'Marco Polo' Actress on Intense Shoot, "Complicated" Love Story

Marco Polo Still - H 2014

Marco Polo Still - H 2014

Netflix is ready to unveil its historical epic Marco Polo.

Chinese actress Zhu Zhu says playing the love interest Kokachin to Lorenzo Richelmy's Marco Polo stretched her acting muscles in ways they never had been.

"She is a mysterious girl, and then she becomes Marco Polo's love interest, and that doesn't make her life less complicated," she tells The Hollywood Reporter of playing the princess.

In a chat with THR, Zhu reveals what happened when she visited Marco Polo's real grave, the intense training she underwent and what to expect from the Netflix series.  

How much did you know about Marco Polo going into this?

In China, we don't know about the swimming pool game, but we know about Marco Polo. But I definitely learned more about him on this show.

Your character is a love interest, but it's not without complications…

She is a princess of a different tribe. Kubla Khan massacred all her people, but he took her under her wing because she is a blue blood, and maybe someday he can marry her to a far away kingdom. She is kind of like Marco Polo because she is a stranger to the city. She is a mysterious girl, and then she becomes Marco Polo's love interest, and that doesn't make her life less complicated.

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I'm guessing that makes Marco Polo's life more complicated too.

That's what love is, right? Complication. (Laughs.)

The show is so big and ambitious. How long did you shoot for?

Six months. I got to Malaysia two months in advance of shooting because of training. I was riding horses and doing archery.  

What was the toughest aspect of this show?

English is not my first language. Speaking English is one thing, but acting such a complicated part and emotional range — it took me a while to be able to engage with the script with my acting.

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What was the best part of the show?

The people. I've never been so touched working on any production that everybody was putting their hearts into. Everybody is so devoted and like a big family from 27 countries.

What's your relationship like now with the historic figure?

After the show was done, I went to where he is buried, in St. Lorenzo Church in Venice with my parents. He was lying there for 700 years waiting for me to come. I had to show up and say "Hey there, how have you been doing? This is Kokachin. What's up?" When I did that, I felt it strongly.

Marco Polo begins streaming on Netflix Friday.

Email: Aaron.Couch@THR.com
Twitter: @AaronCouch