Wu Assassins: Byron Mann explains the diversity and complexity of Netflix series

Byron Mann stars as Uncle Six in the Netflix original series Wu Assassins. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Netflix.
Byron Mann stars as Uncle Six in the Netflix original series Wu Assassins. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Netflix. /

Netflix’s Wu Assassins is an embarrassment of riches both on and off screen, and Byron Mann explains everything that attracted him to the action drama.

Wu Assassins is one of the most unique shows on Netflix. It mixes martial arts with mystical superpowers, while also telling a story about Asian-American heroes, villains and everyone in between.

In the middle of it all is Byron Mann, who portrays the Chinese Triad leader Uncle Six. While he seems like Uncle Six is only using his powers as the Fire Wu to further his criminal enterprise, he’s not exactly who he appears to be.

Byron spoke to Netflix Life about how a previous role drew him into the world of Wu Assassins, the moment he’s most proud of in the entire season, and the global appeal of the show.

Learn more in our Byron Mann interview below, then check him out as Uncle Six by streaming the first season of Wu Assassins on Netflix here.

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Netflix Life: Wu Assassins is co-created by John Wirth, who was the showrunner for your AMC series Hell on Wheels. Was that what originally brought you to the project?

Byron Mann: One hundred percent. I’m doing it because John Wirth, the showrunner, asked me to do it. In fact, we had a conversation with the other producer, Chad Oakes, who was also on Hell on Wheels. Months before the show started, Chad casually communicated to me [that] they were creating a show and they would be interested to have me in it. I asked what would I be playing and he said he didn’t know yet, but it’s going to be good.

That’s how the conversation kind of rolled for a couple of months before they actually formalized everything. When I got the call from John Wirth, it was like hey, I’ve been waiting, let’s do it. I had no idea what I was playing. I had no idea what the role was. I certainly had no idea he had supernatural powers. In fact, I would say they didn’t quite know everything about my character either, because they were writing as the show was filming, so things were evolving.

NL: As the character evolved and Wu Assassins developed, what were the highlights that stood out to you? Did you have favorite moments portraying Uncle Six?

BM: I would say episode 7 [“Legacy”]. First of all, Iko Uwais [who plays Kai Jin, the protagonist of Wu Assassins and Uncle Six’s adopted son] is from Indonesia. This is the first time where he has had to speak a lot of English dialogue. He’s done movies like Mile 22 where he didn’t have to speak a lot of English dialogue. He also did The Raid, which was in Indonesian. This is the first time he’s had to speak in a foreign language a lot.

I’m a person who speaks multiple languages; I understand how difficult this could be. Two months into the shoot I felt like you know what, why don’t we flip the table? Why don’t I speak some Indonesian to him? We worked it out in such a way that it came out very organically in episode 7 where Uncle Six recounts the time he picked up Kai Jin. That’s when we slip one or two things in. I ran it by John Wirth and he loved the idea.

In the campfire scene, where [Kai Jin and Uncle Six] talk, at the end of the dialogue I slipped in a line, and that Indonesian line really means “Father loves you.” I did not tell Iko that line was coming so that was completely impromptu.

I told Katheryn Winnick, the director—I said you have one take to capture a completely spontaneous moment and it’s coming up right now, so make sure you have film in the camera and make sure you’re in focus. I said my speech in the script and I added that one line in Indonesian, and there was an amazing, visceral, surprising moment in Iko’s eyes that I think made it into the final cut. That I’m very proud of.

Wu Assassins
Byron Mann stars as Uncle Six in the Netflix original series Wu Assassins. Photo Credit: Daniel Power/Courtesy of Netflix. /

NL: You’re no stranger to projects which require martial arts or other fighting skills. Did any of your past experience come into play with Wu Assassins?

BM: I didn’t know I was going to be fighting or how much or if I did it at all until I started reading the script, I was like oh, I’m actually fighting Iko Uwais. To answer your question, yes, certainly. I’ve done a lot of action in my career so that certainly helped. Honestly, we didn’t have a lot of time to rehearse the action on this show because everything was pretty tight, so having a background of action definitely helped.

Iko Uwais and his team helped choreograph a lot of the fights. A lot of the fights were based on an Indonesian fighting technique called Silat; it’s a lot of grappling, it’s not very flowery, it’s very fast and arms blocking and punching. Iko is one of the foremost action martial arts stars in the world, and to get to fight with him was a highlight.

NL: You’ve seen and done a lot in your over 20-year career. What are your passions either on or off-camera?

BM: I’m actually excited about the next thing. I’m excited about telling stories that audiences have never heard before. I am in the process of developing a number of projects and bringing them to screen. I’m interested in traveling to places I’ve never been before. I’m passionate about tennis; I’ve been playing my whole life and I really enjoy doing that.

I like meeting all types of people; I like meeting people from all over the world. The good thing about doing a show on Netflix [is] we’re seeing the results of it right now. We’re seeing people from all over the world writing in and letting us know how they feel. People from Indonesia, Finland, Australia—they’re all watching the show.

NL: And Wu Assassins also inspired you to possibly add something to your resume?

BM: I’d never thought about directing, because it’s such a hard job. But I saw Katheryn Winnick [do] it on Wu Assassins episode 7. After the episode, I went away feeling man, if she can do it, I can do it. So she inspired me. It’s something I’m contemplating. If there’s a good opportunity, I’d be interested to try it.

Wu Assassins season 1 is now streaming on Netflix. Explore more Netflix originals in the Netflix Originals category at Netflix Life.

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