“I’m not 100% sure if my daughter is aware of what I do for a living,” says actor Daniel Wu over the phone about his four-year-old daughter, Raven.
“I asked her the other day if she knows what my job is and she said, ‘Yeah. You are working (to pay) for my college.’ Which is true, I guess,” he adds with a laugh.
Wu, who is married to model-actress Lisa Selesner (better known as Lisa S.), shares that becoming a father has changed him incredibly.
“Before, I would just take on jobs just to keep busy. Now, family is my No. 1 priority and work has taken second place to that.
“And so, when I look at work, I see how that affects my family, or how it can enrich my family – by going to Ireland for eight months (to shoot TV series Into The Badlands), my daughter gets to see a whole different world for a long period of time. So, I look from that perspective,” explains the 43-year-old, who is based in Hong Kong.
Born in Berkeley, California, to Shanghainese parents Diana and George Wu, the American got into acting quite by chance.
He went to Hong Kong in 1997 to witness the handover of the island to China. When he ran out of money, the 1.82m-tall Wu started to model, which caught the attention of film director Yonfan, who then cast him in Bishonen. That led to another movie, and another and so forth.
To date, Wu has worked on some 70 movies and TV series including Young & Dangerous: The Prequel, Gen-X Cops, 2000 AD, New Police Story, The Banquet, Shinjuku Incident, as well as recent Hollywood productions: Warcraft: The Beginning, Geostorm and Into The Badlands.
Next up is a role in the Lara Croft movie, Tomb Raider headlined by Alicia Vikander.
Fresh and exciting
According to Wu, he goes where interesting work takes him, be it in Asia or in Hollywood. Tomb Raider, he says, offers him an opportunity to enter a well-accepted franchise, rebooted in a fresh way.
“But I’m not consciously making a rush into Hollywood,” he mentions. “Badlands came about because I was asked to be an executive producer, and eventually asked to play the lead role in it.
“Geostorm happened before that … and Tomb Raider came up after we were finishing up Badlands. So it’s an organic natural progression, I think.”
It also helps that the lucrative Chinese box office market has given Asian actors a boost in Hollywood films. Not to mention, since #OscarsSoWhite, Hollywood has made an effort to make its productions more diverse.
But has being an Asian ever cost him any roles in the past? “No, I wouldn’t say that,” he replies.
“I wasn’t going to LA all the time to audition and trying out for parts. Most of the parts I am doing, the productions come and approach me – to see if I am interested in working with them.
“So, I haven’t experienced that, although I have many Asian-American actor-friends who have stuff like that happen, where they didn’t get a part because they are the wrong skin colour or people didn’t see an Asian playing a certain type of role. Definitely that does happen, but it hasn’t happened to me yet.”
Forging his own path
If there is one thing Wu has made sure from the start of his career is that, he wants to play a wide variety of characters.
While it’s easy to stamp him as an action star, Wu admits to being happy working on a small drama just as much as he enjoys making a big movie like Tomb Raider.
In Tomb Raider, for instance, Wu has left all the action to leading lady Vikander. His character, Lu Ren, is a ship captain who helps Lara as she journeys to the ends of the world to find the truth behind her father’s disappearance.
For the role, Wu lost 5kg to make himself less muscular, to contrast Vikander who bulked up to play Lara Croft.
Wu offers: “She trained really, really, hard for the role. I was surprised her small frame could take on that much muscle … To see her transform physically was kind of amazing, she became more powerful as she got stronger, more confident … she became like this warrior.”
Keeping fit and maintaining a healthy lifestyle is something Wu is familiar with.
Having been an active person since young – among his favourite activities are basketball, boxing and wushu – Wu realises, the endless energy he had when he was in his 20s is somewhat diminished now that he is in his 40s.
He states: “(Now) you have to find ways to preserve your energy and also just take care of yourself. Sleep well, work out on a regular basis, be disciplined about it. Because in the 40s you can’t skip days; if you do then you start to fall apart.”
He has become even more conscious of his health since his mother passed away in 2014 from cancer. “Nothing is more important than your health. You can make as much money as you want, but if you are not healthy, it’s worthless,” Wu declares.
In his desire to live a good life, he has expanded his work spec beyond acting.
Wu had graduated from University Of Oregon’s College of Design with a bachelor’s degree in architecture in 1997.
Last year, he put the degree to use by participating in a Chinese reality show called Dream House, which saw him travelling to different parts of China to give make-overs to old buildings.
One of his designs on that show received a nomination in the Royal Institute of British Architects’ International Prize 2018.
That’s not all. Wu also rebuilt a vintage car which was displayed at last year’s automotive speciality products trade event in Las Vegas.
“In the past year, I have been able to go back to what I studied in school. (For Dream House) we redesigned homes in rural villages.
“And as for the car thing, I always had a passion for vintage cars. I have a small collection of vintage cars and wanted to redesign a car from the ground up. So, I bought a 45-year-old car, took it apart and re-imagined it as if it was something new.
“These are like creative passion things that I like to do. I am kind of a workaholic. If I am not working on a film, I am working on something else. So, I create these small projects to keep me occupied.”
Wu is proof that leading a full life – one that is balanced between the pursuits of passion and family time – is not impossible.