By Martin Wong and Eric Nakamura, Giant Robot, Issue 21, Pg32-35 & 86
If you watch Hong Kong movies, you know Tony Leung Chiu-Wai. He teamed up with Chow
Yun-Fat in Hard-Boiled, he was the recipient of Faye Wong's obsession in Chungking Express.
And last year he won Best Actor at Cannes for his role opposite Maggie Cheung in In the Mood
for Love. We met the affable, soft-spoken actor at a deluxe hotel in Beverly Hills.
WORKING WITH WONG KAR-WAI
GR: Does it get easier to work with Wong Kar-Wai in every movie? TL: Yeah, for me it's much easier. This is our fifth movie working together so I know how he works. He doesn't like scripts and we only have little hints about the character and what the story is about. So we're developing everything on the set and in the real shoot.
GR: Do you like that? TL: Yes, in some ways... Not many directors will do a movie in that way. I am used to being very well-prepared and being given a lot of information to prepare before shooting. For a lazy guy like me, it's really great. I don't need to do any preparation and there will be no pressure... So just go there and start from zero.
GR: How do you start from zero? Is that easy? TL: With Wong Kar-Wai, if you trust him, it will be easy. If you don't trust him, you will get
frustrated. Especially some actors working with him for the first time, like the Japanese actors in 2046. After the first day shooting they kept asking me, "What are you going to do?" and I said, "Oh, just relax. Have fun. That's all. And he will take care of everything." You just do everything he gives you and that's okay. It'll be funny.
GR: But as you're working on it, do you know what the film is going to be like at the end? Or do you still
have no idea? TL: No, I still have no idea how the story will be, but I know the character bit by bit, little by little. And the only thing I know is the character-even after they finish shooting-because we did too many scenes.
And, naturally, it's footage enough for tour movies so he can do different kinds of angles, different points of view in the editing room. So you won't have any idea of what the story will be.
GR: Do you think he has any idea? TL: I don't think so.
GR: What about Maggie? What's it like working with her? TL: We were in Kar-Wai's previous movies, but we never had a chance to meet each other. This is our first time working the entire movie with only two of us.
I've known Maggie for quite awhile because we were working together in soap operas on TV.
GR: Was it really easy? Did you connect just like that? TL: No. At first she acts like some new actors working with Kar-Wai. She is frustrated and she is very curious about
what the story is about and how come we don't have any information about the
characters. I said," He's used to doing it that way and you should know
that." And she said, "I forgot." I said, "Then you must adapt to his way of working, but don't ask too much or maybe he'll fool you. He'll give you a fake script and you don't want that."
GR: Was it hard to play an editor Instead of a hit man or a cop or something? TL: Actually playing an editor is not very easy for me. What kind of character would be this editor? Sometimes like
Bukowski, sometimes very romantic. Maybe a melancholy Bukowski in Hong Kong? Finally, I think, maybe just an ordinary working-class person in the '60s because I was born in the
'60s and I have a lot of memories of people like my grandfather and my father. They were very ordinary people, just ordinary working class.
WITH WONG KAR-WAI, IF YOU TRUST HIM, IT WILL BE EASY. IF YOU DON'T TRUST HIM, YOU WILL GET VERY
FRUSTRATED. ESPECIALLY SOME ACTORS WORKING WITH HIM FOR THE FIRST TIME, LIKE THE JAPANESE
ACTORS IN 2046.
thumbnail to Enlarge
GR: One thing I noticed about this movie that was different from Happy Together or Chungking Express is that it seems like the angles were a lot more stable and less jerky. Does that mean that Christopher Doyle didn't drink as much this time? TL: I think that Kar-Wai was trying to do something different from his previous work. He wants to tell the story in a more simple way-in a much more subtle way. So even the camera work has changed. Much more smooth, a lot of track shots rather than hand-held, and you don't hear any voice-over this time.
GR: Is it harder to act knowing that you're not going to have a voice-over to explain what you're thinking? TL: Not this time because I think that the story is very simple. People can understand, not like his previous movies where you don't understand what is going on. "Whoa.'
GR: Wong flar-Wai said that you were the best actor in Hong Kong. How do you feel about that? TL: I think it's because I love acting. That's all. From day one, the reason I want to be an actor is because I love acting.
GR: When you were young, you wanted to act? TL: No, no, no, no, no. I never thought of being an actor. After I joined the TV stations and after I got into some training classes, I found a way to express my feelings. Kind of releasing. Actually, when I was a kid I didn't hardly express myself in front of others, Because of my background-I didn't have a father when I was a kid and my brother left when I was seven or eight-I didn't want to talk to my classmates. I didn't want to talk about my family. So I became very quiet. I ended up not even trying to make any friends because I thought that I was being looked down upon. So I got used to that kind of character for quite a while. I didn't know how to express myself After I got
into training programs, I found a way that I could express myself in front of audiences without being shy because they don't know who I am. I'm just an
actor doing the character very well. Actually, that's me: I try to express all my emotions through the character.
GR: What would you be doing if you didn't discover acting? How would you express yourself? TL: I don't know. I really don't know.
I THINK WHAT A GREAT ACTOR WANTS IS TO GET RID OF ALL HIS EXPERIENCE AND SKILLS AND TRY TO BE A NEW ACTOR, A NEWBORN BABY. IT'S EASY TO SAY, BUT IT'S REALLY HARD TO DO.
