Jason Scott Lee discusses his intense training regimen for Mulan, the lessons he learned from playing Bruce Lee and more in the latest installment of Rolling Stone’s The First Time.
In the new live-action remake of Mulan, Lee plays the main villain, Bori Khan, and his training included a week in New Zealand working with a Maori Haka master, and then a bout of bulking up that found him dropping about 40 pounds of fat and adding 40 pounds of muscle. “I could feel that; I felt like a new man,” Lee says. “And that was just one part of the process because we had all the choreography, we had all the dialect training, we had the horse riding, the sword work — it was a great experience.”
Lee went on to speak about his breakout role as Bruce Lee in the 1993 biopic Dragon and learning the craft from one of Bruce’s old students, Jerry Poteet. “One of the other things my shifu Jerry used to say is, ‘You’ll find as you go on and as you try to convey this art, you’ll find that simplicity is one of the hardest things to convey,’” Lee remembers. “And it’s held true. A lot of people don’t really grasp what [Bruce] gave, or his legacy that he left behind. Because it’s really hard to understand — you have to let go of so much shit. You got to let go of what you think you know.”
Elsewhere, Lee recalled working with some of his childhood movie heroes, including Cheech Marin while making his screen debut in Born in East L.A., and Kurt Russell in the 1998 sci-fi action film Soldier. He also touched on some of his more left-field work, including his turn as Pasha Selim, a non-singing role in a production of the Mozart opera Abduction from the Seraglio. Despite not having to sing at all for the show, Lee says the experience made him realize just how intense and taxing that work can be.
“I didn’t realize what a toll it takes on their voices, on the actual instrumentation, of singing such high or long-lasting notes,” Lee says. “It’s hard, that’s a really sensitive instrument. I still don’t know how rock artists do it, getting up on tour and banging it out, it’s like my God!”