Olivia Cheng is the definition of grace and beauty, not only in the hit Netflix show Marco Polo but in all of her projects as of now. Olivia went from being a broadcast and print journalist to an actress almost overnight. Her first big role was on the miniseries, Broken Trail that was nominated for 16 Primetime Emmy’s. Not a bad start for an unknown actress. Since then she has gone onto doing some small arcs on Arrow and Flash before landing the part as concubine and double agent Mei Lin in Marco Polo. Olivia is a fine talent and we can’t wait to see what she does with the rest of her career. Until then, make sure to check her out starting July 1st on Netflix in season 2 of Marco Polo as she kicks some serious ass.
Wingman Magazine: I hear that you auditioned for a film by doing a Billy Blanks’ Tae Bo routine. We need some explanation on this and the reaction by the people in the room.
Olivia Cheng: (HAHA) That was when I was a teenage and Jackie Chan came to town with the film Shanghai Noon. Lucy Liu got the part of the princess and it was much, much, much more well deserved. I had never gone out for anything before like this, and I don’t think I was in the casting room with actual casting directors, it might have just been a tape that I sent in. In the town I was living in, there were very few agents, so I said “yes” to everything that was brought to me. She asked if I could do martial arts, and I’m pretty sure I lied and said, “of course.” I had to come up with a routine and I had seen a Billy Blanks commercial, and learned the choreography by watching that. I have no clue what the reaction was by the viewers, but I did get a silent, on-camera role out of it. I was actually cut out of the film, but there is a deleted scene on the DVD with me in it. I am sure all actors have said that they have a special skill to boost up their resume`.
Wingman Magazine: Mei Lin returns to season 2. What can we the fans expect out of her this season?
Olivia Cheng: In the second season, the fans can expect to see how much of a survivor Mei Lin is. In the first scene we see her ability to figure her way out of a home that is not hers in a court that she’s not a part of. For the fans that know from season one that Mei Lin goes from an Imperial consort to a double agent to a prisoner of war for the Kahn, in season two they are really going to understand what a master manipulator Mei Lin can be. We will also see how adept and capable she gets at maneuvering through the emotional chess match of surviving as a prisoner of war in a Court where she is kept alive to be blackmailed. We will see her make some very unexpected alliances and see how far she will go to keep her daughter alive.
Wingman Magazine: How do you prepare for a show that is so so enormous and such a big part of world history?
Olivia Cheng: Mei Lin is based on a real woman, and most people don’t know that. The challenge is that there is only one line in history about her. It wasn’t even a line, it was more of a mention that she was the sister of Chancellor Jia Sidao, who got into court because she was the favored consort of the Emperor at that time. It’s just this minor acknowledgement that she is existed. So for me, prepping for this role with really no literature from a woman’s point of view during the Song Dynasty. I had to do a lot of research on the Song Dynasty and a woman’s role in society, and how precarious women in society was and how little power women had in that society. Many of the women were human cattle in the fact that they did bondage and didn’t have a powerful family to protect them. Their home life was very difficult and their value was based off of how aesthetically pleasing and how entertaining they could be for the masters and husbands etc. I also prepared by having an understanding how to be in a position like that. We don’t even know what the woman’s name is that Mei Lin’s character was based off of, that’s how little info is really out there about her. Her character is one of the only to rise to an exceptional status in this type of society. Giving a backstory to a fictional character and to have her rise to a position that she is in now, would have been unheard of. I had read some articles about prostitution, watched documentaries on sex slavery, I just didn’t know enough about this type of world and wanted to know more about that situation. They all came to North America from India, Thailand and other places and spoke of their stories with a very pragmatic dignity. I thought that was so interesting and felt such compassion for them, because to me it felt like they had been so incredibly judged, and when they tell their story they can hold their heads up high. That really affected the way that I played Mei Lin, bringing into humanity, these real women in this day and age into my understanding of how this woman may have been.
Wingman Magazine: You do some pretty crazy martial arts, and sans clothing sometimes. Scale of 1-10 how awkward was it?
