IN: Bonds is such an iconic Australian brand, what’s it like to be an ambassador?
NLB: It feels surreal. More surreal than other big brands because, growing up with it you know how huge it is. Every Aussie chick is rocking Bonds, and I think that really hit home for me. I’ve worked with lots of great brands but when it’s something like Bonds that you’ve known the name of since you could talk... it’s very surreal and very cool. I’m very proud.
What makes Bonds special to you?
I just feel so strongly about Australia. My career is kind of international and I travel a lot, but I always talk about Australia and I always want to come back home. So to have a brand like Bonds that supports me, even though my career is international, is really nice for me and it just makes me feel.. like they’re proud of me a little bit? I guess.
Do you have a sneaky favourite from the new collection?
I like the high-waisted black, white and grey of the new collection: It reminds me of the 90s and goes back to super simple style. It’s super flattering, and they’ve done a really good job. They're very comfortable.
We need to talk about how you were discovered: while studying communications at University in Sydney? That's insane! Tell me how it happened...
It’s one of those stories that other actors hate hearing, so I don’t talk about it much, it’s literally a ‘discovered in the street’ story. It’s the dream! I was very academically focused, so I went straight into a Media/Law degree at UTS and I was in my first year in 2014, and this model agent (who is my manager now in Sydney) was trying to poach me for modelling. She contacted me and I told her I wasn’t interested, then she somehow bumped into me at Central Station. She still says it was an accident but I’m like "whatever." I told her the same thing, that I wasn’t interested because Uni was just killing me. So she asked about acting, and I thought I would be interested in films so why not, let’s see what it’s like, even though it terrified me. She sent me to my first audition, which was for a Netflix film called Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon 2. I booked it and the rest is history!
Had you ever even acted before that audition?
No I had not! If anything, it was the opposite because I hated drama in school. All these actors I talk to now say that they knew from like the minute they were five. I hated drama in school, because I couldn’t take being in front of people like that. But what I found was, it’s not the same job at all. No one cares what you’re doing, I know it sounds strange, but in theatre you’re the star of the show and in a film everyone’s doing their own job and you’re just a cog in the wheel. The lighting guy is doing the lighting, the cinematographer is focused on the camera, yeah it was a huge relief for me because I realised I loved it.
You've got a major role in the upcoming Hotel Mumbai alongside stars including Dev Patel and Armie Hammer, what's it like working with these stars?
That was my first film after Crouching Tiger, and it was surreal because it was like “oh I’m doing this, I’m acting now” rather than a one-off thing that happened in my life. To this day it was one of the most fulfilling experiences for me, that’s the kind of film all actors want to do. It’s such an incredible story - it’s very heart-wrenching don’t get me wrong - but to have something like that where you’re communicating a story is incredible. To work with Dev Patel, who by the way is one of the nicest people on the planet, and Armie Hammer, is incredible. Jason Isaacs was also in the film, I’m a huge Harry Potter fan so I had a bit of a moment when I met him, I tried to hide it but I couldn’t. We filmed half in Adelaide, and half in Mumbai, it was a heavy experience but at the end of the day these are the stories we love to tell.
So what's next for your acting career? Is this your dream come true?
Definitely. I have a film coming out right now in China called Detective Chinatown 2, which is hard to explain to people who aren’t in China! It’s crazy, I started off with an American-Chinese production that was in English, then I went to do a true story set in Australia and India, then I did a musical with Hugh Jackman, and then I did an action/slapstick comedy in China. I also have an animation coming up, with Sony where I’m a voice which is so much fun. So this is the dream, to keep doing different things!
I think I just want to keep trying different things. I don’t know how long I’ll be an actor for, I hope for my life, but for now I’m just jumping onto the script that looks the coolest or something I haven’t done before. My career started off in America and now it’s in China, which is so cool because not many people can do that. I’m lucky being mixed Chinese heritage, because I have the western element of being raised in Australia but then I have the connection to my Chinese family that allows me to work there. It’s very exciting right now!
How would you describe your everyday style?
My personal style is kind of a bit chaotic lately. I think because I travel so much these days I get these weird influences from everywhere, and I’m not sure it works all the time but I sort of pick things up as I go.
