Although Simu Liu, who became the first Asian superhero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe with Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings, champions the Asian American representation in Hollywood, the 34-year-old Chinese-Canadian rejects the notion that he's offered roles just because he’s an Asian.
For example, he shuts down any mention that he was cast as Ken in the Barbie movie for that reason.
“I don’t necessarily think I was cast just because I am Asian. But I think that I am one of the representatives of this community," he says in a phone interview with StarLifestyle.
“For Barbie, I was just really glad to get to come to set and work with someone as talented as (director) Greta (Gerwig), someone who is focused on diversity and inclusion, not just in ethnicity, but in all sorts of things.
“If you look carefully in our dance sequences, you’ll see Barbies of all shapes and sizes, you’ll see differently abled Barbies, and I think that’s just really incredible. Barbie Land is a place for everyone, where everyone sees themselves and everyone is represented.”
Liu adds that he actually auditioned for the role of Ken because he very badly wanted to participate in the movie after reading the script by Gerwig (Lady Bird) and Noah Baumbach (Marriage Story).
Based on the Barbie dolls line by Mattel, the film tells of all the Barbies (Margot Robbie, Issa Rae, etc) and Kens (Ryan Gosling, Liu, etc) who live in Barbie Land. They are perfect beings staying in a perfect place... that is, until one of them has a full-on existential crisis.
Liu adds: “It was just so smart, funny, thoughtful and poignant. And so I set out to do whatever it takes to be a part of this movie, and actually auditioned for Ken, which was the only audition I’ve done since Shang-Chi.
“Fortunately, Greta saw my tape and wanted to meet me. That’s when our journey together began.”
A byproduct of that journey is a Ken doll that looks like Liu. This comes after having a Shang-Chi action figure that resembles Liu.
“It’s beyond my wildest dreams to have one action figure that looks like me, let alone an action figure and a doll. I’m as much in disbelief as everyone else.
“My parents definitely can’t believe it. I think they’ve ordered like 20 dolls. I’m pretty sure the next time I see them they’re gonna ask me to sign them and give them away to all of their friends.
“We’re all just really happy and really excited about everything. And I’ve just been extremely lucky in my career to have had these opportunities and also to work with just such incredible filmmakers.”
With his popularity at a high, the Marvel star admits he is conscious of the projects that he chooses and the characters that he plays, especially now when he is at the forefront of a changing Hollywood landscape.
While gaining new challenges and new experiences are “probably the biggest pieces” in wanting to play a role, Liu recognises the additional layer of responsibility that comes with deliberately choosing projects that challenge stereotypes.
“I just completed a movie that I shot in Malta, where I was scuba diving underwater for two months. That was incredible – not only just being involved in that, but also, you know, picking up new skills and new experiences.
“But, whatever projects that I’m a part of, I think there’s always a sense that I will be one of the people representing our faces and normalising our faces and our culture in Hollywood.”
Knowing he’s not alone in this crusade is assuring to Liu.
“There’s just so many amazing representatives of our community out there today, whether it’s in television and film, media, sports, music, they’re all over.
“And the movies that have come out – Everything Everywhere All At Once, for example – have just been so globally celebrated and loved.
“So, I think there is really a sense that we’re making very real progress in the industry. And, as we continue to do that, I hope that those stereotypes will just be broken so many times that they won’t exist anymore.”
Barbie is now showing at cinemas nationwide.