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[FILM] Interview with Maggie Cheung

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  • madchinaman
    One on One with Maggie Cheung http://www.asiasource.org/arts/text_maggie.cfm Celebrating the special artistry of Maggie Cheung as part of the Cinevisionary
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 12, 2005
      One on One with Maggie Cheung

      Celebrating the special artistry of Maggie Cheung as part of the
      Cinevisionary Tribute at the 28th Asian American International Film
      festival, Asian CineVision and The Film Society of Lincoln Center
      sponsored a special evening with the renowned actress. Awarded Best
      Actress for her work in Olivier Assayas's Clean at the 2004 Cannes
      Film Festival, Maggie Cheung has appeared in over 80 films and has
      worked with directors such as Jackie Chan, Wong Kar Wai, Johnny To,
      Ann Hui, Stanley Kwan, and Olivier Assayas. Clips of some of her
      most memorable performances were screened during this discussion
      with Film Society's Kent Jones. Asia Society presents video
      highlights and text excerpts from this interview. Watch and meet the
      artist and woman behind these incredible works.
      Asian CineVision / Eugene Kuo


      KJ: Now, you said that you weren't trained as an actress. I am sure
      almost everyone in the audience probably knows a lot of details
      about your career, but how did you start and how did you get
      interested in acting?

      MC: How I got started and how I got interested in acting are two
      different things and many years apart. Actually I started modeling
      in `82 and I was "the new kid in town" because I just came back from
      England and suddenly was quite popular in that world. I was a new
      face at the young tender age of 17. So I was getting a lot of
      commercials to do and by the end of the year I had done too many. I
      was overly exposed on TV. I would have three commercials on the TV
      coming back to back, doing different products, and I could see that
      my career as a model was ending already after one year. So it was
      either I go back to England to carry on my studies or do something
      else like find a job.

      At that time my modeling agency gave me forms for the next Miss Hong
      Kong beauty pageant and they said that I had a great chance and they
      could sponsor me. So I spoke to my mom and it was a one shot thing.
      Either it is going to work or I am going to go back because I wasn't
      going to hang around in Hong Kong to model. I just felt it was time
      to move on. So I entered the pageant and was first runner up and
      right after that a film director called me, Wong Jing, to be in his
      film. And I said, "Yeah sure." Then I did three or four years
      working like that, not really caring what I was doing. It was a lot
      of fun - a good excuse not go to University yet and a good excuse to
      hang out. I was earning money all of sudden. I just carried on and
      made more and more films and I didn't know how to say "no" to people
      and didn't know what I wanted as an actress. I didn't see myself as
      an actress, so I just did it. It went up to As Tears Go By, Wong Kar
      Wai's first film, and that is where I thought "acting is kind of
      fun." Wong Kar Wai was asking something from me that I didn't think
      I could do and I didn't think anyone would ask that of me.

      KJ: What was that?

      MC: I remember there was an emotional scene where I was saying good-
      bye to Andy Lau at a bus stop. We had to retake that scene the next
      day because I was not very good. I thought I had been good because I
      had been crying and crying, but Wong Kar Wai said, "It is not about
      that. It is not about how many tears drop out of your eyes or how
      emotional you are." I said, "No? But you ask me to cry and I am
      crying, why am I doing it wrong?" He said, "But when you cry you
      should try to hold back. Nobody cries just like that. The minute you
      feel the sting in your eyes your first reaction should be `I don't
      want to cry,' and to hold it back." These are layers of acting and
      at that point I was beginning to be in touch with it. Because acting
      is acting, but when you are playing a part that is human, we have
      many dimensions and layers that are not that straightforward.

      KJ: It is not just about reviewing emotions moving in a straight

      MC: Yes, whereas at that time I thought it was. When I was playing
      in Jackie Chan films, he said, "Be in pain because I just kick you
      down the stairs." So I would be literally in pain. It's not just
      that. You are sad, you are in pain, and you're frustrated. There are
      many things when someone kicks you down the stairs. You are not just
      in pain.

      KJ: Except with Jackie Chan, right? How many movies did you make
      with Jackie Chan?

      MC: Five. Three Police Stories and there is one called Double Dragon
      and Project A2.

      KJ: You had a lot of fun.

