How Mike Moh got the role of Bruce Lee in 'Once Upon a Time in Hollywood' is wonderful

Hanna Flint
Contributor
Mike Moh arrives at the World Premiere of "Marvel's Inhumans" in IMAX, 2017. (Richard Harbaugh via Getty Images)

Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood is Quentin Tarantino’s tribute to the old guard of Tinseltown but one of the film’s stars has a true Hollywood story themselves.

Mike Moh, who plays Bruce Lee in the film, had big dreams of becoming a TV star and had landed roles in 2 Broke Girls, True Blood and Empire as well as the short-lived Marvel series Inhumans playing Triton.

However, his acting work wasn’t enough to support his family so he returned to Wisconsin to open up a Dojo called Moh’s Martial Arts, according to Brad Pitt who spoke of his co-star during a roundtable with Entertainment Weekly.

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“I love Mike Moh's story because he was an actor and things weren't working out for him so he moved away to provide for his family and open up a dojo,” Pitt says. “He moves away and gets the role.”

Moh is a fifth-degree black belt in American Taekwondo and has won plenty of martial arts championships over the years but when he heard that Tarantino was looking for a Bruce Lee he contacted the film’s casting director immediately.

The actor travelled from Wisconsin to Los Angeles to audition and got the role but it was during the read-through that he experienced a true Hollywood moment.

“He got the part soon enough that he could stay for a couple of days so he could be at the script reading,” Tarantino explains. “He shows up there and he doesn't really know who's in the movie.

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“He shows up there and then Brad walks through the door, and then Leo walks through the door, then Margot walks through the door, and Al Pacino walks through the door, and Burt Reynolds walks through the door, and Luke Perry walks through the door and Timothy Olyphant! He's like flipping the F out,” the filmmaker says.

“He's just like, ‘keep it cool, keep it cool, don't let anybody know that you are freaking out!’”

Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood has been praised by most critics but some have criticised the way Bruce Lee is presented, including his daughter.

Brad Pitt as Cliff and Mike Moh as Bruce Lee (Credit: Sony)

Shannon Lee said that she felt 'really uncomfortable' as the audience around her laughed at the late martial arts legend during a scene in which he and Brad Pitt's character face off.

(Mild spoilers in quote)

“It was really uncomfortable to sit in the theatre and listen to people laugh at my father,” she told the Wrap. “Here, he’s the one with all the puffery and he’s the one challenging Brad Pitt. Which is not how he was.

“He comes across as an arrogant a**hole who was full of hot air. And not someone who had to fight triple as hard as any of those people did to accomplish what was naturally given to so many others.”

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Lee, who is in charge of her father’s estate, says that Tarantino never approached her with regards to his representation in the film.

He did, however, reach out to Sharon Tate’s sister Debra with regards to the murdered actor’s portrayal by Margot Robbie in the movie and her storyline.

Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood arrives in the UK on 13 August.