Natasha Liu Bordizzo is bursting at the seams as she tries to contain her excitement over landing her dream role as Sabine Wren in the Star Wars galaxy. In May, the Australian actor was introduced to thousands of fans at Star Wars Celebration as she promoted 2023’s Disney+ series Ahsoka, alongside Ahsoka Tano herself, Rosario Dawson.
The road to being cast as the artistic Mandalorian warrior started when Bordizzo sent in a self-tape, and it happened to include a scene from Top Gun, as well as another unrelated scene that reminded her of Harrison Ford’s Han Solo. So even though she didn’t know she was auditioning for a Star Wars project like Ahsoka, Captain Solo’s spirit was very much on her mind and hasn’t left.
“[In the audition scene], this lady was trying to pay my character to help her, and my friend and I were like, ‘It’s almost like a young Han Solo kind of feeling.’ So that was just complete chance, and I still think of his role often, energetically, as I’m doing [Ahsoka] now. It’s just such a great energy and very inspiring,” Bordizzo tells The Hollywood Reporter.
Even though Ahsoka will have its own identity, Bordizzo, during prep, couldn’t help but revisit the animated Sabine Wren (Tiya Sircar) on Star Wars Rebels.
“It’s almost like a memory book; that’s what I feel Rebels is for me. It’s just this kind of free prep that I never even had to do as an actor because it’s all been done for me. My character’s memory is already recorded. So they encouraged [me to watch it], but obviously, I did watch it because how could I not?”
Bordizzo heard the good news about her Star Wars casting while she was on set with Jamie Foxx, shooting Day Shift, Netflix’s most recent number-one movie worldwide. Her role as a vampire-hunting vampire required a great deal of stunt training, and it served as a nice warmup for Ahsoka’s own extensive stunt training.
“[Day Shift’s stunt training] helped a lot, especially with weapons training. Everything and anything helps,” Bordizzo explains. “Even if you’re a physical person and physically fit, the act of being in a choreographed and really intense fight is still something to get used to. There are things like not squinting when you’re about to be hit. There are just so many little things that are jarring unless you’re used to stunts, so it definitely helped.”
In a recent conversation with THR, Bordizzo also discusses the valuable lesson she learned from Foxx and Dave Franco on the set of Day Shift.
So you and Netflix have had a pretty long-term relationship now, although it’s probably just a coincidence that you’ve done four projects for them in six years.
Yeah, I think it’s a coincidence, but I do think that my career and the timing of things has run parallel to streaming sort of taking over. So it’s not a coincidence in that way. I’ve done a lot of projects for streamers, and I’ve loved it. I love working with Netflix. They’ve always been really fun to work with, and they provide lots of creative freedom on the ground.
Once you started Day Shift, how much of your Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny sword skills were still in you?
(Laughs.) Yeah, the sword has followed me through this career, hasn’t it? I did have something to go from, but it was really different. Crouching Tiger was very wuxia Chinese style, and Day Shift was much more samurai Katana style. Stunt people are always really confident; they’re like, “Yeah, you’ve done this before. You already have such a background.” But I sort of approach every project as a beginner because you have to learn and unlearn so much physically to take on this new role and figure out exactly how the physicality of that role complements that character. So it’s a bit of both. It’s an advantage, but it’s also difficult because I have to unlearn so many things. So it came in handy, but I don’t know why the sword is constantly a thing for me.
Given the stunt training that you’re doing right now for another role we might discuss later, were you glad to have an 87eleven warmup on Day Shift first?
Yes, definitely. It helped a lot, especially with weapons training. Everything and anything helps. Stunts are a very specific thing. Even if you’re a physical person and physically fit, the act of being in a choreographed and really intense fight is still something to get used to. There are things like not squinting when you’re about to be hit. There are just so many little things that are jarring unless you’re used to stunts, so it definitely helped.
So did you ever envision yourself playing a vampire? As a little girl, was that something you imagined?
I didn’t imagine it, but I’m glad that I’m making my way through several different types of characters because it’s keeping me on my toes, for sure. I was the prime age for the Twilight series, actually. That’s what everyone was obsessed with when I was a teenager. So I’m really glad to be playing a vampire in a non-romantic sense. It was fun.
