“Marco Polo,” the action-packed historical Netflix series has returned for a second season and we caught up with actor Leonard Wu to talk about the show, what inspired him to be an actor and diversity in Hollywood.
Where did your love of acting originate? Who were your acting heroes when you were young?
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been obsessed with storytelling and pictures. I grew up reading comic books, and when I wasn’t doing that you could find me doodling at the kitchen table, in my own fantasy land, imagining that I was creating worlds with a pencil and paper. And sometimes I would even talk to myself and act out whatever it was I was drawing. So I think it was a natural progression to wanting to become a performer and artist to live out those imaginary worlds.
Due to the fact that I naturally latched on to sci-fi and fantasy, and the movies I consumed were often larger than life, my acting hero as a child was Arnold Schwarzenegger. I was obsessed with “Conan” and “Predator” and I’m pretty sure I wore out my VHS copy of “Terminator 2” from watching it over and over again.
How has Marco Polo challenged you in ways you haven’t been challenged before as an actor?
I’ve never done anything on this grand or epic a scale. Since my character, Orus, is a Mongolian warrior, I trained heavily in weight lifting, horseback riding and various styles of martial arts. The physical demands of playing this character were definitely the most challenging aspects, as well as the most valuable in terms of informing me who this character was and what he needed to be.
What do you do to fill the down time on long shooting days?
When I’m not having fun hanging out with other cast mates, I’d sit in my trailer and read a lot. I was trying to consume a little bit of everything, from non-fiction like Chasing the Scream to hardcore sci-fi like The Three Body Problem. I even got to read “Marco Polo” creator John Fusco’s fantastically fun, pulp novel, Dog Beach.
What has your involvement with the show taught you about yourself?
Working on “Marco Polo” was a reaffirmation that I do love the filmmaking process and am doing exactly what I need to be doing.
Diversity on TV has been a talking point in recent years. In your opinion, why is that important and what can producers do to make inclusion something that’s the norm, not just a “hot topic?”
As an actor it’s always tricky to try to traverse the terrain that is Hollywood while carving out your own niche. In this industry, you can be seen as being too fat, too skinny, too tall, too blonde, too ethnic, etc. We’re all being constantly put into boxes that don’t necessarily define us. I’ve been aware from day one of the difficulties of being an Asian American in this business. There are certain types of roles that I would love to play that I simply don’t get seen for or will never have the chance to play. That being said, I do think that the landscape is changing and that audiences are demanding more diversity. Hollywood may be slow on the uptake, but they are hearing the concerns and addressing them. I just look at the fact that a show like “Marco Polo,” which is 99.9% Asians, would never have been made five years ago to know that things are evolving for the better.
What inspires you and motivates you to keep going as an actor?
I think it’s a couple things. One is that I can’t imagine myself doing anything else. The other is surrounding myself with really good family and friends who inspire and bring out the best in me.
What’s coming up next for you?
I actually write and produce as well, so I’m developing some of my own projects that I hope to get off the ground in the near future.
Photographer: Diana Ragland
Wardrobe: Bruno Lima