With his rugged all good look and unbelievable range have been a constant presence on both large and small screens around the world, Linden Ashby is the definition of a leading man. His resume includes roles on hit television shows including ‘Melrose Place’ and ‘The Gates’ but it doesn’t stop there. Over the past three decades, Linden has appeared in over 50 films including ‘Wyatt Earp’ opposite Kevin Costner, ‘Prom Night’, ‘8 Seconds’ and ‘Resident Evil: Extinction’ with his good friend Milla Jovovich. However, to an entire generation of movie fans, he is instantly recognizable as the legendary “Johnny Cage” from ‘Mortal Kombat’ — a role he that cemented his place in pop culture history. His latest project is no less exciting than his previous work, as he currently co-stars as “Sheriff Stilinski” on MTV’s hit series ‘Teen Wolf’, which is in it’s second critically acclaimed season. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with the iconic actor to discuss his roots in the entertainment industry, being part of the very talented cast of MTV’s ‘Teen Wolf’, his experiences on the set of ‘Mortal Kombat’ and what the future holds for him in the years to come!
We want to give everyone a little background on you. Where did you grow up?
I grew up in a little town near Jacksonville, Florida called Atlantic Beach.
Tackling a career in entertainment is often not for the faint of heart. What drove you to pursue a career in the entertainment industry?
Ya know, I went to college out in Colorado where I was a dual major, business and psychology. While I was there, I started doing theater. I fell in love with it. I winded up dropping out of college in my junior year, pretty much to my parents disappointment! [laughs] I had good grades but I just felt I was wasting my time there. I moved to New York and studied at a place called The Neighborhood Playhouse with a guy named Sandy Meisner. I did two years there and then started working — doing theater and a soap in New York. So what drove me to it? I fell in love with it — and now I am too old to learn anything else!
Well, it seems to be working out for you so far!
So far! Yeah! [laughs]
Who would you cite as your biggest professional influence?
I got lucky enough to know Paul Newman pretty well when I was in my early 20s. He was a huge influence. His work ethic and his idea that you never stop studying or working on your craft has always stayed with me. If he was one thing, he was punctual. I have always made it a point to remember what he said about that and I am always on time! If you notice, what time did the phone ring for you? Our meeting was scheduled for 2 o’clock and the phone rang at 1:59! I think I was a little early calling you! [laughs] That is my pet peeve, people being on time. If you had a meeting with the president of the United States or whoever you really look up to and admire, I can guarantee you wouldn’t be late! Unless it is something totally unavoidable, you are telling me I really don’t matter. So yeah, that is one of my big pet peeves!
To what do you attribute your longevity in the industry?
Dumb luck! Absolutely dumb luck!
Ah, come on! There is some talent mixed in there too!
Nah, just dumb luck! And being too stubborn to quit!
You had so many diverse characters in many different genres. What is your typical process for bringing a character from script to screen?
I do a lot of research. There are roles that require physical study. For example, I played a matador in a movie, so I worked with a matador for four or five weeks. I learned all of the cape work and everything involved. That is certainly something you wouldn’t encounter in everyday life. I think all parts, in a way, require physical work because once you understand the physicality of the character, you start to understand the emotional life of the character and vice versa. I jump in pretty deep when it comes to that kind of stuff — much to the dismay of my wife and kids! [laughs] They are like, “Oh Jesus! Not again!” It’s funny because it is the horrible characters that you always bring home and the “best guy in the world” or “loving father” types, those connect and stay with you as well, but they don’t necessarily feel like a piece of you. You don’t want to bring those bad guys home but they are just like a tattoo you can’t get rid of. It easily takes about a month before you purge those characters from your system after you have played them.
You are currently starring in the hit MTV series “Teen Wolf.” For those who might be unfamiliar with your character on the show, what can you tell us about him?
My character is Sheriff Stilinski. I am Stilinski! It’s funny because I have no first name, nor does my son Stiles. We both have first names but the audience will never know them! I am Stilinski and he is Stiles. That is the way Jeff Davis wrote it. I asked him, “Do I have a name?” And he said, “Of course you have a name?” I said, “What is it?” And he replied, “I am not telling you.” [laughs] Stilinski is a single dad, his wife passed away and he finds himself raising a teenager and he is a sheriff in a medium sized community. My son, Stiles, is an incredibly bright kid but he is as ADD as the day is long! He is always getting in trouble and doing something that you can’t believe he is doing but I love him, I love him more than anything else in the world. There is a tug-of-war between whether I kill him or if I hug him! I don’t know! [laughs]
What attracted you to this project initially?
