Lorenzo Richelmy as Marco PoloLorenzo Richelmy shares behind the scenes updates on Netflix’s new epic Marco Polo and how he learned English in six weeks to play the role.
You don’t know him now, but Lorenzo Richelmy will soon be famous. In new Netflix drama Marco Polo, filmed in Asia, with a Game of Thrones-size budget and out on December 12, the 24-year-old Italian plays the legendary explorer. Not bad for a guy with a handful of Italian film and TV roles, who barely spoke English.
THE RED BULLETIN: How does a rookie Italian land the lead in a US TV series?
LORENZO RICHELMY: My agent said that the Italian casting director didn’t like me, and that I should make a video and send it to the main casting director in the US. I asked a director friend to help. So we did it with my girlfriend playing Kublai Khan in my friend’s room. I didn’t hear anything for two months; then I got two callbacks, then nothing. I was going to America for the first time, for a film festival, and I was at the airport in Philadelphia when I found out I’d got the part.
As well as English, what else did you learn to play Polo?
I had six weeks after I arrived in Malaysia. I did four hours of physical training per day. We had a Chinese stunt team teaching us Wushu, Japanese guys teaching sword fighting and then a fight choreographer. After that, two hours of horse riding, one hour of archery and two hours of English.
Had you ever visited Malaysia before?
I travelled in my childhood, through most of south-east Asia except for the Philippines and Malaysia, so it was good for my list! I loved the heavy humidity and hot weather. We shot in Kazakhstan, Venice and Malaysia. Acting in the cold [in Kazakhstan] is much worse than acting in the heat.
How full-on was the shoot?
I had like three days off in seven months. The training was intense, but so was the entire shoot.
Is it an honour for you to play such a famous Italian?
He’s not a hero, but he’s a big name. In Venice, he’s the most important man who ever lived. When John Fusco, the show’s creator, first spoke to me about Marco Polo, it was like he was a college professor and I was totally ignorant.
Did you know Netflix before?
In Italy, it doesn’t exist. When they told me, I thought, ‘Oh, on the web? And they’re paying me to go to Malaysia for it?’ But for me it’s great. It won’t be out in Italy for at least two years. I can stay in Rome and maybe go to China and be famous. Then at 40, I can be Bill Murray in Lost In Translation and make drink commercials in Tokyo. That’s my plan.