How’d the fangs treat you?
I tried to work through it, but unfortunately, the fangs gave me a bit of a lisp. So they were really challenging because I obviously did not want that to be part of the film. So there may be one or two moments where it’s there. The fangs themselves were so long that I just couldn’t get my mouth around them enough to not have a lisp, and they hurt sometimes because they were really sharp.
Well, I didn’t hear a lisp so you’re in the clear.
With Jamie Foxx, how long does it take to get over the notion that you’re acting in a scene with someone you’ve probably watched for a long time?
Thankfully, he doesn’t give you much time to think too hard about it. He is so entertaining from start to finish. I mean, he literally walked onto set most days with a boombox, blasting music with his friends and whoever else was there. He was constantly joking and constantly telling the craziest stories. So I was too engaged to think about it too much, but the hardest thing about the film was that there was so much improv. It’s really fun, but Jamie and Dave [Franco] would improvise a lot. And my character was the “straight woman” in the comedy sense, so I had a lot of information dumps and exposition dialogue. And it wouldn’t really be fitting for me to join in with the jokes a lot of the time.
I had to cut Jamie off during improv, in a rude way, because my character was done with the two of them joking around or whatever. So it was pretty intimidating. They would be going off in their jokey improv ways, and I would have to be like, “Alright, that’s enough. Moving on.” I thought to myself, “Oh my God, you can’t cut off Jamie Foxx,” but I had to and I did.
Was learning how to adjust during heavy improvisation the biggest lesson you learned on this movie?
Yeah, I learned a lot from Jamie and Dave in terms of comedy and timing and improv, for sure. It was the most off-script project I’ve ever experienced. Every project is different in terms of how much they want you to stick exactly to the script and how strict they are about it, but Day Shift was the loosest set I’ve ever experienced in terms of freedom around improv. And on a personal level, this was the first project I did during the pandemic, slash emerging from the pandemic. So it was like my restart button of just getting back into everything. I hadn’t been activated in so long, in that way, and so it was a rebirth project for a lot of us.
So we’ve reached the portion of the interview where we start choosing our words very carefully.
(Laughs.) Oh great!
You joined the Star Wars galaxy as Sabine Wren, alongside Rosario Dawson on Ahsoka. Is it true that the casting happened so quickly that you were a bit skeptical?
Absolutely. To this day, it’s one of the strangest and most wonderful casting experiences of my life. I actually booked it while I was shooting Day Shift, and the week I booked it, I was a little bit unwell. I didn’t have COVID or anything, but I was a bit under the weather.
It was the fangs.
Exactly! It was mouth ulcers from wearing the fangs. (Laughs.) But I remember it was a very, very coded thing that didn’t give you any information. I had a scene from Top Gun to audition with, and I played this male pilot. And then there was another scene. I can’t remember what it was from, but it obviously wasn’t a scene from the show. So I just knew it was a very elusive Jon Favreau-related project, and at this point, like most actors, for my own mental health, I sent off the tape and didn’t think about it again. I’ve been through absolute circuses with casting where it’s like four callbacks, two director zooms and then it’s just complete silence. You never hear from anyone again. So I sent off the tape, didn’t hear anything for a few weeks and thought, “Yep, that’s another one.”
And it was with [casting director] Sarah Finn, so I assumed it was something to do with Marvel because she usually does Marvel. But lo and behold, I was on set working with Jamie and I got like 16 missed calls from my team. I was like, “Oh God, what’s happened?” So I called them and they were like, “We are just as flabbergasted as you are probably about to be, because this has come out of left field. You have an offer.”
And then they were like, “Tell us, do you like the Mandalorian?” And I was like, “Yeah, why?” (Laughs.) Months later, when I met with Dave Filoni and Jon Favreau, Jon explained his thoughts behind casting and how, as an actor himself, he understands the stress of casting. We’re often asked to jump through hoops when the creative people behind the project probably already know whether or not they really want you for the role. So he just tried to make it as seamless as possible, and I was shocked to say the least.
And even though you didn’t know it was a Star Wars thing, you still happened to do a Han Solo-type performance, right?