Sometimes I love wearing crazy cool things, for example when I went to India I bought a Sari and a few other things, and then I’ll mix that with a traditionally cut Chinese collar, you know what I mean? And then I’ll throw an Acne jacket over it, or something. So it doesn’t always make sense, but I think my outfits just reflect that I’m always living out of a suitcase and I’m trying to mix and match in exciting ways so that I don’t get bored of my clothes.
But yeah, I’m heavily influenced by whichever country I’m in. So in China I’m much more “street style” and kind of sports luxe: sneakers on, cap on, cross body bag. Then in America, I don’t know why, but I dress more professional. I guess because I get called into meetings in the middle of the day, so I don’t want to be in a random get-up, I want to look like: “oh you could cast me as any character” kind of thing. Then in Sydney I’m whatever, because I’m home and I’m chill and I finally have my wardrobe!
We need to talk about your incredible selfies on Instagram: what's the secret to your flawless skin?
Firstly, I don’t always have flawless skin let me tell you! My skin is looking it’s best when I have a proper routine. Even if it’s different brands or different products, I still have the same structure to my skincare routine. So I cleanse, then apply a serum and then a moisturiser. Sometimes I’ll add an oxygenating cream before the serum, I’m using Philosophy’s gel cream right now, and that just lets my skin breathe – you can literally feel it. And then you put everything else on it. At night I’ll do the same thing, sometimes I’ll also do a mask and I have a few great brands from Korea than I love. Then I have a few chemical-free brands from LA and Sydney that I use from time-to-time to mix it up. Cosmedix exfoliator was also a game-changer for me.
I do so many shoots, and while makeup artists use high quality products, it’s still different products every day. So I often bring my own foundation to shoots now – it’s Koh Gen Do the Japanese brand – I've been using that since I did my first film when I was 19. That’s the go-to for me every day, including on photoshoots, because it’s high enough coverage that it’s good for shoots, but it’s also lightweight and moisturising enough for me to wear in my day to day life, which is a really hard mix.
You obviously work hard for your body - we’ve seen Instagram pictures of you at martial arts training - what’s your workout routine like?
I’ve been doing martial arts since I was 9 or 10 and I did it for a bunch of reasons. It’s obviously great for fitness but I also just think it’s great for young girls to be able to defend themselves and be in control of their bodies! I think it’s been a big character building part of my life. Nowadays, it’s taken more of a back seat because other workouts have come in that I like to do for the sake of being fit. Martial arts is like a quarter of my workouts now, and then I do boxing and weights. My goal when I work out is to actually gain muscle, because my natural body is skin and bone basically. I do love contact sports because I’m not focused on the fact that I’m doing exercise, you have to think and react.
Then there’s a whole host of things I do when I’m not doing those. I do horse riding, ice skating, touch football. It sounds like I’m super fit… I’m okay… it’s just that when I have the time to get out I will. Sometimes I’ll be filming and I won’t work out for a month and I feel so gross. Then I’ll be off for a month and I’ll be outside the whole time. You just need to do what you can, while you can.
If you're training this intensely, you must be needing to fuel your body. What's your day on a plate like?
Food has been such a journey for me, and if you spent more time with me you’d probably be annoyed by how much I talk about food. I had a pretty unhealthy diet until I was about 19. All through school I had no energy and I would do the typical “skip breakfast to wake up later” thing, and I’d be on my computer eating till 1am. I had massive energy crashes throughout the day, I had migraines all the time. I just didn’t have anyone teaching me about nutrition, basically.
I had a massive diet change when I was 19/20. I read up on everything, I listened to a lot of podcasts, I really dug deep into it. After two or three years of pre-consciously thinking about everything I’m putting into my mouth, I’ve kind of come to the conclusion that it's everything in moderation. I’ve been vegetarian, I’ve been vegan, I’ve eaten a lot of meat. I’ve now come to the conclusion that I just need to be a conscious consumer. For me it’s more about where the food is from, than what it is. Also how it’s cooked. I’ll always go for steamed food, especially when I’m in Asia because the food is either steamed or fried. I’ll think about the source for the foods I’m eating, I try to buy organic. And just checking the ingredients list on what I’m eating. If you see too many ingredients, or ingredients you can’t pronounce, then it’s generally a good indicator that it’s not good for you.
It's not about what diet I’m on, just about being conscious every time I prepare a meal or go grocery shopping. I just take the time to think about it.