Simu Liu on becoming Marvel's first Asian superhero, and honouring his promise to a little boy
The Kim's Convenience star is also decrying the recent wave of anti-Asian racism
When actor Simu Liu tweeted at Marvel Entertainment on July 17, 2014, he had no idea how prophetic it was.
"Hey @Marvel, great job with Cpt America and Thor," wrote the Canadian actor, best known for his role in the hit comedy Kim's Convenience. "Now how about an Asian American hero?"
Hey <a href="https://twitter.com/Marvel?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Marvel</a>, great job with Cpt America and Thor. Now how about an Asian American hero?—@SimuLiu
Then in 2018, that idea became reality: Marvel announced they would make a superhero film with an Asian character in the lead.
Again Liu tweeted jokingly: "Ok @Marvel, are we gonna talk or what #ShangChi."
OK <a href="https://twitter.com/Marvel?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Marvel</a>, are we gonna talk or what <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/ShangChi?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#ShangChi</a>—@SimuLiu
So last year, when Liu got a call from Marvel informing him that he had landed the lead role in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, he was blown away — and told he had to be in San Diego four days later, where he would appear before thousands of people at Comic-Con for the big announcement.
"I had very little time to mentally prepare before I was just kind of thrust into it," says Liu in an interview with q host Tom Power.
"And I'm watching all of these movie stars that I idolized sharing the stage with me. And then I'm having dinner with Angelina Jolie because that's how the seating chart worked over at Marvel — and then trying to reconcile all of this in my brain," he says.
"So it was one of the most incredible experiences in my life, and I'll never forget it."
'You can't be Batman! You look like me!'
Based on the Marvel Comics superhero, the character of Shang-Chi is often referred to as a master of Kung Fu, having been trained in martial arts by his father from a young age.
Awkwafina and Tony Leung (who will play supervillain The Mandarin) will co-star in the film, which will be directed by Destin Daniel Cretton.
Now that the craziness is over, the work begins.<br><br>There is so much at stake here; we are fighting for our identity, for our right to be seen, to BELONG.<br><br>Eternally grateful to Marvel, to Kevin, Jonathan and Destin for this gift. <a href="https://twitter.com/awkwafina?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@awkwafina</a> LET’S GET TO WORK BABYYYYY!!!—@SimuLiu
Liu is already a well-known actor, in particular in Canada, where he plays the character Jung in Kim's Convenience. He has also played roles in films, TV shows from Nikita to Orphan Black to Bad Blood.
But when he was still getting his start, Liu performed as a superhero at children's birthday parties, which he later wrote about on Twitter.
"I could be any hero that didn't directly show their face, because we all know that there were no Asian superheroes out there," he remembered.
"One day a Batman hero had to cancel last minute and I was brought in to do the show. I had never shown my face before and was pretty anxious about how the kids would react," wrote Liu.
"I wasn't prepared for how heartbroken I would be when I was pointed out by, of all people, a young Asian boy who said, 'You can't be Batman! You look like me!'"
So I guess I wrote this two years ago? <a href="https://t.co/G5KSnGOg8n">pic.twitter.com/G5KSnGOg8n</a>—@SimuLiu
Whenever he was asked what his dream role was, he added, he would answer "a superhero."
"I'm sorry but I can't ever stop thinking about that little boy who had already been taught to believe that he wasn't worthy of being a superhero because of the colour of his skin," he wrote, then again foreshadowed what was to come.
"Kid, I promise you, you will see your superhero onscreen one day. I am working hard every day to make that happen."
Of course, playing Marvel's first Asian superhero comes with some serious pressure — but Cretton encouraged Liu to throw all of that heavy baggage aside.
"It was very clear and very important to him that I go in feeling as free as possible. Because I think it's very normal to feel nervous and it's very normal to feel like you want to do a really good job," explains Liu.
"But where it starts to impact your freeness as an actor is where maybe we could tone it down a little bit."
"So he really helped me realize that, as much as you can put pressure on yourself, in any other time of the day when you're on set and you're ready to work, you've got to just throw it all away and be free."
'More compassion, more caring'
Liu is in Australia where he was shooting Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, but because of COVID-19, the production was halted.
Over the last several months, Asians across North America and around the world have experienced an uptick in racist statements and incidents of violence, which led Liu to once again take to Twitter.
Warning: contains strong language.
Just reminding you that the coronavirus doesn’t give you an excuse to be a dick to Asian people.—@SimuLiu
Liu says the news that the virus originated in China spurred a wave of anti-Asian racism, which was worsened by world leaders who further stoked the flames — even calling COVID-19 the "Chinese virus."
"I put out the tweet in much the same fashion that I do anything, which is very tongue in cheek," he says.
"But as the weeks went on, it became more and more important for me to make sure that the world stayed reasonable, and stayed compassionate and stayed good," he says.
"And so it became a priority for me to make sure that all Asian Canadians or Asian Americans or wherever you are, Asian Australians, felt like they belonged," says Liu.
"Because I think it's so easy to look at someone, regardless of where they grew up, where they came from, the language that they speak, to just look at the colour of their skin and all of a sudden reduce them to harmful stereotypes."
People are stuck at home feeling anxious and angry and looking for someone to blame, says Liu, so it's all the more important that we make clear the pandemic isn't the fault of any particular race.
"What we need now in this time more than anything else is just more compassion, more caring, stepping up for each other, stepping up for our communities, for frontline health-care workers and supporting in any way that we can, right?" he says.
He also shares a message for people working the front lines — from family convenience stores to busy hospitals.
"My heart is with them and with all essential workers and frontline health-care workers," he says. "We will get through it together."
Written by Jennifer Van Evra. Interview produced by Kaitlyn Swan.