Who What Wear
Natasha Liu Bordizzo turned 27, closed on a new home, and celebrated her latest film with multiple press-filled days and a Los Angeles premiere all in the same week. I’m exhausted just thinking about it, but the actress is decidedly chipper during our call—and rightfully so. People finally get to see the project she shot nearly two years ago in frigid Montreal. That project is The Voyeurs, an erotic thriller for the modern era that has Bordizzo starring alongside Sydney Sweeney, Justice Smith, and Ben Hardy. It’s more or less a think piece for society’s obsession with watching others live out their lives. Through its many twists and turns, the film asks the questions, Should we really be watching, and at what cost? It’s arguably the steamiest movie of 2021, and if you think you know how it ends, guess again.
For Bordizzo, The Voyeurs was an intimidating prospect at first, but it was a unique story and a chance to revive a classic genre. She couldn’t pass it up. When it comes to her project-picking philosophy, the Australian native and Chanel ambassador seeks out stories that “take people away” and offer a fun escape for audiences. From her first lead role in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny to the hit Netflix YA series The Society and her upcoming movie Day Shift, Bordizzo’s résumé is an exciting mélange of action, drama, and comedy—a testament to her versatility and promising star power.
Below, I chat with the actress about stepping outside her comfort zone for The Voyeurs, navigating the crazy Hollywood landscape, and owning her femininity again.
The Voyeurs is the kind of film that will have audiences blushing but also on the edge of their seats. What initially stood out to you about this project?
Well, I think this film might be a little bit of a revival for the erotic-thriller genre. It’s not something that has been done very much in the last few decades since the classics. So that was really interesting. And then much like everyone watching it, when I was reading the script, I could not believe the twists and turns it took, and I would never have been able to guess where it was going and where it ended. With most scripts, I can, at this point, guess the story structure or something about the ending, but this was just… I was like, “I want audiences to go on the ride I just went through reading this script.” It’s a genre I wouldn’t necessarily consider doing, but I met with the director [Michael Mohan] (I think I met him on FaceTime because I was in Europe), and he is just the nicest, most considerate person who I felt very safe doing a movie like this with. And it all just clicked into place. I thought, “This is different, and it scares me a little,” which is great, and it’s unique. I just haven’t read anything like it. My number one want for audiences is really to have fun, not take it too seriously.
Let’s talk about your character Julia. When we meet her, she is this seemingly confident woman, but the more we get to know her, the more we learn of the cracks in her world. What were some things you did prior to filming to really develop and connect with this character?
My priority was coming across as really genuine, especially when she is bonding with Sydney’s character, because I don’t want the audience to be able to guess where it’s going. So I had to really finesse my performance. When you know what’s going to happen, it’s really easy to project that energy onto earlier scenes, so I really tried to avoid that. I actually auditioned for the film in an American accent because that’s what I always do, and then the director, on our FaceTime call, was like, “Oh, this is your accent. I actually really like this because Ben [Hardy] is British, and he’s playing Seb, and Pippa and Thomas, played by Sydney and Justice, are American, so it almost adds to them moving to this foreign city and meeting these mysterious people with mysterious accents.” But it really scared me at the time because I’ve never acted in my natural accent before, and it felt very exposing. I felt very vulnerable. As a character, she feels very close to me because I’m not putting on an accent, which is something that I do usually. I think I have some similarities with her where she is talking about lack of fulfillment. I have done a lot of fashion work and modeling work. I was never a model, but just in the territory of being an actress, there’s a lot of photo work, and there was a period where I was doing a lot of it when I worked in Asia, and there was this feeling of “What is this? What is the meaning of all of this?” and an existential feeling around work that is to do with your appearance. So yeah, I could bond with the character in those things.
With social media, we are all voyeurs in one way or another. Why do you think it’s so addicting to watch other people play out their lives?
