After making her Mortal Kombat debut as Sonya Blade in last year’s Mortal Kombat Legends: Scorpion’s Revenge, Jennifer Carpenter is back to reprise her role as the no-nonsense fighter in its direct sequel Mortal Kombat Legends: Battle of the Realms. As the final tournament between EarthRealm and Outworld begins, Sonya is readied to dole out pain and joins a team of champions to ensure Earth remains free from the villainous Shao Khan’s tyranny.
In an exclusive interview with CBR, Carpenter discussed reprising her role as Sonya, shared what appeals to her about the character and animated films, and teased what fans can expect with her ethereal reprisal of Debra Morgan in the upcoming Dexter revival series.
Here on the 30th anniversary of Mortal Kombat, you get to voice Sonya Blade in two animated films. What was it about this character that made you want to join this project and return for the sequel?
Jennifer Carpenter: I should put it out there that I’m not a gamer. I’ve certainly heard of Mortal Kombat before but I wasn’t sure exactly what it was all about. I did what all actors do and got online and did a little research. [laughs] I’ll work with this group any day of the week so I knew I wanted to do it, in that respect, but I did a little research on her.
I realized that, in 1992, she was the first female character involved. She’s a trailblazer, so I can certainly get behind that. I like that she was fashioned after an actual martial artist… I felt like I wanted to be grouped in with these women.
I know this isn’t your first project with voice director Wes Gleason but how was it working with him on this?
If you get behind his reins, he’ll pull you very expeditiously in one direction or another. You get in the booth and make your first try at it but, as soon as it starts to feel a little lost or you want to make a different choice, he’s got thirty at the ready. He’s really malleable, and, if there’s a certain way you prefer to work, he can find a way into that. There’s so much action and so many positions to follow vocally that sometimes he’ll just let me run for one or two minutes. If there’s something to follow, go crazy with punching. [laughs] Not only is it faster but it seems like a great way to maintain energy and that’s a system that you have locked into working on different projects together. I really respect him and he has such a unique job. It’s so much fun and I’m always happy when those calls come in and I hope they continue to.
Outside of the research, was there a specific line or direction that informed your approach to Sonya Blade?
No, I was really just trying to read the script and see if there was something I could offer her that I haven’t offered another character and what she could offer me that I haven’t met in another character, and to be brave enough to go in there and try out my choices. Wes did a good job of talking with me to shave down certain edges and bring out other parts that seemed like they belong. And it’s cool because it happens in a matter of a few days — a few days at the top of the year and a few at the end of the year — there’s no room to struggle. That’s one of the great pleasures of playing someone who is as hard-edged as her, you just want to borrow her concrete confidence and get to work.
What did you want to leave with such an iconic character and what did you want to walk away with from the experience as a new tool in your toolbox?
The thing I wanted to walk away with, as you said, she’s been in your gaming world for thirty years. I had a responsibility to some very loyal fans and I’m not going to be able to check in with each and every one of them. [laughs] But I wanted to feel like I left knowing that I was telling the truth. I did feel that way, whether they’re satisfied or not — I hope they are. I wanted to be a good scene partner for Joel McHale. I think he’s incredibly talented and super hilarious and I was shocked by the great choices he found that informs everything around him. I left very happy.
After having seen the level of violence and action in Scorpion’s Revenge, did that inform your approach returning for the sequel?
It did! I’ve been in scary movies, but I don’t watch scary movies. I like trailers for action movies but I can’t really watch them with my kid. [laughs] When I was going through it and staying in these scenes for long periods of time while we filled in all the audio, it was jarring to see so much violence, blood, pain, and revenge. [laughs] It’s sort of like having a hard drink, I kind of liked it. [laughs] I don’t know if I want to live in that world but I’ll live in it as long as these movies survive. [laughs] I think I got PTSD from some of the pictures that I saw.
And, Jennifer, you had one of the most brutal, heartbreaking deaths in Dragged Across Concrete!
Once people see you emote on camera, that’s when some of the typecasting begins. I was doing comedies in college at Juilliard, I thought that’s what I’d be doing my whole life, but once I did an exorcism [in The Exorcism of Emily Rose], all bets were off. [laughs]
Some of the cast got to record their lines together in the booth. Did you get to play opposite Joel or were you just with the director and producers?
I had his voice but I did not have the pleasure of being in the same room as him and I think that would have been so much fun , but maybe next time.
As someone that’s done plenty of voiceover and live-action work before, do you find the booth liberating or intimidating with only having that one tool in your toolbox available?
I think it’s liberating because, when I was training, we would do voice classes and exercises for the better part of thirteen hours a day. I like the idea that your work is contained and sometimes they’ll take a b-roll video of what you look like when you’re doing that kind of work… But if you could only see what I’m doing when I’m trying to make certain sounds. [laughs] I like it. It’s sort of like a public secret: your voice is being record and there’s going to be proof you were there, but some of it will always somehow be private between us and the people that made it.
I know you’ve been fielding a fair bit of questions about Dexter lately, but as someone who had a definitive end in the main series, what made you want to come back as Debra Morgan for the revival series?
If this next version of it is a restaurant, I certainly placed an order. I wanted to go back and haunt, repair, hurt, save and abuse the person that vandalized my life as Debra. That’s what I wanted to do, and, at times, I think I got to but, with the nature of the work this time around, isolating was a complete necessity for the character. I tried to pull myself away from whatever this storyline is, for ten episodes, and live in my own existence where the only thing I had to truly do was take Dexter’s emotional temperature and work from there and that’s what I did. I felt like I was just sort of the air around Dexter, there but not really there, involved but not involved, responsible but not really responsible. That was a nice place to live. [laughs]
Now that Battle of the Realms is out in the world, what are you most excited about for fans to see with the film and your return as Sonya Blade?
I want it to keep going! I’m incredibly happy to be a part of this but I want to see where this goes next and I hopefully want to be involved. I should probably try a game or two at some point too, I bet I’d be really good at it. [laughs]
Directed by Ethan Spaulding, Mortal Kombat Legends: Battle of the Realms is available now on Digital HD and Blu-ray/4K UHD.
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