Here’s the latest from the crossroads of faith, media & culture: 02/16/21
How did Han Soto move from being a successful entrepreneur to acting opposite the likes of Robert De Niro and Harrison Ford to playing a pivotal role in the hit Netflix TV series Cobra Kai? Hint: It started with a leap of faith. Now in its third season, Cobra Kai – the successful sequel series to the classic Karate Kid film franchise – is kicking the tension up a notch with the introduction of Han Soto as Pham Minh Thao, the enigmatic soldier who kept John Kreese (Martin Kove) prisoner during the Vietnamese War (and inadvertently ended up naming Kreese’s future dojo).
Soto’s previous series credits include roles on AMC’s dark religion-themed drama Preacher and the Starz mobster saga Magic City. His film resume include an uncredited role as a bar owner in 2012’s Looper (with Bruce Willis) and progressively meatier roles in such movies as 2013’s Ender’s Game (with Harrison Ford) and 2015’s Heist (with Robert De Niro; clip shown above), to name just a few.
Prior to working in the entertainment industry, Han was a successful businessman and entrepreneur with notable experience in the building trades industry, the branding business, information technology and the retail sector. He is also a family man (with one daughter) who as a young man was called on to support his parents and essentially raise his younger siblings when his father was stricken with a terminal disease.
In addition to supporting his family and his entrepreneurial enterprises, Soto is involved in several charitable causes. He has contributed much to international relief organizations, traveled to remote parts of India to document the plight of blind children at a school where the boys live after being rejected from their families and has helped provide fund-raising, scholarships, direction, and support for 1st and 2nd generation young Asian-Americans seeking their foothold to the American Dream.
But, with all those worthy endeavors on his plate, Soto still felt the tug of show business and decided to put his other business interests aside as he responded to it. In addition to his expanding acting portfolio, he recently produced a civil rights-themed documentary and is planning future film and television projects that he hopes will entertain, inform and inspire audiences.
JWK: You’re a busy guy. Tell me about your role in Cobra Kai.
Han Soto: I play a character named Pham Minh Thao. He is actually one of the most evil characters in Karate Kid history…(He’s) the reason why the dojo is named Cobra Kai. I don’t want to spoil it too much for the people that haven’t watched it.
JWK: So, Pham Minh Thao is a pivotal character in the series?
HS: Yeah, I provide a sneak peek into Kreese’s history – giving a look into why he is the way he is throughout the entire franchise. I don’t think we ever really looked into his past before. We’re just peeling away those layers of onions.
JWK: What is it about the role that appealed to you?
HS: Beside the fact that they asked me to do it, I really liked the fact that it was a villainous character because I don’t think that’s really part of my nature. So, any time you get to kind of play anything out of the norm, it’s always fun an exciting to do.
JWK: Your history is that of a successful entrepreneur. How did you decide to get into acting and can you tell me about that transition?
HS: I started acting in 2009-2010. At that point, I actually just ended up selling my companies and just giving acting a shot. I tried not to have anything to fall back on. That was the plan. Two years in, I ended up getting a role of a lieutenant to Harrison Ford in Ender’s Game.
JWK: So, it was like Han Soto meets Han Solo.
HS: For (our) introduction, he said “I’m Harrison.” I said “I know how you are…I’m Han.” And he (laughs and) goes “I know.” It was a nice little moment that we shared on set.
JWK: That’s funny. Anyway, it was sort of a leap of faith to just sell your companies and throw yourself into acting.
HS: Absolutely. It was a huge risk. I was out of my comfort zone, not knowing where the road was going to lead. Sometimes you just gotta do it and believe, you know?
JWK: You’re also a family man with a daughter. And, before that, you found yourself pretty much raising your younger siblings when your father was stricken with a terminal illness. How much of that life experience have you brought into your acting?
HS: I think every experience, whether it’s a positive one or a traumatic one, as actors we always try to…use it in the craft. Everything I’ve ever been through personally, I’ve tapped into it as a character at one point or another.
JWK: Considering all you were willing to risk to pursue acting, would it be fair to say that you see it as a kind of personal calling?
HS: I think storytelling is a calling for me. Anything related to filmmaking or storytelling – whether it be acting, writing, directing or producing – I feel like is my calling.
JWK: The businesses you were in, prior to pursuing acting, weren’t really show business related, were they?
HS: No – but I did take some of the elements of (my businesses) into show business, (particularly) the technology side of it and the marketing side of it. Essentially, (show business) is the branding (of) actors (and of) films. So, a lot of it is not a drastic shift – with the exception of the roofing company and construction company. That (stuff) I kind of parlayed into my everyday DIY life. I still do that stuff and I enjoy it. I enjoy doing it for friends, as well.
JWK: It sounds like you’re interested in directing and producing, as well.
HS: You know, I was advised not to do directing and I think I’m gonna heed that advice. I have produced a couple of films…We have a distribution company that distributes horror films. It’s called Kamikaze Dogfight. We started it during the pandemic and got a lot of traction quick. We’re just embracing the culture that we’ve developed for the company. I just think we have a good group of filmmakers that are in our corner.
JWK: When you say the “culture” of the company, what do you mean?
HS: Just caring about each other, caring about the art and creating something that people will want to be involved in instead of us having to go out and convince people to be a part of (it).
JWK: What’s it like starting a film distribution company during a pandemic? Do you distribute the movies online?
HS: We have a partnership with Gravitas Ventures and Red Arrow Studios. We have a two-picture output deal per month. Essentially, we acquire films in the genre space for them. We control the key art and the trailer creation and pretty much have a say-so in a lot of the marketing stuff…We use their company to distribute the films through SVOD which is Subscription Video on Demand…Depending on how elevated the films are, there’s a theatrical element which is a little difficult now given the amount of theaters that are open.
JWK: How has it been going?
HS: It’s nice. It’s not what I envisioned it to be because I envisioned, you know, me being out at the festivals with these filmmakers, chitchatting…and then just getting the film sold. Now, we’re doing everything over Zoom which A.) makes it a lot easier to cover more ground but B.) you kind of lose that kind of human element, that physical being-in-front-of-each-other element.
JWK: Cobra Kai is in its third season. So, you’re in a successful series. Do you have any interest in heading up a series of your own?
HS: Yeah, we have some projects that are on deck but I don’t think I’ll be launching (such a show) as a producer in the middle of this pandemic. That’s not the smartest business decision for me – but we have some great content from people that we’ve worked with in the past and we’re constantly developing the creative side of (the business). So, if the opportunity presents itself and all the cards are aligned, I’ll do it.
JWK: What kind of show would you like to do?
HS: I want stories that just make people really think about life and question their path. I like stories like what Christopher Nolan does. You know, very layered. I really enjoy sci-fi.
JWK: Now that you’re actually in show business, how would you sum up your goals? What do you hope people will take from your body of work?
HS: I strive every day to inspire and motivate. If you feel like you’re stuck, sometimes just doing it – spreading your wings and jumping – is the only option left. It’s (to be) encouraged.