Natasha Liu Bordizzo’s story may end up being the envy of fledgling actors everywhere.
With a background in martial arts but virtually no experience in entertainment, the 19-year-old Australian college student responded to an open casting call for “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny” in her native Sydney, bringing to a halt the worldwide search conducted by the film’s director Yuen Woo-ping, the wuxia wireworks maestro for Ang Lee’s 2000 original.
Bordizzo was instantly cast as Snow Vase, a new young character trying to understand her place in the epic world.
Mere days after moving to Hollywood to see if her good fortune will continue, the now 21-year-old Bordizzo joined Spinoff Online in the Beverly Hills offices of Netflix, which debuts the film today, to talk about her extraordinary career path.
Spinoff Online: So, instant movie star …
Natasha Liu Bordizzo: Uh, no – not yet! [Laughs]
This had to feel like a pretty crazy experience for you, to just kind of step in and say. "Hey, how about me?" And they say, "Sure!"
Yeah, that was my first audition. I mean, I don’t even know how to say that to actors’ faces. I’m like, "Yeah, 'Crouching Tiger' was my first audition. You hate me now, don’t you?" Especially now that I’m auditioning and doing pilot season, I’m like, "Holy crap! That was insane!" But that was my first audition. Yeah.
Tell me, what was the thing that pushed you to do something like that? To say "I’m going to go audition for this thing."
To be honest, I was pushed. I was just studying, and I was in university in Sydney, which is where I’m from. Then, my agent – my now-agent – she is a boutique model/actor agent in Sydney, and she scouted me for modeling. And I was like, "I’m very busy, I'm studying, I don’t think I have time for that." And I just didn’t have much interest in it.
Then she said, "OK, well, how about acting?" And she put me forward for this audition, and I went out of curiosity because I’ve never liked drama very much. I have stage fright and I’m a little bit of an introvert. I just don’t like those situations in high school where it’s drama class and everyone’s just trying to be really loud and everything. So I found this strange thing about film is that it’s so intimate and it’s not about being big or dramatic, it’s just an imitation of life. So I just fell into it because it just felt really right.
How nervous were you on that first day of shooting?
Pretty nervous. But you know what helped, though? My first week of shooting was actually action scenes with no dialogue. So I wasn’t as nervous as I would have been if it was a dialogue scene. So I think I was just trying to go through the motions and not get killed by Harry in that scene. We filmed that nighttime scene where we’re trying to steal the sword, was our first week filming.
Give me a little bit of your history with martial arts. How early on did you take an interest in it and show some real skill for it?
I started taekwondo when I was 9 or 10. My parents basically said to me, "You can do martial arts or you can do dance – choose." And I was always a tomboy, so I said of course I’d rather do martial arts. I was like, "Please, I’m not doing ballet."
There was a dojo near my house, and I started going and I just found that it was like an outlet in my teenage years, just maybe to vent frustration. It was a space where there was a lot of respect of discipline, and it was just really formative for me as a teenager to have that space away from high school and everything that is growing up to where you’re just really treated with respect and you treat others with respect.
It was more like that affected my life that I loved as well. I think first and foremost, I’m still an actor, though. If martial arts adds to the story, I’m very happy to take that on board as well.
How much did your real discipline in martial arts come into play? Or did you have to say, "Oh, you want movie martial arts."
Well, I think with nontraditional Wushu, just general action, like a general TV show, it’s a lot more faking it because you can just do something that looks flashy but it’s not actually. But with our movie, we had to really do most of the movements. It’s really hard to fake it. There’s a certain grace to Wushu that it’s almost between dance and martial arts. So we really did do most of what is in the movie. I’d say I did, like, 80 percent of my stunts. So it was a crash course.
And very little of that helps you when you’re on a wire rig and spinning around, as Harry Shum was just telling me. All his dance discipline really didn’t --
No, nothing helps you.
It doesn’t help you with gravity.
Nothing helps you with gravity, apart from practice. The wirework, it looks easy, it looks like you’re feather-light, and you’re just flying around. It’s not. It’s, like, you have to tense your entire body to just stay straight. For some reason, you always want to be doing this. So the wirework is very challenging, actually. I have double the amount of respect for watching the action sequences that I have of actors on wires, because now I realize how hard it is.
What’s the craziest situation you found yourself in while dangling from cables?
Oh, my God. There was one scene at the pagoda, which is where I fight the villain Hades Dai. I had to be doing backflips and every other thing in front of a crowd of like 100 soldier extras. And there was just so much … Jason Scott Lee, who plays Hades Dai, he’s terrifying in character. He runs at you like a full muscle train and does not stop. The fear was real. There was no acting in that scene. So that was a pretty crazy whole sequence there.
Of all the other physical things that you had to get familiar with to do the role, what did you take to right away – like, "Hey, I’m good at this?" And what was the most tricky to master?
I think, predictably, I was better at the scene that doesn’t involve weapons, which is the one with Harry where we’re at night just kind of wrestling and punching. Just fighting. But I think possibly, I’m trying to think of the exact scene that I struggled the most with. Weapons in general was new to me.
So I think honing my skills to be to the point of approval of Master Yuen [Woo-ping], who’s a legend, that was a daily task for me. Yeah. His approval is not easy. If he does this to you [flashes a low-key "OK" gesture], you know that you’ve done amazingly well. That’s all he’ll give you.
Tell me about, physicality aside, what intrigued you about the character? What did you find yourself loving about walking around in her shoes?
When I first read the script, I was really amazed at the fact that it’s this young, impulsive female warrior who kind of is pivotal to a lot of the story. I think that she comes from a lonely kind of upbringing, because she was raised very much like a warrior, a student, instead of a daughter. She feels kind of misplaced a lot of the time.
She’s kind of guarded, but she’s seeking love and guidance, which is kind of what she gets from Yu Shu Lien, Michelle Yeoh’s character. I just love there’s so many layers involved. She’s secretive. She’s got this past. She’s sneaky, but she wants guidance, but she’s guarded, but she’s fiery and temperamental. She’s got flaws and she’s a real person.
Where did the original movie come into your life? Was it something from childhood or did you recently discover it?
No, I was 5, I think, when the original came out, and I never saw it. I think I watched bits of it when my parents were watching it in the living room maybe, sometimes. But I watched it for the first time as preparation for this movie. Ever since then, I’ve dived a lot more into the Chinese side of my culture and just Wushu and Hong Kong cinema in general.
I think that because my generation’s a little bit cut off from that film in the sense, where we’re just too young to have seen it when it came out and was a big thing, I think that makes us see this movie more as a standalone because of that. I think my friends haven’t really seen the first one either. We just kind of missed it because of that gap. They’re excited about this as a new, fresh project.
How’s university looking now? You going to go back?
That’s long gone. I quit; I just dropped out. There’s a period where I was trying to do both for a few months, and it just didn’t work. You have to kind of do a hundred or nothing with acting. Yeah, maybe later in life, but I’m very focused.
Are you hooked? Do you feel like "This is my thing I should have been doing all along"?
Definitely. Yeah, it was weird. I never thought … you know, it’s one of those things. Fate, I don’t know. Is that too strong a word? Everything that I enjoyed is kind of melded into acting. I love photography, I love writing, I love film as well. But I never thought I’d actually be in the films. But yeah, I’m very passionate.