Following my earlier review of Doris Yeung's Motherland, I got to interview the gracious Francoise Yip today and here is a rough transcript!
On Motherland (2009)
Francoise Yip: Hi Glenn.
Glenn: Hi. Thank you so much, really.
F: No problem.
G: This is pretty exciting for my little blog.
G: How did it feel to be offered a lead role that is probably the most fully developed Asian-American character in an American film in probably the last 15 years?
F: [laughs] Oh, really? Yeah, I haven't seen the film but I am hearing some good things about it.
Yeah, you know, I think not only for that reason, but just being able to be given a chance to work on a character or a role that has, like, the potential to have that much put into it -- I think whether it's Asian-American or whatever...
F: I think any actor would jump at the chance to do that because it's just...I don't know it's just...the ability to start something, go through it, and finish with something instead, of, you know, a lot of smaller -- not so much smaller but less developed roles where you feel like you're just jumping in and jumping out, know what I mean?
F: Like it's just a sort of a snapshot of the character as opposed to, you know, having a history, going through it, and wondering what's going to happen in the future-kind-of-thing.
Yeah, it was a great chance to do that and a really great opportunity, I think.
G: That kind of leads into the second question. The film is pretty subtle in the way in which the character of Raffi is developed. And your performance is very subtle.
The thing I wondered is: did you feel the need to have a complete backstory for the character or did you...how did you approach the acting of that character, based on what's revealed on screen, even though you haven't seen it yet?
F: Right. Well, I think it's kind of...I kind of tried to approach it with some of my own personal history as well as some sort of facts of the story because it's sort of based on a story, it's not just from Doris' imagination-kind-of-thing.
F: It's sort of based on some events that happened. So, I think that I wanted to take, obviously, some of the realistic parts of it, like what actually happened, and the events that happened to her, but also put in some of, you know, how I personally would deal with things, or react to things so I think maybe that -- maybe that is where -- maybe that's where the subtlety comes from because it wasn't particularly strongly me or strongly based on any events, do you know what I mean?
G: I think so.
[PR arranger] said that, in a way you tried to take on some of Doris' mannerisms in your performance?
F: Yeah, well, I mean it's kind of -- when you're with someone, you know -- [laughs] -- 18 hours a day...
F: [laughs] ...it's kind of hard not to.
But, yeah at the same time, I think it's...I think it's hard when you get into a role, a character that's in-depth like that -- it's impossible not to put some of yourself in there.
But, also you have to be able to look at the character outside of yourself. Because it isn't yourself; you can't just put all of yourself in there because you have to pay respect to who the character is in the storyline.
Does that make sense?
G: That makes sense.
F: So, it's sort of a line of really immersing yourself in the character but not losing yourself in it, if that makes any sense.
G: I think so, I think so.
This question is a little bit silly but I think there's something to this -- [laughs] -- as the characters of this film are very specifically Asian-American...
G: And I was wondering, as a Canadian actress who had a background in Hong Kong cinema, did you approach this differently than maybe other roles? Did you approach this differently as a Canadian actress who worked in Hong Kong where you're playing a very specifically Asian-American character?
G: Whose experiences are very American.
F: I think that...I think that...I mean, I was talking about this with another interviewer about how it is specifically Asian-American, but it is also...it's not Asian-American. And there's certain elements that are specifically Asian but it doesn't...it's not defined by that, do you know what I mean?
The other themes that are in there, like, trying to find...an immigrant coming to America, trying to find, you know, his future.
F: Or, you know, relationships between a child and parent. And family relations. Those kind of are across the board no matter where you're from?
G: Right, right.
F: But there are...I mean, definitely how things are handled and how people react and are expected to react are specifically Asian, do you know what I mean? I don't think the movie is defined by "Oh you know, this is just specifically Asian and it would only happen if you were Asian."
G: Oh no, right.
F: It's not that. But there's definitely elements that...I mean, you don't forget that it's an Asian family.
I was going to say that the thing I ...I've watched the film twice and I found that the scenes in your father's family home...I thought it was intentional, the lack of anything overtly Asian, do you know what I mean? Besides the prayer beads.
K: And I wondered if she was maybe trying to send a message about his level of assimilation that he had made this decision to...do you know what I mean?
