#INTERVIEW: OLIVIA CHENG + PATRICK MACMANUS ON “MARCO POLO”
We’ve all heard of MARCO POLO, but believe me, you’ve never seen it like this. Netflix‘s latest Original Series is being touted as its most expensive to-date and is a collaboration between The Weinstein Co. and the leading Internet Streaming Service. The Adventure follows the famous titular Explorer as he travels the exotic Silk Road to the court of the great Kublai Khan. Through the ten-episode Series, Marco Polo (Lorenzo Richelmy) befriends the Khan (Benedict Wong) who violently makes his bid to be Emperor of the World. Along the way we become a part of many complex Characters’ lives and their web of sex, betrayal and power.
Co-Executive Producer Patrick MacManus and Star Olivia Cheng came to Toronto recently to promote the exciting MARCO POLO, poised to debut this December to Netflix Subscribers exclusively. The Duo reflected upon their experience being a part of the visually-stunning Series which not only streams, but surely “steams” this Winter.
Born in Edmonton, Alberta, Cheng formerly was a Broadcast Journalist and even at one point a Correspondent on Entertainment Tonight Canada before deciding to pursue a career on the opposite side of the Red Carpet. New Jersey-raised and Washington, D.C.-educated Patrick MacManus has a sizeable list of Television Credits to his name as Actor, considering himself more now a Writer.
In an Entertainment Industry where Asian Faces are few and far between in North America, MacManus is proud of what the Series will accomplish, transcending the confines of race and culture. “I’m proud of fact that we held true to the Story and time period and hopefully people will look at Series and forget what they are seeing and just relate to Characters and Story”, he says. ” We created the most compelling, sometimes sadistic Characters we could. Nationality went out the window in favour of Story.”.
Cheng is asked what her greatest challenge was filming MARCO POLO, in which she stars as the commanding Beauty Mei Lin, a Woman separated from her young Daughter at the hands of her Brother Jia Sidao (Chin Han), and forced to a life as a Concubine to the Khan. She must use her guile to survive and ensure the same for her Child. “Any time you recognize you have a really good opportunity, you feel a degree of fear with the responsibility that comes with it”, says Cheng. ” Am I gonna be able to rise to the occasion and do this well? I feel this is such an important Character to do well”. “I’m very proud of our work. 27 nations around the World – Oscar Winners and Nominees – talent spanning 40 year careers, all converging in Malaysia to put it all together.”.
She speaks further on Mei Lin stating, “She is demonized for her strength, intellect and ability to maneouver things sometimes – equally as her Brother, a Man – whom holds so much power in Society. Going over to the Mongolian side, it is disconcerting for her to see Wife of the Khan, Empress Chabi (Joan Chen) so revered.”. “It’s frightening for her to see strength and power mirrored in her face.”. Cheng reveals that she read multiple Social Science papers in preparation for her Role to understand power relations for Concubines and how this hinged much on the Men around them.
I ask about some of the drastic physical transformations we see from some of the Talent in MARCO POLO, whether it be in how they speak or look physically. Case in point, the Series’ Central Character, the Khan is played by an unrecognizable Wong, who normally is lithe and known to others as “Skinny Benny“, MacManus reveals. “Physicality is something huge here and we all threw ourselves into it. Benedict gained at least 10 stone (140 lbs). The nickname for his stomach was “Meat Baby“, adds Cheng. “It’s not easy to keep gaining that much weight and maintaining it.”. She explains, “We were in Stunt Tent Training with World-Class Teams from around the World transforming and sculpting muscles to tell our stories as Warriors.”.
In terms of the distinct accent which the Characters speak in this Series, Cheng states ” Producers found Talent from allover the World. We needed a realm to stay within with the help of Dialect Coaches. Emotionally, everyone did own brand of research to know the appropriate emotional places their Characters were working with.’.
Several jaws also are bound to drop with some of the racier scenes in the earlier part of the Series. While MacManus feels there are some other Series currently which perhaps exploit sex and nudity a bit much, he is adamant, “I challenge people to watch any moment with nudity in MARCO POLO, stop to think because that is what scene is all about.”. “It’s not just about the nudity – there always is a reason”, he says, joking that his Series would be essentially “Naked Kung-Fu”. “There will come a point in time when you’ll never see another naked body or sex because the Story doesn’t support it. We desperately went out of our way to see that sex and nudity were not just being used for sex and nudity.”.
Netflix Canada stream MARCO POLO on Friday, December 12, 2014.
Click here for your chance to win a year’s Netflix Canada Subscription so that you too can witness that MARCO POLO magic!
(Photo/video credit: Mr. Will Wong/Netflix)