GR: You just won the Best Actor award in Cannes. What does that mean to you? TL: It was very unexpected. In 1997 I was in Cannes, too, with Happy Together. And at that time everybody told me that I was very close to it. I expected too much that year, so I was really upset. And so this year I didn't expect anything. When it came, it was great, but I think that it means more personally than to my career.
GR: Is it easy to make transitions from an action movie to a comedy to an art
movie? You're in every type of genre. TL: Actually it's not that difficult. Hong Kong actors-they can do everything. They are crazy.
GR: Is there one style that's more rewarding? When you are making an action movie or a comedy, which genre are you more satisfied with in the end? TL: You know, I would never get satisfied with my work. Never. Even with In the Mood For Love, maybe I was satisfied the first time I saw it. I think, "Oh, this is good," or "I do quite good," but after three or four times, you find a lot of mistakes in it or you think you can do it better next time.
GR: What kind of mistakes? We didn't see any. TL: Only I will notice. Sometimes it's not just a specific scene. Take an example like In the Mood for Love. Maybe I can do more in the last scene-I can be more emotional. Maybe I should cry in that scene. When I'm talking to the
hole, it's kind of a confession about this guilt for this woman. So I think I can do better. You know, add something more emotional. Maybe he cut it out. I still want to try for something more in that scene.
THE RHYTHM OF TONY
thumbnail to Enlarge
GR: Does acting get easier for you with every movie? TL: In some ways, yes, but sometimes no. You can't say that because after a period of time, after you have a lot of experience and technical skills, sometimes you will get stereotyped. And I think actors want to get rid of that. I think what a great actor wants is to get rid of all his experience and skills and try to be a new actor, a newborn baby. It's easy to say, but it's really hard to do. Because subconsciously you will do what you're used to. It's not easy.
GR: What stereotypes have you had so far in your career? TL: If you saw all my movies you might find something in common, some reaction maybe. Yeah, you can feel it by my reactions sometimes. I can't change the way I look, but I can change the way I react. Might not be in the same kind of rhythm or tempo.
GR: Usually you're pretty mellow. TL: But still I've got a tempo of myself-a kind of rhythm of Tony. It's very different from the tempo of Chow
Yun-Fat. But what I see is Chow Yun-Fat doing the same tempo and the same rhythm. I think every actor wants to break through that. If you want to break through that, you have to forget all you've learned, all your knowledge, all your experience, It's really hard.
GR: How do you forget? TL: Working with Wong Kar-Wai, that makes me forget. Because I can't prepare and I don't know what to do. So you just do it by instinct, so it might just be a little bit different.
GR: Do you still do action movies? I was wondering if age makes a difference. TL: No, no. That makes no difference. I still do action movies and dramas. 2046-I've heard that I need to do some action for that movie. And with the movie that I finished the year before, Tokyo Raiders, I do a lot of action. It's really tough.
GR: Was it wires and guns and all that? TL: No. Fighting scenes. A lot of fighting scenes and stunts, you know, jump from the tower like Jackie Chan. I said, "I'm no
SO YOU CAN SEE THAT IN SOME SCENES I WAS VERY TAN, AND THEY ALWAYS COMPLAINED, "DID YOU GO TO
YOUR SKIING THIS MORNING?"
IN THE MOOD FOR HAPPY TOGETHER
GR: What about intimate scenes? Do they get easier? TL: Mmmm... easier.
GR: Does it make a difference if it's with Maggie or with Leslie? TL: Working with Maggie is much easier for me. With Leslie, especially in Happy Together, I did have some difficulties at the beginning of the shooting. I'm not gay, so it was hard to get into that character. I have to find a way to get into that so I treat him as a girl, don't treat him as a man. I think it's just like a relationship, no matter whether it's a man or a woman.
GR: Was that film shot in order? The first scene was pretty steamy. TL: The first day of the shooting I had to do the love scene and the kissing scene in the kitchen. I think Kar-Wai knew my problem of doing that character, so he gave all the toughest scenes to me on the first day. So after that day he said, "You have nothing to worry about because the scene that you are most worried about is already done. So just be open and set
GR: Speaking of relationships and things, a lot of our female friends are totally in love with you. What is it that you think attracts females? TL: I...
GR: Strange question, but they watch you in a movie once and they're already like, "Oh my
God." And I'm like, "What can I do?" TL: I really don't know. I think maybe they, maybe I... I don't know. Maybe it's because of my
working attitude. I just concentrate on my work and I'm working really hard.
THE REAL TONY
GR: How do you think people perceive you versus your on-screen vibe? Are you anything like the guy in In the Mood for Love? TL: I think every character that I play has something from me because it is played by me. So it should be me, but in different stages because I am getting mature. I think it's still me. You can see the very restrained guy in In the Mood for Love in me, too. I am very restrained, very suppressed, very quiet. I don't like to talk too much because I don't know what to do in front of an audience. Actually, I don't know how to communicate with others because of my background and I am scared. I can't stand in front of a lot of people, so I go to parties and I don't know what to do. I panic.
GR: What do you do for fun? TL: I used to spend all my time on my boat. I do a lot of water sports-wave boarding, jet skiing... So you can see that in some scenes I was very tan, and they always complained, "Did you go to your skiing this morning?" I said, "Yes."
GR: Do you have any non-acting related goals? TL: Actually, I hope that I don't have to stay all my life in Hong Kong. I can spend some time in Paris. I wouldn't mind doing that. Maybe five or six years later I can travel around the world.
GR: In all your travels and things, are you looking for something? TL: Every time I travel someplace I like to walk around and see the people.
GR: When you're walking around do you always look really good and dressed up? TL: No. Just jeans and T-shirt.