“Warrior” is the word you’re most likely to overhear during a Louis Vuitton fashion fitting with Australian actress and model Natasha Liu Bordizzo. “If you talk to me before any styling events you’d be like, ‘Stop saying warrior!' because I'm always saying, ‘Wait, there's not enough warrior here,’” the 23-year-old jokes in her hotel room before the premiere of her latest film, The Greatest Showman. “I just feel like you’re going into battle, it’s a theme that I’ve cultivated.”
Liu Bordizzo’s signature style certainly matches the fierce roles she chooses, having made her acting debut in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny, and playing an acrobat and swords-woman in The Greatest Showman, alongside Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron and Zendaya.
Now based in Los Angeles—but diving her time between the US, China and Australia—Liu Bordizzo talks show tunes, diversity in Hollywood, and overcoming a very expected fear.
How does it feel to be back in Sydney for one of the biggest film premieres of the year?
I’ve never had a premiere in my home city, so this is my one night to really celebrate. There are so many Australians involved—the director Michael Gracey and Hugh—so it’s really special. My parents sent me off this morning saying, “Have fun!” because they’re so used to me flying off whenever I have work.
We know you have an impressive martial arts background, but did you have to learn any new skills for The Greatest Showman?
A lot! My background is in Taekwondo, and then my first film was very martial arts based and I moved on to sword fighting and using weapons. For this film, there was dance—and that was terrifying to me. I would rather be punching then bopping along any day of the week [laughs]. But luckily it was more show tunes, so I could get into the rhythm of it the way that the choreography of martial arts would translate. And there was singing as well, but it's always an ensemble.
You share the screen with some amazing performers – who were you most excited to meet?
Hugh Jackman, but the funny story is this isn’t actually the first time I’ve met him. He filmed The Wolverine in Sydney and at the time I was studying a media/law degree at UTS with zero acting experience. I was like any other broke uni student and was trying to get some pocket money so I signed up to be a body double on The Wolverine film. I was working with Hugh for weeks, and he was the loveliest human. He did the most beautiful things, he’d come in and give everyone scratchies, and I hadn’t seen him for six weeks and he was like, “Hi Natasha, how’s your course going, how’s that exam?” For this movie, it was a full circle feeling of meeting him again, but this time as a co-star.
What do you have in common with your character Deng Yan?
Not much! I am mixed race, born in Sydney in the 21st century whereas she is a Chinese immigrant in the late 1800s America who is an acrobat and is trying to get by and survive. When I started out acting I always said I’d probably never be able to do Western period dramas because there’s never an Asian in Downton Abbey. And then this film was a Western period drama. All of the costumes are old school, vintage, which was really cool to get into.
In light of your own Chinese-Italian background, do you think the film and TV industry in the West has a diversity problem?
Growing up, I didn’t see many examples of people who looked like me who were Australian or were in western media. There was a disconnect.
Every actor goes through the same problems to some degree—if the audition doesn't go right, or you’re not right for the role, and the perpetual frustration of rejection. But with diverse actors, we have the extra added weight of race. Before I can even consider whether I'm right for the role, I have to consider whether my race is right for the role. Everytime. Would it be realistic for me to be a character that’s called Lauren Green? You have to first tick that first before you can enter the artistic side of things. That added weight of race can be an advantage, but it has been a hindrance as well.
What are you wearing for The Greatest Showman premiere?
A beautiful Louis Vuitton dress, it’s feminine but it has this box shape that’s so different and funky. It has these oversized pockets and has leather ties that bring this warrior edge to it. I’ve also got a pair of super structured black boots with a beautiful ankle cage that shapes your shins upwards.
You’ve worn Louis Vuitton previously on the red carpet and attended their Paris show. What is it about their collections that resonate with you?
Their style is funky, kind of rock chic, tomboy, but then with a feminine edge. They get that mix right every time, which I love. And every time I do a fitting everything just fits—that is so rare.
Who are your style icons?
There’s quite a few, but Zoë Kravitz is amazing, she’s really cool.
What’s the best beauty advice you’ve received?
My mum is so homoeopathic and the most organic being on the planet. She doesn’t even wash her face, so I don’t know if that’s good advice, but she’s looking amazing! For her, she goes by the ‘less is more approach’. I’ve had a lot of problems with my skin, especially since I’ve started acting because there’s been so much travelling. I’ve found not changing products too much to be useful. I also do a mask twice a week before bed, right now I’m using these collagen snail mix masks that my friend bought me from China.
What’s coming up next for you?
This year I essentially split my career between Hollywood and China. I did my first Chinese film this year called Detective Chinatown 2, which comes out at Chinese New Year in 2018. It’s been a really exciting new part of my career. I really want to continue this international path I’m on, where I'm being almost a bridge between the east and the west, with co-productions and collaborations. I’m keen to see what happens in the next five years between China and Hollywood, it’s an exciting time.
The Greatest Showman is released in Australia on Boxing Day, December 26.