      MC: We did. Fun, yes because also I was not demanding anything of
      myself so I was much more relaxed and more ready to have fun. It was
      what it was all about for me.

      KJ: You were not trained in stunts and martial arts. You have said
      you haven't enjoyed it very much, is that right?

      MC: I am scared of dying all the time. No, I didn't use to be scared
      of it, but then I had this big serious accident on Police Story Part
      2 and they had to cut my head open. I had 17 stitches on top of my
      head. Since that accident I have always been scared of doing action
      films. It was such a stupid accident and it shouldn't have happened.
      But when I was lying in the hospital for a month, because it was so
      sensitive the doctor didn't want any chance of any germs on to
      there, they had to shave all my head in the front. So they said if I
      ever got an allergy, my hair wouldn't grow back. So I said, "I am
      not leaving the hospital. I am staying until it grows!" During that
      time lying there doing nothing I thought, "God no one can really
      help when you are hurt." When you are on set there are hundreds of
      people helping you, but once an accident happens and you are there,
      you are really alone. So since then I haven't been fond of action.

      KJ: And yet you still do it.

      MC: When I have to, yes.

      KJ: Is it something you are physically not comfortable doing?

      MC: I don't think I am that talented with it in the first place. I
      am not like Michelle [Kwon]. She really has the rhythm and the dance
      background. She is very light and quick in her reaction. I am kind
      of slow, when I see a sword coming I think, "Which hand should I use
      to defend!" I don't have the instincts to do it. For Michelle, it is
      really like a dance sequence. The more it is not right, the more I
      get scared. You have to be very relaxed and trust your instincts.

      KJ: But do you find yourself trusting the director because it
      usually turns out looking good?

      MC: Because the stunts are really good. As long as you can do a few
      things on your own, they can cheat the whole thing really well. You
      have to do at least the beginning, the end, and the middle.
      [Audience laughs] Otherwise I don't even need to go to set.

      KJ: I wonder if that kind of work that you did actually contributed
      somehow to what you learned as an actress?

      MC: You mean the action side? Yes, I think it helps also with your
      physical appearance, even if it is not an action film. Even with
      walking, you are a bit more aware of your body. For me actually when
      I get into a part, I very often use the physical side first. I work
      on the body language before anything else. It is a strange way, but
      once I have that it takes me there. Once I walk or move in her way
      then it takes me into the character.

      KJ: When you say you work on the body language, it is also a way of
      gesturing and a way of comporting yourself in general?

      MC: It's a bit of designing, but without a huge effort. It is the
      idea. For instance, I imagine a character would be moving very
      smooth, and once you have a start, the rest just comes.

      KJ: In terms of something different like the clip that we saw before
      from Actress, did you find that for yourself through the movies that
      you watched or did you have to find it your own way?

      MC: Actually this is where it started for me, the physical thing. I
      remember Stanley said to me, "Watch her, watch her. I wouldn't say
      she is the most beautiful woman or the best actress, but watch her
      body language. She is amazing." So I started watching and I didn't
      even know what body language was, and then I watched her and yes she
      does have a presence, which is more than her beauty. I found myself
      hypnotized by the way she moved more than what was on her face
      because also these were silent films and you are really looking for
      every sign of the body of what it is trying to tell. When it comes
      from there, I've learned and developed my own thing and realized how
      important that is in a film.

      KJ: I would imagine it is especially important in Wong Kar Wai
      films. It seems to be the way he works with the actress.

      MC: It is something that he especially likes. He likes [pause]
      beautiful women. He particularly likes to see how they move.

      KJ: He seems to build mosaics out of movement and that is something
      that is very important to him.

      MC: For In the Mood for Love (2000), we shot for six months. We
      didn't even know what we were shooting. He didn't either. It is the
      scene where I am walking to get take away - that walk they did in
      slow motion. That was the first slow motion we did. When we saw the
      dailies he just said, "This is it, this is it." So he made me watch
      it 50 times and then I said, "Okay, I know this is it, but what
      more? This can't just be it!" [laughs] But that is how it developed.
      We found the first thing in common to go for.

      KJ: Do you like doing comedy?

