After acting in China since age 15, Yifei Liu makes her American film debut Friday in Disney's live-action Mulan.
"We're all waiting for this," Liu, 33, tells PEOPLE in this week's issue of the movie, which was supposed to open in March but got postponed because of the coronavirus outbreak.
Liu auditioned for the movie after a two-day trip from Beijing to Los Angeles. "All eyes were on me for maybe three, four hours," she recalls. "Although I felt good, I didn't know whether they were going to hire me or not."
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The actress knew it might take some time to hear back about whether she landed the role, but within two days, "I got the offer," Liu says.
As a "big fan" of the 1998 animated Mulan, Liu realized she'd be taking on a beloved story. "You have to put in all your emotion to be able to respect that character," she says. "I see the passion people have for the story. I really hope that we could bring back some of their memories and love. I hope they love it."
Liu trained for two months to play the warrior princess.
"One day I just felt like I couldn't get up," the Disney star says. "Your body's like, 'Give me a break! Just one day.' I went to the beach, took a walk and then quickly got back on track."
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The new Mulan lacks original love interest Shang (and dragon Mushu), but Liu teases that movie actually gives its lead two romantic connections.
"We still have that, but we just divided that to two different characters," Liu says. "We have a younger soldier — they have their story. Also, we have a commander that's kind of her mentor."
Now that Liu's played a Disney princess, she looks forward to expanding her Hollywood career.
“I want people to see me on a wider stage,” says Liu, who spent her downtime the last few months reading and doing yoga and Pilates. “This is really a dream moment.”
Mulan is available now on Disney+.
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