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Shang-Chi's Destin Daniel Cretton Dishes On Directing A Marvel Movie - Exclusive Interview

In December of 2020, "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings" star Simu Liu pointed out on Twitter that — in addition to the cast — much of the creative team was Asian. This includes director Destin Daniel Cretton, whose mother is Japanese American. Cretton comes from a background in indie and mid-budget dramas, the majority of which, by pure coincidence, feature MCU star Brie Larson. This is his first action movie, and it's a testament to him that Marvel gave him such a big motion picture right out of the gate.

Looper spoke with Cretton about the making of "Shang-Chi." He told us about moving into the world of superheroes, working with so many big ticket actors on one project, and the importance of Katy's family in the first act of the movie. He also confirmed that Liu and Awkwafina really do have that brother-sister dynamic when the cameras aren't rolling as well.

Joining the MCU and shooting fight scenes

You never wanted to make a Marvel movie, and then your mind changed on that. But this goes a little further than that: Most of what you've done so far has been dramas. What made you want to do an action movie?

I mean, I love doing things that I've never done before, and every movie that I've stepped onto felt really scary because it feels like I'm starting from scratch. It feels like there's nothing I can carry into it from the previous movie. I think stepping into this movie, I initially was thinking that it would be something that was so far out of my reach, but what I've found is that the experience actually is very, very close to things that I have done before, emotionally. And that the MCU, I think we're so in love with these characters because they put so much emphasis on the characters and the relationships between them, which is something that I personally gravitate toward. So as a filmmaker, it actually was surprisingly and extremely fulfilling, and a really fun process for me.

You mentioned Ryan Coogler helped you come to terms with filming a Marvel movie and make you comfortable, but you've spent a lot of time working with another major force in Marvel, which is Brie Larson. Did she offer any advice for going into Marvel?

Yeah, she said to do it. She said, "Just do it."

There's a lot of action in this movie, but at the beginning of the movie, there's a lot of close quarters action. There's the bus fight, and then as it goes on, there are bigger, wide-open fight scenes. Which is harder to shoot, the close-up fights or the wide-open fights?

I mean, it's always a challenge when you have many more elements to be working with and trying to coordinate, but everything is a challenge in its own way. I feel really, very proud of the sequences that we created together with Brad Allan and his incredible stunt team, because every fight sequence in this movie is very integrated with the character arcs and the journeys that they're going on. Every sequence is not just explosions for the sake of explosions, it's all taking our characters from one place to another or allowing you to realize things about them that you didn't before. I just love how integrated they are with the story.

Working with big names

You've worked with a lot of big names in the past. I know you mentioned Brie Larson. There's Michael B. Jordan and Tim Blake Nelson, but it feels like some of the people here are even higher. You got Ben Kingsley, Michelle Yeoh, Tony Leung. Is it intimidating working with them at all?

I'm always intimidated when I start working with a new actor. What I find more often than not, so far, is that after a day or so of working with these actors, it's an extremely pleasant and fun exercise. I find actors to be so in tune with that childlike ability to play make-believe, and to be silly, and to just emote and explore, and it's really infectious to be around. And a lot of times I feel like I just have a front row seat to a one-man show of Tony Leung's incredible performance, and I feel very, very lucky to be sitting there watching him do his thing.

I've also been speaking to some of the cast, and I heard that Michelle Yeoh is a very goofy person who would do silly things on set. Is that true?

Yeah. You would never guess how silly and fun Michelle can be. She really is such a vibrant personality to have on set, and it's so infectious, and it's just a constant reminder to everyone around her, everyone on set, that what we're doing is fun. Yes, it can be stressful sometimes, there's pressure but it's make-believe, and it's silly, and it's fun. She really helped remind us of that every day and it was such a joy to have her on set.

I also heard that Tony Leung would show up on set and he wouldn't leave until he was done for the day and he left his phone in his trailer. Is that true?

Yeah, Tony never went back to his trailer. I've never seen an actor who would, as soon as he's ready, he shows up and he sets his seat down next to the camera and he sits, and watches, and observes. And by the time we're ready to roll, he is so ready that it's like, I don't even have to tell him where to stand, or what the blocking was, or what the shot is because he's been observing everything. He really is a man who is very dedicated to his craft, and it was very inspiring to be around.

Simu, Awkwafina, and Katy's family

Tell me a bit about Simu and Awkwafina. I saw earlier they said they had a real kind of bickering couple energy. What was it like when the cameras weren't rolling for those two?

I mean, what you kind of hope with characters, relationships that you're trying to capture onscreen, you kind of hope that there are elements to that relationship that the actors naturally have together, and Simu and Awkwafina off-camera do have that brother-sister banter that naturally occurs that we're able to capture on film that really became the heart of their relationship.

Were there any specific comics you referenced while putting together this movie? Let's say specific runs, specific writers, anything of that nature.

I mean, we were referencing, we looked through all of them and we're kind of pulling from the general father-son thematic that was woven throughout. But in a lot of ways, we wanted this movie to be a fresh take on that world and be updated to be able to fit with the current place where the MCU is and be ready to move into the future of the MCU.

Right at the beginning of the movie, there is the scene with Katy's family. What was that like? That was a very organic scene. How did it feel shooting that?

It was really important for us to be able to see Shang-Chi and Katy in the context of their families. We see Shang-Chi interacting with Katy's family. And if you watch the scene closely, you see that Shang-Chi is observing this family and realizing that it's something that he does not have. There is the opposition to that scene much later when we are at a similar dinner table scene with Shang-Chi's family and you see major differences between the two, both culturally, but also just because of the trauma that this family has gone through.

"Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings" debuts in theaters on September 3.