TONY LEUNG talks about 2046

Interview by Mark Walters

Tony Leung is one of the most popular actors in Hong Kong, and for good reason.  He has a quiet intensity that is extremely effective, no matter what role he plays.  Fans know him from films like INFERNAL AFFAIRS, HERO, and CHUNGKING EXPRESS.  His new film 2046 was directed by Kar Wai Wong, and took over five years to shoot.  Yes, five years.  It co-stars Zhang Zhyi, Gong Li, Maggie Cheung, and Takuya Kimura.  It's a fascinating study of romance, relationships, and expressing one's feelings.  One particularly interesting aspect of the film is a mixture of languages.  Each character speaks their own language, yet they all understand each other.  It's an unusual film, but highly creative and captivating.  To meet Tony in person is strange, since he's such a likable fellow, yet in the film his character is extremely cold and shallow.  Regardless of how he plays it, you'll find yourself mesmerized by his performance.  I got a rare opportunity to talk with Leung about the new film, his acting process, and more in the following interview.


How did he prepare for this part?

TONY: I don't prepare.  Kar Wai is used to working without a script.  We don't have any idea at the very beginning what the story is about.  He's just gives me little hints on the first day so I could work with the character.  I arrived the first day on the set, and he told me he wants me to portray the same character I played in IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE (the predecessor to 2046) again, but he wants me to play it differently.  He wants me to do it like a new man.  I don't know why, I haven't asked, because I don't know what the story is about.  I said okay, what do you want?  And he said he wants me to play a very dark, mean kind of man, a cynical playboy.  I thought that was interesting.  It was very difficult for an actor to revisit a character again, and do something new.  I was already getting used to the original Mr. Chow, I was used his body movement, the gesture, and the voice, so it was very difficult for me.  The same face, same name, same hair gel... I hate that gel very much.  I asked if I can have a mustache, and he said no, better not Tony.  He said if you don't have the mustache, and everything's the same but you can act differently, you'll have a greater impact on the audience.  I said I know, but I can't.  To make myself believe I'm somebody else I need that.  So we argued on the first day and at last he compromised.  And I got a little mustache to work on.  That really helped, but still I encountered a lot of difficulties in shooting.  When you are acting you're not conscious of your body, your gesture, your voice, and you'll just go back to the original Mr. Chow unconsciously.  So it's quite challenging as an actor, I think.  It's my first time doing a character twice.

MARK: You seem like a very personable guy.  Was it hard to get yourself in the mindset of playing a character that was very cold and emotionless in certain moments, with love and relationships?

TONY: It's not very hard for me, especially with Kar Wai.  I think the script helps a lot for me to develop that kind of character.  I had plenty of time.

MARK: Did he ever tell you to hold back in certain moments, where you maybe wanted to show more emotion, and he'd say no, that you've got to remain a certain way with your character?

TONY: He always tried to get rid of all my techniques.  He wants these characters to be themselves, to be very natural.  And that's his way of telling the actors what to do.  So he used to do many takes on one scene until you're really exhausted, and you don't have any more energy to do any more techniques... or any skill.

MARK: I think there were some scenes where it shows.

TONY: Yeah!

MARK: As an actor do you prefer doing dramatic films, or action films... what is your preference?

TONY: I prefer drama.  Action is too much for me at this age, I think.  You need to be very well prepared.

MARK: Well if it takes five years to film a movie, you don't want to film an action movie.  Too much work.

TONY: Even for drama like this, 2046, I think it's very exhausting.  I dare not think about action films with Kar Wai... but we are supposed to do one next year.

MARK: Just next year?

TONY: (laughs) Probably not!

Does he think he'll do any American movies?

TONY: Not really.  I do receive some offers, but I haven't found the right script yet.  I always wanted to do one, a Hollywood movie.  When I was a kid my mom and her brother and sister used to bring me to the cinemas to view movies.  As an actor I think it would be a very memorable experience for me, at least once in your lifetime to do an English language movie.  I think I have to make sure I'm working with the right material, the right crowd, and make sure it's a fun and memorable experience.  So that's why I'm quite picky.

MARK: When I watch you in this movie, you sort of exude some qualities of actors like Humphrey Bogart and Clark Gable.  You were saying earlier that growing up you watched a lot of Hollywood movies.  Do you have any personal influences as far as actors, when you use performances do you think to yourself that you want to capture some of that magic those actors had?

TONY: I don't intend to do that, but I think I was influenced by a lot of American actors.  I'm a big fan of Martin Scorsese.  I saw a lot of Gene Hackman movies... Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Jack Nicholson, stars like that.  I watch a lot of their movies and I'm a great fan of them.  I might be influenced by them in some ways.  But when I was acting I did not intend to try and imitate.

MARK: No, I didn't think that you were, it was that you reminded me of some of those qualities in those actors you see in films.  Filmmakers don't make movies like that in America anymore, and it's a shame.  So the qualities of the film and the storytelling, it was reminiscent to me to some of those films of the older days.  It's a good thing.  What was your experience like trying to break into acting in Hong Kong, and what do wish you had known then that you know now?

TONY: For me, when I was a kid, I came from a broken family.  I don't know how to express my feelings.  I don't want to express my feelings in front of others, so I became very isolated.  I don't talk too much, and I'm very good at hiding my emotions.  And somehow when I get into the training class, when I learn how to act, then I find a way to express my feelings in front of others without being shy.  Because you can hide behind someone, and express you feelings.  You can do whatever you want, you can cry, but you won't feel shy.  And that's the reason why I enjoy acting very much.  That's the reason why I've been acting for twenty-something years.  I don't do it for fame or for money.  That's not important to me.  For myself it's a kind of relief that you have to suppress for 13 years in your childhood.

MARK: You work frequently with Maggie Cheung on several films.  Are there certain actors you want to work with on the next film, maybe with Kar Wai?

TONY: No.  I don't know.  I don't have any idea.

MARK: Do you have any kind of influence on that sort of thing when you work on a film?  Can you say I'd really like to work with this person...

TONY: No, not with Kar Wai.  Maybe someday when I become a producer I can decide who I want to work with.  But not with Kar Wai.  I think he knows very well in his mind who he wants to work with, what kind of actor he wants.

Check out Sony Classics' 2046 official website HERE.

Find out more about Tony Leung HERE.



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