‘Marco Polo’ exclusive: Leonard Wu talks arc as Orus — and some of those impressive battle scenes

The second season of “Marco Polo” was an epic journey, and one that included some pretty fierce battles, some fascinating alliances, and of course some game-changing deaths. Given the nature of this show and the world in which it is set, the latter certainly should not be a surprise. (Warning: Season 2 spoilers ahead.)

Leonard Wu is the man who brilliantly played someone who did not make it out of the season alive in Orus, and as sad as it may be that he is no longer on the show, we were certainly thrilled to speak to him about his time on the series.

CarterMatt – How aware were you of the subject matter after you landed the part? How much much research did you have to do?

Leonard Wu – Growing up I learned about ‘Marco Polo’ in history class, and I also studied Chinese history at university. I had a good deal of knowledge about that time period, because in my classes we would learn about the different dynasties. And then, when I got cast, I was unaware of the character of Orus, and I didn’t know much about his sister Khutulun. I tried to gather as much knowledge as I could from texts and whatnot, and there isn’t actually a whole out there [about] Orus. There is a lot more about his father Kaidu and his sister Khutulun. In a way, I basically had to figure out while on set that kind of relationship with the actress who plays Khutulun, Claudia [Kim]. She’s actually a really big part of Mongolian history and very prominent. As it happened in history, Kaidu wanted her to become the Khan of Khans, so she was this really famous female figure in Mongolian history. That’s where I drew my inspiration and knowledge from.

When you first took the role, did you already know where things were going with Orus? Did you know he wasn’t going to make it through the season?

In the beginning, they were like ‘this is a major recurring role’ and I was like ‘cool,’ and I don’t think I was aware at first — but then while we were talking about what happens to the character, they were then like, ‘yeah, he’s not making it past season 2’ (laughs). It was before I got to start filming that I learned about it.

What was your reaction to that? Would you have wanted to do the role longer?

It’s very mixed feelings that I have. It keeps me away from being in Los Angeles with my family which is difficult, but you won’t find a more generous, sweet cast than ‘Marco Polo.’ They’re the nicest people I’ve ever worked with. I had such a great time, possibly the best time I’ve ever had on a set. I will miss all of the cast and crew in that respect, but it felt natural for the character to move on in a way. It really services Khutulun’s story and I’m really excited to see what they do for her in season 3.

Since you mention season 3, what’s the chatter like on your end about that? Is everyone still anticipating what could be coming next?

They kind of are, because Netflix still hasn’t made an announcement yet. I still talk to [everyone] very regularly, they’re all very dear friends, and everybody’s just kind of in a holding pattern. Hopefully Netflix will announce in the next week or so whether there’ll be a season 3. It feels like there’s been a good reception to season 2, and we’re very proud of it. We think it’s a great product. God willing, there’s a season 3.

From a physical standpoint, what was the training like to prepare for this, and to get into shape to become Orus?

When I got to Hungary, which is where we first started shooting, the creator John Fusco saw me and went over to one of the trainers and was like ‘you need to bulk him up a lot before we start filming.’ We were a month out, and basically the mandate from the producers was to get as big as possible. I was eating 4,000 – 5,000 calories a day, just buffets upon buffets. On top of that, we would train every single day. That would entail an hour, hour and a half of really heavy lifting, an hour, hour and a half of martial arts, and then we would go to the stables where I would ride horses for an hour, hour and a half. That did the trick. It really got me not only in the proper shape, but also in the mindset of being Orus.

So going into some of the larger set pieces and the action sequences, including in the episode where Orus dies, what was the challenge of engaging in some of those scenes, when so much is going on around you? Is it easier or harder to get into that character?

You know, I gotta tell you that it’s one thing to be rehearsing in the stability of a stunt facility, and then it’s another thing to get out there on set. It’s literally fires, 30 or 40 horsemen, 50 extras, 50 stuntmen, and you’re knee-deep in mud because it’s monsoon season in Malaysia. It makes things quite challenging. Literally none of the battles are green-screened. All of the battles are shot real. The smoke, the fumes, they’re all there.

Thankfully what happens is that we’re training the entire time we’re not filming, so Brett Chan and his amazing stunt team, they prepared us for it. It’s almost like second nature at this point. You’re able to go through the motions and do the acting because you have been rehearsing the battles for, at this point, two or three months. It makes it easier to battle the elements while doing these fights.

Plus, when I do the battle like the one in episode 9, I work with Remy [Hii], who plays Jingim, and he’s amazing. He is so collaborative, and we’re making sure to keep each other as safe as possible and doing the best job possible and both going all-out.

So with that specific death scene, was that challenging to shoot? I’m not an actor, but I’ve heard that some people actually enjoy filming them. Was that difficult for you?

I love it — you are the first person to ask specifically about the death scene. It was hard, just because I had to lay there in the mud for I don’t know how many hours, and even though it’s a spongy rock it has to hold form, and it’s pretty hard and I’m getting my head bashed over and over and over again (laughs). James McTeigue, the director of that episode, is so amazing and so precise and knows exactly what he wants. So, he was very exact. He would be like ‘something doesn’t look quite right’ or ‘something doesn’t look real enough.’ So at a certain point, I was just like ‘go all out on me. We’re going to keep doing this until we get it right, and what James wants is for it to be hard.’ … It messed me up a little bit and I was in a little bit of pain afterwards, but it looks amazing onscreen so I’ll take it.

Let’s go from the crazy-physical to the psychological. What was it like playing a character in this particular time, one who has a father in Kaidu who was so much more interested in helping his daughter become a Khan than him? How did you get into his head for that?

So much of it is exploring it with the people who you work with on set, and for me that would be Claudia and Rick [Yune], who plays my sister and father. They provided so much information. They were the veterans, they knew their characters from season 1, so me as the new person, it was basically figuring out how I fit into this family dynamic. It was this ongoing process during filming, and what I’d come to learn from being this character is that Orus, what he boils down to, is that he is a boy trying to become a man. He’s doing what he can to represent his father justly and honorably, but he doesn’t know how to do it properly. He doesn’t have the tools to do it just yet, and because of that he’s young, he’s brash, he’s a little too ambitious, all of these things, but it comes from a place of loyalty. So that’s what it boils down to.

Do you ever wonder hypothetically that if Orus had made it through to a season 3, what could have happened? Could he have become that man, especially given what happened to Kaidu at the end of season 2?

Absolutely, yes! I think about that all of the time. I do wish from a very selfish point of view as an actor, we could see what happens to Orus. I do think he’s on his way to becoming a man. He realizes that he’s not fit to be a Khan, that Khutulun is the one who deserves to be the leader, but he is more than willing to go along with her on this journey. If he had survived, that’s what I believe would have happened.

What’s coming up down the line for you? Is there anything specifically you want to promote, or any role you’re looking for? 

I’m basically back auditioning, and beyond that I write and produce, as well, so I’m developing my own projects. I can’t really discuss stuff about that just yet because they’re in fledgling form, but hopefully in the next couple months I’ll have some awesome news.

So let’s say season 3 happens. Are you going to be able to dive in and enjoy the episodes yourself? Can you detach yourself from your memories of filming it, and can you watch it independently of that?

I’d like to think that I would be able to objectively watch it. I’m totally excited to watch it. Everybody has become a dear friend of mine, so I’m very excited to see where the other characters go in terms of their storyline. I will be the first to be sitting down with popcorn to watch season 3.

We want to thank Leonard for his time, and we’ll keep everyone posted on the future of “Marco Polo.”

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