I don’t know! Maybe there’s a level [of it] that’s human nature and is a healthy curiosity. I remember I read a book. I think it was called Sapiens, and it talked about how societies were really built on gossip. That’s how things were structured, your position in society and stories that were passed on. So I think it’s just in our nature to be curious and to watch, but I think there’s a point where that curiosity can turn into obsession, and that is when it’s probably going to lead to bad things. Like in our film, it’s probably when Pippa purchases the binoculars where there is a change, and it’s like, “Okay, that’s too far.” With social media, it’s something that I use with a lot of intention now. I think I went through a period, when I was younger, where it was just mindless scrolling and no boundaries because I didn’t know the effect it would have on my mental health. But now, I delete apps that I am on every now and then and just don’t use them for a few months, and then I’ll use them again. But it’s very intentional. It’s not just opening the app every time I pick up my phone. It’s something that requires maintenance, or it can become an obsession. In the film, the way that it begins and unfolds is very metaphorical for that. And it’s funny because Pippa and Thomas are the voyeurs at the beginning, but then I think the audience watching the film is also in that position, and we feel curious and uncomfortable and are questioning why you want to see things and why you enjoy it. The intimacy that occurs is quite disturbing because of the reason behind it. So yeah, I think the film is asking if it’s okay to be so curious and to be watching to that degree.
It also plays into the idea that, like with social media, you’re not really getting the full story.
Definitely. You can’t trust what you are seeing, which is another metaphorical point of the film. It is really cool because that was what Michael was hoping to explore, and it definitely came across because it’s something that people talk about with this film. They think of social media and the culture and society with reality shows and why we’re so obsessed with watching people.
The film has such a great young cast, including Sydney Sweeney, Ben Hardy, and Justice Smith. Did you all become close during filming?
Yeah! The only thing that got in the way was literally the Canadian winter. It was so cold. Our hangouts were any warm restaurant that had warm food. Sydney and I are similar in the sense that we’re very low-key people, not the biggest partiers. My ideal hang with her was being with her and her dog. We are both very efficient and like to prepare for work and be organized. And Ben and I obviously had a lot of work together, and I feel like we just compared so many times the things to do with being British and being Australian, and it really worked [for the film] in that way. There is definitely this separation between Sydney and Justice’s characters and my and Ben’s characters because of that. It was also two years ago, so I’m trying to remember things about it in general. This has been the longest time between filming and press ever for me. We have all gone through a pandemic between filming and now, and our brains are just fried. It seems like it was a different lifetime.
You have an exciting Netflix comedy coming up called Day Shift with Jamie Foxx, Dave Franco, and Meagan Good. Can you tell me a little about that project?
That is going to be such an insane film. Our director J.J. Perry, who has a history of being a stunt coordinator and is just born to be a director, mapped out the entire film in his head. The film is about Jamie Foxx’s character, who is a secret vampire hunter trying to create a good life for his daughter. He meets Dave Franco’s character, who is part of an international union of vampire hunters, along the way… and the two of them get thrown into this crazy adventure. I play Jamie’s new friendly neighbor who has moved into his building and inevitably gets looped into the whole fiasco. The action is unlike anything I’ve ever done, and I have done a lot of action. It is just next-level action, and J.J. is a genius. It’s really fun, and after the year we’ve all had, I’m just really glad to be doing films that take people away and entertain them. I just keep imagining the trailer of Day Shift on the Netflix home screen and people being like, “What is this?!” because it’s vampires, action, crazy backflipping, and contortion. It’s going to be good.
You were pursuing a law degree in Sydney when you were discovered and soon after landed a leading role in the 2016 sequel to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Things happened for you very quickly early on in your career. Now, five years in, what are the roles and/or projects you are looking for?