F: Oh right. Like, in order to succeed you have to sort of give up everything...kind of give things up that you, like, culturally, or you give things up culturally in order to get ahead in other ways, is that what you mean?
G: In a sense. I mean, it seemed very intentional that there was no....there was nothing that you would see in the background of any scene in the home...except for those prayer beads.
G: And I thought that was interesting.
F: Yeah. I mean,...I'm not ...I don't know. I'll have to think about that one because I think ...I think also there's a difference between...he was the immigrant and obviously Raffi is the second generation
F: But I think ...I think it's kind of...I don't know. I think his priorities in life were...his priority in life, which was , you know, to support his family, and make money, and do well and everything maybe got in the...like those became the first things in his life as opposed to where he came from. Or what he was about.
F: Which happens to a lot of people coming here, not necessarily Asian. It's all about getting ahead, doing better but, then, you kind of lose where you come from and why you're doing it in the first place.
G: Right and there's quite a few...yeah, Barry Levinson's Avalon, comes to mind. The Polish Jewish family has no observation of their religion, and changes their names and everything...
G: ...that reminds them of Europe is gone.
On her Hong Kong career and Black Mask
G: Any memories of working with the great Anthony Wong in Black Mask?
F: Oh right. [laughs]
G: [laughs] He's...he's...
F: Other than that he's crazy? No; he's not crazy.
G: He's always working.
G: He does a ton of films.
F: Yeah, I think he was actually...that was quite a long time ago!
F: I do remember the scene! I just remember him being sort of up for anything, do you know what I mean?
F: Like quite...trying to think of the words...doesn't really care what...you know how some actors have a kind of an idea of how they should be or how they should look?
F: Or how they're portrayed or whatever, what people think of him. I just remember him being, like, quite confident in self, and self-assured, and really doing whatever needed to be done.
G: You should see the pictures of him -- I think it was at Cannes -- and he's got almost a Mohawk with a kind of a male dress on. It's quite a look and I think only he could pull that off.
F: [laughs] Yeah, because for stuff like that you kind of have to fully commit to it, otherwise it doesn't work. [laughs]
On Anita Mui
A lot of people will probably ask about Jackie Chan so I'm not going to ask about that but I am very curious about.. you didn't have very many scenes with her but you did star in Rumble in the Bronx with the great, and late, Anita Mui.
Do you have any memories of that even though you you didn't have very many scenes with her?
F: No, I..you know what, I always...I was quite...I didn't really know her that well pre-working with her; I just met her a few times on set, I didn't really work with her that much but I met her, you know, at dinners and social things that we did.
And I always found her very, um, very...almost quite regal.
F: Like quite self-possessed, quite elegant, very subtle, very understated. And then I remember afterwards finding, like after I worked with her, finding that she was considered the Madonna of...
G: Right, right. I was going to say that...
F: I remember being quite surprised as she didn't come across like that at all to me. She came across as very...regal is the word that comes to mind.
Like the kind of person that you wouldn't want to swear around.
G: Oh, okay!
G: That's a new one.
F: But not unapproachable either. I would talk to her and she wasn't snobby or anything like that. She just seemed very calm and and very in control of everything that was going on.
I never sort of saw her blow-up or react.
F: So I remember meeting her and thinking...someone that kind of garners respect.
On Lau Ching-Wan
G: You've worked with Lau Ching-Wan (Sean Lau) on two films.
G: Do you follow his career considering he's probably one of the most respected and popular actors in Hong Kong cinema at the moment?
F: I haven't seen him in anything for awhile.
I'm trying to remember the last thing I saw him in...He always plays a cop. [laughs]
G: He's quite good in a film called My Name is Fame where he's kind of a fading version of himself in Hong Kong.
G: And he's takes under his wing an actress from the Mainland who's not quite as talented and I think he finally did win the Best Actor award for that.
G: That kind of leads into my next question. Do you follow any...I mean, Hong Kong cinema is kind of in a lull right now, do you follow it at all?
F: You know, there isn't that much that comes to mainstream theaters; you really have to try to seek it out.
I sometime will come across...especially if the film's been to a festival, or if it's been given some awards or something like that but there isn't that much opportunity for me to see it unless I go to specifically Asian, specifically Hong Kong movie rentals.
On King of Fighters
G: Is King of Fighters finished?
G: The director of ...that's not necessarily a Hong Kong film, though you have Gordan Chan and Maggie Q, I think...
