By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Li Bingbing is a star in her own right in China. An actress and singer, she is beloved in her native land with starring roles in popular films there. Her performances have drawn the attention of Hollywood filmmakers as well. She starred in her first English-language film “Resident Evil: Retribution” in 2012 and subsequently in Michael Bay’s “Transformers: Age of Extinction,” opposite Mark Wahlberg.
The elegant actress now co-stars with Hollywood action star Jason Statham in the action thriller “The Meg.” Li plays Suyin, the daughter of a wealthy oceanographer who recruits former rescue diver played by Statham to save a group of people trapped in a submersible when a prehistoric shark known as a Megalodon is unleashed from the depths of the ocean.
The actress talked about the making the film with Statham, spending hours in the tank and doing the deep dives inside a shark cage.
Q: How was it working with Jason Statham?
Li: I’m such a big fan of his and he’s such a nice guy. He’s so nice and supportive. The first time I met him it was funny. With him as the leading actor and I as the leading actress in this movie, I thought that we should be introduced to the crew formally but we didn’t have that chance because I arrived on location later than everyone else. They had already started shooting. I arrived about 20 days into the shoot. So, the first time I met Jason was on set. That day, I needed to work but he didn’t need to work. He just went to set for a costume fitting. When I walked out of the bathroom, I bumped into him. We know who the other person was, so we just said, “Hi” to each other. The image I had of him in my mind was he’s a very cool guy who never smiles. But the first time I saw Jason, I saw that he has the nicest teeth because he smiled. He had a big smile which made me feel so weird. I was thinking, “Oh, he smiles!”
During the whole shoot, he was so supportive. He was nice and understood me. After we finished the movie, we started promoting it together. We still have more and he was talking about the Chinese bazaar. He said this is the best acting he’s ever done. It was very very artistic.
Q: What was the biggest challenge for you in this movie?
Li: I’m really not a person who’s afraid of anything when I am in my role. I brainwash myself to think I am the person who is in the movie so I think I have the powerful ability to do the thing I need to do. The only thing I’m scared of is the cold. Like, a few minutes ago, I asked for them to bring in a portable heater here. I also changed my high heels for sports shoes to keep warm. So, my fear of the cold made it difficult for me to go in the water. I’m so appreciative of (the studio) Warner Bros. who took care not only of me, but all of our crew members. For example, we had two big water tanks—10 times bigger than this room. The other one was a bit smaller. But they kept the water in it like a swimming pool. So, they kept it warm for me as well as the stunt team.
The prop people had to set up the bridge so we could get into position in the water. The shoot was very slow because we had to keep moving the bridge. They had a bridge connected to floatation devices so they could pull it out to the boat but then pull it back when they didn’t need it as they set up the camera shots.
Q: How deep was the tank?
Li: Approximately six meters deep, maybe more, because we had to pretend we were in the ocean. It had to be deep otherwise the boat couldn’t stay afloat on the water.
Q: Did you have special swim training for this film?
Li: I didn’t have a long time to prepare for this movie. I only had two weeks. I didn’t want that to get out too much. That’s why I said earlier I feel like I was able to accomplish something because I only had two weeks to prepare for such a long movie production with so much dialogue. Even when I shoot a Chinese movie, I need more time to prepare and allow myself to fall in love with the story. But that was very urgent—those two week. With only two weeks to prepare I wasn’t sure I would succeed but my heart told me, “Bingbing, you can do it!”
During the shooting, I’d use my days off to train for the underwater scenes. Sometimes they’d call me to the tank to do the underwater training, they taught me how to use the equipment and work under water.
Q: You work with the little Shuya Sophia Cai in this. Did you have time to bond with her before production?
Li: She’s a pretty, adorable little actress. She’s so smart. She’s the smartest girl I’ve ever seen. She’s really nice and very cute. She’s so polite and a very talented girl. She knows what she’s doing, very mature. It was like talking with another adult.
Q: How was it filming inside the shark cage?
Li: It was really hard shooting the underwater scenes. I’m not an expert swimmer so I was a little fearful and worried working in the water. In (the shark cage) scene, I had to go into a very deep position. I had to wear so many weights and wear a specific tank that was customized for me. Before I went in the water, I needed two guys to hold up the tank because it was so heavy. Whenever I was wearing the tank and waiting for Jon (Turteltaub, the director) to say “Action,” I already was tired. I needed somebody to support me and hold the tank. Afterwards, I still had to wear the weights so that when I go down, I can really go down faster. They really helped me go down deep to the bottom of the water. My ears hurt. Then, I’d have to surface and fix it. Because they needed to see me in the water, I had to wear a mask cover my whole face. They wanted to show it was me and not a stunt double. So, they made a specific mask for me. The mask was hard to put on; not easy to use. When you wanted to pump your ears, it was hard. The thing doesn’t touch your nose so you can’t do it. It still bothers me just to think about it.
Q: What did you think when you saw the movie?
Li: I felt so accomplished! Really! I feel so touched. I didn’t cry but I was moved by it to see all the effort I put into it works. It made me feel “I did it!”
Q: You’re very funny in this movie too.
Li: I am a funny person. If only my English was better. I didn’t sleep last night because of the time difference (between China and the U.S.) When I got here, I slept for two hours. And then I got up for breakfast and was still so sleepy that I went back to sleep afterwards until 8 p.m. Right now, it’s 2 a.m. in China. My body clock is still there but it doesn’t matter.
Q: Jason Statham saves you a couple of times in the movie but you also save him. So, how do you see this trend in Hollywood of female empowerment?
Li: As a woman, you always have to touch from the bottom of your heart and your mind. Knowledge also is very important. You have to protect yourself and think independently. You have to be strong. I am this kind of person. Women should think independently, not just because I say it. You have to take action because without action, you will never achieve your goals. You can’t just rely on somebody; you have to rely on yourself. In some cultures, they just want women to stay home and do housework. They think it’s the woman’s responsibility but I don’t think so. Women have to take more responsibility because everything is related to women. The privilege of voting or the privilege of working, don’t give it up. Know yourself.
Q: How do you hope audiences will react to this film?
Li: I hope the audience experiences a wonderful deep sea adventure. In the film, we (humans) bother the prehistoric undersea creatures’ habitats, their area. So, they surface and attack us. If we hadn’t bothered them, they would have stayed where they were. Peaceful. So, I hope that after people watch the movie that they take good care of the environment, nature, and also respect nature.