Death Dealer is one of the primary antagonists in Marvel Studios’ Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. For a while, Marvel kept the identity of the Death Dealer under wraps, which was a great decision, as the character’s eye popping design added to the mystery and intrigue of who was behind the mask. After much speculation, several members of the cast and crew revealed last month via social media that Death Dealer was played by martial arts viral sensation Andy Le of Martial Club.
I’ve been a fan of Le’s for several years now after seeing some highlight videos of his on social media. I was immediately hooked by his incredible talent and flair for the dramatic. Le and his fellow Martial Club brothers, including Brian Le, Joseph Le and D.Y. Sao, have been putting out incredible martial arts videos for years, and together had the opportunity to work on Shang-Chi.
I had the chance to speak with Le at length about his experience working on Marvel’s first Asian led superhero film. He talked about how he landed the role of Death Dealer, working with the legendary stunt coordinator Brad Allan who recently passed away, training Simu Liu and representing the Vietnamese community.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
Marvel Studios’ Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings premieres Friday, September 3rd!
POC Culture: The Death Dealer himself, Andy Le! How are you?
Andy Le: Dude I’m good man. I’m still like trying to take everything in. It’s been pretty surreal bro. I think this is just the beginning, you know? I think I still got a lot more that I need to do, a a lot more I want to do and this is perfect.
POC Culture: Definitely so let’s start with something fun. The red carpet premiere of Shang-Chi was just last Monday. What was the coolest part for you to be a part of that?
Andy Le: The coolest part for me was to be able to represent where I came from. You know, for me it was always martial arts first. I’m a lot of things. I’m an actor, but first and foremost I’m a martial artist. I started my journey in the industry because of martial arts. Because of martial arts movies, and when I saw the heroes that I looked up to on screen, I knew one day, I wanted to be just like them, and for me it’s been martial arts from the beginning.
So you know I came in I repped my set. You saw the the Marshal Club logo on my pants. I repped my colors and I repped my moves. I just came in there and just, be myself and rep what I believed in, and I think that’s as genuine as it can be and that’s the most I can ask for.
POC Culture: Yeah and I think it totally came through. Your authenticity and your passion were just infectious in all your interviews and on the red carpet. I think you definitely did that.
Andy Le: My jitters man! My jitters showed! You know I actually practiced with my manager and my teammates leading up to the red carpet. They would hit me with interviews at random times. They would just be like “Hey all, so as an Asian American…” [using an mock interview voice]. And then they would practice with me and I would practice to try to be all suave.
This isn’t my first red carpet, but as soon as I got up there, I was like, “Oh yeah I’m a fanboy and my fanboy is showing!” But I think at a certain point, my brother and my manager were just like, “Just let it be man. That’s how he is. Let it show.”
POC Culture: Agreed. I think that was the right choice and you definitely charmed everyone with your personality and your skills. You’ve been doing martial arts tricks a long time. What was it like to finally be able to display that to the whole world?
Andy Le: You know it’s one of those moments where I feel like I trained my whole life for this and don’t mess this one up. I think moments like this…it’s kind of weird to say, but as a martial artist, when I train, I chase this fight or flight mode and I call this “the Warrior Spirit” when everything is on the line. Your life is on the line. When you go into a training session, you train like your life is on the line. And I definitely felt that on the red carpet, because, you know, this can determine your future or not. So I think it’s one of those moments that I felt so alive. It was just a thrill. That’s what I really enjoy. I’m kind of an adrenaline junkie if you can’t tell! [Laughing].
POC Culture: I can see that! [Laughing]. I think you’re the perfect person to play Death Dealer. How did this role come about?
Andy Le: I have to give credit to [Supervising Stunt Coordinator] Brad Allan who very recently passed away. First and foremost, I give my condolences to his family and anyone who he positively impacted in his life. He always sought to push the envelope and break grounds. He was always looking for undiscovered talent and giving us a chance, me included. Because before this I was just doing YouTube videos, putting out martial arts short films and creating content, putting them on YouTube as a platform to get ourselves out there.
