It was a Twitter thread that changed Simu Liu’s life. The Chinese‑born, Toronto‑raised accountant‑turned‑actor was already known for his role as Jung on CBC’s hit sitcom Kim’s Convenience when he challenged Marvel, via social media, to consider an Asian superhero. It worked. Last July, the comic‑book franchise announced Liu as the star of Shang‑Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings – the first Asian actor to lead a Marvel Studios film. We caught up with him to chat about training to be a superhero, exploring Australia with his parents and the advice he got from a Toronto Raptor.
Meet Simu Liu, Marvel’s Latest Superhero —
The Chinese‑born, Toronto‑raised accountant‑turned‑actor is the franchise’s first Asian star.
enRoute The fourth season of Kim’s Convenience premieres this month. How has your experience on the show changed since its debut in 2016?
Simu Liu I now understand why I need to be outspoken in my advocacy for representation. In the beginning, I was caught off guard and even a little tired of questions about diversity. I felt like I answered the same thing a hundred times. But it changed last season when I realized that these questions are being asked because there really haven’t been many examples of Asian‑Canadian or Asian‑American families out there. So now I’ll answer that question as many times as I need to; it’s being asked because we’re doing something important.
ER What kind of training is involved in becoming Marvel’s first Asian superhero, Shang‑Chi?
SL I can’t say too much about the preparation except that there are two components: the physical training of strength, conditioning and bodybuilding; and making sure my martial‑arts training is up to par. My favourite type of exercise is sports because I hate being on the treadmill for hours. I play basketball, volleyball and table tennis. The thrill of competition allows me to push my body beyond what I’d do in a gym.
ER You’ve done stunts on series like Designated Survivor and Heroes Reborn before. Were you self‑taught?
SL I’ve always been fascinated by martial arts but I didn’t do it growing up because my parents wanted me to focus on school. I started doing parkour and gymnastics at 16, and as I got older, I took a class here and there. When I started acting in Toronto, I tried to do stunts as well because I didn’t want to be picky about jobs I took on.
ER You went from accountant to Marvel star in less than a decade. How do you deal with pressure?
SL I’m taking a piece of advice that I got from Jeremy Lin when he was playing for the Raptors: When you shoot your shot, it doesn’t matter if it’s actually going in or not, but you need to believe 100 percent that it’s going in. That mentality is something I’ve always admired about him – this sense of confidence that you can do the job that you were chosen for. I remember being so nervous for the final screen test and I’ve been continuously pinching myself since. I feel like I’m in a dream, but there’s no doubt in my mind that I can do this role. I’m really excited to show the world.
“I feel like everything in my life has been leading up to this moment.”
ER As a kid in an immigrant family in Canada, did you ever imagine you would one day play a superhero?
SL No. But as an only child whose parents worked all the time, I loved watching Power Rangers. There was something special about the idea that ordinary people could be chosen to become extraordinary beings. As I got older, I became a huge Marvel fan, and in 2012, I actually wrote out a whole treatment for a Marvel superhero series about Sunfire, who was a former member of the X‑Men. Then, of course, there are the tweets that I sent out to Marvel that have since become quite famous. The more I think about it, I feel like everything in my life has been leading up to this moment.
ER You got on Twitter around the same time you started acting. What's your approach to social media?
SL Twitter has been a way for me to show myself to the world and also share issues that are important to me. I put a lot of thought into what I send out into the universe because I know that I’m representing a community that is only beginning to feel comfortable about being seen and heard.
ER At five years old, you moved from Harbin, China, to Toronto. Did you visit China a lot growing up?
SL My first trip back to China was when I was 10, and for most of my teenage years we went back every summer. At that point, I was still very connected to the culture and I could speak Mandarin well, but that stopped when I started acting – my parents didn’t invite me to go back with them for a while because things between us were not good. But as time went on, they learned to come to terms with my acting. It’s been almost a decade since I’ve been back home, so I see Shang‑Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings as an opportunity to reconnect with those roots.
ER The film comes out around Lunar New Year 2021. Is this a holiday you celebrate with your family?
SL Yes, it’s the most important holiday of the year for us. Our celebration is nothing compared to what it’s like for people in China, but we still go out for dinner and sometimes my parents will give me that iconic red pocket. I recently surprised them with a red Jaguar, so I joked that it was the ultimate red pocket. Nowadays, I feel like I can’t spoil them enough because of everything they have done for me.
ER You are currently shooting in Australia. Will you travel while you’re there?
SL My parents are coming to visit me in Sydney. We’re going to head up to the Gold Coast and see the Great Barrier Reef. I think we’ll be doing a lot of travelling together in the future – they have always wanted to see the world.