Initially, I have to tell you, I wasn’t that interested in it. I saw the title, “Teen Wolf,” and thought, “Wow. Really? They are doing that? Come on!” I did! All I could think about was the Michael J. Fox movie which was fine for what it was — it was the ‘80s, it was funny, it was campy and it was a take off of a Michael Landon movie. So, I am thinking, “Really?! Does no one have an original idea?” Then I read it and thought, “Holy crap! This is really good!” The only thing it has in common with the Michael J. Fox project is the title and the names of the characters. Other than that, forget about it! It is really compelling and very well written. When I saw that I said, “Sign me up!” Then I met the kids and I met Jeff [Davis] and Russell [Mulcahy]. i don’t think I talk enough about Russell in these interviews. I had worked with him on “Resident Evil: Extinction.” He is so very talented and I don’t think he gets enough credit for how talented he is. His process is amazing to watch, the way he storyboards. He draws out what he is thinking and is such a visual person, he is such a shooter! It is just gorgeous looking stuff! I realized that on “Resident Evil: Extinction,” so I was happy when Russell had been cast to direct the pilot. It was sort of a homecoming.
I remember meeting the kids as well at the first table read. We had just finished up and I looked at these guys, Dylan O’Brien and Tyler Posey, and I said, “You guys want to go grab a beer?” They were like, “Umm, we can’t drink. We are only 18. We are barely 18!” [laughs] I think that any TV set or movie set is a lot like a party. The party starts from the host, the guests, the setting — it is a whole ride that is created. That all starts from the top down. Jeff, Tyler, Dylan and all of kids, they set a tone that permeates the entire environment. It is such an ensemble piece and everybody is excited about what we are doing. Everyone is treated with respect. And those guys, the hours they work! They put in more hours than you can imagine and they never bitch! They never complain. They are never late! They are true professionals and they are great people to boot. They really are! It sounds like I am on a love fest with “Teen Wolf” — and I am! [laughs] There is nothing about it I don’t like! I look forward to going to work every single day and this project! There are a lot of projects I have done that I have said, “Oh my gosh, I don’t want to go!”
That is cool to hear from your perspective, as I thought the same thing when I heard they were remaking “Teen Wolf.” Let’s just say our hopes weren’t high. It is exciting to see how well it turned out and how excited you all are to be a part of it.
It is pretty cool, right? It is way more than you expect!
Absolutely! The writing for the series has been great, which is what really sucks you in.
Jeff is a really smart guy. Jeff Davis is one smart motherfucker! [laughs] He is! And I love him like a brother! He understands relationships and that is what he writes. He knows that is what people are going to tune in to watch. “Teen Wolf” is a coming of age story, it is a father and son story, it is a mother and son story, it’s friendship, it’s all encompassing and it is all about relationships. People can’t relate to werewolves but people can relate to people experiencing problems and having issues and if they happen to be werewolves, well, that is just the icing on the cake!
This isn’t your first time being part of a successful franchise.
I am sure you get asked about this all the time but you are instantly recognizable to an entire generation of movie fans as Johnny Cage from the “Mortal Kombat” films. What is it like to be Johnny Cage?
It’s funny, I remember when I got offered that project, I had just finished up “Wyatt Earp” with Kevin Costner, which was a gigantic, epic western. Once again, I read this script that was pretty unlikely. People don’t remember that there had not been a successful video game adaptation before “Mortal Kombat.” They had all been disasters. You had “Street Fighter,” “Mario Brothers” and “Double Dragon,” and those were all equally big games and the movies were crap, so I was a little worried about this “Mortal Kombat” thing. After I read the script, I went and met Paul W. S. Anderson, the director. We immediately connected. We clicked. The cool thing about “Mortal Kombat” was that everyone involved, with the exception of maybe one person, needed that film to be a success. Larry Kasanoff had just branched off from [James] Cameron and Kathryn Bigelow, this was his project, so he really needed it to work. Paul W.S. Anderson had just done a little art film and he needed it to work. Robin Shou needed it to work. I needed it to work. Everybody there needed this film to work and we all came together. The script, I don’t know a man, we rewrote a lot of that movie, Paul and I. We just came up with stuff that worked. We sorta caught lightning in a bottle. It is cool to look back almost 20 years later! I think it is almost three generations of people now who go, “Dude! You’re Johnny Cage!” [laughs] They will be like, “C’mon! Just say … Those were $500 sunglasses, asshole!” [laughs] It is hilarious! There are so many people who know all of the lines from the movie and have watched it hundreds of times. It is really cool to be part of a pop phenomenon, it really is.
