Lust, Caution - Tang Wei interview
Compiled by Jack Foley
TANG Wei was born in Zhejiang Province, China. Her mother is an actress and her father a painter. She graduated from China’s Central Academy of Drama where she majored in film directing.
After a brief period modelling, she devoted herself full time to acting and appeared in theatre and on television before winning the role in Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution. Here, she talks about the making of the provocative and sexually explicit film…
Q: The sex scenes are very explicit. Were they very daunting to film?
A: The most important thing about the love scenes was not the nudity it was that we all put all of our emotions into the roles. What we looking for was how far we could go along this emotional path and we didn’t care that much about the sex, it was a question of emotion and passion. I believe that the two kinds of love we see in the film, represented by the two guys, one a student who loves my character and the other by Mr Yee (Leung), are complimentary.
The first which my character experiences with the student is a pure kind of love, it’s so difficult to find, and he’s timid and shy, it’s like a first love. And with Mr Yee he finds himself through expressing his love for her. So they are in some way complimentary. But they are both tragic characters and they exist in a time of turmoil.
Q: There were 10,000 actresses auditioned for the role. What was that process like for you?
A: At the very beginning I didn’t know that there were that many people, it was only after I had been chosen that I found that out. I was very surprised but I think it’s normal for an Ang Lee film. The whole process took about two months from start to finish.
Q: Ang said that he didn’t tell you about how explicit the love scenes were going to be at first. What was your reaction when he told you how far he wanted to go with them?
A: At the beginning the director told me that there would be some love scenes but he didn’t tell me that there would be so many. But when I was chosen I told him: “I put myself in your hands and I will do whatever I have to do for this role. I will do what the character needs to do.”
Q: What were you doing before you got this part?
A: I was shooting a drama for television. The character was a material girl, very modern girl.
Q: What is it like to watch yourself in a period film like this?
A: It was like: “Oh that’s me!” It was a surprise. And then the second time I liked it a lot. With the sex scenes, I thought Ang had done them so beautifully. When you are doing the film you are on the inside and you can’t imagine what it will look like and then when I saw it, I was like: “Oh my God, it’s so beautiful..” I like it a lot.
Q: How do you think your parents will react to the film?
A: My parents are so proud of me. They have given me a lot of support. When I was growing up all the choices I made for myself. My painters are artists, painters and they understand that I want to do this, to express myself in this way.
Q: This film could make you a star around the world. Are you worried about losing your anonymity?
A: I think there is a balance between what I will gain and what has been taken away.
Q: Ang said that he is a very demanding director so I wonder how hard he pushed you? He also said that he found filming the sex scenes very harrowing…
A: The more he was demanding of us, the more he was demanding of himself, so I wouldn’t say that he was too demanding. And I appreciated that he wanted to get the very best performances from his actors. I think the most demands he makes are on himself. I hope that the directors I work with in the future will make such high demands.
Q: Do you feel that you broke through any personal barriers making this film?
A: Yes, of course. We met a lot of obstacles, not just me, but everybody. We had to play people who were mean, passionate, ruthless and the director changed a lot of details. Every time a problem came he found a way to solve it. For me, the most difficult thing was to alternate between the two roles I was playing: that is to say the different kinds of woman that the character has to be – the mature woman and the student. It was difficult because we weren’t shooting chronologically, so to go from one to the other was difficult. From a psychological point of view, I guess I learnt to be braver and daring and to honour my heart.
Q: Ang also said that he thought that the sex scenes might have been harder for Tony. Did it feel that way to you?
A: Yes, of course. I’m a new actor, like a fresh vegetable [laughs]. And I can just follow the lead given by these two masters, Tony and Ang. The big challenge for me was to forget about myself and to start acting this role but for them the challenge was even higher because they have already reached so many high peaks in their career and they had to go even higher. I felt very blessed, very lucky, because I had the opportunity to see these two masters working together and it was like watching firecrackers going off.
Q: How do you think that the film will be received in China?
A: This is about old Shanghai during the war and I think it’s very good for China, because people around the world will learn more about China. And I think that the Chinese people will be very proud of this film – personally I love it.
Q: Could this original cut of the film be released in China?
A: No. Of course there will be a Chinese version of the film with some cuts. I’m not responsible for this but I’m aware there will be a different version. Of course I would prefer it if this version could be shown here. I don’t know if you have a child, but what the Chinese government want people to see is like you would want a child to see. Because every film shown in China is one that a child could see.
Q: Where do you live?
A: In Beijing.
Q: What are you doing next?
A: I’m looking for a new job but for the moment I’m enjoying promoting Lust, Caution. It was fantastic being in Venice with the film. Very exciting.
Q: Did you want to act when you were a child?
A: I was learning how to paint in middle school. And then when I went to college I was studying theatre and film directing.
Q: So how did you become an actress?
A: I think it was from my first performance in a play when I was at college. I tried to build a character and enter her soul. For all the characters I approach in the same way. The first time I was dizzy and fell to the ground and the teachers were like: “What’s wrong with Tang Wei?” And slowly I opened my eyes and stood up and carried on acting. It’s very interesting and then I felt ‘that’s what I want to do.’ That was in my second year at University which was in 2001. I feel with this film I came back to life.
Q: Working with Ang Lee is a hard act to follow. Are you concerned that you won’t find a part quite as good as this one again?
A: This film to me was like graduating from university a second time. I’ve learnt so much working with a master. I just hope that I get to work with other directors who will push me in the same way.
Q: What do you hope for in the future? Would you like to try Hollywood one day?
A: Everywhere is OK for me. If there is a chance I will grab it. What is important is that the work is good – if it’s a good role I will grab it. I simply want to do good work and I don’t mind where it is.