Exclusive: Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon’s Natasha Liu Bordizzo on her first gig, dealing with press, and wanting to be Mulan

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Hollywood is about to meet a new face from the upcoming Netflix film Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny, the sequel to the Academy Award-winning film Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon.

Meet Natasha Liu Bordizzo, the Italian-Chinese beauty from Australia, whose first acting gig is playing alongside martial arts legends Donnie Yen, Michelle Yeoh, and fight choreographer/director Yuen Woo-Ping.

Prior to getting the role, the actress and taekwondo black belt, was a law student with no intention of ever entering the entertainment industry, but a chance of luck brought her to audition for the film and into the limelight. Nerd Reactor got to sit down with Bordizzo during the Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon press day and talk to her about her first gig, dealing with the press, and wanting to become Mulan.

Nerd Reactor (NR): Being that this is your first acting role, tell us how you got involved in this project?

Natasha Liu Bordizzo (NLB): Basically, it was my first audition. I hadn’t really decided I was doing acting or anything. I think a lot of people tend to think I was a model who became an actress, but I was really more of a student who became an actress. I was studying law at a university. I was always very academic, like my mum and dad. They are very traditional and conservative people who pushed me in that, but I’ve always had an interest in photography, film, and writing. But I thought they were just interests. I can’t make a career out of that. I gotta do something solid. That was like me! I have to do something solid. Then my agent in Syndey, she found me on Instagram and she tried to sign me on as a model. I kept rejecting her because I hadn’t enough time, I’ve got exams. Then eventually she was like, do you want to try acting? That sounded more interesting, so I went to this audition, which was my first, for a supporting acting. They got back to us the next day and they said we want her for a lead and yeah. It was a very quick turnaround.

NR: What was your experience working with martial arts legends like Donnie Yen, Michelle Yeoh, and Yuen Woo-Ping? 

NLB: It was terrifying. When I first got to New Zealand, there was an assumption that because I was a black belt in something, I would just be a pro. But, taekwondo and Wudang couldn’t be more dissimilar. Taekwondo is very rigid. You know, punchy-kicky and it’s a lot more to do with sparring and general fitness. Wugang is like dance and I’m the least graceful person on the planet. So it was really like, from day one, I was terrified at the fact that the master himself was in the same room. Possibly catching glimpses of my terrible first attempt at swords. We were in the gym 9-5 each day, five days a week, for like a month. I got there in the end.

NR: The original film came out when you were just a child. Did you do any research on the genre or Woo-Ping’s previous films?

NLB: I did when I got the role. Before then, to be honest, I was quite cut off from that because I hadn’t seen the first film because I was five when it came out. You know, growing up in Australia, I was quite Westernized and cut off from that whole thing. But now, I feel like I’ve jumped into Hong Kong cinema and it’s gotten me to be more in touch with my Chinese side because I was always so Westernized before. Now, I’m a lot more in touch with my Chinese culture and everything. I’ve seen all those movies and I love the director who did the movie In the Mood for Love [Wong Kar-wai]. He’s one of my favorites. I think it’s the next Hollywood. China is known and is going to be the next up-and-coming huge deal in the industry.

NR: The film did debut in China and now is going to be released on Netflix this week. Have you noticed any differences or similarities in the two industries – China and Hollywood – and the audiences?

NLB: It’s crazy. There is nothing that is similar. My eyes have been very opened to the differences because I did three separate press trips in China for this film. This is my first American press trip. So I’ve been completely thrown in the deep end with Chinese press and it’s crazy. They don’t have talk shows where you just walk in, sit down, talk, and walk off again. There, you have to do something. You have to perform. ‘Do you sing? Do you dance? Do some kung-fu for us! You have to like show something!’ I’m like ‘I’m just a tiny little actor. I don’t know’. I did a game show. We filmed for 16 hours straight. They had to rotate the live audience because it was so long. We were doing wrestling. I can’t make this stuff up. There was this castle they built where we climb through this water moat and collect all these flags. It was our cast versus another cast. It was insane. I think Chinese press is a lot more hands on and you really have to make a connection with the audience. You can’t just be this cool foreigner who is trying to be different. You really have to respect the culture and show that you understand the culture. I think it’s very different. America is more like ‘Say what you like. Be what you like.’ Just chill. Have a chat.

NR: Woo-Ping is known for his demanding choreography and fights scenes. What was the most challenging part working on the set?

NLB: He is very demanding. You can’t help but want his approval desperately. Every day. The best moment is when you get this from him [does OK sign]. If he did this to you, that is the most emotion he’ll ever show that you’ve done amazingly well in a scene. So I’m like ‘Thank God.’ But he will never move on from a scene until he’s happy with what he’s done. He’ll be like ‘Ok, move on’ and you’ll be like whew – a sigh of relief, because if you know you’re doing a heap of takes, you know. He won’t move on. He’ll wait until he’s satisfied with what you’ve done. But yeah, I think the Chinese film and directors have a very different relationship with the actors to what American directors and crew do. Chinese directors are a lot less vocal with telling you exactly what they like and don’t like. Instead, they will let you do what you think is right, guide you a little bit, and be like we got it! Kind of thing.

NR: Your character Snow Vase and Harry [Shum Jr.]’s character Tiefang have a very similar story to Lo and Jen from the previous film. I feel like this is a rebirth of their love story. Did you feel a parallel or connection between the two stories?

NLB: I do, but also because I’m part of that new generation that kind of missed the period when the first film was huge. I almost feel like it’s a new standalone story because there are obvious parallels with the new, young love and everything. My and Harry’s characters, we find symmetry in each other where we both had quite lonely upbringings. We never felt like we belonged. I [my character] was raised more like a student than a daughter. I think we find that in each other. So there are differences. I think that the theme is present in both because they want to keep those timeless themes alive in these martial world. There are the rightful themes of tradition versus honor versus following the path that you think is truly right. Yeah, there are parallels but I always look at our own as a new fresh fun standalone project. There are too many differences, you know. The first one is Ang Lee and we’re not trying to be Ang Lee. You can’t be Ang Lee. He’s incredible in his own way. We were just trying to create our own chapter. We’re both taking from source material from the Wang Dulu books. Ours is the fifth book and it’s called Iron Knight, Silver Vase. It’s our own new, fun project.

NR: Here is a fun question since you’ve done a lot of research and watched a bunch of martial arts films. If you could go back in time and be in any martial arts film, what would it be and which character would you play?

NLB: Does Mulan count?

NR: Mulan does count. The cartoon or the live-action one? 

NLB: The actual traditional version of it. I think any story or remake of it. I just love that story – how she is pretending to be a dude to join the army. I love that story. I would love to play Mulan.

NR: So, you’d be interested in playing the live-action version of Mulan? You do know Disney is considering a live-action film of Mulan. 

NLB: Hey, Disney! I would be very interested. I get a lot of comments on social media that I should play Mulan. So it just stuck with me. I’ve always loved Mulan as a kid.

NR: Because you’re a hero in this film, is there any superhero you’d like to portray or any kind of hero?

NLB: I’ve always loved X-Men. I’ve always wanted to be a mutant and have my own weird, psychotic power. I love quirky, left of center sort of characters. So if I was a superhero, I’d like to play one that is a bit insane. Not just a hero that is heroic. I’d like to play someone who is tortured by their powers or something like that. Something more dark. I’ve recently watched [Marvel’s] Jessica Jones and I think Netflix’s Marvel adaptations are incredible. I’d love to just play a contemporary take on something like that. That’d be something I’d like to do.

NR: Thank you so much. 

NLB: Thank you!

Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny released on Netflix on February 26th.

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