Daniel Wu on why he almost didn't star on "Into the Badlands"

Daniel Wu stars as Sunny on “Into the Badlands.”  

Carlos Serrao/AMC

Daniel Wu stars on “Into the Badlands,” an AMC martial arts drama about Sunny, a talented warrior who is trying to reunite with his family. Wu talked to CBS News about what fans can expect in Season 2, what it’s like to train for a martial arts show and how his transition from Hong Kong to Hollywood has been going. 

You play Sunny on “Into the Badlands,” a warrior who is trying to reunite with his family. It’s returning for its second season, when Sunny meets a new foe and a new friend. Can you tell me more?

In Season 1, you meet Sunny where he starts -- a feared assassin killer. He’s high up in the ranks. The beginning of Season 2, you see where he ended up -- rock bottom. He’s a slave and his nobleness is gone and he has one thing on his mind -- to get back with his family. Unfortunately, he’s chained to Bajie, a character played by Nick Frost, so for better or for worse, he’s stuck to him. But he seems to know the world outside the Badlands, and Sunny kind of needs him to get him to find his family.  

You do a lot of sword work on the show. What is the training like for you off-camera?

For the show, we have five weeks of fight camp and we train all the actors that have to fight in the show, and I work on specific things like swordwork and weapons and most of it for me is a rehashing of what I learned in the past and brushing up rusty skills.

It sounds very exhausting.

Yes, very, very. Especially actors who are not used to that -- if you have a basis and discipline, you know work will pay off, but for them, sometimes they’re like, “What are we doing? This is horrible.”  

You said you have a background in martial arts?

I started martial arts when I was 11 and I started learning traditional Shaolin Kung Fu because I saw “Shaolin Temple” and I wanted to learn exactly what Jet Li did. Then I switched to competitive Wushu, a form-based martial arts. As a kid, I thought that was cool, so I dabbled in everything.

Do you think you could play this role if you didn’t have previous experience in martial arts?

No. No, no. You really have to have a foundation, I think. When I first started working on the show, I was only an executive producer in charge of martial arts and I had not put myself forward to play Sunny. In my head, I was like, we should find someone late 20s or early 30s because if it goes on for six or seven years, your body has to last that long and I was 40. Can I still be doing that at 48? Even now, I’m not sure.

So we went and auditioned hundreds of people and got really great martial artists who were not great actors or vice versa, and you need a balance. We met four or five guys who were both, and the producers turned to me and said, “You know, you can do this. You know you can do both.” 

What do you think about the “Great Wall” controversy over Matt Damon’s casting in the film?

I haven’t seen the movie so it’s hard for me to say but I think they were trying to get Chinese stars and American stars together. Everyone I know is trying to figure out that formula where they can integrate Chinese and American stars, and it’s really hard to do. I don’t think anyone has done it successfully yet. I don’t think it was whitewashing; it was just trying to integrate two cultures in one thing for box office results and maybe they were too greedy, but I don’t think it was made that way.

Are you trying to get in on the Hollywood and China crossover as well?

I’ve already been involved with that. “Warcraft” was a situation like that. It opened opportunities for them in China and “Tomb Raider” -- why they cast me in “Tomb Raider” was also for the same reasons.  

How is working with Alicia Vikander in the upcoming “Tomb Raider” movie?

It’s been an interesting project. It’s cool to see Alicia in it and it’s ironic and interesting: If you remember Angelina Jolie in “Tomb Raider,” she won the Oscar for “Girl, Interrupted” and became an action star.

Alicia is very similar in that she was doing other indie movies and won an Oscar for “The Danish Girl,” which has the same word in there, and jumped into being an action star and she’s a powerhouse. I’m so impressed with her. She’s a great actress but she’s taking the action on with gusto. I’ve never seen someone do it before and be so fearless, so it’s fun to see that and see this side of her emerge and be able to support that as well. My character is a guy -- she comes to his crappy, s***ty junk boat in Hong Kong and she tries to enlist me to go find her father, so I help her on this journey.  

“Into the Badlands” returns on March 19 at 10 p.m. on AMC. 

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    Andrea is an entertainment producer at CBSNews.com