Daniel Wu discusses the new Tomb Raider movie…
Did you have any experience with the Tomb Raider video game?
I played the video game in the late ‘90s, so I was very familiar with it and knew it was groundbreaking to have a strong female character in a role-playing game.
What was your reaction when you were first approached about being in Tomb Raider?
I was eager to read the script because I loved the idea of being part of a big franchise like Tomb Raider. I was pleased to discover that Lu Ren was going to be Lara’s partner on this journey and adventure. He’s an interesting, three-dimensional character with a lot of potential. So, I thought, I’m in! [Laughs]
Another draw was the chance to work in South Africa. I have a close relationship with that country because I was married there. I was married by a sangoma, which is like a shaman, in the forests in the middle of the country. My wife and I have a place on a farm in the middle of the country. So, I’ve been going there for the past fifteen years. There’s natural beauty everywhere you look
During my time away from the set, I gave water to a cheetah, climbed Table Mountain, and did a shark dive in a cage.
What did you connect with about Lu Ren?
What drew me to Lu Ren was his relationship with Lara Croft, which avoided tropes you typically see with a character like this. Instead, the relationship was about these two young people who are kind of lost, but share a crucial connection, in that both their fathers went missing. The difference between Lu Ren and Lara is that he’s closed the book on his father because Lu Ren never looked up to him, and Lara wants to find answers about her father’s disappearance and, maybe, some closure. It was interesting to see that they’re on similar paths that are different in that one important way.
At first you may wonder, “Who the hell is this guy? What’s going on with him?” Then you realize it’s because he’s hurting, emotionally. Lu Ren’s father left and never came back. He was a deadbeat dad and was never around, but it still hurts. All that he has of his father is an old boat, which is where we meet Lu Ren. When Lara finds him, he’s a drunken mess but he’s not admitting that his father is the reason for it. But his growing friendship with Lara, opens him up to new ideas and goals.
What was it like working opposite Alicia Vikander, who portrays Lara Croft?
It was awesome. Alicia is an extremely focused powerhouse. It’s her first starring role in a big action film and she really wanted to nail it. When I arrived in South Africa, Alicia had already been training for three months. She was jacked – her body had changed completely. That really impressed me, and I think that training focused Alicia on what she needed to do for the film. Alicia had no fear – even doing some of the big stunt scenes. But Alicia was never intimidated by these scenes.
Did you have to undergo any special training for Tomb Raider?
I’d just come off the second season of [the television series] Into the Badlands, which is a stunt and action-intensive show, when I began work on Tomb Raider. So, I was in pretty good shape already and didn’t have to train too much. Playing Lu Ren was more about reverse engineering what people are used to seeing me doing on Into the Badlands and creating a tough character that can hold his own but is not a martial arts practitioner like the one I play on the series. It was important to me to make Lu Ren very different from characters I’ve played in the past.
What kind of balance do you think your director, Roar Uthaug, brings to the movie in terms of the character work and the practical demands of orchestrating a production on this scale?
I was really impressed with Roar’s vision for the film – to make a big event movie with an intimate family story. It’s almost counter-intuitive, but Roar makes it work. That was his focus throughout production; no matter how big the set piece, you’d always be aware of where the characters were, emotionally and dramatically. He made sure we hit those tones correctly.
Did you have a favorite scene to play in the movie or a moment on set that was particularly fun or memorable?
There’s a big action scene set on Lu Ren’s boat during a storm, which was pretty crazy because it felt so real. I didn’t have to imagine the storm because they had that boat on a big gimble. Water cannons were shooting at us, the rain was coming down, and it was freezing. It was a difficult scene because the cameramen were on the boat with us, and they were getting rocked around; we had to make sure we didn’t crash into them or they didn’t crash into us. When an action scene feels real like that, everything you do just makes sense.
Another memorable scene for me was a more intimate one with Ren and Lara on top of the boat before the storm starts, where the characters are discussing their fathers. They make a real emotional connection there, which drives their relationship throughout the film.
What do you hope audiences take away from Tomb Raider?
I think audiences will get a fresh new take on this franchise and on Lara Croft. Alicia makes the character her own. Her Lara is relatable, but still a kickass hero who makes this a big popcorn action movie. The set pieces are amazing and the action sequences are crazy. Watching Alicia as Lara going through all that stuff is going to put you on the edge of your seat. This journey really makes her the Tomb Raider.
Tomb Raider is released on DVD and Blu-ray on Monday, July 16th.