Skip to content

“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” star Simu Liu is best known as a Marvel superhero, but the actor recently showed off his real-life superpowers by donating $100,000 to the hunger-fighting nonprofit Feeding America.

The Chinese-Canadian actor made the surprise donation Wednesday night during the first-ever BoxLunch Holiday Gala benefitting Feeding America, held at City Market Social House in Los Angeles. It was Liu’s debut as the retailer’s inaugural Giving Ambassador, a title he took quite literally.

When the executives at BoxLunch — which specializes in pop culture-focused merchandise, not “artisanal sandwiches” like Liu joked — told the actor that they planned to donate $100,000 to Feeding America, the Marvel star hatched a secret plan to match the sum out of his own bank account.

When Liu took the stage during the program, he told the crowd, “I feel a very personal connection to their mission. The pandemic has adversely affected many communities of color and families. I saw and felt that within circles of people that my parents knew, my extended family knew, and witnessed just how difficult things have been over the last couple of years.”

It’s in these times of uncertainty that it’s important to focus on “taking care of one another,” Liu added, joined onstage by Casey Marsh, Feeding America’s chief development officer. The actor then presented Marsh with a gigantic check for $100,000 in honor of the 150 million meals the nonprofit has provided since Feeding America and BoxLunch first partnered in 2015.

“I’m just looking at this number, $100,000. It’s a really big number, but what’s bigger than $100,000?” Liu wondered aloud. “Let’s say for the sake of argument $200,000… “

Then another presenter appeared onstage carrying a second giant check for $100,000, which Liu signed on the spot. As the audience cheered, Marsh explained that that combined donation would cover the cost of two million meals for people in need.

Moments after the presentation, Liu stepped backstage for an interview with Variety. “I feel like I lived up to my namesake as giving ambassador,” Liu said, still buzzing from the adrenaline of the surprise. “I feel like that’s not a title that one takes lightly.”

Like he’d mentioned in his remarks onstage, food insecurity is a cause close to Liu’s heart after growing up as “the definition of poor,” living off his parents’ scholarship money when the family emigrated from China.

“We were discount-aisle shoppers at the supermarket, getting all the stuff that was about to go bad. We didn’t really have any savings to our name, no support system to back us up,” Liu recalled.

Even just a few years ago, donating $100,000 would’ve been totally out of the question. Before “Shang-Chi,” and even “Kim’s Convenience,” Liu simply didn’t have that kind of money to give.

“You turn the clock back six years ago, I was in credit card debt wondering when I was ever going to be able to break free of minimum payments and interest and the struggling artist’s lifestyle,” he said. “The privilege that I’ve experienced, just how fortunate my life has been, how amazingly blessed I’ve been in these last few years, that’s not lost on me.”

Nights like the BoxLunch Gala further encourage him to share his bounty with others. “It is wonderful to revel in one’s success and all that, but it’s truly so necessary, and a responsibility and a duty to give back, to be of service and to constantly look for ways to make the world better with the resources that are available,” he noted. “That can happen at any scale.”

Simu Liu donates $100,000 to Feeding America at the BoxLunch gala honoring Feeding America.
Getty Images for BoxLunch

A quick scroll through Liu’s social media makes it pretty clear that he’s often in the giving spirit, especially when it comes to his parents.

“It’s the greatest feeling in the world,” he said of being able to shower them with appreciation, whether monetarily (In September, he bought them a Tesla) or just by being a good son. After all, it’s because of them that he’s made his Hollywood dream come true, even though they really, really didn’t want him to pursue acting at first.

“They very begrudgingly continue to support me,” Liu cracked, adding, “It’s been wonderful seeing them light up and getting to enjoy the fruits of our shared success.”

But skyrocketing to stardom hasn’t always been easy. A few hours before the gala, Liu shared a behind the scenes photo from his recent gig walking in Rihanna’s Savage x Fenty fashion show. He captioned the post, “Hard to believe that just a couple weeks before this photo was taken I was extremely unwell and wanted nothing more than to withdraw from the world. It was almost like I lost sight of myself for a hot sec. Well shit, this was a pretty great way to explode back out!”

Liu characterized the vulnerable social media moment as a symptom of being a “classic oversharer.” But, he noted, being so open about things like his mental health journey in the wake of all the post-Marvel attention has created a real, personal dialogue with his fans.