Totally. I had a scene where some of the lines were like, “Hey lady, I’ve got all these problems, so stop bothering me. All the work is moving south for the winter.” So this lady was trying to pay my character to help her or something, and my friend and I were like, “It’s almost like a young Han Solo kind of feeling.” So that was just complete chance, and I still think of his role often, energetically, as I’m doing [Ahsoka] now. It’s just such a great energy and very inspiring.
Once you got cast, did they suggest that you binge Star Wars Rebels, or did they not want you to recreate anything?
I think it was somewhere in between. It was like, “It’s obviously great if you watch the show,” but the live-action version is always going to be a completely new and fresh thing that has to find its own truth and not try to replicate what has been created, as much as we honor it and as much as we use it. It’s almost like a memory book; that’s what I feel Rebels is for me. It’s just this kind of free prep that I never even had to do as an actor because it’s all been done for me. My character’s memory is already recorded. So they encouraged it, but obviously, I did watch it because how could I not? So it’s somewhere in between.
As far as the animated character, what qualities of hers did you respond to most?
Her unbelievable bravery, spirit and swag, amidst all the challenge and heartache of everything going on. I think of their crew so often in my life now because I’m like a member of a cult now. (Laughs.) I’m a full fan every single day I go to work. Everyone’s like, “We’re all just fans going to work, making Star Wars.” It sounds so over the top for me to say what I’m about to say, but I truly mean it. In my life, when I’m facing a challenge, I just think about the general spirit of the franchise and taking on challenges with a bit of positivity, a bit of humor and then being able to move on. So it’s just been something that I have learned a lot from, as I’m playing the role itself.
At Star Wars Celebration, you’d only been on the job for like ten minutes, so now that you’re a few months into it, are you enjoying your time with Rosario and whomever else we probably can’t mention?
(Laughs.) It’s the best job I’ve ever done for so many reasons. I could not be happier, honestly. It’s so fulfilling on so many levels, and it’s only gotten better as we’ve gotten into it. So I’m very excited about what we’re creating.
Oddly enough, when I was doing research last night, Rosario was trending, for very different reasons, and Sabine was also trending at the same time.
(Laughs.) I have Google alerts on my name just to keep up with what’s being shared online here and there, and I always see a constant flow of conversation around it even though I haven’t really done any press for it since Star Wars Celebration. So it’s just cool that people are always talking about it in some way, shape or form.
Was it bizarre to be introduced as the new kid at Celebration, especially when you had only just started?
(Laughs.) I thought they weren’t going to even mention me until the show was actually out, so the whole thing was a complete surprise. It could not have been a more magnificent introduction into that world and that fan base. I’m so lucky that Celebration was how I got introduced and that it happened to be happening in L.A. while we were shooting. It’s just one of those very serendipitous moments.
Are you naturally gifted at spray painting?
(Laughs.) Oh man, I was tempted to take a full course on it. I’ve experimented in my garage with a few bottles, but I held back on actually taking the course because I feel like that’s not something Sabine would do anyway. She would just experiment. But no, I don’t have a history with it. I definitely draw. I definitely paint with regular paint, but spray painting is a whole new thing to look into, for sure.
The Society’s cancellation was obviously a bummer for all those involved, as well as the fans. However, a number of you have done quite well since then. So are you ultimately glad to have learned the lesson of why they say, “When one door closes, another one opens”? The next time you face disappointment, you’ll remember how you got Sabine a year after The Society ended.
You’re exactly right. I love how you worded that. I think about it often, anytime I go through a period of feeling very downtrodden over something. So I am grateful for everything that has brought me to this role, even the disappointments. I really do believe that everything unfolds the way it’s meant to. Yeah, it was disappointing, but we’ve all gone on to create and continue to work. It was just a very strange time with COVID, but I’m so obsessed with my work right now. I am just so happy that everything happened the way it did, honestly.
So what’s next on the bucket list? What genre or type of role have you been dreaming about for as long as you can remember?
Is it too much to just say that I’m filming my dream role right now?
That’s the best possible answer, actually.
It’s the truth. I haven’t thought about anything past this project yet because I don’t want it to end. So that’s my answer.
Day Shit is now streaming on Netflix. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.