Masala: Daniel Wu Creates a Memorable Villain in Lisa Joy’s ‘Reminiscence’

Lisa Joy’s ambitious film debut, “Reminiscence,” holds a number of the same polished elements as her HBO series, “Westworld,” including time-warped storytelling, realistic science fiction and enigmatic characters that draw audiences in. 

“Reminiscence” is set in a post-apocalyptic future where Hugh Jackman’s Nick Bannister operates a machine that helps people relive their memories but uses it to uncover the truth behind a former lover. The film was written and directed by Joy, marking it her first feature-length project, and stars AMC’s “Into the Badland”’s Daniel Wu as Saint Joe, the smooth-talking drug lord in New Orleans who gets entangled in the mystery that Bannister is trying to unfold. 

Complete with his signature “n’awlins” drawl, Joe intentionally stands out among the other characters, a mission that Wu and Joy worked together to make happen. “She kept telling me, ‘I want this character to pop off the screen and be really unique,’” Wu explained, revealing how giving Saint Joe a New Orleans accent was his idea. “I’ve run into a lot of Asian Americans that grew up in the South that have southern accents … so when I realized Joe is set in New Orleans, he may not have been from there but he’s the kind of guy who would have picked up on the accent to fit in with the world.” 

Wu also described how easy it was to collaborate with Joy, sharing similar experiences and outlooks growing up Chinese American. “It was like having a sister around … and so when it came down to crafting this character, we were coming at it with a similar perspective,” he said. “She wanted to … change the perception of the Asian American male on the big screen. She was like, ‘Even though you’re badass and you’re cool and scary and evil, I want you to be seductive and sexy and attractive as well. I want audiences to fall in love with your character.’”

Challenging perspectives is something that Wu has been working on achieving in his acting career, despite not having many opportunities when he was first starting out. “I left for Hong Kong in 1997 … a couple of years after ‘Joy Luck Club’ came out and then I came back a year before ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ came out. [And] there was nothing in between,” Wu observed, comparing Hollywood to the Asian entertainment industry where Wu starred in “60-something movies in 20 years.” “So like my fellow Asian American actors like Sung Kang [and] John Cho—all those guys who struggled for 10 years to find parts.” 

He then went to express his gratitude for being a part of the change in Hollywood but regrets how late it came for some of his peers. Watch the full interview above to hear more about what Wu has to say and catch “Reminiscence” out now in theaters and on HBO Max.