G: So it's going to be an international, big budget blockbuster, right?
F: Yeah, that's about it -- everyone else is sort of North American in that. One of the producers is from Hong Kong. There's Gordon.
F: But it's definitely more international than specifically Asian...
G: Well, that's a big step for Gordon Chan, I think, as a director.
F: Yeah, yeah. And I think he wants to do more like that, I think he's trying to take the next step of integrating sort of the Asian themes, stories with Asian actors, but doing them in the States so that they have sort of a wider appeal.
F: So that they're not specifically Asian, so to try to get that experience out but in a way that's, you know...to use a different medium than just having it as a Hong Kong movie?
G: Uh huh.
F: Having a more international movie... that people like myself can go see it.
F: And also that it's more accessible and also that it's more...that there's more information, more press, other than just what's spoken about in Asia. 'Cause a lot of it doesn't come over this way.
More on Motherland and Josie Ho and Director Doris Yeung
G: I noticed the second time I watched Motherland, Josie Ho's name in the credits, in the "Thank You's" and I wondered what was her connection to the film -- I know you haven't seen it yet -- she's one of those actresses...and she's a singer...and she's kind of ...she would do better leaving Hong Kong, really...
F: Oh I know exactly what you mean. I can't remember now but there is a reason for that but I can't remember what it is now.
G: She's very much like Anthony Wong; very versatile; continues to work, and yet, the things that become popular are not very good, frankly. Sometimes.
F: I think people like Anthony, like her, or like Sean...
G: Uh huh.
F: They have that, it's like an appeal that crosses..it's not just because they are Asian; they just have that screen appeal.
F: They have that screen appeal.
On her beginnings
G: Rather than rely on Wikipedia, if you could tell me maybe the short version of how you went from pianist, to political science major, to model, to...
G: To Jackie Chan costar?
F: [Laughs] I did the Jackie Chan movie in Vancouver and I had started to..done a little bit of modeling when I was younger and I did probably about a year where I kind of got into commercials, 'cause commercials were getting popular to do in Vancouver, so I was trying to make some money at that.
F: And then I went to...I have never acted before I had never gone out for a speaking role and I had never gone to an audition...
I think that was my first audition I had ever went to! [laughing]
F: For Rumble in the Bronx. I had no idea what I was doing... [laughing]
I went to this audition, I think I went on a, like, a Thursday or Friday, and we started shooting on Tuesday so I really just kind of got thrown into it. Which I think was the best learning experience I could have. [laughs]
And everyone was really great. Jackie was really supportive and Stanley was really patient -- the director Stanley Tong --
F: He was very patient with me, because you know, I was basically learning everyday, sort of what to do on set, what to do in front of the camera. [Laughs] Everything you would learn little-by-little, I kind of learned in the first five months.
I was doing it! I felt a little bit, you know, thrown in the deep end without water wings-kind-of-thing but, it was a great experience because nothing could be...I wasn't expecting anything; I didn't know what to expect. I didn't know how it was it supposed to be, so everything was fun. I was open to anything because I wasn't expecting it to be anything.
G: Your performance in Motherland is really stunning and controlled...and very subtle.
Looking at your filmography, you could almost predict, in a few years from now, you would see, you know, this Hong Kong period, then you see this kind of American TV/film period, and now you're going to see this kind of indie -- maybe American or European -- indie period.
G: How do you feel about that idea?
F: Well, you know what? I actually really maybe ...because when I came back from Hong Kong, I remember, you know, doing some TV, some film work, some North American stuff, and after a few years of that, and you know, I was taking acting classes, and getting more into acting, I remember thinking: "How come...I want to do, like, something interesting and maybe something indie and low budget and something..." But it wasn't...maybe because of what I had been doing -- I wasn't in that world. I wasn't connected to people in that world. Or maybe people that did those kinds of films didn't really watch the kind of stuff [laughs] that I did, you know?
F: So that would be great. I remember thinking that a few years ago. "I want to get into something and do something interesting and meaningful." So yeah, this was a great chance and I'd love to do more of it because I think after a while, you start of...what you want to do changes as your career goes on, you know?
You do so many years of what I did, or you do so many years of doing a certain kind of thing, and you want to do more after a while.
You want it to mean more.
G: Of course.
