Tony Leung interview
Written by: Ian Haydn Smith
Published in: 6degrees on 2001
6degrees met up with actor Tony Leung to discuss the Hong Kong film industry, his work with Wong Kar-Wai and in particular his latest film, ‘In The Mood For Love’.
6degrees – How do you choose you roles and do you prefer one specific type of film?
Tony Leung – I don’t mind working in different roles. I don’t just pick an artistic moviemaker such as a Wong Kar-Wai or Hou Hsiao Hsien. I take different kinds of movies because I love acting. I never plan for my career. When somebody gives me an offer I think “Why not try this?”
6degrees – With the speed of films turned out in Hong Kong, ‘In the Mood for Love’ taking 15 months to complete is a fair amount of time out of your schedule. Do you find such lengthy shoots more frustrating?
TL – I enjoy working with Wong Kar-Wai. I can have more time to develop my character and I enjoy the process of making films and not the results. And so, as long as we can shoot, I’ll always be there. As for most movies, they’re so well prepared, you don’t need that much time, but that’s another story.
With Wong Kar-Wai, working without a script is quite challenging, especially for an experienced actor. I’ve been working as an actor in film for over 18 years and I always try to forget all my knowledge or my technical skills and all my stereotypical expressions for a new role. But I have yet to find a way to do it with Wong Kar-Wai because there is nothing to hold on to. And you feel very insecure. You can’t act with your head; you have to act with your heart. You are given no hints about what the character is. What you know is the name and the occupation and that’s all. I think it’s good for me. You have to act by instinct.
6degrees – Wong Kar-Wai has been quoted as saying that he draws on the personality of his actors to create his characters. Is that tough?
TL – He constantly tries to do that. It can sometimes be quite exhausting. But that’s his way of working, especially in ‘In the Mood for Love’. I think he tried to put me in a different situation and he wants to observe how I respond. And he tried to explore some characteristics of me, which I maybe didn’t notice myself. It sounds a little bit scary, but it’s fun.
6degrees – I read Chris Doyle’s ‘Happy Together’ diary again recently. It sounded like everyone was going insane! Was ‘In the Mood for Love’ an easier shoot?
TL – I think it’s easier for me as I’m getting used to his way of making movies. I was very carefree in working with him. I don’t have to care about what story we’re going to shoot. I don’t have to care about what the character is going to do. He just gives me a scene and I’ll do it. I’m carefree now. I have no questions on set. I don’t want to know anything. Just give me something and I’ll show you and you judge whether it fits you or not.
6degrees – Are you interested in working further away from the Hong Kong film industry? In the West perhaps?
TL – It’s not the place or country that’s important, but the project and the people. I do receive scripts from different countries, including the States, but none have yet to interest. I’m trying to do something for the Hong Kong movie industry. For it to survive it has to do something international. The roles for Asian characters in Hollywood are very restricted. I don’t think they know us very well. They don’t know what kind of character is suitable for us. If I have an idea, I would like a scriptwriter in the States to write one for me.
6degrees – And what about the reaction in the States to ‘In the Mood for Love’?
TL – LA especially loved it. That NY loved it is not a surprise, but that LA liked it more surprised me.
6degrees – In the past, you have not been able to see the new Wong Kar-Wai film until it premieres. Did you see ‘In the Mood for Love’ before it screened at Cannes?
TL – You will never have a chance to see his movie in advance. You only ever have the chance to see it in a premiere, so it’s frustrating to describe our feelings. When I watch a his film for the first time I’m confused because I’m constantly looking for the missing parts, so I don’t really get what the story is about when I see it for the first time. I kept asking, “Where’s the love scene?”, “Where are the scenes of us dancing?” In Cannes I asked if we could see the movie before the press conference otherwise I never know what to say!
This was the first time we saw it in advance. It’s horrible if you don’t see it in advance and you go to a press conference and are asked questions about the film and all you can say is, “I don’t know, I haven’t seen the movie yet.” With ‘Happy Together’ I spent four months shooting in South America and I didn’t know what it was about. He [Wong Kar-Wai] can do anything in the editing room. I have no idea of which direction or which angles he is going to shoot the movie from.
6degrees – And you have a singing career as well.
TL – I just want to express my feelings through a different medium. I sometimes just want to be myself, to express my own feelings. It’s different when you stand on stage and express yourself through music. I always want to do something besides making films. I don’t want to make three films a year and begin to hate it. You can control the emotions, the tempo, and the feelings. It’s kind of liberating.