We had a blast making the film and I have so many great memories of the experience. There were tons of fights, so those are both good and bad memories. Chris Casamassa, who played Scorpion, kicked me in the kidney so hard I was pissing blood! That is obviously not the fondest of memories but they are all good memories! [laughs] Things like hanging out with Paul and being in Thailand are great memories. Susan, my wife, came over and my kids were just babies, so I have more fond memories of that time than you can imagine. You know what the coolest thing is that I always think about? I think I have finally reached the age while doing “Teen Wolf” where I wish I would have just enjoyed the process more. I wish I hadn’t been nervous, sort of scared and so concerned with things I couldn’t control. i have finally reached this point in my life that I do enjoy the process. I just step back and, if there is something I see happening, I will mention it but I am just enjoying the ride, ya know? Much more than I used too! I used to just grind, night and day, just fuckin’ grind. I am surprised I have any teeth left! [laughs] Hell, I am surprised I have teeth, hair, fingernails, a stomach that isn’t eaten up with ulcers, you name it! I am surprised I am still married and my kids still speak to me!
You seem to be pretty content creatively. Is there still some type of role out there you feel compelled to tackle?
Porn I think. I am interested in doing some porn.
Be careful what you wish for! [laughs]
[laughs] Yeah, no kidding right! [laughs] I did a movie called “Time of Her Time” where I played that matador. It was about a guy in the late ‘50s that grew up in west Texas and then went down to Mexico to become a bullfighter. Now it’s 1959 and he is in Greenwich Village, sleeping his way through the village. It was as close to porn as anything I have done. The only thing that saved it and makes you say, “It’s not porn, it’s art,” is the fact that Norman Mailer wrote it! Otherwise, I would have been like, “Holy shit!” Susan was already saying, “Holy shit, really? You are doing this?” I said, “It’s Mailer. How can I not do it!?” [laughs] Outside of porn? No, I don’t long for anything. It is all about a good script. It all lives and dies with the script. You can have a great script, an OK director and an OK cast and you still have a good shot at making a movie. If you have a shitty script, I don’t care if you have Stanley Kubrick come back from the grave, you are just polishing a turd. It is all about the script. As I have gotten to know more and more writers through my career, there is no one I admire more. Talk about intimidating. Looking at the blank page and then creating something from that blank page is amazing. Even if you are a painter, you are painting some thing usually. As far as writing a script or novel, you are just pulling it out of the ether. I am a good fixer. I am not great with the original idea but I am a good editor, a fixer. I am good at improving on something but as far as an original idea, those come from the people who are great at generating ideas.
Since you have been around the block, what is the best advice you can pass along to aspiring actors looking to pursue a career in the entertainment industry?
My advice is the same advice I would give to anyone doing anything — be the best you can possibly be at whatever you are doing. Take pride in your work and know that when you go home every night and your head hits the pillow, you can rest easy because you know you did the best possible job you could. And leave fear at home. Fear is the most debilitating emotion we have, it can paralyze you. Caution is a good thing and there are things you should be afraid of but anxiety and fear have no place in anything productive.
And always be on time!
Yes, always be on time and tip well! Always tip well! [laughs] And be nice to the receptionist because she might be running the studio next month! [laughs]
What other projects do you have on the horizon we should be on the lookout for?
Ya know, I am doing the stuff on “Teen Wolf” and I don’t know, maybe I am lazy but this is the first time I haven’t been hustling for a job. I know we have been picked up for next season and I have been incredibly unmotivated to get a job! [laughs] I went out and bought a motorcycle yesterday, I ride dirt bikes, I have a surf trip scheduled, I am going to Indonesia and I am headed to upstate New York next week, so I am absolutely unmotivated to get a job! I am being a lazy, lazy motherfucker! [laughs]
It’s a good spot to be in when you can do it!
Yeah! I mean, how often as an actor are you able to say, “I know I have a job come October?” So, I am kinda kickin’ it right now. It’s funny because I talk to Dylan and Tyler and they are hitting the ground running and setting up job after job. It’s just boom, boom, boom and it’s all about what they are doing during the hiatus. They ask me, “What are you doing?” And I say, “Now? Nothing. Just waking up. Hanging out with Susan and the dogs, doing a little traveling and trying not to get into any trouble!”
Is there anything I missed, anything you want to plug or let people know where they can catch up with you online?
Ya know, I am not a big online guy. I think I have a Facebook account, in fact, I know I do because I look at it every month or so! [laughs] I did an interview the other day and we got talking about tweeting and I said, “I think I have a Twitter account.” And sure enough I do. The last tweet was from 2009 but I had done four or five tweets total in my entire tweeting career which spanned much of 2009! [laughs] I am an analog guy in a digital world!
Thank you for your time today, Linden. It has been a pleasure and a lot of fun talking to you. We look forward to spreading the word on your work and on “Teen Wolf.”
Thank you! I really appreciate you having me. Take care!
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.