Brad Allan…he recognized the potential. Initially, he wanted to hire me to work as a stunt performer. And all respect to stunt performers. They work really hard, they take all the hits, no one sees their faces, but I told Brad I wanted to do more and show the world what I can do. Eventually, he was like, “Okay, if something comes up, I will call you back.” Fast forward a couple months later, he calls me and he’s like, “Hey, there’s this role that’s perfect for you. This character’s name is Death Dealer and he’s a ninja, your style, your aesthetics, it’s just perfect for you.” And then they sent me the concept art of the costume and I’m like,” Yo! This is me! This is ninja as hell!” I kind of felt like that role was tailored for me.
You know I really wouldn’t have been able to be anywhere near where I’m at right now, without Brad’s help, so I really owe him a lot for that.
POC Culture: That’s awesome.
Andy Le: Brad is a Jackie Chan Stunt Team veteran and, in my opinion, I think he’s one of the best. And how poetic was it that a veteran of the Jackie Chan Stunt Team sought out Martial Club for a role in the MCU? It’s just like…it’s so poetic, the story, the narrative, how it plays out in real life, you know?
POC Culture: Definitely. So take us to actually preparing and training for Shang-Chi and working with Brad. What was the training like for the film and working with the stunt team?
Andy Le: Well I keep up with my training year-round. So physically, preparing…like I said, I felt like the role was tailored towards me and I was physically already prepared. The only training was the choreography and the rehearsals; rehearsing with the actors and rehearsing with the other stuntmen. We had a long time to prepare for it. With a budget like Marvel, we got a lot of time to prepare for it actually; a lot of rehearsal days. I think that’s good because that’s just more time to…you choreograph and you get time to optimize it to make it the best that it can be.
POC Culture: Now the Death Dealer is one of the best looking characters in the whole MCU. He’s such a cool character design. You have the challenge of playing this silent assassin, so you’ve got to really emote and act physically. What did you add to the personality of Death Dealer and how did you go about fleshing out his character?
Andy Le: You know there are a couple factors that Death Dealer brings. He brings the mystery factor – people want to know what’s going on behind that mask. He brings the exotic factor and he brings the danger factor. Whenever Death Dealer’s on the screen, the stakes are higher. And for me, my ability in martial arts, performing in front of a camera is when I feel the most alive and that’s where the energy comes from. I think just being behind that mask really put me into that character.
POC Culture: And you really did an amazing job because anytime that the Death Dealer pops on screen, it’s like lightning. I compared it to a burst of kinetic energy whenever you’re there.
A lot of your scenes are with Shang-Chi, fighting Simu Liu. What was it like doing the choreography, training and preparation for those scenes with him?
Andy Le: What was crazy was when I first started, I was training Simu a little bit in the very beginning. Before Brad hired me on to do stunts, he hired me on to start first as a coach to train Simu. So Simu was out in LA for a couple months I believe, and every day I would drive all the way out to LA, train four hours with him, and then just repeat the next day.
Those two months, the time spent really added up. And what’s funny is the chemistry, that I was kind of his martial arts coach, who knew later in the movie I would be playing Shang-Chi’s coach? I think that chemistry carried on all the way to then. We already kind of had a chemistry together, you know with martial arts and choreography, and I think just the rehearsal hours…because later as he was shooting, it was kind of hard to pull time from him, because he was always shooting every day. So whenever we got the chance, put me and him in a rehearsal room, we would rehearse and I think naturally, the chemistry just came out organically.
POC Culture: And you also worked with Michelle Yeoh.
Andy Le: Oh my God yes! That’s not the first time I worked with her, by the way. I worked with her very recently on an A24 film (Editor’s note: Possibly Everything Everywhere All At Once). I can’t say too much on it, but I’m just going to say that wasn’t the first time I worked with her. I remember the first time I worked with her on the A24 film, I remember she walked into the rehearsal room and I was like…I was getting jittery. My heart was racing! Why? Because she was the Queen. She was the Kung Fu heroine of my generation. Obviously I grew up on martial arts movies. Mind you, I learned a lot of my martial arts, self taught, from martial arts movies. And she was like the Queen of the era that I learned from. So I’m like meeting my lifelong teacher for the first time. Even till today, like each time I would stand with her in front of the camera and face off, and fast forward a few months later we hop on the next project together on Shang-Chi, me standing off next to her, I just felt the jitters and I felt alive. I was just like, “Dude, this is a dream.”
