all these things that you got to learn, all these pathology things like scalpels and talking all the science. That was challenging, but it was fun. I also had to learn sign language!
Any roles in the pipeline that you’re excited about?
Alex Rider season three, and The Warrior on HBO. I’m in conversation for a few projects that I can’t talk about just yet – one will be pretty epic if I get onto it, but it’s still early phases. There’s a detective based show, high octave drama, and another action one with a certain well-known, established action star. Definitely more action on the horizon, is what I’ll say.
What’s your dream role?
I’d love to explore the realms of something like Luther – just running around, a bit of a rogue, investigating different crimes. Or being in a Western; something like Yellowstone would be amazing. Playing a cowboy just sounds fun! But on the flip side, I’d love to play someone who’s lonely and in love. The hapless romantic. I feel I’m alright with the tough guy warrior sort of roles. I’ve hit that mark. It’d be nice to do something where I show vulnerability – just being a bit lonely and in love, someone sad.
What would you never do?
I would never say no to something, but I feel like I need to take a rest from playing gangsters. I have played enough gangsters and evil people for a while. I’d like to play someone who’s going to save someone or save the world rather than constantly being the evil gangster who is angry and wants to have someone killed. I’d like to not do that for a little while, and do something a bit different. I’ll come back to it, because those are fun characters, and it depends on the writers and directors. I wouldn’t say no. But maybe something a bit more lighthearted would be nice!
Who is someone you’ve worked with that you would say you learned the most from?
One hundred percent Amelia Fox. She’s incredible at what she does, and the time frame that she does it in. She’s someone I’ve learnt loads from. Another person who I’ve learned a lot from on set watching has to be Matthew McConaughey – seeing how he uses stillness on camera – and Jake Gyllenhaal. I really admire how they conduct themselves on set and how they allow the moment to be captured. They don’t do much – that stillness that they have on camera, that charisma, that presence is very, very powerful. And that’s from years of experience. That’s why they’ve both been Oscar nominated, and why they’re at the top level that they are: because they deliver solid performances.
Who is the most fun person to work with?
Eddie Marsand’s quite fun, and Statham is good bants. But the people I always have a good time with on set are Amelia Fox and David Caves. It feels like going on set with your mates! Anytime you’re doing action, it’s always fun. I’m such a meathead sometimes, but getting to shoot a gun or wield a sword is like being a kid again. It’s like a boy’s dream, getting up and playing guns and robbers with your mates.
Did you always want to be an actor?
Yeah! My first acting role was in primary school when I was nine years old – I played the Lord Mayor in The Pied Piper. I sort of caught the acting bug, and I always went for drama classes. At secondary school, my teacher had taught at the NYT – he taught Johnny Lee Miller, Idris Elba, Gugu, Jude Law – and we used to study all their videos and performances. He said to me, ‘Jason, maybe you should think about applying for drama school.’ So at about 16, I decided to go into acting – it was either that or join the British army!
If you could give advice to your 15-year-old self, what would it be?
I wouldn’t say anything different for myself. I would let myself go on the same journey that I have, because it’s got me to where I am here today. I would say just be a bit more patient. Don’t rush. Observe more. And the same thing I’ve always said, don’t quit and keep believing. Keep having that self belief in what I do. I could be less impulsive. Spend less money. Stop buying things you don’t bloody need!
Do you get to spend much time at home?
I don’t much. It’s been seven months that I’ve been filming The Warrior, and then to Alex Rider. It’s been lovely and busy, and I have had some lovely downtime, but it’s always been lots of back and forth. My dog has kept me really grounded [Jason has a Cavapoo]. I try to spend as much time as I can at home, but it’s inevitable that you’re going to go off for a month- to two-month stints. But you’ve got to find things that will keep those home comforts there, otherwise it gets lonely. It’s a plus when you get to meet nice people on set and hang out with them, but a lot of the time, you are by yourself. It’s about preserving your energy and not letting that affect you, and you only learn that through experience in the game. I think Tom Hardy said that being by yourself can get very addictive. So you’ve got to make sure you’re keeping occupied and doing things. I do a lot of Brazilian jiu jitsu, and whenever I travel on film sets, I’ll always bring my golf clubs with me – I’ll do something to keep my mind open and free. That is a really important thing to keep your mental health going.
You sound like a very active person! How do you wind down?
A lovely glass of wine. I’m a big wine collector. But also outdoor activities. I do a lot of clay pigeon shooting. I like to go for country walks and things like that, so I’ll do that with my dog – that’s a nice way to unwind, and is my little meditation in the morning, walking my dog in the park. I also like infrared saunas. I’ll stay in there for like an hour, maybe three or four times a week, and then have a cold shower. It really helps me sleep!
How can we all live a little bit better?
Everything in moderation, says the guy who just smashed a packet of hobnobs. But seriously: work hard, but also find those moments to decompress and take those moments for yourself. Find a hobby that’s away from your work. If your work is your hobby and your hobby is your work or vice versa, then find something else that takes you away from both of those things.
And, as an actor, don’t feel like you deserve it. No one deserves anything in this life, especially in the acting world. You have to earn your stripes. I’ve been at this for 16 years, and I’m only getting to where I am now. The demographics of stories, the change of diversity, and that conversation there, that’s definitely helps with what I’m doing at the moment. But I’m always saying, be the best at what you do, and talent will always prevail.
I’m tuning into… Yellowstone. The 1923 season with Harrison Ford and Helen Mirren is the last TV show I’ve been obsessed with.
What I’m reading… My friend is just about to publish 50 short stories, so I’ve been reading that.
What I’m most looking forward to seeing… BEEF on Netflix, and Tetris on Apple TV+.
Favourite film of all time… The Godfather
Band/singer I always have on repeat… Eagles, and Chris Stapleton. I love country music.
My ultimate cultural recommendation… Go to Hong Kong – or Myanmar.
Cultural guilty pleasure… KFC and a glass of Bordeaux
What’s next for me is… Getting in shape for my next project!
See Jason Wong in Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves, in cinemas now. Watch the trailer below.
Featured image: Jason Wong © Lee Malone.
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