Lewis Tan as Tolya Yul-Bataar and Anna Leong Brophy as Tamar Kir-Bataar in Shadow and Bone
Lewis Tan's Family Business
Following in his father's footsteps, the actor employs his martial arts training in his role on Netflix's Shadow and Bone.
Lewis Tan grew up on movie sets, watching his father, Philip Tan, an actor and stunt coordinator, work on films like Tim Burton's Batman and Steven Spielberg's Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
Building on skills that his dad taught him, Tan blazed his own path to stardom, often incorporating martial arts into his roles.
Tan's current role on Netflix's Shadow and Bone does just that. The fantasy show, which is based on two series of books by Leigh Bardugo (the Shadow and Bone trilogy and the Six of Crows duology), follows the story of a young, orphan mapmaker, Alina Starkov (Jessie Mei Li) as she faces dark forces and unleashes powers of her own.
Tan, who joined the series in the second season, plays Tolya Yul-Bataar alongside fellow season two newcomer Anna Leong Brophy, who plays his twin sister Tamar Kir-Bataar. Their characters may have supernatural abilities to manipulate elements, but they're also fighters, and Tan gets to display his proficiency in Muay Thai, Kung Fu and Japanese katana sword fighting.
Tan began his career acting in theatrical plays, before landing guest-starring and series regular roles. Even when a part had just one or two lines, he says, making bold choices helped his characters stand out.
"For instance, I had a guest role on Netflix's Iron Fist, playing [Zhou Cheng, also known as the] Drunken Master," Tan says. "I had a hand in designing the choreography, and chose to give him a British Hong Kong accent. It made my character unique and got a lot of attention."
That performance caught the eyes of Into the Badlands cocreators Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, who cast him as a series regular on their AMC show in 2018, which led to starring in Netflix's Wu Assassins the following year and then the 2021 film reboot of Mortal Kombat.
"It's important to me because it's a legacy my father gave me, and I wanted to bring back that Jackie Chan or Buster Keaton feeling," says Tan, who regularly does his own fight sequences . "They conveyed emotions through [physicality]. Acting isn't about the words. It's about what happens in between the words."
Tan, who is half-British and half-Chinese, was born in England, but grew up in the United States and traveled frequently because of his father's work. Being exposed to different cultures, religions and economic classes, he says, gave him a broad perspective on life.
"I have a love for travel, adventure and seeking out the unknown," Tan says. "The more we learn about each other, the more beautiful life is. The industry has progressed by opening up opportunities on TV and streaming platforms for Asian Americans and other voices. I believe there's still a long way to go, but I feel positive about the future."
Shadow and Bone is executive produced by coshowrunners and writers Eric Heisserer and Daegan Fryklind; author Leigh Bardugo; Shawn Levy, Josh Barry, Dan Levine and Dan Cohen for 21 Laps Entertainment; Pouya Shahbazian for Loom Studios; and Shelley Meals.