Rendez-vous with Zhang Ziyi
Chinese actor Zhang Ziyi talked about her career on Wednesday during a conversation with director Yves Montayeur. For an hour and a half, the star who has worked with the greatest Chinese directors, from Wong Kar-wai to Zhang Yimou and Ang Lee, shared confidences about the films that have left their mark on her.
On Wo hu cang long (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), the film that made her name:
I acted in this film twenty-one years ago! The way I look at it now is completely different. The subject matter that Ang Lee develops in the film is a timeless theme, which is that each individual has to stay true to himself. At the time I was nineteen years old. I did not fully understand what he meant. I was a student at the Centre for Dramatic Arts in China. I had just made my first film with Zhang Yimou. One day, I heard someone say that one of my professors had sent my photo to Ang Lee. And then Zhang Yimou recommended me to Ang Lee. For two months, I was training for the role, knowing that there were other candidates for the part. I didn’t know if I would get it.
About her fighting spirit:
I was born into a very traditional family. My mother worked in a maternity hospital and my father was an economist for the government. I didn’t grow up in luxury. My parents worked hard to bring us up and we did not have many activities. I don’t remember my parents encouraging me a lot or saying “I love you.” They have always been demanding with me even though I have won many awards in my career. This has taught me to be demanding of myself. Most of the roles I have interpreted have this perseverence as a a common theme.
“Most of the roles I have played have a common theme of perseverance.”
On her first collaboration with Wong Kar-wai:
He has played a very important role in my career. The first time I worked on a film with him was in 2004. That was a very stressful experience for me because I could never see his eyes behind his glasses. It was intimidating. I didn’t have any dialogue or any script. The film was made in Cantonese, a language I did not understand. I asked my agent to bring me saké to help me deal with my anxiety! I felt like a wild plant, forced to survive. And then one day Wong Kar-wai took off his glasses. I realised I didn’t need to be so tense!
On the filming of Yi dai zong shi (The Grandmaster):
This film shoot was the most demanding of my whole career up until now. I was in a very anxious and melancholy period of my life. I remember asking for a day off in the middle of the filming, which was complicated because it would cost a lot of money. But Wong Kar-wai agreed. He knew that I was not feeling well and he showed himself to be very understanding. Today he is a very close friend. I could play any role for him.
“I would love to play in a film of social realism.”
On her international career:
I wanted to know what it was like to do a film in Hollywood. But since I know kung-fu, I was always offered the same kind of role. Gradually, I started turning down offers. Then the film Memoirs of a Geisha came along. I accepted because it is rare for a lead role in a Hollywood film to be given to an Asian actor. The most important thing for an actor is to be patient. It is important to choose the characters that you love. I would love to play in a film of social realism.