Indonesian-born Iko Uwais may not be a household name yet, but he’s breaking down boundaries as quickly as his characters break bones. Action fans were blown away by his starring role as Rama in the 2011 martial arts extravaganza “The Raid: Redemption,” where he played a naïve cop fighting against a corrupt boss. In the meantime, he also paired with another martial arts icon in last year’s “Man of Tai Chi,” directed by and co-starring Keanu Reeves. This week, he returns in one of the most awaited sequels of the year (sorry, Cap) in “The Raid 2,” written and directed by his good friend, Gareth Evans. He recently sat down to discuss working with Reeves, his relationship with Evans, as well as bringing appreciation of his martial art form, pencak silat, to audiences around the globe.
BULLZ-EYE: How did you go about improving as an actor from your time in the original “Raid”?
IKO UWAIS: I learned a lot, especially from Gareth, because he knows the characters and the role. I took it into my heart, integrated everything and I played along. It happened naturally after that.
BULLZ-EYE: How does the Indonesian martial arts differ from other styles?
IKO UWAIS The basic moves are the same. The difference is that there are many types of pencak silat, Indonesian martial arts in Indonesia. From pencak silat alone, there are many different schools. Thousands of schools. In choreographing for this movie, I combined some moves from different schools.
BULLZ-EYE: How was it working with Keanu Reeves in last year’s “Man of Tai Chi?”
IKO UWAIS: I can’t explain, because I was really happy. I was happy to work with him. He was very wise. He was very friendly and he also directed the movie. He always told me what he wanted. Usually, there’s a relationship between the director and the actors. He approached the actors.
BULLZ-EYE: The fighting in the film is as breathtaking as it is violent. Does pencak silat also stress a spiritual side as well?
IKO UWAIS: Yes, absolutely. In pencak silat, especially, the spiritual aspect is very dominant.
BULLZ-EYE: Was doing the choreography for this film more difficult due to the expanded locations?
IKO UWAIS: The choreography was more involved in this one.
BULLZ-EYE: Is it easier working with a director with a martial arts background such as Keanu?
IKO UWAIS: It’s different in their ways of thinking. Keanu had a very good martial arts background with his Tai Chi, but Gareth knows the culture of Indonesia, especially pencak silat, because he made a documentary about pencak silat. He knew the moves already and remembered the moves. Keanu knew the basic martial arts and understood martial arts better. But Gareth knows more about pencak silat and the movie is more specific towards pencak silat. In “Man of Tai Chi,” Keanu already had a choreographer for him. Then, he asked him to add a few more moves, but he was also very open-minded.
BULLZ-EYE: Have you tried to teach pencak silat to Gareth or Keanu?
IKO UWAIS: Sometimes when Gareth and I are on location, we’ll try some pencak silat like blocking. During the break, we did a few pencak silat moves. During the shooting of Keanu’s movie, we didn’t have any time.
BULLZ-EYE: How many real fights have you been in?
IKO UWAIS: In real life? There were some. There was a brawl between schools. I went into one classroom and the kids in the class started beating me up. (LAUGHS) I just reacted to that, so I started fighting, but not because I wanted to show that I knew pencak silat.
BULLZ-EYE: What do you think is missing from the martial arts genre?
IKO UWAIS: In the States? I watch a lot of Hollywood movies and a lot of martial arts movies. Action movies in the U.S. tend to put more emphasis on the choreography. We need to add more art, not just choreography. For the fights, there’s usually only one-on-one or two-on-one. When you have two-on-one, one is fighting and the other is watching. It’s an art.
BULLZ-EYE: It really is. I remember in class, the teacher would point to three or four students and say, “Ok, beat up Billy!”
IKO UWAIS: (LAUGHS) That’s the challenge. When you’re against two people, we naturally think both will beat us at the same time and our minds are already set for that. How can you portray it in the movies? How do you adapt what’s naturally out there to the movies.
BULLZ-EYE: I found it to be less stressful being the one ganged up on than being part of the gang.
IKO UWAIS: That way you can use the technique. (LAUGHS) It’s not emotional when you use the technique. When you’re fighting one-on-one, you’re being emotionally involved and you get to run amok, right? You forgot all your techniques. If you can control your emotions and calm down, even if ten people punch you, you can block and duck.
BULLZ-EYE: How does your wife react to seeing you onscreen?
IKO UWAIS: She hasn’t seen the movie yet. She’s seen the first one and then we met. We met on Twitter.
BULLZ-EYE: Was she a fan?
IKO UWAIS: My wife is a singer. She’s really famous in Indonesia. Her name is Audy. She never watched Indonesian movies before. One of her bandmates forced her to watch “The Raid.” He said this movie is really good. To prepare for the movie, she bought a lot of food, but when the movie started, but she wish she hadn’t because there was a lot of blood in the beginning. (LAUGHS) She saw the movie and thought Rama was cool.
BULLZ-EYE: How does she feel about you being an international sex symbol?
IKO UWAIS: (LAUGHS) I never thought about myself that way. She’s really worried, especially when I came here. Every day, she’d call and text me, and I’d say, “I’m in my room. See?” (LAUGHS) I have a baby now.
BULLZ-EYE: Explain your relationship with Gareth. Watching you guys interact is almost like watching two brothers.
IKO UWAIS: Everything is because of Gareth. Because my religion is Muslim, I think really positive. We never know our destiny or who will be in our life. Gareth trusts me. I value that highly. It can’t be measured in money or anything else. I also trust him.