      MC: Yes, but then I haven't done them in so long that I am really
      dying to do one. I don't think I have done one since having
      this "improved mind" of acting. When I did my last comedy, more than
      10 years ago, I had a different way of acting, a different
      understanding. I think I was trying to be funny all the time and I
      was not funny. So now I would love to do another one without trying
      to be funny. Hopefully I will be funny. I want to give it one more
      shot before I say I am not funny.

      KJ: I have always thought you were pretty funny. Would not Irma Vep
      (1996) be a comedy?

      MC: Yes, but it is more a black comedy. It is not the same kind of
      comedy. Comedy for me is like Steven Chow. They are funny. I don't
      know if they are popular here.

      KJ: Yes, they are now, but probably not as much as they should be.
      But Kung Fu Hustle is very popular.

      MC: People are going to watch his older works. They are really
      funny, really seriously!

      KJ: Do you feel you have a nice rapport with Leon Lai? It seems like
      it when you watch this film.

      MC: Yes, we got on really well.

      KJ: You had mentioned before that Irma Vep was another transition
      movie for you. I was wondering what you meant.

      MC: It was almost a restart, a stage two. During the two years break
      that I had, I wasn't sure if I was going to act again, or whether I
      would go on to do something else, move somewhere, get married, or
      have kids. I didn't know what was going to happen. I just knew that
      I did too much and I was repeating my work and I was fed up. I
      didn't look forward to going to set. I felt it is time to maybe
      stop. So I just did my own stuff for two years. I found a life and
      found more friends. And then Olivier came along, and then Soong
      Sisters and this one.

      KJ: To speak about Irma Vep, what was it like playing someone who is
      suppose to be you but isn't you in a way too? I would imagine that
      would be a really interesting process to go through.

      MC: It was, and also it was kind of a relief because I thought I
      didn't have to do anything. Not in a lazy way this time, but more
      that I don't have to pretend or design anything. I was quite happy
      to think that someone will take me as I am. I also liked the idea of
      being anonymous in France. Yes, it is great to be on set in Hong
      Kong when you have 20 people serving you, dressing you. They can all
      be working on you at the same time. One could be fixing your hair,
      one's on make up, one's doing your buttons, one's fixing your shoes,
      one's handing you tea and wiping your face. I just felt isolated
      from the crew. People respected you a bit too much and I was kind of
      lonely on set. I was not hanging out with the crew anymore, but
      that's how it became. So that is why I liked going on the set for
      Irma Vep when the French didn't have any idea who I was and they
      chatted with me all the time and let me sit on the floor and eat my
      lunch without offering me a chair. But all that was a breath of
      fresh air. I liked it. I enjoyed being part of the crew more than
      the actress and that made me enjoy being on a film set again. I
      think also from then on I knew how I would handle myself on a film
      set. I would make the distance less even if they were setting it. I
      think some people will feel intimidated when they are with someone
      famous so they try to keep their distance because of shyness. I know
      I have to be the one to break the ice, to go and speak to them;
      otherwise they would never come to me.

      KJ: And that film is what did that for you. You said you didn't have
      to design anything for it and yet it is not you, it is a character
      Maggie Cheung. There must have been a certain design involved?

      MC: No, Olivier really told me do whatever I wanted. So I didn't
      have any pressure to deliver anything. It was really up to me. So I
      really didn't think about what I was going to do. Actually that film
      caught one magic moment and it is still one of the biggest magic
      moments of my experience in films. It is that I managed to blush on
      screen, and I think that is so hard to come by unless it is real. It
      is one thing I still don't think a very good actor can do easily.
      You can act shy and do all that it is to be shy in a role, but to
      really see the red coming up is not easy. I think in Irma Vep I had
      that one magic moment and I still remember it.

      KJ: In the party scene?

      MC: Yes, when Bulle says Nathalie is in love with me. I was just
      laughing and then blushing. It was because Olivier said to do what
      you want and I didn't have to think about what am I doing in the
      next shot. This is why I got this magic moment. I think they're

      KJ: The experience of shooting [2046] must have been a great
      adventure. To be finding the movie and character and the story with
      the director as you're going must have been a really wonderful
      adventure in your life and your career.

