Interview with Netflix’s Away star Vivian Wu

AWAY (L to R) VIVIAN WU as YU in episode 109 of AWAY Cr. DIYAH PERA/NETFLIX © 2020
Vivian Wu in Away. Credit: Diyah Pera/Netflix

Netflix has been very busy this year, and there’s plenty of space series to explore including Space Force starring Steve Carell and Lost in Space. This weekend, it is premiering another space series, Away, starring Hilary Swank. As the commander of the mission to Mars, she is joined by a cast from all over the world including Ato Essandoh, Mark Ivanir, and Ray Panthaki.

Vivian Wu also joins the crew as Lu, an astronaut and scientist representing her country. The actress shares her experience shooting the series with Nerd Reactor, talking about zero-G, bloopers and working with Hilary Swank and the cast.

John Nguyen: How excited are you about the series coming out?

Vivian Wu: Yeah, I’m very, very excited. I’m excited for people to watch this journey. It’s an international coming together, and it has a beautiful, beautiful message, especially under the circumstance now. It’s so timely, and I’m very excited for Lu to be seen because I think this is a very beautiful Asian/Chinese role – a very modern, real Chinese character. It is very important for me to portray Chinese women in the modern light in the positive light. Yeah, I’m excited.

Even with quarantine happening now, it feels as if Netflix has just been pumping out a bunch of shows. When was this show wrapped?

The day we wrapped was a month before we were locked down. We wrapped in Albuquerque, and then shortly after, isolation started. We were able to finish the show on time. And now we are letting the whole world watch this show and getting inspired by the uplifting message. The message is that we can all work together in order to achieve a greater good.

Credit: Netflix

Yeah, that’s a great message where people from all over the world can come together, even with their differences. In the show, you’re mostly isolated inside a ship. What did you do to prepare for that?

You know, Chinese people – we love to be connected, right? We love to eat together, laugh together and complain together. I was trying to prepare myself for the mindset first. I did multiple sessions of meditation and I was able to sit by myself and getting the tea together within myself. And then I also checked into a Tai Chi place in Shanghai for almost a month and a half, from morning till night and from nine to five. I would constantly be learning Tai Chi by myself under a master.

I wanted to see the potential. And when you are isolated, there’s some sort of energy that is different. So that was the mindset part that I wanted to just change for my old me and then slow everything down. I remember practicing in my kitchen in my house and then moving along with my feet up like a ballerina, walking on my tiptoes, and then in slow motion so that it would come naturally later on the set. It was a training session for me and it has a lot of added benefits.

Did you have to experience zero gravity?

Yeah, we were in the boot camp for about two weeks of intense training for wires. Also throughout the whole filming, we had to go back constantly because we had to learn new movements for new scenes. In the majority of days in the week, I would still spend an hour or two doing just all the work so that my body is constantly in shape.

Credit: Diyah Pera/Netflix

What would you say would be the most challenging part?

The most challenging part as an actor, I would say, was that I was suddenly stripped down without the freedom of using my body. If I were to do emotional scenes, I had to be very mindful that I was in a zero-G, and I had to move very slowly. Your body moves slowly, but you don’t talk slowly. [laughs] It’s a trip, I’m telling you. I loved acting on wires and moving like a dancer.

I did mess up one time when it was an emergency situation where we all had to revive one crewmate from going into a panic attack. I was supposed to go fetch a syringe and then toss it to my commander. I was on the wire and remembered all of my movements going beautifully and slowly with the wire and then I tossed the syringe. But because there are special effects, wires, the positioning, and there were five of us, I somehow forgot that I needed to speed up verbally. So I did the most beautiful swan dancing, and then say [in slow motion], “Cooooommmannnndddeeer.” It was the same speed as my arms, you know? Yeah, that was hilarious. They laughed so much.

Hopefully, there’s like a behind-the-scenes video of that.

I hope they caught it. I don’t know if they did. It was a funny thing, and that brought down the nervousness.

The show feels mostly intimate with you and the other crewmates. What was it like behind the scenes?

Working with Hillary Swank was a dream come true. She is so unselfish and so inspirational. She’s really Hilary Swank. So that was really great, and I cannot imagine working on a show like this without these cast members. The five of us really formed a great bond. Off the set, we would still talk and then we would go on hikes and play cards on weekends. We’d love to talk to each other. We’re still connected now. We’re still talking to each other on zoom. It’s a great new family.

There’s tension between characters on the show. Was the dynamic different on the set?

Yes, it’s different. Apart from having scenes with Hilary, I have scenes with Mark, who plays Misha. Yeah, there were some competitions here and there, but it’s all from love. It’s really a great team. I would go anyplace with them.

The show features different characters, and each of them has their moment to shine including your character and her background. What excited you the most?

It’s the part when you just think she’s going down this path, and she has a secret. It’s like peeling the onion. You see this, but she has a big emotional arc throughout the entire season. From the first season, she’s gone through so much. On the surface, she’s a scientist, pragmatic and mission-driven, but underneath she’s on the journey of finding herself for the very first time. She’s facing her true, authentic self for the first time, and it’s a journey to Mars at the same time. It’s a journey of self-discovery and towards the end of the season, you will see the surprise and you will see that she’s a beautifully written character.

Away is now available on Netflix. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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John Nguyen
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