Barbie's Simu Liu Shares Her Experience of Exercising Alongside Ryan Gosling
SIMU LIU has gained recognition for his portrayal of a superhero. His breakout film, "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings," released in 2021, stands out as one of the most outstanding examples of the genre in recent times. This movie skillfully combines an exhilarating coming-of-age narrative with themes of self-discovery, father-son connections, and finding a sense of belonging in unexpected places. Not to mention, Liu showcases remarkable martial arts skills and engages in impressive fight sequences, particularly one thrilling scene on a moving bus.
Next, Liu is set to embark on a different kind of role in Greta Gerwig's highly anticipated film, "Barbie." Departing from his powerful portrayal of Shang-Chi, or as he humorously referred to himself in a cameo on "Max's The Other Two," "Marvel's Simu Liu," he will be playing Ken, as in Barbie and Ken. The movie features several renowned actors, such as Ryan Gosling and Kingsley Ben-Adir, as various iterations of Ken. Liu's rendition portrays a Ken with impeccable hair and a rivalry with Gosling's bleach blonde character.
To an average 10-year-old boy, these roles may seem worlds apart. How can you go from being a Marvel superhero to playing Ken? However, Liu emphasizes that there are more similarities between the two characters than one might initially assume.
"Both require choreography, don't they?" he asks during a Zoom interview in late June. "Whether you're engaged in combat on a bus or performing a complex dance routine in a cul-de-sac within Barbie's Dream World. It's fascinating to transition from wearing gloves and pads to working in a dance studio equipped with a ballet bar."
Interestingly, Liu underwent a rigorous transformation to embody the role of Ken, similar to his preparation for Shang-Chi. Notably, his training was led by Dave Higgins, a renowned trainer who played a pivotal role in helping Kumail Nanjiani achieve his impressive physique.
In "Barbie," Gerwig embraced a flexible vision of what a Ken character represents in her film, with no rigid guidelines on their appearances. However, she did emphasize one crucial requirement: all the Kens had to train together.
It was as if we said, let's get active because that's the essence of 'Kenergy'. Kens would genuinely care about that," he expresses. "So, as a pretext to bring us all together and engage in activities stereotypically associated with men, Greta assembled us in a gym, and we engaged in workouts every day leading up to the commencement of principal photography. And it was genuinely enjoyable."
However, transforming into Ken required more than just working out—and that's not all Liu has been occupied with. Men's Health caught up with the previous and future superhero to discuss Barbie, his guest appearance on The Other Two, and his eventual return to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
"Huge fan of The Other Two. Could you elaborate on how your self-referential cameo in Season 3 came about?" says Men's Health. Simu Liu responds, "The common factor for all of us was Lorne Michaels and SNL. Lorne, obviously, is an executive producer of The Other Two, and there are several SNL alumni involved in the writing of the show. And my hosting on SNL led to that storyline."
They approached me and asked if I wanted to portray a version of myself as Molly Shannon's boyfriend... and I enthusiastically agreed. It turned out to be an incredible experience.
"Have you noticed an increase in people referring to you as 'Marvel's Simu Liu' or some variation of 'Daddy'?" asks Men's Health. "I can't say I'm being called 'Daddy' any more or any less than before, which leaves me with mixed feelings. It's pretty consistent. And as for 'Marvel's Simu Liu'... that's amusing. No one has directly said it to my face, but I'm sure it happens all the time."
"Now, let's shift our focus to Barbie. This film is one of the most highly anticipated releases of the summer, generating significant hype. When you initially signed on, did you anticipate it would create such a buzz?" inquires Men's Health. Liu replies, "I knew it was one of the most exceptional scripts I had ever come across. It was penned by Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach, two of the most brilliant storytellers of our generation. From the moment I read the script, I knew I had to be a part of it. I auditioned for the role, which was the first and only one after Shang-Chi."
I was desperate to be involved. It was ingenious and extraordinary. However, this was all before I witnessed the sets or saw any footage or marketing material. It has been an absolute delight to embark on this journey, from arriving in London, where a major portion of the film was shot, witnessing the magnificent sets for the first time, including the Barbie Dream houses and various meticulously crafted sets. And now, as the marketing campaign unfolds, it's truly exciting to see the world eagerly following along, feeling wonderfully perplexed about the nature of this movie. We have finally reached the point where we are ready to unveil it to them, and I believe they will be pleasantly surprised when they watch it.
Were you surprised when you discovered that you would be playing the role of Ken, a character historically portrayed as a white man? What are your thoughts on the movie's attempt to bring diversity to Barbie and Ken's previous images?I wasn't cast specifically because of my Asian background, but I believe it was crucial, and Greta shared this belief, that Barbie Land represents the diverse group of people who grew up playing with Barbies. These individuals come in various shapes, sizes, and gender expressions. Barbie Land is meant to reflect the real world in a way that emphasizes the importance of equality and diversity. This extends beyond ethnic backgrounds to include different body types and all the various characteristics of human beings. It's truly exhilarating to be a part of this conversation.