      MC: It is now that it is over. It was 15 months and it was difficult
      at the time and I had just got married and I was taken away from my
      home for 15 months. Whereas when I packed to go it was suppose to be
      three months, and then became five months, and then seven months. It
      just added up all this time that I was away from Olivier. I also had
      to deal with the part. The hair and makeup were a pain. It was five
      hours everyday. I wouldn't say it was enjoyable, but now looking
      back it was an amazing experience.

      KJ: How different is it to be finding a character in this way, in an
      organic experience like that? Aside from the time difference, how
      does it compare to an experience like Actress or even Comrades where
      you are approaching a character and in your words "designing it." It
      must be vastly different mentally.

      MC: Yes, and it also took so long. It is partially my fault as well.
      After 6 months I didn't know what I was doing. Kar Wai just kept
      shooting and he wanted to see what we could give him, and I was
      holding back because I thought, "Well if you aren't going to give me
      anything to do than I am not going to do anything," until he wore me
      out that I didn't care about it anymore. I went on set and just did
      it. That is when it all came, so in a way I should thank him for
      giving me all that time. It took me six months to open up to him. I
      was a little shy to just give when there is nothing on the paper.
      You have to be quite confident to do that and I don't think I am
      that confident on set. I am quite vulnerable sometimes and like to
      be led. Once I found that direction then I can go on my own
      imagination but in the beginning I didn't want to make the first
      move. I didn't feel like I knew what I wanted to be. I wanted him to
      give me something and I would build it with him. In the end, I
      couldn't wait anymore and so I just did it. Otherwise it would have
      lasted forever - him waiting for him and I waiting for him.

      KJ: You would still be shooting.

      MC: I would still be shooting, and 2046 would not have happened yet.

      KJ: Did you feel prepared for that kind of experience from your
      previous experiences with him [Wong Kar Wai]. I know As Tears Go By
      was a different kind of movie, but with Days of Being Wild or Ashes
      of Time?

      MC: I think he just got more and more like that with every single
      film. For As Tears Go By we finished on time. We were just a few
      days over. For Days of Being Wild we were three months over, and for
      Ashes of Time we were six months over. And then he did an incredible
      thing. He did Chung King Express (1994) in it about 3 weeks, without
      me though! Fallen Angels (1995) was quite quick. It took thee
      months, without me. Happy Together (1997) he took a while. And then
      for In the Mood for Love we broke all the records - 15 months. 2046
      from start to end was a long period, but he was not constantly on
      that project. We did In the Mood for Love in between. 2046 started
      before In the Mood for Love. Then In the Mood for Love started and
      stopped and then he went to 2046 and then he finished In the Mood
      for Love. The two films were kind of together. That is why 2046
      ended up lasting for four years.

      KJ: At the end of the process of In the Mood for Love, was it a
      satisfying experience?

      MC: You mean at the wrap? Yes, it was satisfying. It was also sad.
      But we were also going to Cannes the next week. So it was a very
      contradictory feeling. So you are sad for one minute and the next
      you are thinking, "What am I going to wear?" We were dubbing and
      then I was taking the flight that night to go to Cannes. And Kar Wai
      was saying, "I am coming tomorrow," and he ended up taken a few more
      days to come because he had to reedit, but it was a crazy moment.
      Really crazy… fun.

      KJ: You were saying that the makeup and hair were really involved,
      and the dresses too. I would imagine this really helped to find
      that woman.

      MC: Physically yes. But then it was hard because it was mostly night
      shoots, from 6am to 6pm. We would all go home and it would take me
      about 2 hours to wash out the hairspray and knots. I would go to bed
      by 10pm and then get up by 1am to start for hair and makeup to be
      ready by 6am. It was like that constantly and it was not enjoyable
      at the time, but then once I was in it all, I just had to look at
      it and say, "Okay I know what to do now."

      KJ: I know you have a great working relationship with Tony Leung,
      but there must have been an incredible level of trust based on what
      you see on the screen.

      MC: Funnily enough everyone thinks we have worked together so many
      times but I worked with him when I was 19 years old for a TV drama.
      We were both working for television at the time, but since then I
      had not worked with him again. We have been in the same films
      together but not the same scene. So actually In the Mood for Love
      was our first movie.

      KJ: But am I correct is saying that there is a level of trust
      between the two of you and there is a really interesting chemistry?