With Michelle Yeoh, I feel like over these past couple of projects, I’ve gotten to know her more as a person, and she kind of, in a way, took me under her wing. And even then, I still get pretty starstruck standing next to her. So I don’t know if that’s ever going to go away. She’s had such a positive impact in my life.
POC Culture: I love hearing that because I feel like, like you said, she is the Queen and represents everything from our youth. And you represent this new blood, the next generation that’s carrying the torch. So I love to hear that she’s taken you under her wing.
So this film is really cool because, not only is it one of the most important Asian American films in history, but you got to share it with with Brian [Le] and Joseph [Le]. So what did it mean to you to share that with your brothers, with people who have been doing this with you?
Andy Le: It’s a dream come true. You know it honestly felt like the the camaraderie that Jackie [Chan], Sammo [Hung] and Yuen Biao had getting in. I think it was meant to be. Sharing that experience with your brothers, you can’t replace that. I think like, opportunities like this, they don’t come easy, but that just comes to show that this film was kind of meant for us. Joseph was heavy on the action design side and Brian was on stunts. We got on together as a group. I should also mention D.Y. [Sao]. Brian, D.Y. and me, all three of us trained Simu in the beginning. So I just think that the fact that Brad sought out all of us and brought us all on together, it just really came to show that this was a project that was meant for Martial Club.
POC Culture: Hundred percent. You’re the first Vietnamese American actor in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The first thing you said during our conversation right now is, you represented. Do you feel a burden at all or excitement about representing the Vietnamese community in this film?
Andy Le: Yeah I mean I’m excited to do this because I know…Vietnamese, we come from…my parents, they came from the embattled country you know? Us Southeast Asians, we didn’t have it easy. To be honest, I think the reason why I work so hard was because my parents worked really hard coming here from Vietnam.
Just a quick story, my dad and his family, his brothers and sisters and my grandma and my grandpa, they were escaping on a boat and they got caught. And my dad took the hit for all them and he said, “Let them all go and take me.” So they took him into a concentration camp and they had a gun to his head, while he was scrubbing the bottoms of toilets. So he traumatized me with stories like that. And coming over here, my mom starting up a business, and we were barely making anything enough to survive. We had such a hard time getting food on the table. That’s where the the fighting mentality comes from. We came from an embattled country and I want to get us out of that now.
Obviously, my parents wanted me to become a doctor or a lawyer, just like most Asians. They were like, “We came here from Vietnam. Don’t mess this one up! We want you to have a good life. Live a comfortable life.” Where they messed up was that they fed me Kung Fu movies. [Laughing]. So because I got picked on a lot in school, and when you get picked on a lot and you watch Kung Fu heroes, you know, fighting off the bad guys, standing up to the bullies, standing up to oppression, it makes you feel a certain way; to feel empowered watching them. So I knew I wanted to be just like that and them. All that energy and that trauma, I channeled it towards the dream of becoming the next martial arts superstar. Now I’m working extra hard to make it. To get us out of here. I’m working extra hard to make something for all of us, my friends and family.
POC Culture: That’s so powerful and you’re doing it. I think your story resonates with so many. So what’s your message for the Vietnamese American kids and any Southeast Asian kids watching you?
Andy Le: I have a lot. Whatever dream you have, whatever you want to do, there’s going to be a lot of people telling you you can’t do it. You just have to ignore that. And if you really have the heart for it, just pursue your dreams and not mind what anyone else says. Go full force at it and there’s no way that you can’t make it. And I’m on that journey with you, so we’ll be sharing it together. I’m here to show the world what the Vietnamese can do.
POC Culture: I love that. So what’s next for you? Aside from the A24 film you referenced, is there anything else you’re working on or what would your dream project be?
Andy Le: On the topic of representing Vietnamese, I always thought of these big Hollywood projects as the stepping stone. It helps get my name out there and the next big step I have, I’m in development for a big passion project in Vietnam, and I’m also in development for a Martial Club passion project of our own. I have a lot of stories I want to tell and I want to tell it through film and I want to inspire people with it and that’s the next step.
POC Culture: That’s really exciting and I’m glad to hear you say that because we need more authentic Asian American storytelling. And I think you’re one of the perfect people to do that.
Andy Le: Thank you man I’m here to represent for all of us. Thank you so much for having me and for all the support along the way.
Ron is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of POC Culture. He is a big believer in the power and impact of pop culture and the importance of representation in media.