“When you meet (Daniel Wu), he has an aura,” says legendary celebrity photographer Peter Lindbergh, in a behind-the-scenes video for Breitling’s latest campaign. Having snapped countless A-listers, Lindbergh would know all about distinctive personalities. The Peak came into contact with Wu’s charm itself during the Breitling Summit held in Beijing last November to mark the opening of the brand’s first flagship boutique – and its entry into China.
Sitting down for a group interview, the award-winning American-Chinese actor, director and producer was casually clad in a stylish colourblock shirt and dark checked trousers. At 44 years of age, 20 of which were spent in the entertainment industry, he easily holds his own amid Hollywood heavyweights Brad Pitt, Charlize Theron and Adam Driver, all of whom, along with Wu, are part of Breitling’s Cinema Squad. Asia is, after all, home turf, and Wu was a powerful combination of elegant style and eloquent answers, be they in English or Mandarin.
He blends the culture of these two worlds in the American martial-arts series Into the Badlands, where he is both star and producer. He can also be seen alongside mega names Alicia Vikander and Gerard Butler in the Hollywood blockbusters Tomb Raider and Geostorm, respectively. That’s not all. Even in an age of multi-tasking celebrities, Wu is an overachiever. Having made his acting debut in Hong Kong in 1998, he is also an architect and designer on the side. In recent years, the architecture graduate from the University of Oregon received accolades for collaborative projects in architecture and car design, including a Royal Institute of British Architects nomination for a Hebei visitor centre in China that he co-designed.
Which makes him the perfect face for Breitling. The brand’s influential CEO, Georges Kern, has repeatedly asserted that its watches are for “men and women of style, purpose and action”. Three qualities, we reckon, that Wu has in spades. Here, he shares the details.
What’s been keeping you busy on the work front?
I began filming Xian Qi Po An (English working title: Crime Solved in Time) two weeks ago. It’s an interesting mix of two genres: It’s a modern Chinese-police film that is reminiscent of Hong Kong cop movies from the ’80s and ’90s. I’m happy to return to Asia for filming after being away for a couple of years.
What attracted you to do the post-apocalyptic martial-arts series Into the Badlands, which has run for three seasons to date?
Our objective was to bring the kind of martial-arts scenes you see in Chinese films to American television. Many have tried to do so, such as the movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon 2. It was a period film, yet the characters spoke English, which I found a bit strange. Nobody had really succeeded in combining wu xia (“martial heroes” in Chinese) elements with an American-production style, so it was a challenge I wanted to take on. I’m quite happy with what we’ve done.
What was your reaction when Breitling first reached out to you?
I turn down a lot more work than I take. To me, it’s not about the money, but whether I want to work with a certain group of people. Breitling is a great partner because it has so many great and fresh ideas. You have great people like Brad, Charlize and Peter Lindbergh, with whom to create something special and memorable. The different squads are related to the different types of watches Breitling makes – for example, it has squads dedicated to Air, Land and Sea. I thought that is a fresh idea, and it is great to be part of that. There’s so much noise now, so much advertising – how do you do something creative and special, that is different from what everyone else is doing? It’s difficult to do so in this climate.
Do you have any personal stories relating to watches?
As a kid, my first watch was a calculator watch, and my idea was that I could cheat in maths class with it. But it was too small, so I couldn’t really do it. (Laughs.) In 2000, I got my first luxury watch, a Breitling Navitimer. I was 26 and had been in the movie business for a few years. I had bought my first house. I didn’t have a car yet, but a watch was the next thing. I think for men, watches and cars represent who you are. You can’t bring a car with you everywhere; you still have to park it and walk away. But a watch is with you all the time.
Speaking of cars, we hear you’re an “undercover gearhead” as well…
I have a Datsun 510, which is a very famous car from the 1970s; Paul Newman used to race that car. I’ve loved it since I was a kid. I bought a 510 from 1972 when I was in the US in 2017; we overhauled everything. I had an expert helping me with the major stuff, but I designed everything myself. I chose the seats, the shifter, the steering wheel, the motor, the suspension, the wheels, the tyres… We’ve won some awards with it. (Note: Wu’s car was among the top 10 at the Sema Car Show 2017 in Las Vegas.) There’s a great sense of satisfaction when you build something, and it’s there in front of you, and you get to drive it. It’s not just something pretty you put away and look at. That’s what I require for anything, whether it’s clothing, watches or cars. It has to be useful and pretty at the same time.