Olivia Cheng: The naked fighting scene was the easiest one for me to do. It was one of my first scenes of the entire season, and it wasn’t meant to be like that, they wanted to give me some other scenes to settle into the role, but because of some logistics they had to push that scene two weeks earlier than expected. I was incredibly nervous. I was really scared about this role. Every woman is self conscience about putting on a bathing suit, and I had my clothes off in a room full of strangers. Our crew is from 27 nations, so experienced, so professional, so protective of the space that I had to work in, that within 20 minutes I settled in. A few days before we shot the scene, all my fears and anxieties were on maximum high. I really loved what I could do with this character and the opportunity I have to bring some humanity to a very misunderstood figure in history, meaning the Chinese concubine.
Wingman Magazine: Netflix has been pushing the limits with their original content with language, nudity and violence. What were your first thoughts of the script when you read through it?
Olivia Cheng: I was only given the scripts for episodes one and two after I got the offer. It was never a question if I would take the job previously. But for this role, it took me seven days to say yes. At one point during those seven days, I went MIA and just thought, “could I do this?” When I auditioned for it, I only had the two audition scenes. I didn’t know the full story, I didn’t know anything about Mei Lin or any of the other characters, or what was in store for Mei Lin. The real reason I said yes, came after a Skype call with the shows creator, John Fusco. I wanted to know what the vision for the character was and I wanted to get a sense of John himself as a creative visionary and his temperament. I would be putting a lot of trust into the writers and producers and wanted to get a sense of who I would be working with. After I got the two episodes to read, it really intrigued me. After John told me what her arc was, and narrated to me what would happen to Mei Lin and what her emotional state would be and who her enemies would be and allied with and I took a big leap of faith. I remember being on the plane to Malaysia after the scripts started coming out and reading episode six, and I remember going, “holy sh#%.” One of the scenes in that episode is what really did it for me, and got me really into it.
Wingman Magazine: Being discovered by Robert Duvall for your first big role in Broken Trail. That is some huge praise from one of the greatest actors of all time to pick you. How did you react to finding out and what kind of direction did he give you during the filming?
Olivia Cheng: I really need to give credit to the Director of Broken Trail, Walter Hill as well. He had a major hand in plucking me out of the pool of actresses. I wasn’t even an actor at that point. I freaked out…I literally had a meltdown. It was a really interesting process because we were all given the same sides, and there were five Chinese characters in the film and I was only not age appropriate for one of them, because she was 10 or 12. I think as they saw our essences is when they decided which girl would be good for which part. I remember I read the description for Ye Fung who was known as #4 in the movie names them. She was the one I couldn’t do that because the description said “**NEED A STRONG ACTRESS FOR THIS ONE. A VERY EMOTIONAL ROLE, WILL NEED A STRONG ACTOR** “ I discounted myself and was like “let’s go with the one who dies.” I went through this process where I got called in, then they cast the role out of LA. I got called in a week later, and they cast that role to someone else as well. For a third time they cast someone out of Calgary. I didn’t know at that time, but it was a great sign that they were bringing me back in several times. In the room, it was Rob Carliner, Walter Hill and Robert Duvall and they stood us all up and they panned the camera across the group of us several times. After I had a lunch with Walter Hill it was the first time that I realized he wanted me for the role I didn’t think I could do. I was really nervous because of the arc of the character, and she is the one and the suffers the most abuse out of all the girls. What scared me the most was that I would be leaving the security of my full time job in India.
Wingman Magazine: I hear you have a love of Marvel comics..but you were also Linda Park on Arrow and Flash for an episode. How much would you love to be on a comic book show or movie and any certain one is your favorite?
Olivia Cheng: When I was growing up I read X-Men, X-Factor, Punisher, Spider Man. My heart goes back to Wolverine, which loved. When I was little, I was a big Power Pack girl. (you will want to look this up to see it) Power Pack is a group of four kids who live in New York and get their powers from an alien horse named Whitey. I was trying to explain this to people at a party and it just wasn’t happening. I used to go to comic book conventions when I was younger and would find Wolverine comics. I don’t read them now, but I do watch the comic book shows and movies. Marvel and DC now have the technology to bring the characters to life. I really enjoyed the Batman films with Christopher Nolan at the helm.