Simu Liu on becoming Shang-Chi: “It doesn’t get more fairy tale”

We caught up with Marvel’s newest superhero to chat stunts, social media surprises and sequels.

Shang-Chi

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings has finally arrived in cinemas, introducing a new chapter of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to audiences around the world and kickstarting Phase Four after a year of delays.

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But perhaps more importantly, it’ll also introduce more people to Simu Liu, the 32-year old Canadian actor who famously landed the role of master martial artist Shang-Chi after tweeting publicly that he wanted the role.

Ahead of the film’s release we caught up with Liu to find out the truth behind his fairy tale casting, how much of the film’s fighting he needed to do himself and when we might see him return to the MCU. No spoilers, but he may need to start doing some vocal warm-up exercises.

Note: this interview has been edited and condensed.

SIMU: What’s up, Huw?

Not much. What’s going on with you?

Yeah. Also not much. Just kind of chilling. There’s not really anything going on in my life.

Not a big week or anything.

[laughs] Not at all, yeah.

Obviously in reality, a massive week. Everyone knows the story of you tweeting Marvel and then actually getting the gig as Shang-Chi. Was that as much a fairy tale story as it looked from the outside?

It was very much a fairy tale story. I know that people always fixate on this tweet, and they’re like, “You saw it coming!”

I just want people to know that I did not see this coming. It’s just one of those things that you tweet out. I probably tweeted out like 70 other things that I wanted to be a part of, because I was a struggling actor, and I wanted just any job ever. But I wanted the Marvel one the most, I will say. And, you know, you just imagine…

Did I think that Kevin Feige would be on the other end of that Marvel Studios Twitter app, reading through, scrolling and being like, “Oh, yeah, this guy. He seems like a nice guy. Let’s cast him”? Or was it, you know, some social media intern that just scrolled right past it, and promptly ignored it, and forgot about it?

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Simu Liu in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (Disney)

But it is a nice kind of framing for the story, and it was a full-circle moment to get the call that I would be playing Shang-Chi.

It doesn’t get more fairy tale than that. I remember, I was in the car with my parents two days ago, and just that moment of turning onto Hollywood Boulevard, and seeing the posters, the fans, the cheers. Honestly, it does not get more surreal than that.

For a first premiere? I mean, it was just unbelievably massive in scale.

Before that, it must have been a dream to be making this movie – and then the pandemic comes, stopping everything. Was it hard to deal with that uncertainty?

It was hard for a lot of us. We shut down our production in March, barely two months after we started shooting. There was definitely a time when we weren’t sure if, you know, we would finish making this movie.

I think we knew that we were probably going to, but there was just so much uncertainty, as you said, surrounding the pandemic, and how long it would last, and how devastating it would be, that we really didn’t have any answers for a while.

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(L-R): Xialing (Meng’er Zhang), Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) in Marvel Studios’ SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. ©Marvel Studios 2021. All Rights Reserved.

And then thankfully, we were kind of in a bit of a pocket in Australia, and things started to open up, and we were able to return to filming in July. When we did, we did so with every possible precaution, with testing and distancing and protocols and whatnot. But it’s such a testament to our crew and our cast and everybody involved to get this movie to the finish line without a single positive COVID test across all those weeks, and so many crew members.

It’s really, really incredible. And, yes, there was a lot of anxiety. Even just getting the movie to the finish line there was the beginning of another leg of our journey, which was figuring out when the movie would actually be released in movie theatres.

As you know, it moved a bunch of times. But, well, we’re finally here. We’re finally in the moment. And we’re finally at a point where people are watching it, and reacting to it, which is fantastic.

Obviously, it kind of goes without saying that there’s some incredible action in the movie, but I’m going to say it anyway – there’s some incredible action in the movie. How much of it did you want to do it yourself, and was it important that it was visibly you?

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Katy (Awkwafina) and Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) in Marvel Studios’ SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. ©Marvel Studios 2021.

It was incredibly important. It’s more than just ego – although, let me tell you, there’s quite a bit of ego as well, of being like, “I want to be the guy. I want to be the guy.”

But I really do think that you gain something from keeping the physicality and the emotion of the actor. It just gives you more cutting options when it’s the person doing it, and you don’t have to go into a wide. You don’t have to shoot around. You don’t have to do a CGI replacement.

What you see is what you get. I took every possible opportunity. There were definitely a couple of moments where our producer and our director had to pull me aside and be like, “You’re not going to do this one – it’s too risky” or “We need to save you a little bit”.

There was one scene in our bus fight, which, you know, is an incredible fight scene. But I ended up banging my knee really badly, and they were like, “No, you’re not doing anything after that.” There were definitely some fights – good-natured fights, of course – on set. And I’m very, very happy with how all of it turned out.

Obviously, without giving anything away, the film ends as it ends – big action sequence and so on. And after being quite a self-continued story the whole time, there’s a hint of Shang and Katy moving into the wider MCU.

Right.

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Simu Liu and Awkwafina in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (Marvel)

Generally speaking… Is that something you’d like to see, him in that wider MCU, bouncing off any other Marvel characters?

Yeah. One of my favourite things to do as Shang was just to hang out with Katy. I think, you know, the fight scenes were great and all, and they really hurt. Getting home at the end of the day was very hard for a lot of them.

But whenever I saw that I was shooting a scene with Awkwafina, I would get really excited – A) because I know that I wasn’t going to get beat up that day, at least not physically, and B) that I was going to get to play and improvise, and just hang out with someone who’s an incredible, comedic talent.

I think that our chemistry is one of the really neat surprises of the film. I think that audiences are really going to resonate with it, and love it. I think it’s going to be incredible when we see the screwballs that are Shang and Katy interacting with the other MCU people. I think it’ll be a lot of fun.

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Simu Liu and Awkwafina in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (Marvel)

Is there any talk of a sequel or any ideas being thrown around? And if there was, hypothetically, how would you like to see Shang’s story develop?

Oh my God. Is it too early to say a musical? I’ve always been a bit of a karaoke junkie. You saw a little bit of my talent in the movie, and I think that it bodes for a very exciting future for Shang as one of the first musical heroes in the MCU. I think that you would agree.

I can’t wait. I can’t wait to see it.

That’s the best answer I can give you, man. You know I can’t give you anything else, but certainly I hope to be back. Where we leave off in the movie, certainly kind of alludes to it. Fingers crossed.

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Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is in cinemas now. For more, check out our guide to watching the Marvel movies in order, our Movies page or our full TV Guide.