Interview with Marco Polo star Benedict Wong
by Bobby Blakey
Over the last few years Netflix has grown from just a simple rental service to offering up some of the best original programming around. One of their most popular original series is that of the martial arts themed historical epic Marco Polo. I had the chance to sit down with Kublai Khan himself actor Benedict Wong about his part in the show and the task at bringing this historical figure to life.
Bobby: How did you get involved with Marco Polo?
Benedict: I went through the usual channels of auditioning and I was going up for a more age appropriate part and it was thanks to the wonderful casting director Nina Gold that encouraged John Fusco that I was suited to play the Khan which I was all for. I was in Hong Kong at the time and flew to Malaysia to meet all the team and we had a great discussion about it and where I thought I could go with the character and then found myself having to put on fifty pounds, learning to ride a horse and sword fight and the process began.
Bobby: I applaud you for your commitment and embracing that role, because I didn’t even recognize you.
Benedict: Thank you. You know it’s my job and I am here to serve the story and with doing the research and he was quite a big man and you don’t often get the chance to play the person who ruled the fifth of the mass of the world. If everyone else was upping their game with these wonderful costumes, performances, accents and writing and production it was a commitment I was willing to make.
Bobby: Being a historical figure what kind of process did you through to play the character or did they already have it laid out how they wanted you to play it?
Benedict: I scoured books and documentaries to get the overall gist and for me it is important to humanize the character and not necessarily about what other people think of him. We see many facets of him being a father, a ruler and a husband and when John mentioned to me that he was born in the year of the Earth Pig I started doing more research into the Chinese horoscopes and the characteristics of the Earth Pig is someone that is very business astute, has a big wide circle of friends, who likes to socialize and party and already that was enough to connect with the character. It was also well documented that he suffered from gout so I looked into the emotional attachment connecting to gout and it’s someone that likes to dominate and is also very impatient. All of these things I can place into my tool box and then just attacked the script with that.
Bobby: You mentioned the horse riding and stuff you had to do. What kind of actual training did you have to go through for the role?
Benedict: As I mentioned I put on 50 pounds over a period of 4 months once I got the gig. We were learning to horse ride, choreographing our fight scenes and sword fights and knowing that we were carrying so much more weight with the armor so there was a lot of prep.
Bobby: With the amount of action and riding that you guys have to do, did they try to design the armor where you could move a bit more or was it kept pretty accurate to add to the authenticity of the time and character?
Benedict: The armor is so heavy there is a different style of fighting that we had to work with. What I am so pleased about is that we have all come together in this massive production with people from all over the world with the same goal, doing what we do in our profession with some incredible scripts, costume design teams, make-up teams, and a fantastic ensemble be surrounded by. You know Kublai Khan surrounded himself with the best people and I feel fortunate to be surrounded by this talented bunch.
Bobby: As a martial artist I love that there is a martial arts theme to this series. Do you have any martial arts background or was it just more for this series?
Benedict: When I was a kid my mom would have to drag me to Chinese school but I would get to go to Kung Fu school. So I did that for about from about 8-16 and they had the lion dancing and I was usually the lion’s tale. I remember always being stuck in a horse stance. (laughs) We are in the most capable hands in the show with fantastic martial artists and actors with Michelle Yeoh and Tom Wu whom I’ve known 20 something years in the acting scene and you look at what he does and he is just brilliant. The bridging of the East and West with martial arts and this world of the 13th century of the man who ruled over a 5th of the land mass of the world, changing it and becoming the first ever global CEO and obviously the ripple effects of this have moved through to modern day.
Bobby: I think you are great in the show and the show itself is great.
Benedict: Thank you for supporting the show and we recently got the wonderful news that we are in the top 3 in the most popular shows with the others already well into their seasons and ours only on season 2 it is really heartening that the audience is supporting our show.
Bobby: I appreciate you taking the time to speak with me and cannot wait to see more of you in Marco Polo as well as Doctor Strange and everything else you have coming up.
Benedict: Thank you very much, it was my pleasure.
You can check out both seasons 1 and 2 in their entirety on Netflix now and if for some insane reason you do not have Netflix you can grab a copy of Marco Polo season 1 on Blu-ray and DVD available now.