She’s a badass with a blade. So bad, it’s in her name–Sonya Blade, the sexy slasher from your youth, back when you first rocked Midway’s classic fight game, Mortal Kombat. As you might have heard, Blade is back, and she’s as beautiful and brutal as ever in the person of Jessica McNamee, who brings a beguiling mix of power and allure to the immortal character in the latest big screen adaptation, which drops Friday, April 23 on HBO Max and in theaters.
“My aim is to be challenged and somewhat scared as possible in each role I take. Half the challenge is conquering these characters that are a departure for me,” Jessica tells Maxim.
If you’ve seen the new movie then you know she she is quite the conqueror, even as she mentors young Cole Young (Lewis Tan), an MMA fighter destined to save the universe against the evil forces of Outworld. Joining them are fellow fighters Liu Kang (Ludi Lin), Kung Lao (Max Huang) and mercenary Kano (Josh Lawson).
As fierce as they are, it will be a cold day in hell before they find a way to stop Sub-Zero (Joe Taslim), who can turn anything to ice with a touch of his finger, including his opponent. As for the movie’s R-rating, “I’m not stripping down and walking naked through the desert or anything like that,” says Jessica. “It’s definitely for the gore, the blood, and the language.”
During pre-production, she met with trainer Nino Pilla every morning. Together they sharpened her skills with basic boxing, karate and Muay Thai. In the afternoons, they joined the rest of the cast and the stunt team to work on choreography.
True to her name, no one can outdo Sonya Blade when it comes to a knife fight, so Jessica had additional weapons training. Starting with punching and controlled movement, they added sticks before graduating to actual blades. Luckily, she suffered no cuts or injuries, at least not until she got to the wire work.
“My leg got caught and then I wound up with a bruise that ran the whole way up my leg, and it continued to turn black over the next week. It was amazing. My whole body was black and blue, particularly at the start. I wore those wounds with pride,” she laughs.
“There’s two big stunts they let me do. They were treading kind of carefully, they didn’t want me to get injured, and nor did I. But I was adamant about doing as many of my stunts that I could, and they took me weeks to learn. I was getting pretty close to injuring my knee. I don’t think I told them that at the time, or they would have told me not to do it anymore.”
Growing up one of five children in Sidney, Australia, Jessica has been acting since high school. She dropped out of Sidney University when she got her first gig, playing Lisa Duffy on the popular Australian T.V. series, Home and Away.
For a while, she worked both sides of the Pacific, taking a place in L.A., where she currently resides, after her big break in 2012, The Vow, a romance starring Channing Tatum and Rachel McAdams.
In 2017’s Battle of the Sexes, she played tennis player Margaret Court opposite Emma Stone as Billie Jean King and Steve Carrell as Bobby Riggs. But most fans know her as Lori in The Meg, the 2018 action-thriller starring Jason Statham versus a giant prehistoric shark. “He was a really cool dude,” she says of Statham. “He had a bunch of us over to watch a Conor McGregor fight. Lots of laughs on set, a bit of a prankster.”
Growing up with three sisters, Jessica was more familiar with Mario Kart than Mortal Kombat. “I played a lot more Princess Peach than I had Sonya Blade,” she confesses. “It wasn’t something I grew up with. So, I had to take a crash course in this world. I grew up very active, and was involved in sports, so I really enjoy being able to go into the world of using my physicality.”
The first thing she plans to do when restrictions are lifted is travel. She hasn’t been back to see her family in Australia since shooting the movie there in 2019. Other destinations on her list include Central America, Europe, and Africa. “I’m bummed this came out during COVID. I would have done some amazing travel for the press jun - ket. Maybe Mortal Kombat 2.”
Should Mortal Kombat become a new franchise, Jessica is signed on. “I’ve never been so excited in my life to play a character,” she gushes. “I was able to really sink my teeth into this character - physically, but I also have some meaty dramatic and comedic scenes in there as well. So, I would be stoked if we went forward. The whole universe, that would be great.”
Not just a master of kicking ass, she grew up performing in musical theater, and most of her work in the early part of her career relied more on acting chops than karate chops, a side she hopes to further explore. “I wouldn’t discriminate against any role. I would love to go do a lot more comedy and dramatic roles, particularly. A musical as well, something where I get to use my voice, I’d really love to delve into at some point.”
Offers have come her way since completing Mortal Kombat, but the pandemic has slowed down film and T.V. production. She hasn’t signed onto any future projects, instead waiting to see what impact the new movie has on her prospects. If the sequel is announced, her schedule will be very limited, so she must choose wisely.
“I want to be very specific with the roles I take, see what kind of direction I get,” she says, her voice electric with anticipation. “I want this to be a hit and see where I go from here.