The Arizona Republic
Copyright 1998 Phoenix Newspapers, Inc.
Sunday, December 27, 1998

Special Thanks to Suzette Zurbano for providing the article.


Kate O'Hare, Tribune Media Services

"I'm in show-biz nothing, which is kind of nice," says Paolo Montalban from the set of his series, Mortal Kombat: Conquest, in Orlando. "You don't have all that backstabbing and insider trading - and the incest!"

The one-hour, weekly syndicated series is the brainchild of Lawrence Kasanoff, chairman and CEO of Threshold Entertainment, a digital-media company involved in merging technology and entertainment. Born as a video game, Mortal Kombat also has spawned two feature films, a direct-to-video special; a Web site (; a CD-ROM; a toy line; and an animated series.

The basic concept is that ages ago, the Earth was coveted by invaders from the Outworld Realms. Because these invaders had powers that Earthlings didn't, the Elder Gods, who ruled all realms, devised Mortal Kombat, in which Earth warriors could pit their minds and muscle against Outworlders to protect the planet from invasion.

Montalban - who, by the way, is not related to Ricardo Montalban - plays Kung Lao, a warrior raised by monks to be a Mortal Kombat warrior. Joining him in his battles with various demons and evil creatures are Taja (Kristanna Loken), a former thief whose life Kung Lao saved; and hulking ex-bodyguard Siro (Daniel Bernhardt).

The role represents a change of pace for Montalban, who last was seen as Prince Charming in ABC's Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella, and, before that, on Broadway in The King and I.

Was he familiar with Mortal Kombat? "To be quite honest, I played the video game in college. I was good up until the Mortal Kombat 2 series, then it just got too hard. I said, 'OK, I'm going to save my quarters now and spend them on the rent.' "

Like its compatriots in the fantasy realm, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess, Mortal Kombat: Conquest features scads of scantily clad villainesses (and a frequently scantily clad Taja). "We have the stunning women and the most incredible martial arts you've ever seen on TV," Montalban says. "It's not a bad job. In fact, I think I'm the only fully clothed one most of the time on the series.

"I think it's so that I can gain as much weight as I want at the craft service table. There are a couple of episodes where they have the old sexploitation for the female viewers."

Montalban sang and danced in Cinderella, which has been helpful, because he's no martial-arts expert. "I'm an actor. I took a ballet class in college just because all the girls were there. I figured I had the inside track. But that background, and the background of the musical theater and stage, that helps me a lot with the fight choreography."

Preparing for the role meant much more than learning lines. "We started the training as soon as we got here, and it was pretty intense for the first couple of weeks. Now, we're training three, four times a week with a martial-arts instructor, doing our regular gym routines, and at the same time shooting 12-hour days. I didn't have much of a life for the first month.

"I understand now when people on series say 'I don't have a girlfriend' or 'I'm not seeing anyone.' Who has the time to, unless you're already married or you're deeply embedded in a relationship."

Perhaps you should have planned ahead. "I tried!"

Will Kung Lao, at least, have a love life? "I lost my girlfriend, so that pretty much haunts me for most of the season, unless they've changed their minds. I certainly hope so. I was looking forward to being the Capt. Kirk of Mortal Kombat, a different alien woman each week."

When he first took the role, Montalban was concerned about being typecast as an action hero, but that didn't last long. "My sister said, 'What, are you kidding me? You're working!' The voice of reason. I always listen to my sister. She's always right."