Why Simu Liu Thinks Canada Is 'Sexy,' London Is 'Gorgeous' and the Energy in L.A. Is 'Infectious' (Exclusive)

Why Simu Liu Thinks Canada Is 'Sexy,' London Is 'Gorgeous' and the Energy in L.A. Is 'Infectious' (Exclusive)

The 'Barbie' star — featured in PEOPLE's 2023 Sexiest Man Alive issue — opens up about staying grounded amid superstardom

Simu Liu is a Canada boy at heart.

Born in Harbin, China, and raised largely in Ontario, the Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings star opens up to PEOPLE in the 2023 Sexiest Man Alive issue about holding on to his roots.

"Canada is sexy because it's inclusive. It really champions diversity, celebrates people's differences — and has universal health care," says Liu, 34, of being a "proud" Canadian. "All those things are really sexy!"

Over the last few years the actor, who starred alongside Ryan Gosling and Margot Robbie in Barbie, has leaned into travel and exploration.

Related: Simu Liu Says 'Barbie' Is 'About Finding Your Inner Beauty': 'You Don't Have to Be Blonde, White'

<p><a href="" data-component="link" data-source="inlineLink" data-type="externalLink" data-ordinal="1">Peter Yang</a></p> Simu Liu

Peter Yang

Simu Liu

Spending extended time in London allowed him to stumble across "gorgeous little neighborhoods" while also embracing the "hustle and bustle" of the city.

Recently, Liu headed to Bangkok with his best friend of 22 years for a long-awaited vacation.

"We've been trying to plan this trip in Thailand for, I would say, at least a decade," he says. "Of course back then it looked very different. We were going to hitchhike everywhere and stay in hostels and eat dollar street food off the side of the road — which, by the way, we still did. It was amazing."

Over the last year Liu has planted roots in Los Angeles, where he purchased a home in late 2021. Adjusting to life in the City of Angels has had its ups and downs, but he's found a "strong network of friends" who have kept him grounded.

Related: Simu Liu Says Working on 'Barbie' Film Was 'So Much Fun': 'The Dancing, the Laughing, All of That'

<p><a href="" data-component="link" data-source="inlineLink" data-type="externalLink" data-ordinal="1">Peter Yang</a></p>

"I had this feeling when I came down for the first time, like, 'Oh my God, there's so many like-minded people here. There's so many dreamers here, so many people trying to make something of themselves, and I want to be a part of that energy,' " he says. "It's really infectious."

While continuing to pursue his career goals (Liu is set to drop an E.P. later this month), the star is finding balance as he navigates the industry.

"It's so important to find the people who just want to play video games with you, to watch movies with you, to call you when you're feeling down," he says. "L.A. runs the risk of being too about that hustle, and you just got to make sure you're taking care of yourself."

Related: Simu Liu Teases That Shang-Chi Will Team Up with Other Marvel Superheros 'Sooner Than You Think'

After breaking box office records with Shang-Chi two years ago, Liu found himself experiencing many career firsts while also learning how to handle his newfound fame.

"I was doing a lot of these major things that I had grown up watching on TV and dreaming about the opportunity to be able to do one day, which was incredible," he reflects.

<p><a href="" data-component="link" data-source="inlineLink" data-type="externalLink" data-ordinal="1">Peter Yang</a></p>

"But in the two years since, I think the major difference is that I've kind of really settled into it. I think there's a learning curve to Hollywood. I'm not saying I'm a veteran by any means, but I think it's definitely been something that I've been more comfortable with over time."

He's also found a rock in his girlfriend Allison Hsu, 27, who works in marketing at Interscope.

"We've been tremendously happy," he says of sharing his successes with a partner. "I feel challenged and loved and cared for, and I feel championed. I think the best, healthiest relationships are ones where you have each other's back, and I definitely feel like that's the case."

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