Before this interview, I tried to sit through Alien vs. Predator: Requiem
It was on cable, On-Demand, and I had my hand on the Fast-Forward button and I had to give up after about an hour.
[Laughs] No offense to whatever...
F: You know, I haven't actually seen it, and I think I'm only in about the last 3 minutes of it.
G: So there you go; that's that's how I missed that!
F: At the very very end. I'm at the very very end. I think it was great because I was like "This means that I can do something in the next one!"
G: I don't think you'll need to do that anymore because I think that Motherland is going to get a lot of attention.
And hopefully it's going to get released this Fall to indie theaters, you know?
It's a really stunning performance, really impressive.
You're going to be very happy when you you finally see it.
F: I know.
Everyone I've talked to has seen it. I'm like "I haven't' seen it yet!"
G: The second time...Byron Mann's performance -- the first time it didn't quite click for me but the second time, I really appreciated what he was doing.
F: Hmm. Uh huh.
G: He's like the All-American guy in that movie.
F: Yeah. yeah. He's quite like that; he's very likeable. I liked working with him.
G: The first time he felt a tiny bit creepy -- what history is there?
G: But the second time, it was a bit different for me.
F: Did it feel a bit more genuine? Like he actually cared. It didn't come from a weird place.
F: It came from just wanting the best...wanting something...what am I trying to say? -- from an honest place not from a creepy place?
G: It seemed that he was wanting to do the right thing for its own sake not because of some past affection on your character, you know?
F: Yeah, yeah.
On On Fire
G: I have lot of friends that are going to be a little bit jealous of this interview.
G: Well, the the guys from Lovehkfilm were telling me that I should ask about On Fire but they said you might not want to talk about it.
G: I haven't seen it.
The reason they asked, they thought it was really brutal for you as an actress and you as a character.
F: That was the one with all the Lucky Stars? Right?
G: On Fire is where you play a character with the same name, right?
F: Oh...the one...where I'm kidnapped or something.
G: The one with Louis Koo before he was quite as tan and popular as he is now.
F: Right, right, right.
Where they kidnap me. I think that was it.
You know what? There's a few movies back then that I was like "Hmm, yeah, I guess..." It was at a stage where I was still in that, like, not questioning anything kind of [laughing] perod.
F: And I was just doing anyting that was kind of thrown -- "Okay I'll do that."
I'm a little more discerning now!
More on the future
G: So what would you like to do next? If you could just pick anything you want, or with anybody you could work with after Motherland?
F: [thinking] You know, I'd like to do something comedic, to tell the truth.
F: I don't do a lot of it and I don't think I'm like some untapped comedic genius or antying like that -- [laughs] -- but I'd love to try something, do something.
I love comedy and I love watching it, and I know it's really hard to do but I'd like to try something but not have a huge role. But I'd love to be around it and be around filming it and try to figure it out more, and see how people do it.
G: And you wouldn't mind working in American film, Hong Kong film, or indie film? -- wherever the good films are?
F: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
G: That's great.
F: Because nowadays it's so global and international...I think it's more having a great script and a great story and it doesn't matter so much where it's being filmed.
G: How did it feel working with Doris [Yeung]? This is her first film? What was the experience like with a first-time director?
F: It was good because she was...she listened quite a lot and I never felt like I wasn't being heard or anything.
I think she took a lot of suggestions to heart and really considered them as opposed to having an agenda and not being flexible. And being like "No, we're going to do it like this!" You know what I mean?
F: So that kind of felt more like a bit of a collaboration as opposed to me just doing what she wanted. Does that make sense?
G: I think so. And I think some of your best scenes are some of the quiet scenes the film.
G: Where things are not quite spelled out for the viewer.
F: Yeah, well , I think she definitely had that in mind and she definitely wanted things left sort of ambiguous and left for the audience to sort of wonder which way it was going because it's more realistic that way. Instead getting everything answered for you.
G: Right. And you have about 3 -- at least 3 -- reaction scenes, where the drama is your reaction and I thought that was very interesting, especially in an American film these days. It was very quiet and subtle in a way that was refreshing, really.
F: Well, thank you.
G: Thank you very much.
F: Thank you, Glenn.
G: And I hope everything goes well tonight and I think you're going to be very happy [when you see the film].
F: Thanks a lot! Thanks for the interview!