How Iko Uwais went from ‘The Raid’ to being in demand in Hollywood with films like ‘Mile 22’ and ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens.’ The Indonesian martial artist, who got his big break in cult hit ‘The Raid,’ is fast establishing himself as the next big action star from Asia.
Iko Uwais burst onto the scene in 2011’s The Raid, the high-octane Indonesian action film directed by Gareth Huw Evans that wowed the critics, gained a cult following and spawned an equally lauded sequel.
With icons Jet Li and Jackie Chan on the wrong side of 50, Uwais, famed for his frenetic fight style, has been tipped to take over and establish himself as the pre-eminent Asian action hero. His star has risen so fast, Hollywood has already come knocking, with an integral role in Peter Berg’s Mile 22, currently playing in theaters, and even a cameo in Star Wars: The Force Awakens alongside his Raid co-stars Yayan Ruhian and Cecep Arif Rahma.
In Mile 22, Urwais plays Li Noor, an intelligence asset at the center of a terrorist plot. Starring opposite Mark Wahlberg, Ronda Rousey and John Malkovich, Uwais gets to show off some of his trademark high energy and brutal martial arts prowess onscreen.
With a slew of projects coming up, The Hollywood Reporter spoke to Uwais about crossing over to Hollywood, that curious Star Wars cameo, the nuances of Indonesian martial arts and whether he will work with Evans again.
How did your role in Mile 22 come about? Who approached you?
[Peter Berg] really wanted to work with me. He watched my movie The Raid, and suddenly I had an invitation from Pete. Straight away, he invited me to work with him and talk with him about a feature project. Mile 22 is my first “Western” movie, but I’m not the lead actor — the main actors are Mark Wahlberg, Lauren Cohan and me. So it’s my first big project, yeah.
The Raid was your breakout role. Is it still your proudest achievement as an actor?
My first movie was Merantau, but The Raid is the biggest one in the U.S. That’s the film that got Pete’s attention, so it’s all about The Raid, everything comes from The Raid.
You’ve done three films with The Raid director Gareth Huw Evans. Will you work with him again?
Gareth lives in Wales now, right?
I think so, I’m Welsh too actually…
Oh, really? That’s why your accent is similar to his. I think I have to trust [that we will work together in the future]. We’re both so busy right now. Gareth’s doing [Apostle] in the U.K. and I’m working with Netflix right now on Wu Assassins.