We are challenging many social norms in this undertaking. We are questioning patriarchal systems, heteronormativity, and traditional gender roles. We are even questioning the stereotypical association of the color pink with femininity. All of these challenges are necessary and incredibly impactful.
Who among your fellow actors playing Kens was the most enjoyable workout partner?Scott Evans was an excellent workout companion. We would exercise together and then indulge in a game of table tennis. Our table tennis rivalry has endured over time and remains unsettled.
I must also mention Ryan Gosling. Ryan served as a tremendous source of inspiration due to his exceptional discipline. I could never beat him to the gym. He always arrived earlier and stayed longer than I did. This dedication truly pays off in the film. There are a few scenes where you can witness his incredible physique as Ken, and it is remarkably well-toned.
Did you have any opportunities for improvisation during filming, or was everything strictly scripted?What I truly appreciated about Greta's direction on set was that it felt like an ongoing conversation. This doesn't mean that our improvisations surpassed the script, which was already quite impressive. However, there were certainly moments of ad-libbing that made their way into the final version.
Ryan and I had many opportunities to work together since our characters have a passive-aggressive dynamic, often exchanging subtle jabs. It was a delightful dynamic to portray. Ryan is an incredibly talented performer, and from our very first rehearsal, he completely blew me away. I realized that I had to be fully prepared for anything during filming, as he would easily outshine me otherwise. It was a joy to engage in such a dynamic with him.
Were there any surprising moments during this dynamic with Ryan?Ryan is a natural at improvisation, and he approaches it in numerous ways. Sometimes he improvises with words, but even if he delivers the exact same lines from the script, he does it in a fresh and exciting manner. This forces anyone sharing a scene with him to be fully present and attentive. If you miss something incredible he does, it would deprive you of a valuable opportunity to react or respond. This is when acting is the least predictable and most exhilarating—when neither person knows what will happen in a scene. With Ryan, I never knew what to expect. It simultaneously excited and intimidated me.
The director of your film, Shang-Chi, Destin Daniel Cretton, has been chosen to direct Avengers: The Kang Dynasty. Therefore, I assume you will be part of it as well. Unfortunately, everything is currently on hold due to the WGA strike. Have you received any updates from Marvel?
Yes, I have a strong feeling that I will also be involved in that project. However, I don't have any specific information, nor do I want to have any until it is fully prepared. The entertainment industry, especially Marvel, is constantly evolving and unpredictable. You can only be certain about something when you are on set, ready to shoot a scene. Even then, scenes can be reimagined, reshoots may occur, and additional elements can be added through post-production with visual effects. Therefore, in the meantime, it has been a rewarding journey for me to have opportunities like Barbie, which allow me to explore different aspects of my artistry beyond the Shang-Chi identity.
But when the call finally comes, it's inevitable that a sequel will happen, and Kang Dynasty will become a reality. At that point, I will gladly participate, read everything necessary, and prepare accordingly. However, until then, I believe it's better for me to remain ignorant.
Expanding on that topic, considering the introduction of new characters in the Marvel universe, are there any individuals from the current star-studded Marvel cast that you particularly want to collaborate with?
I would like to mention Iman Vellani, the star of Ms. Marvel. Firstly, she is also Canadian, which creates an immediate connection. Moreover, she is simply incredible. Our few interactions and conversations have shown me what a wonderful person she is. I'm thrilled to have the opportunity to work alongside all the amazing individuals who have entered this universe. However, Iman truly stands out to me. She has an evident love for the Marvel world and appreciates the position she is in.
In a way, I find her journey relatable. She, like myself, has been a devoted Marvel fan for a long time. Witnessing her living her dream is just as surreal for her as it is for me.
July will be an extraordinary month for movies, including Barbie, Oppenheimer, and Mission: Impossible. Tom Cruise even endorsed the Barbie and Oppenheimer double feature. With so many incredible movies releasing, how will you approach this?
I anticipate spending a great deal of time in movie theaters. I'm genuinely excited. There's something special about going to the theater—immersing yourself in darkness, surrounded by powerful speakers, enjoying a bucket of popcorn and a soda. It's an unmatched experience.
The fact that various movies, each unique in their own right, are being released in close proximity is truly remarkable. It calls for a double feature. You watch one film and then the other. Whether you choose to begin with Barbie and follow it up with Oppenheimer, or vice versa, or even take a break with Barbie in between, there is no wrong way to do it. The only mistake would be to miss out on any of these exceptional films.
Since my childhood, I have always been a devoted enthusiast and admirer of the art of cinema and the experience of watching movies in theaters. My aspiration for this particular month of July is to revive and rekindle the passion for going to the movies and indulging in the cinematic experience. I envision a scenario where everyone's love for attending theaters is reignited, where they can relish in the simple pleasure of grabbing a bucket of popcorn and immersing themselves in the mesmerizing world of motion pictures.
Please note that this interview has been meticulously edited to ensure that the information is concise and comprehensible.
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