"That's Part Of What It Means To Be Human": Simu Liu Explained Why He's Passionate About Asian Actors Being Cast As Rom-Com Leads

    "If nothing else, I want my career to have contributed to humanizing the lives and the cultures of Asian Americans."

    Profile with Simu Liu

    It's no secret that Simu Liu is taking over Hollywood. After gaining many fans as Jung in Kim's Convenience, he became the first Asian actor to lead an MCU film with Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. This year, you'll find him in several highly anticipated movies, including Barbie and Simulant.

    And I'm especially excited for One True Loves, a rom-com based on the novel by Taylor Jenkins Reid. It tells the story of a woman whose husband disappears in a helicopter crash; after several years, she finds love again with an old friend (played by Simu). When her husband turns out to be alive, she must choose between him and her new fiancé.

    Last week, Simu squeezed us into his busy schedule to chat about One True Loves, singing Hamilton songs to Phillipa Soo, his first time meeting Michelle Yeoh, and Asian representation in Hollywood. Here's everything we learned:

    A close-up of Simu on the red carpet

    One True Loves and Barbie are the first romantic comedy films you've starred in. How was filming this genre different from your recent superhero and thriller roles?

    Well, for starters, it's definitely not something where I had to work out every day for four months. That isn't to say that there wasn't its own preparation process. It was very different. It's obviously a lot less physical of a role as a Marvel superhero would be, but incredibly fulfilling in its own way.

    Simu Liu in a Barbie movie poster selfie: "He's another Ken"

    Is this genre something you'd like to continue exploring?

    You know, I think part of an artist's job is to really explore different facets. I came out of Shang-Chi feeling obviously extremely grateful, but also very determined to not be pigeonholed, and to try and explore different genres, different stories, and different characters.

    And when [casting director] Sarah Finn approached me with One True Loves — first of all, that's a call that you take every time, every single time. And secondly, it's just such a compelling story about love and relationships. And I really enjoyed kind of ruminating on those, in that world, and thinking about the relationships that I've had over the course of my life, and trying to answer this big general question of, Is it possible to have more than one soulmate over the course of your life?

    Do you have any favorite or funny behind-the-scenes memories with Phillipa Soo?

    So many. She was very patient with me. I loved singing Hamilton to her. She was very gracious with that because I am not a Broadway-trained singer. But no, so many amazing memories of us. We shot [One True Loves] in Wilmington, North Carolina, and very early on just about found the one amazing sushi restaurant in Wilmington, North Carolina, which you wouldn't expect but was there. It's called Genki Sushi. And we were obsessed with it. And so, that became somewhat of a regular meetup spot for us.

    Phillipa and Simu holding glasses and smiling

    What's your go-to sushi order?

    Oh, man, there's so much. I'm a sucker for toro, the tuna belly; it just melts in your mouth. Like, so buttery, fatty. Probably not great for you, but I love otoro nigiri. And then it's about some creative rolls. I love a baked scallop roll. Dynamite roll. Anything with shrimp tempura.

    You’ve shared that you were told you didn’t have the "It factor" after your auditions for Crazy Rich Asians. How were you able to maintain confidence in yourself? And how does it feel remembering that, now that you’ve found commercial success?

    You know, it's really funny. Hollywood is such an industry of "broken telephone." And things get misconstrued, misinterpreted, all the time. For whatever reason, that was a piece of feedback that — true or not true — was shared to me. And it was, I think, the exact thing that I needed to hear at the time.

    So, regardless of whether it was true or not — I'm now convinced that it never actually happened — it forced me to look inwardly and to say, "I think it's time to stop trying to be someone else's idea of a leading man." And to start trying to figure out what the things were about me that made me special and exciting and worthy. And that served me very well during the audition process for Shang-Chi because I knew going in that I was not the tallest, or the most buff, or the best at martial arts. But what I could be was the best fit for that character, with the best and most compelling portrayal of the humanity of that character.

    Simu in Shang-Chi

    What advice would you give to young creatives who are told they don’t have what it takes?

    Prove them wrong, because they are. There's space for everyone in this world, in this industry. The clearer you are with yourself, and the more honest you are with yourself about what you bring and what makes you special, that's when you start to take control of your own voice. That's when you begin to own your own narrative.

    And so much of this industry is aspirational; that's understandable. We're raised on the movies and the songs that we love growing up, and there's an element of wanting to emulate that in everything that we do. That's the reason why so many of us fell in love with the industry in the first place. But at the same time, you really have to ask yourself, what do you personally bring? What are you going to be about that's different than what anyone else has been about over the course of history? That one thing that makes you special is gonna take you far.

    Your Shang-Chi costar Michelle Yeoh just took home the Oscar for Best Actress! Do you have any favorite memories from working with her?

    Simu and Michelle smiling

    I remember meeting her for the very first time on set. I was so nervous because she was such a hero of mine. I remember I bought the most expensive bottle of wine that I could find because I heard that she liked wine (which is not untrue, by the way). And I heard that she was onstage rehearsing. I went over, and I had this image of this larger-than-life, intimidating, powerful woman — not that she isn't powerful, I want to be very clear — but I came up to her and was like, "Hello, Michelle. I just wanted to say how much of an honor it is to be able to work with you and how excited I am." And she just about snatched the wine out of my hands and was like, "Yeah, yeah, yeah, thank you. You and I, we're gonna have a great time." And it just was indicative of that warmth and radiance that she exudes every single day.

    She is nothing but kind, compassionate, so supportive, and she deserves every ounce of the success and accolades that she's gotten because she’s also immensely talented, such a master of the craft, of all things. And when you look back at her at her résumé, she truly is a great, an onscreen and Hollywood great, and a legend, and an icon. It's about time that we recognized her.

    Are there any projects you'd like to make with her one day?

    I will be in anything and everything with her. She's just the best.

    You've previously said that you hoped Shang-Chi would make kids feel "proud to be Asian." Were there any actors, TV shows, or movies that made you feel that way growing up?

    There were moments of pride that I felt watching Jackie Chan movies and Jet Li movies. I think those were one of the few spaces where it felt like Asianness was being celebrated in some way, shape, or form. But at the same time, I was also very aware that it produced some sort of a stereotype, maybe some sort of an expectation to a moviegoing audience that every time we saw an Asian man onscreen, they had to be doing some sort of martial arts. Otherwise, why are we watching them? There was very little else that we were known for.

    And finally, how have your recent projects improved Asian representation in comparison with older TV shows/movies?

    What I think we were able to do with Shang-Chi was that we were able to celebrate martial arts, in all of the badassery that it is — and, sure, had those incredible sequences — but we said if you're going to watch the martial arts, you're also going to watch this character study. You're going to watch this character's relationship with his father, and you're gonna watch this character deal with generational trauma. And those things are more relatable, and I think more humanizing, than just the martial arts. 

    And so, that's a big part of why I wanted to do a project like One True Loves, because it did feel like such a different direction and a refreshing direction. I feel like we do need to see different faces as romantic leads and protagonists fighting for love or dealing with love, heartbreak, anxiety, anxiousness, and everything in between. That's part of what it means to be human. If nothing else, I want my career to have contributed to humanizing the lives and the cultures of Asian Americans.

    Simu smiling

    One True Loves will be in theaters April 7 and on digital April 14.