      MC: Sure, I think because we were kids when we met and we were
      acting on a very different level and then we separately and went our
      ways. We both developed our own skills and learned our own things a
      long the way and to get together again after all these years was
      wonderful because he was just how I imagined him to be. In a way we
      haven't changed since all those years, but we have just gotten
      better at what we are doing, at least I hope. At least a little bit

      KJ: Before we go to the next clip, I wanted to go back to what you
      were saying before about how you feel now at this moment that you
      have arrived at a new level of understanding about acting. What is
      that for you?

      MC: To completely let go and not to be nervous anymore when you
      hear, "Roll the camera!" It is very natural to have this feeling
      when you hear that because you know that thing, what ever that may
      be, will last forever. I never imagined we would be watching these
      clips. Now we know film will last forever. It's going digital and it
      is going to last. But 10 or 15 years ago the idea that film is going
      to last forever was new and then at some point you realize that it
      is going to last forever now with video tapes and everything. People
      are going to watch these films after 50 years. I think I have always
      had this nervous thing about when they roll the camera, but now I am
      quite relaxed. I am completely the same before you roll and after
      you roll. Before I was like, "Okay, let's do it." There was a lot
      more going on in getting ready. But now I just know, "Okay, just go
      into it and just get into it." Now I don't even think about when am
      I going take a sip of water, when am I going to look that way, I
      just know if I react properly and if I focus, it will come. I don't
      need to plan it.

      KJ: Did you feel that way while making Clean (2004)?

      MC: Yes, definitely. It was the first try-out of this method for me.
      This was a method that I wanted to try but I didn't know if I could
      do it. Clean was the first chance because it was the right opponent.
      Olivier can do that with me. Whereas with Zhang Yimou of Hero
      (2002), maybe I was already trying but it didn't work with that
      film. It is not what he is looking for and you can't force it. And
      In the Mood for Love was not about that either. I haven't done so
      many contemporary films.

      KJ: So when you were making Clean you were feeling this new
      technique of working? How did it feel in relation to this movie and
      this character? You have never really played a character like this

      MC: When I read the script that was the first feeling I had. It was
      the only way to do it. We have all seen a thousand times people
      playing a junkie and it is so hard not to go into that way to play a
      junkie, of all that physical stuff. I think that is all we think of
      when we think of a junkie. But in real life Olivier and I have a
      couple of friends who have been through this experience and they are
      nothing like that. WhenI read the script I knew I couldn't not do it
      the normal way. So I said, "Okay, I am going to try this new way
      that I have always wanted to do and haven't had the chance." So I
      just put the script away and did not look at it again until I was on
      the set. That was one year's time in between. That is quite unusual
      because you know this project is coming up and you are going play
      your part soon and maybe it is time to learn your lines, but I tried
      not to learn anything about her. I wanted to react to Nick and
      Béatrice and to other actors. I wanted to see what they were going
      to give me and I was going to react as Emily and that's it and not
      think about what Emily should be.
      KJ: Did it feel right away that it was happening for you the way you

      MC: Yes, because we did the film in sequence so it started out in
      Canada and I was "the bitch," that hysterical woman. And then she
      calmed down and tried to get clean. So it helped a lot that we were
      doing it in sequence and to feel the whole thing building up and
      what she has been going through and where it has taking her. It
      really helps the character.

      KJ: It is interesting because what you say about junkies in movies
      is true. You keep seeing the same story of people lifting themselves
      up and taking pride in themselves and that is part of her character
      and yet at the same time at the end she is a different human being
      but it is not because she has redeemed herself it is just that
      changes happened.

      MC: It is for real. In real life we can change in a year. Something
      major happens to you and that can suddenly make you a different
      person. Not differently completely but the way to see things or
      react to things.

      KJ: Yes, it as if she is different in the end but almost not knowing
      quite how she got there.

      KJ: Is there a project that is coming up?

      MC: Yes or no, I don't know. I am interested in something but I
      don't know if is happening so I am kind of waiting for something to

      KJ: We are hoping it is a comedy.

      MC: I hope it is a comedy. I am sure that will come if I say it
      enough in front of journalists and if it is written enough then
      maybe people well say, "Oh let's give her a comedy."

      KJ: Spread the word folks. Maggie Cheung wants to do a comedy.
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