“How I came up in the industry was not by being closed off and mysterious, it was by really showing vulnerability. I’ve personally seen the rewards of that — not just selfishly in my own career progression, but also in the way that fans and supporters engage with me,” Liu explained. “As mysterious as it might seem to be an elusive star that you don’t know a lot about, an enigma, I found it extremely rewarding to open yourself up to the world and to share a little bit.”

He’s a little more tight-lipped when it comes to his future in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, though. While Shang-Chi is set to return in some capacity, details have been kept under wraps, but the film’s director Destin Daniel Cretton is officially set to helm 2025’s “Avengers: The Kang Dynasty.” So that must mean Liu’s a part of that cast, right?

When Variety asked about the last time he spoke to Cretton, the actor admitted they met “very recently,” but when they get on the phone, the conversation rarely turns to Marvel projects.

“I know Marvel is obviously what brought us together, but I think we have a friendship that has endured and will endure beyond that, so it’s more just about like, ‘How are you doing? How’s your heart? What’s going on in your life? Are you okay?’” Liu said. “And the Marvel stuff, you know, I trust he’s got it handled.”

Adeptly sidestepping speculation about when or how Shang-Chi might return, whether that be in a theatrical sequel, a Disney+ series or a cameo in someone else’s movie, Liu teased what he’s hoping to explore in subsequent appearances.

“More karaoke,” he said. “I feel like that was such a bright spot of our first movie, so more karaoke with Katy (Awkwafina) and Wong (Benedict Wong). We’re a great karaoke crew, so who’s going to join us?”

For now, fans will just have to enjoy a different kind of crossover appearance as Liu was joined at the BoxLunch Gala by fellow Marvel star, Xochitl Gomez (a.k.a. America Chavez in “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness”), who served as a presenter during the program.

“He’s an inspiration to many across the world with a huge heart and a smile that lights up the room,” Gomez said in her introduction of Liu. “While he certainly knows how to defeat a villain on screen when it comes to combat in bad situations in real life, he doesn’t pull any punches.”

The two actors – whose characters were both introduced in Marvel’s Phase Four — have developed a bond after Liu reached out to Gomez to offer advice.

“I felt completely overwhelmed, being thrust into the spotlight, having this platform, having to do these red carpets and press junkets and interviews,” Liu said, explaining why he checks in on MCU newbies like Gomez and “Ms. Marvel” star Iman Vellani. “If it’s a lot for me, how much do you think it is for a 16 or 18-year-old girl? I think both of them have just handled it so tremendously well.”

Liu says he’s just following the example of “Guardians of the Galaxy” star Chris Pratt, who went “really went out of his way” when he booked “Shang-Chi” in 2019. “I’d like to think everyone who enters this world, there’s always somebody to give them a talk, person to person. And that cemented the need in me to then give the next person a little bit of guidance to help them along the way.”

Immediately following his Variety interview, Liu switched into dancer mode to learn some TikTok choreography from Gomez. It took Liu about five minutes to nail the routine for the video, which currently has 8.4 million views)

Outside of Marvel, Liu is keeping plenty busy. After wrapping filming on Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie,” the actor is currently starring opposite Jennifer Lopez in “Atlas” for Netflix and recently inked a deal to executive produce and star in “Seven Wonders,” an action-adventure series for Amazon, directed by Justin Lin. Stepping into this next chapter of his career, Liu is focused on “expanding people’s perceptions of what I, and in turn, all Asian Americans are capable of, can do, can be.” That’s why starring in a movie like “Barbie,” where he plays the “type of character you’re not used to seeing somebody who looks like me play,” is important.

“Now that I have a platform and a bit of a voice, it’s really about taking control of that narrative,” Liu explained. “It’s one thing for an actor to receive a brilliant script. But to have a say in what gets greenlit and what doesn’t, to be in the driver’s seat of your future, of your destiny, that’s so critically important for any artists.”

He continued: “I think as Asian Americans, it’s something that we’re just now beginning to grasp, and beginning to start to witness in the world. I very much want to be a part of that, the wave that is out seeking stories and IP and just real life people that I want to highlight and be a part of the culture. It’s something that means an incredible amount to me.”

Simu Liu poses with Feeding America’s Casey Marsh at the BoxLunch gala honoring Feeding America.
Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for BoxLunch