“I pursued a more academic path,” says Natasha Liu Bordizzo about her initial career aspirations in law. “My Aussie agent Jovita Lee found me at Central station – no joke – and convinced me to go on my first audition despite my apprehension about having no acting training. My first audition and I’d secured a leading role in the Netflix sequel to Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. I was on a plane to New Zealand a week later.”
Of Italian and Chinese heritage, Liu Bordizzo had toyed with the idea of acting in her youth, but “the fact that there was never anyone who looked like me in Western television or film” meant that she never pursued it seriously.
Ultimately, though, it was her heritage that had her plucked out from the crowd and given that big break. “Upcoming, I have two projects I can mention!” she tells us from Los Angeles. “One is Hotel Mumbai, directed by fellow Australian Anthony Maras. It is based on the Mumbai attacks of 2008 and the remarkable survivor stories which came out of that tragedy. Anthony brought together an incredible cast, including Dev Patel, Jason Isaacs, Armie Hammer, and Nazanin Boniadi. I play Bree – an Australian backpacker traveling the world with her boyfriend Eddie (played by the wonderful Angus McClaren) who gets caught in the midst of these attacks. It was a fascinating project that wasn’t afraid to explore the complexities of these tragic extremist events.
“The other is The Greatest Showman, directed by another fellow Australian, Michael Gracey. It was overwhelming to work with talent like Hugh Jackman, Michelle Williams, Zac Efron and Zendaya. It’s an original musical celebrating the visionary P.T. Barnum (played by Hugh) who rose from nothing to create the circus, which went on to become a worldwide sensation. I play Deng Yan – an acrobat and swords-woman who serves as part of Barnum’s original core troupe.”
On a hot streak, Liu Bordizzo is very aware that the roles could dry up at any minute. “All actors have the same experience to some degree – the frustration of perpetual rejection, not getting enough auditions or the right auditions, feeling as though they were making progress only to hit a wall. But for those with diverse backgrounds, those are not the only concerns. First, it’s always wondering if you didn’t get the role due to your ethnicity. Right after are concerns of whether this is ‘as good as it gets’ for us – where people of colour often serve as accessories to the white characters at the centre of the narrative. That is, if there are Asian characters in the story at all.
“Being a woman and having a diverse background doesn’t look great on paper when considering the stats of female representation in film and television – and then people of colour stats in film and television. Particularly those with an Asian background. For example, among my peers with diverse backgrounds, we are well aware that should there be two of us being considered for roles in the same project, only one of us will be successful. There seems to be a limit to how many people of colour, particularly Asians being a more tokenised group, can fit into a story.
“The complexities of how my mixed race has impacted my career are only broadened when also considering the fact that I’m Australian. There are certainly no famous Asian equivalents to our much-loved global stars such as Chris Hemsworth or Cate Blanchett. In fact, there’s nothing even close. My friend, fellow Aussie-actor Charlotte Nicdao who is of mixed Filipina descent, once told me to google ‘Australian Actors’, a ‘crude’ way of seeing that every single headshot – to the point where I gave up scrolling – is a white face. This makes it difficult not to feel, as Charlotte put it, that we – as young Australian actors with diverse backgrounds, are ‘navigating into uncharted territory’.”
All that being said, and acknowledging that actors of diverse backgrounds have found greater success overseas than on home turf, Liu Bordizzo is the first to admit that her heritage also has its advantages when it comes to landing plum roles. “I’m incredibly thankful for the continuing opportunities I’m receiving to work in the budding Chinese film market due to my mixed Chinese- Italian heritage. By no means do I wish I didn’t have the challenges of being an Australian actor with a diverse background – the frustrations fuel my career and there is so much new and exciting ground to gain. Ground that will include future generations of any race knowing they have a seat at the table, that they too have stories worth being told, and may study scripts and characters that exist free from the weight of race.”
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny is available now on Netflix. The Great Showman is in cinemas on Boxing Day and Hotel Mumbai will be in cinemas in 2018.