Directed by Master Yuen Woo-Ping and written by John Fusco, the Netflix feature film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny tells an epic story of lost love, young love, a legendary sword and one last opportunity at redemption. Continuing the themes and traditions that were established in the original film, it’s an epic martial arts battle between good and evil, full of breathtaking action, that will decide the fate of the Martial World. The film stars Michelle Yeoh, Donnie Yen, Harry Shum Jr, Natasha Liu Bordizzo, Jason Scott Lee, Roger Yuan and Eugenia Yuan.
At the film’s press day, actress Natasha Liu Bordizzo spoke to Collider for this exclusive interview about going from law student to actor, how she became a part of Crouching Tiger, what she connected to with her character, what she learned from working with Michelle Yeoh, her first day on set, surviving the fight scenes, why she can’t watch her own films, her desire to continue acting, and that she’s open to all types of roles, in both film and television.
NATASHA LIU BORDIZZO: It’s insane! This career makes no sense for me, but I’m just going to roll with it. Even my mom, who came out to the filming in New Zealand, was like, “How are you doing this? You can’t even make a speech at your friend’s 21st.” I think it’s because when I was younger, I associated drama with a lot of attention, and I hate attention. I associated drama class in school with the loudest people in the school, who were just trying to show off. But, I think film is so much more intimate. I’ve always loved writing, I’ve always loved watching film, and I’ve always loved storytelling, and that’s what film is. And when I’m actually on set, no one is really looking at you. They all have their own jobs. It would be really self-obsessed, if you thought everyone is staring at you while you’re doing a scene, ‘cause no one actually is. The lighting guy is worried about lighting. The cinematographer is worried about the camera focus. Everyone has got their job to do, so you just do yours. It’s not as overwhelming as stage. I still couldn’t do stage, I don’t think.
Were you actively looking for acting work when this came up, or did you just stumble into this project?
BORDIZZO: I try to avoid this because I just hate me when I say it, but I was in law school and my agent in Sydney, who’s a boutique acting/modeling agent, had scouted me as a model. She’d email me and harass me and say, “Please, come on, I really want to sign you!” And I was like, “I don’t have time. I have exams next week. I don’t have time for modeling.” And she said, “What about acting? Would you consider doing acting?” I said, “Maybe.” Crouching Tiger was my first audition. I auditioned for a supporting role, and they got back to us the next day and said, “We want her to try for the lead.” That’s the story. Cue every actor to be like, “Oh, god!”
Had you been familiar with the original Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon?
BORDIZZO: I hadn’t. It came out when I was five. I’d seen bits of it from my mom or my dad watching it in the lounge room, and I knew it was a classic, but it was one of those films that I just hadn’t gotten around to watching yet. When it came out, I was just a bit too young. I watched it in preparation for this film, which was really nice because I felt like I was finally learning about my Chinese side. Sometimes growing up in America or Australia, you can feel cut off from your roots, so that was really cool.
What was it about this character and this story that you connected with?
BORDIZZO: A few things. I couldn’t really relate to her on a personal level because, thankfully, I had a great childhood and I have great parents, and she grew up being treated more like a student and a warrior than a daughter. Where I can relate to her is that she’s young, she’s impulsive, she can’t really control her emotions, she’s passionate, and she says what she feels. When I first got the script, I was like, “It’s an action movie, so it’s going to have crappy characters,” but it’s so much more than that. Like with the first Crouching Tiger, there’s so much more depth to making sure the characters have their stories. She’s such a strong female character who’s pivotal to the movie, in many ways. She’s just bad-ass. I love playing a strong character.
What’s it like to get to work with a legend like Michelle Yeoh? Do you just try to absorb everything you can?
BORDIZZO: Yeah, you pretty much just stare at her. I had so many days working with Michelle. She was there for my very first scene. She is the most beautiful, generous, motherly person. Even my mom is constantly like, “Oh, my god, please thank Michelle again for taking care of you. That’s such a lovely woman.” My mom visited and saw my relationship with Michelle, who is very maternal. She’s just so patient. I didn’t even know what a mark was. I didn’t know where I had to stand or look, and there was never a moment when she wasn’t patient about that. She’s a legend. She gave me a lot of advice about how to make things look good for film. With martial arts, especially, you have to adjust it to look good for film. It can’t just be real martial arts because then it doesn’t look all that great. You have to make it more flashy. She told me a lot about the physicality and how to really fall into it. I was an Australian teenager. I couldn’t be further from a Wushu warrior from Ancient China, so she really helped me get into that zone.
What was your first day on the set like, and what was the first scene that you had to shoot?
BORDIZZO: Michelle was there for my first dialogue scene, which was when I come in and ask her to teach me. My actual first day on set was just action. It was the night scene with Harry [Shum Jr] when we were both trying to steal the sword. It’s always like you’re running out of time, no matter what. Even if everything is going according to plan, there’s always this feeling of being on to the next thing, especially with action. It was intense. You can’t fake action. I took a photo after that scene and I remember the costume lady, Ngila Dickson, saying, “I’m so glad that your costume covers your arms and your legs,” because it was full-on [bruises]. You can’t fake that stuff. That was my first day. I cried later that night.
The fight scenes in these films are so graceful and beautiful to watch. Are there tricks to making it all look so good?
BORDIZZO: I’m the least graceful person on the planet. Michelle was constantly like, “Put your hands together. Sit up.” It was a challenge for me to even keep my back straight. I’m very not graceful, so that was something I had to learn.
Is there a scene or a moment that you’re most proud of actually pulling off?
