Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

What It's Really Like Playing Takeshi Kovacs On Altered Carbon - Exclusive

Altered Carbon's Takeshi Kovacs is a complicated character on an equally complicated show. The Netflix original series tells a multi-layered story in a futuristic world in which people can transfer their consciousness via disc from body to body, potentially living forever. Kovacs is a former-soldier-turned-rebel-turned-prisoner who's put on ice and awakened 250 years later in a new body, called a "sleeve," in order to hunt down a murderer in exchange for his freedom.

Usually only seen in flashbacks, the original Kovacs is played by Will Yun Lee, also known for his roles as Dr. Alex Park on The Good Doctor and as Sang Min on Hawaii Five-0, as well as for his appearances in movies like The Wolverine, Elektra, and Rampage. (Another actor plays his sleeve: On season 1 of Altered Carbon, it's Suicide Squad's Joel Kinnaman, while season 2 features Anthony Mackie, best known as the Falcon from the Avengers film franchise.)

In an exclusive interview with Looper, Lee talked about the physical demands of the show and what it takes to bring two actors together to make one character — revealing in the process what it's really like playing Takeshi Kovacs on Altered Carbon.

Playing Takeshi Kovacs is intense and physically demanding

"Altered Carbon is a very intense show," Lee admits. "It's all run-and-gun. Whether you're fighting, or whatever, the physical demands are pretty heavy. But I love that epic, operatic scale of a show."

Lee brings with him a lifetime of martial arts training as a Taekwondo master with a fifth-degree black belt, which proves useful on the set of Altered Carbon. It came especially in handy when he had to fight his futuristic counterpart played by Mackie on one memorable episode when it was Kovacs versus Kovacs.

"Martial arts come in handy in a lot of different ways — particularly in this role and that scene," Lee says. "In my mind, for my character, I knew how to frame the scene so that the fight kind of explained who the characters were, because there wasn't a ton of dialogue. I had a lot of actor's notes and things I wanted to accomplish in that scene — I really wanted it to be a 'holy s***' moment. I wanted the fight to show the audience that [both Kovacs] have the same moves, and because of that it becomes a game of chess."

Lee was impressed with Mackie's on-screen fighting skills, especially since they didn't rehearse much. 

"A TV show comes together much differently than a movie," he explains. "When I did a fight scene with Hugh Jackman in The Wolverine, we had rehearsed it for a month. With Altered Carbon, they didn't ease us into it. We had maybe 30 minutes of rehearsal together, and with a fight scene, it can either go really bad or really great. A lot of actors I've fought who haven't had a lot of on-camera fighting experience, you can get hurt — it's all about timing. And Anthony's timing was impeccable."

How two actors playing Takeshi Kovacs become one on Altered Carbon

Despite two actors playing the same character, things come together organically behind the scenes of Altered Carbon, even though the actors don't interact much off-screen. In fact, the day Lee and Mackie filmed their fight scene was the first time they had met.

"I have been a fan of Anthony's since way back in the day when he did Spike Lee's show Sucker Free City, so I was excited to work with him," Lee shares with Looper. "We spent a little time together, but by the time we met, the train had been on full speed [filming the rest of the season]. Luckily, we synced really well, even though his stunt double taught him his moves and my stunt double taught me my moves. But sporadically between takes, we'd ask each other, 'Hey, what about doing this move?'"

And when it came to working with Kinnaman on the first season of Altered Carbon, things fell together almost as easily.

"Season one was an interesting process because I come in late to the game because I was working on another show," Lee explains. "By the time I jumped in, Joel had filmed most of his episodes, so I had to look through the script and watch some scenes to see how I could create an arc based off what he'd already done. But since I'm the origin character, I had a lot of leeway. But I had to figure out how to get from Joel's character, who's so hardened and has this bleak view of the world, to my character. You have to start him from a place of love and wonderment and simplicity."