I think that a lot of it’s race related for me just because I am half Chinese and half Italian, and I think, fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, it’s really policed a lot in casting. Sometimes, it’s really great because… If it’s based on a real story about this Korean woman, I shouldn’t play her because I’m not Korean. But other times, it’s gotten too much, where this person is fictional, and I can’t play them because I’m not exactly the same thing that they were. But Caucasian actors never had that pressure. They could play Italian or French or Greek or Irish. It was never like, “Well, you have to be Greek to be playing this Greek character.” It has frustrated me a lot. On top of that, being mixed, it’s like, What am I going to do? Play an Italian, Chinese Australian? I’m not going to have a career. So I think, at this point, I am just having a great time wiggling my way through and finding roles that I have the right to play in this environment and in this landscape of crazy casting. And luckily, it’s going well, because there was a period where I was really bummed out, where I was not getting a lot of things because I wasn’t the right type of Asian or I was too white or I was too Asian or whatever it is. So when people ask me what’s my dream role and what roles do I want to play, unfortunately, I have to be honest and say it’s not up to me a lot of the time. I think the roles I want to play continue to be in that zone of stories that are not super specific because the reality of life is so diverse. There are people whose parents might be of Chinese blood, but they grew up in Indonesia and speak Indonesian, and then they move to California when they are 6. That’s the reality of people’s lives. It’s way more complex and unboxed than what Hollywood wants them to be. So I’m excited to keep telling stories that are a little more out of the box.
Last time we spoke, which was in 2019, you said you were in place of reawakening your inner child with your fashion choices. Where are you at today in terms of your personal style?
I have no consistency. That’s for sure. I feel like I’m growing up. I just turned 27, and for The Voyeurs premiere and press, I started embracing my natural frizz, and I went for a heavy smoky eye because I was like, “Screw it. Let’s do sexy French glam chic.” I’ve had a more natural look for most of my life, especially with makeup, and now, I’m exploring looking a little sexier and older, and that’s just where I’m at. And I’ve reclaimed being able to be feminine. I’ve talked about this in interviews before, and I actually had a great talk with Zazie Beetz [about it], where we were both like, “Yeah!” I think I’ve just desexualized myself for the entire first few years of my career because I wanted to be taken seriously. I would turn up to meetings covered head to toe and looking very tomboyish. There is this weird thing—at least I felt it—when you were super feminine, you wouldn’t be taken seriously, which is a problem in itself. I felt like if turned up in a cute little polka-dot dress or something at a meeting, I wouldn’t be taken as seriously. So now, I’m reclaiming being able to feel feminine and not feeling like it makes me look really young or immature. It’s like, “No, I’m just having fun and enjoying myself, and I’m clearly a strong, independent woman who has her own career, but I can also still look really feminine and girly or whatever you want to call it.” So that’s been really nice. I’ve been wearing a lot more dresses lately and just exploring more of that. I’m way less of a tomboy than I used to be.
Is there a look you find yourself gravitating toward at the moment?
I always like to retain an element of “slightly weird” with any outfit. I don’t like to look so predictable—like, “Oh yes, she’s wearing that cut that is really on-trend right now, and those pearl beaded necklaces are really on-trend right now. All this makes sense.” Yesterday, I was at brunch with my friends, and I had this very simple white linen dress on, but then I had a crazy amount of gold and bronze necklaces, and I wore a cowboy hat I bought in Mexico. Just, you know, something fun. I always like to have an element of “what is that vibe?”
I love the cowboy look right now!
Yeah, I’m super into it. I bought this stuff from places when I was in a real cowboy mood. The hat I got in Mexico, and I bought boots in Idyllwild, which has this very bizarre, dreamy vibe to it. When I buy pieces of clothing or accessories that I wouldn’t necessarily normally wear but buy them from places I’ve been traveling, it’s like, “Oh, this is from that place,” so I feel more comfortable wearing it. I don’t know if I could buy a bunch of cowboy stuff in L.A. and feel as authentic wearing it. I’m sure it’s still fine because L.A. can be the Wild Wild West, but I like to get it from other places and bring it back.
The Voyeurs is now streaming on Amazon Prime.
Photographer: Daria Kobayashi Ritch
Stylist: Danielle Goldberg
Hairstylist: Jenny Cho
Makeup Artist: Fiona Stiles Read More