Vital Thrills got a chance to talk to the Shang-Chi cast and crew last week about the highly-anticipated Marvel Studios film, opening exclusively in theaters on September 3.
The Shang-Chi cast, director Destin Daniel Cretton, and producer Kevin Feige gave us the scoop on what’s coming in the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s latest offering.
In addition to Cretton and Feige, participating in the Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings event were Simu Liu (Shang-Chi), Awkwafina (Katy), Meng’er Zhang (Xialing) and Sir Ben Kinsley (Trevor Slattery).
The event was moderated by Chieng, who plays Jon Jon in the film and jokingly said that Marvel President Kevin Feige was “kinda like Hydra a little bit,” and asked him about the very early days of the MCU and building it, “from scratch.”
Feige laughed, saying, “We didn’t build it from scratch. There were a thing called comics… that had existed for many, many decades… and the dream was to bring that to the big screen.”
He said the biggest risk he took and the most important thing about the founding of the MCU was casting Robert Downey Jr.
Cretton worked as a childcare worker at a group home for at-risk teenagers before becoming a director, and he said the job affected his entire life. “I feel like the stories that I am drawn to are a combination of humor, optimism, but also not shying away from the very real darkness and pain that we all experience as humans, and I think this movie really does encapsulate a lot of the things that I really believe in.”
Chieng asked Kingsley about the similarities in social impact between his work in the movie Gandhi and this film. “I think when you hear Destin, you know the motives behind telling this story are pure, crystal clear, lucid, pure motives. They are life enhancing and they’re not patronizing because they do introduce in a beautiful way, memory, ancestry, loss and families torn apart and reunited and reconfigured. All this is from Destin’s heart and Kevin’s heart and the writer’s heart.
Kingsley added: “If your motives are pure as a storyteller, the angels will come to assist you with that story. To quote a great author whom I admire greatly, to tell a story is to heal. I think that this story, because it’s so beautifully told, and so rich, will ultimately be healing because it’s not propaganda. It’s just a really beautiful story.
“I, as an actor, Trevor of course, is a Shakespearean actor, and he finds himself transported into a completely exotic environment, but he survives. And that’s to the welcome that Kevin and Destin and my beautiful colleagues gave me, I have done 17 out of Shakespeare’s whole canon of plays. So I’m sort of a Shakespearean actor. But as soon as i arrived on set, the fact that my colleagues were from a different culture was immaterial – completely immaterial and irrelevant. We are actors together. We live on empathy and transformation and this is our currency. All the rest is irrelevant.”
Meng’er Zhang plays Xialing, the sister of Shang-Chi, and has mostly done theater before this film. Zhang said she asked Kingsley a lot of questions about acting during the shooting. He said she actually had a notebook with her! “I asked him the question about the difference between theater and film acting, and he said — so beautiful — he said, ‘When we are on stage, we are landscape artists. And when we are in front of a camera, we are portrait artists.’ I think that just gave me a very clear image, and I learned so much.”
Zhang said the stunts were a big difference between theater and film as well, and joked that they were told there would be “some wind and a little bit of water.” He laughed that it was way more than that when it happened. Then everyone came back in to fix her makeup quietly, as though it was just a tiny thing.
Chieng asked Awkwafina about the stunts in the film as well, including her car drifting and getting her head slammed into a bus seat, which you can see in some of the trailers. “I was working as a team with gravity,” she laughed.
In terms of her archery work in the film, she said that she studied a lot, and went to a race track to learn how to drift, saying it was “really fun.” She continued, “Probably not practical in any scenario in traffic, right?” She said she was blown away by the physical work.
Simu Liu spoke about working with legends like Tony Leung, Michelle Yeoh and Sir Ben Kingsley. “I mean, it was like imposter syndrome every single day. Truly, it was such a treat, and it was all I could do just not to mess it up. When I was first cast, I did my final screen test with Nora [Awkwafina], and she did such a wonderful job of putting me at ease, just being in the moment with me, and we had such a beautiful chemistry – this like bickery old couple chemistry, right from the get-go.” Awkwafina said working with everyone “was like waking up to another dream.”
Chieng, Awkwafina and Liu joked about how Chieng would sneak into the gym with Liu and get “the free Marvel workout. I literally was like, you know what, I’m going to use this pandemic [they were shut down for months] to get super ripped, and then I ended up doing like 10 percent of the weights that he was doing and I felt like vomiting every day.” Simu said, “It was a really great effort.”
Cretton was asked about the friendship between Awkwafina’s Katy and Liu’s Shang-Chi. “When one of our co-writers Dave Callahan and I were creating this relationship – we actually have a lot of friends who are not the same gender as us… it is strictly platonic but also very intimate, caring and you now, we haven’t seen a lot of that on the screen, and we’re really excited to create that relationship between Shang-Chi and Katy.
He added: “It also just naturally felt like the only way to go with this movie, because Shang-Chi is so deep in his own inner struggle. I don’t think there’s emotional space for anything else.”
We’ve all heard the story about Simu Liu tweeting Marvel to ask if they would cast him in the role, but it wasn’t really how he was cast. Feige said, “Simu, it was not your tweeting. It was your acting ability, your constant professionalism, and then multiple reads and meetings that you did that got you the job.”
Finally, Cretton joked about Simu doing the very famous Black Widow pose after doing a flip. “He did a back flip into the Black Widow kneel pose, hair flip, straight up looking into the camera.”
Liu said, “I thought it was like a good signature. It was like, a nice little calling card… that you could put at the end of your resume.”