Simu Liu on his life-changing role as Marvel's 1st Asian lead superhero and the end of Kim's Convenience
In a Q interview, the Canadian actor reflects on his path from humble beginnings to Hollywood superstardom
Listen to Tom Power's full conversation with Simu Liu on Episode 1 of The Q Interview, a new podcast series from the award-winning CBC show Q.
Two years ago, Simu Liu got a call from an unknown number in Burbank, Calif., that made his heart stop. The caller was Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige, who told him, "Simu, your life is about to change."
It wasn't an exaggeration. That day, Liu learned he had landed the role of Shaun/Shang-Chi in Marvel's first Asian-led blockbuster, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. The Canadian actor was already known for his work on the hit CBC sitcom Kim's Convenience, but this role would put him on the cusp of Hollywood superstardom.
With Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings hitting theatres this week (Friday, Sept. 3), Liu joined Q's Tom Power to talk about the film and reflect on just how far he's come since his humble beginnings growing up in Mississauga, Ont., as the child of immigrants.
"My parents came to this country with literally nothing," he told Power. "They lived off of scholarship money for the first, you know, five or six years that they were here…. For me now to be in a position where I can hopefully give them something more — despite their best efforts — it's really incredible."
WATCH | Simu Liu's full interview with Tom Power:
Liu said his parents had always lived frugally, stretching their dollar as far as possible and scouring the supermarket for discounted food. So when he flew them out to Los Angeles for the world premiere of his film in August, they presented him with a bit of a challenge.
"The whole way they fought me," he said. "They booked their own hotel stay at — and I'm so sorry — the Dunes Inn. A motel…. And they were so happy, they sent me pictures of the rooms and they were like, 'Look at what a great deal we got!' And I wanted to pull my hair out. I was like, 'Cancel that reservation immediately. You're going to the Hilton!' And that was just the first of many of those fights that we had."
Liu noted that his parents spent their whole lives keeping their heads down, working hard and never complaining. "That is almost, in a way, the immigrant creed," he said.
In contrast, he's dared to speak up and dream bigger, whether it's cheekily tweeting at Marvel before he was cast in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings or advocating for his community by writing a column for Variety decrying anti-Asian hate.
"In our community, I see the limitations of [not speaking up]," Liu told Power. "You know, the squeaky wheel gets the oil, and my parents had spent a lifetime not making any noise, and I was like, what happens if I do this? What happens if I rock this? What then, you know? Will anybody listen?"
What a sad thing — to eat your dreams…. I think that there is power in acknowledging it to yourself and vocalizing it.- Simu Liu
Liu's prophetic 2018 tweet — "OK @Marvel, are we gonna talk or what #ShangChi" — wasn't read by studio executives until after he'd already snagged the role, but he said it did give him a "sight on the horizon" and a direction to head in.
"I think so often we have these ambitions or these hopes within us that we kill before we ever let it escape our lips because we are afraid," he said. "We keep it to ourselves until we squelch it, until it's gone. And I just think, what a sad thing — to eat your dreams…. I think that there is power in acknowledging it to yourself and vocalizing it."
On Kim's Convenience
While taking on the mantle of Marvel's first Asian superhero comes with massive pressure and responsibility, Liu seems to be coping well. In many ways, his breakout role on Kim's Convenience — a show that was celebrated for its distinct Asian Canadian voice — prepared him to speak on issues of diversity and representation.
Earlier this year in March, Kim's Convenience was abruptly cancelled after co-creators Ins Choi and Kevin White decided to move on to pursue other projects. The news came as a shock to both viewers and the show's cast.
"We had the rug pulled out from underneath us," said Liu.
On the eve of what is now to be the series finale of Kim's Convenience, I hoped I'd be at a point where I could speak about it with a clear head. But the truth is I'm still pretty f**king angry. Hours of therapy are sure to follow. <br><br>You all deserved a proper ending.—@SimuLiu
In a now deleted Facebook post, the actor criticized the show's "overwhelmingly white" team of producers who he said shut out creative input from the largely Asian Canadian cast. In his interview with Power, he said the result was "something a little bit more watered down and a little bit more slapstick in later seasons."
"If you were to ask me if I was proud of the work that we did over our five seasons, 65 episodes, I would say yes," said Liu. "But if you were to ask me if I felt like the show reached its full potential? I would say absolutely not. I think there were a lot of missed opportunities with the show."
Looking back, Liu feels grateful for the opportunities and platform he's had. Above all, he hopes his new role in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings will continue to inspire young people, who need to see people like themselves on screen.
"[The film] is giving kids something that I would have really loved when I was younger," he said. "What I hope to be is a voice telling them that you belong. And that you deserve to be here. That you are not an away game, you are the home game and you're the home team. And, you know, this is your home. I never had that growing up."
WATCH | Official trailer for Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings:
Written by Vivian Rashotte. Produced by Jane van Koeverden.
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