BORDIZZO: You know, it’s so hard for me to watch it objectively. I just think of the memories of filming that day. I have no idea what this movie is like to other people. For me, it’s like a show reel of memories from filming. I don’t know how anyone watches their own films. It’s terrifying. I think I’m going to become one of those actors who sneaks out for a two-hour bathroom break at the premiere. I think it’s my voice that I really can’t stand, out of everything. I can watch things on mute. As soon as the voice is involved, I’m out. I’m done. As actors, it’s crazy how little control you have over the post-production process, as well. Some things are not recognizable to me because they’ll change the order of the lines or cut something off. It’s exciting, after the post-production stuff, to really see where they’ve taken the story and how they’ve cinched it all together. It’s really cool. When you’re filming it, you’re like, “What is this story? Where does this even fit? What scene is this?” And then, you watch it and you’re like, “Ah, that little bit fit before that bigger thing. I see. It all makes sense.”
What was it like to work with Harry Shum Jr, especially with him stuck in a cage?
BORDIZZO: Michelle was like my mentor, but Harry was like my best friend. We spent four months together on this film, which is an intense amount of time to spend with anyone. We had so many of our scenes together, and he became my rock. We would really watch out for each other on set. We were protective of each other and always made sure the other was okay. We became the dream team. Where Harry was, I would be, too. And he helped me so much with how to workshop a character and find the relationship with our characters. There are so many layers to our characters’ relationship. We both come from a childhood where we felt like we didn’t belong, and we find that symmetry in each other, as characters. We’re like, “Is this love? I don’t know. We have this family history, but there’s chemistry. Is that weird?” There’s a lot of layers to that. We workshopped a lot with how to balance that relationship.
If there are more films, would you want to continue to explore this character?
BORDIZZO: Yeah, if there was the option to extend the character’s story, which I have no idea about, I think there’s more to the character’s story. The martial world is timeless. There are endless possibilities. There’s always a struggle between their honor and their traditions, and they feel like they can’t let themselves love who they want. There are endless possibilities with all of the struggles in this world.
Now that you’ve done this film, is this what you want to keep doing? Have you decided that you want to keep acting?
BORDIZZO: Yeah. It’s really weird, I never used to believe in fate, but since this movie, I just feel very right about everything. Even things that actors usually hate, like waiting around on set all day, I was fine with it. I was happy. You feel like you’re a part of something bigger than you, and you’ve got so many inspiring, creative people around. What makes this industry for me is people, and meeting inspiring, amazing people who are just so passionate. I can’t stand being around people who hate what they do. Everyone in the film was just so passionate about getting their department to be perfect, whatever it was. That energy is infectious. What we do is not for any purpose except to move people. Everything that I’m interested in weirdly makes sense for acting. I love photography, I love writing, and even reading scripts is studying for me. I dropped out of law school, so I have to do this now. Maybe I’ll go back later. I don’t know.
Have you thought about the types of roles you want to do, or which directors you’d like to work with?
BORDIZZO: I have, but I’ve also learned very quickly that you can’t plan anything and you don’t have very much control, and I struggle with that a little bit. You have to wait for someone to hire you for a job. You can’t just convince someone. I know that beggars can’t be choosers. Not that I’m a beggar, but with acting, as long as there’s a good script and a good team behind it, and you like the script, than I’m in. You can’t just have everything be exactly what you want it to be. I don’t have any specific genre plans. I’ll do anything, seriously. I’m ready.
Are you focused primarily on film, or are you also open to TV?
BORDIZZO: I’d love to do TV, as well. TV is great. There have been so many amazing scripts that have come my way. I’ve been reading and the content of the stuff coming out has been incredible. I’d do film or TV. TV is great. You get to develop a character for a longer time, and I think the fans get so much more connected to you when you’re one character for so many hours. You’re in their living rooms. Although, with this movie, you’re in their living rooms, as well, because of Netflix. But I’ve always wanted to do TV, since I started acting.
Are you a Netflix person, yourself?
BORDIZZO: I use Netflix almost every night. I just love how Netflix gives all the choice to the consumer. If you want to binge-watch something, you can, and I often do. And then, if you just want to watch one episode every now and then, you can. It’s very customized to what you want. Everyone has their own special account behavior. While I’m cooking dinner, I always play some Parks and Recreation or Friends.
Have you thought about whether you want to explore any acting classes, or do you want to continue to rely on your instincts?
BORDIZZO: I struggled with that for awhile. I was like, “Is it weird if I haven’t done classes? Will people judge me if I don’t do acting school?” I tried to find what I was comfortable with and I’ve hit a good medium where I’ve realized I don’t like group classes that much. It feels like a situation where everyone is just trying to work on their shops, and I can be quite shy in those situations. I’ve found that what works for me, when I have an audition coming up, I might go see a coach, one-on-one, just to work on the specific material. Instead of general acting tips, working on a specific audition that I have coming up is a lot more effective. When I’ve got the audition tomorrow, I’m like, “Okay, I’ve really got to learn this!” It’s much more urgent. Whereas, if it’s a general acting class, I’m like, “Yeah, I could use that.”
How do you find the audition process?
BORDIZZO: I find it harder than working. In the end, the casting directors want you to succeed, and they tell you that. You make them look good, if they can cast you. But I’ve always done self-tapes because I’m from Sydney, so I’ve gotten my self-taping down to an art. I get in the zone, set up my tripod, and I can do my thing. Coming to L.A. and getting used to being in the room is something that I still am getting used to. You have to get in a zone in two seconds, and then you have to start, but you might not be ready. I can see why actors complain about auditions, but in the end, you just have to have fun with it. It’s a chance to act and a chance to have fun, but it’s hard. When you’re working, you’ve already been accepted as that character, so you feel confident about all of the decisions you make. But when you’re in the audition, you don’t really know what they want, so it’s hard to make a choice. That’s why working is much more comfortable. When you’re auditioning, you don’t know if you’re right yet. You just have to believe you are.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny is available at Netflix and in select IMAX theaters.