“Shang-Chi” star Simu Liu, who is featured on the cover of Vanity Fair’s Hollywood Issue 2022, spoke with the magazine about feeling like an “outsider” in Hollywood.
Liu is among the Hollywood stars to be featured on Vanity Fair’s 28th annual issue along with actors Kristen Stewart, Idris Elba, Nicole Kidman, Andrew Garfield, Benedict Cumberbatch, Penélope Cruz and Michaela Jaé Rodriguez.
Liu told Vanity Fair about the pressure he felt after taking on the lead role in the 2021 Marvel film “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” and still feeling like an “outsider” in Hollywood.
The weight of being a representative of the Asian diaspora in the industry started from his role in the Canadian sitcom “Kim’s Convenience.”
“We were already being bombarded with those questions from day one — what does it mean to represent your people, why is diversity important,” he said. “Initially, it felt uncomfortable, like we were asked to speak on these broad issues that were outside of our scope. I was a failed accountant from business school who, before I got the Kim’s gig, was handing out dog-food samples on the side of the street. I was not an Asian-studies major. Nothing prepared me.”
He revealed that his encounter with Korean American comedian Ken Jeong was the first time he felt welcomed in Hollywood. He had connected with the actor through Twitter when Jeong was still shooting the ABC sitcom “Dr. Ken.”
“When I first got to L.A. one of the first people who reached out to me was Ken Jeong,” Liu said. “He said, ‘Look, I’m gonna give you a drive-on pass to the studio lot. You come whenever you want.’ And I took him up on it. I would go to tapings, and Ken, without fail, would bring me into his dressing room and ask me how I was doing. That was the first time I really felt the generosity of a community…. I’ll never forget that kind of kindness.”
After becoming one of the industry’s most well-known Asian actors, Liu admits to struggling underneath the responsibility of Asian representation in the social media era.
“What I wasn’t prepared for was backlash from within, for people to say, ‘He’s not our representative,’” he said. “Even if there are only a couple of people saying it, it always hurts.”
“I still feel very much like I’m an outsider in Hollywood…but I’m starting to realize I don’t have to prove to anyone or myself that I deserve to be here,” Liu added. “Taking up this space and being unapologetic — these things came a lot easier to me back in the day, when I didn’t have a seat at the table. I was playing a very different game, but I think I’m slowly finding that courage again.”