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The Scene caught up with actress Bai Ling in Shanghai and talked about leopards, shaved heads and kicking Jude Law's butt ...
The Scene: What are you working on at the moment?
Bai Ling: Right now I'm shooting a film in Shanghai called "In New Times" based on the best selling book, "Shanghai Baby". It's a colorful, contemporary story about a young woman's life in Shanghai, showing the cosmopolitan flavor of the city. It's a love story.
TS: Let's talk about some of your most memorable roles -- as Tuptim in Anna and the King, you had to shave your head. What was that like?
BL: When I think back to it, it's still quite painful. I can still feel the razors on my head. Before they cut it the producer said, "We're going to shave your hair tomorrow," and I cried. It's quite shaming for a woman. If you have no hair you're either a prisoner or you're a nun -- it's very extreme. You feel so vulnerable.
Every woman should shave her head once in her life, to experience what it feels like. If you're talking about nudity, that's the one time when you'll really feel naked and vulnerable.
TS: What was it like working with Jude Law on "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow"?
BL: I had so much fun kicking his butt! The director kept telling me not to hurt him because they were going to be shooting his close-ups. I was not a professional fighter and he is not either. I was being really careful and he said, "Bai Ling, really go for it!" so I did, but then I hurt his forehead. He said, "It's ok, keep going." He has this old Hollywood star golden boy look and also he has this danger in him.
TS: What other actors and directors would you like to work with?
BL: Steven Soderbergh, the director who directed "Traffic", I like him a lot. Wong Kar-wai and Ang Lee are two Asian directors I'm really fond of.
Johnny Depp is one of my favorite actors because he takes chances. You can feel he's doing the art for the art, not for the fame and money -- he plays all kind of roles and he takes chances. I saw "Edward Woodward" -- he played the most beautiful woman I've ever seen on screen.
TS: There are limited roles for Asian actresses in Hollywood -- is it difficult and are there special challenges involved?
BL: Yes. Film is a product for people to consume, and most consumers in the States are Caucasian. It's an industry, and it's like anywhere. In Asia, you don't have many roles provided for Western female or male leads either. But it's fun for me -- roles like in "Wild Wild West"; "Taxi 3", the Luc Besson French film; "Southland Tales" -- all these roles were originally written for white actors.
I like to challenge myself because it's fun doing screen tests where no one looks like me. I feel like I've achieved something beyond where I'm supposed to get.
TS: Where do you think that comes from?
BL: I think in a previous life I was a wild animal running in the forests. I went to South Africa on safari and came eye to eye with a beautiful leopard. We were so close; I was staring at him for a long time and I felt a recognition with my own nature. When I go dancing I dance like a wild animal. In my nature I just run wild.
TS: Speaking of wild animals, I read that you were bitten by a leopard while filming. How did that happen?
BL: It was the only wild leopard trained to be near human beings. It was winter in Budapest and I was playing this girl living with a wild leopard in a castle. The trainer said the leopard had never been so calm with a human.
I felt more and more comfortable with him and I got more confident. Then on set, I was nearly nude draped in a feather boa and suddenly he growled and went for me so quickly. I was so scared, I could have died, he could have had my throat. I felt a little bit betrayed and hurt because I had trusted him so much.
The director told me afterwards, "I would never get that near to a wild animal!" and I said, "You put me there, but you tell me that now!"
TS: How would you describe yourself?
BL: I'm a risk taker and life's an adventure for me. I'm traveling all the time so I can live through four winters or four summers in a year. Basically, I'm a dreamer, a romantic dreamer, lost in the moment of life in Shanghai. I'm like a child, I'm so looking forward to tomorrow to unfold. I like to have surprises.
TS: Could you ever see yourself living more permanently in China, and if so, where would you live?
BL: Yes, and I think I would choose Shanghai, because here you have everything. The other day I was in a different district, there were so many buildings and people, it was so busy, so full of local life -- all styles of Chinese living. In Xian Tian Di it's quite Western; and the Bund and the river are so lovely.
TS: Can you give us a little preview of your films which are coming out next?
BL: I have a film out right now called "Edmond" with William H Macey. I play a very daring sexy exotic dancer. He's one of the actors I really like so it's nice to watch him act -- he's very truthful and very real. I shot "Dumplings" with Chris Doyle, for which I won a Golden Horse award -- it's like an Asian Oscar.
Then I have "Man About Town" where I star with Ben Affleck and Rebecca Romaine. It's a black comedy where I play a reporter and give him all the problems in the world! "Southland Tales" was in Cannes this year. It's set in Los Angeles in 2008. My role was like a modern day Greta Garbo, very mysterious, sexy, funny and wise. I'm very much looking forward to that.