By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Tang Wei rose to international fame with her first feature film, Ang Lee’s 2007 drama “Lust, Caution.” It was an auspicious beginning for a young actress. She not only collected several awards and accolades for her daring, sexy performance, Tang also drew the ire of the Chinese government, which ordered her banned from all media. Yet, the determined actress has overcome that early setback and is enjoying a successful career in Asia.
The 35-year-old beauty now makes her English-language debut in the Michael Mann action thriller “Blackhat,” in which she plays an expert computer programmer, who is called upon to help an elite group of American and Chinese cyber experts called upon to track down and stop a dangerous hacker. She co-stars with Chris Hemsworth, best known for his role as the thunder god Thor in the “Avengers” films, Oscar nominee Viola Davis (“Doubt,” “The Help”) and Taiwanese-American actor Leehom Wang.
Tang, who married her longtime boyfriend Korean filmmaker Kim Tae-yong last year, is on a whirlwind tour publicizing the film. It’s her first time doing a publicity tour where she is speaking in English, but she says she feels much more confident in speaking the language than she did seven years ago.
After 30 back-to-back TV interviews, Tang seems no worse for wear, though she is ready for a more comfortable setting. We pile onto the bed in her hotel suite for some girl talk about “Blackhat,” working with Mann, Hemsworth and her old friend Wang Leehom (who plays her brother in the film), as well as marriage and her exotic, spontaneous wedding to Kim in Sweden. [private]
Q: Playing a computer programmer in “Blackhat,” did you learn computer language for this?
Tang: I learned it. Except for Leehom Wang, since he does computer editing on his own movies and with his music, Chris (Hemsworth) and I both learned programming for this movie.
Q: You and Leehom met on “Lust, Caution.” He said he saw you at your audition and that you have since become good friends.
Tang: Yeah, I call him brother. “Give me ice cream,” I say to him often.
Q: Did you know he was going to be in “Blackhat?”
Q: When did you find out he was going to be your co-star again?
Tang: Later. After I auditioned for this.
Q: What scene did you do for your audition?
Tang: It was the Korean restaurant scene with Chris, and another two scenes, I think. The Korean restaurant scene was really long. I was thinking, “Oh my God!” Later, when I read the whole script, I was thinking, “Wow, that was the most difficult scene.” So I already had that memorized so I was very happy.
Q: Have you seen the finished film yet?
Tang: Yeah, I’ve watched this movie twice with Leehom. He always is sitting beside me. And he’d whisper to me during (the scenes he wasn’t in), “Oh, you did that!”
Q: Did you see Michael Mann films when you were growing up?
Tang: (shaking her head) No.
Q: What was the first Michael Mann movie you saw?
Q: Did that help you understand what type of film you were going to do?
Tang: Actually, Michael gave me several titles to watch, which is exactly what Ang Lee did (on “Lust, Caution”). He gave me a big bag. “This is the first lesson.” I think one of them was “Brokeback Mountain.” So I just watched them one by one.
Q: Once you saw the movies, you knew you’d be in for a big action movie with helicopters and explosions and gunplay, right?
Tang: Not really, because the sides I got at the audition didn’t show it. I was just talking with Hathaway (Hemsworth’s character) at a Korean restaurant.
Q: How was it working with Chris? Is he grounded?
Tang: I’m really comfortable working with him. It’s like talking here with you. With Leehom and Michael Mann and Chris, I was so comfortable. That’s the best feeling: being comfortable with working with somebody.
Q: Despite this being a big action film, you have a pretty small cast of main characters; it’s not a big ensemble.
Tang: I never enjoy that kind of movie. I like it when there are two or maybe three main characters. So this was good.
Q: What concerned you most about going into this film?
Tang: The language.
Q: Did you have a good dialect coach?
Tang: Tim Monich. Chris also worked with him to change his accent (from Australian to Chicago native.) With me, it was language. They recorded everything for me and we used a speech book. Little by little, I got it. He’s so sensitive. I thanked him because he really helped me. If not, it would have been worse than it sounds now. He’s sensitive about a problem He has a good ear. He made a tiny script book for both Chris and me. I loved it because it was easier to use on set than the actual script.
Q: Were there English words that didn’t translate?
Tang: If I didn’t understand it, I can’t tell you what the word was.
Q: Did you change any dialogue?
Tang: No. I used words I didn’t know. I wanted to learn. When there is something new or difficult, I find it interesting.
Q: You recently got married. Congratulations.
Tang: Thank you. And Leehom and his wife recently had a baby after the movie. And Chris and his wife had twins. So we all have big happenings in our lives.
Q: Has marriage changed your life? As an actor, you’re moving from town to town, meeting new co-workers…
Tang: And living out of a suitcase and in hotels. I only went home five days last year to see my friends.
Q: How do you maintain a long-distance relationship that way?
Tang: That’s why I didn’t marry sooner. It’s too difficult for us to continue. It was difficult for me to meet people. Wherever I go in China, people recognize me. I didn’t want people to be asking me, “Oh, is this your boyfriend? Are you going to marry him?”
Tang: In China, everybody’s paparazzi. Even when I wear a disguise, they recognize me. There’s no privacy whenever I’m in China, Hong Kong or Korea. It’s so easy for people to recognize me. That’s why I finally decided I needed some rest after working for one year and seven days without one day off. I told my (then) boyfriend I was going to Sweden. He said, “How long?” and I said, “Maybe one or two months—as long as I can.” And that’s when he said, “Will you marry me?” (She laughs.) And then he could go with me to Sweden. That was his plan. I was really shocked.
Q: You had a romantic wedding at Ingmar Bergman’s house in Sweden, right?
Q: Why there? What was the significance of that place?
Tang: That’s where I already had planned to travel. It’s been my dream to go there for more than five years. I was going to go there by myself. On the plane to Visby, (Kim) said, “Could we have a little ceremony there?” because we weren’t planning to have a formal ceremony. I said, “OK. Maybe the two of us and some witnesses.” But when we got there, we realized we didn’t know anyone there. So we went to the Ingmar Bergman Center and asked the director there to help us. We asked him if he could find a little church for us to have the ceremony, and he said, “Do you want to have the ceremony at Bergman’s house?” We were like, “Wow! Amazing!” My parents were there. We were supposed to have it inside the house but because we ended up changing the starting time at the last minute we couldn’t get inside. So we had the ceremony outside, near the kitchen. The loudspeaker went off. It was a comedy. And there were a lot of dramatic moments too. Finding the ring also was a challenge. We went right from the airport to a jewelry store, and we picked out this one (She holds out her hand to indicate an elegant but simple wedding band encrusted with small diamonds.) Later, we found out this is one of the most respected jewelry stores in Sweden. It’s originally from Russia, made in 1692. So we got very lucky.
Q: Are you planning to start a family?
Tang: It isn’t planned but I think the first stage is getting used to living with somebody. I’ve never lived with anybody. I’m 35, and I’ve never lived with anyone. So that is something different. Usually, after I do a movie, I need some time alone to (unwind) and think about what’s happened. Then, I can forget it and face people.
Q: Now when you go home, there’s someone there.
Tang: That’s right. It’s hard for him because he’s writing scripts, but also he is taking care of me. I feel like a burden.
Q: Does it help that you’re both in the same business because you understand each other’s crazy schedules?
Tang: Yes. I don’t think anyone else but people like him would understand this.
Q: Do you want to work together or maintain separate careers?
Tang: We’ll see. It’s useful for him for me to inspire him. Not only with feedback but also with ideas. I’ll mention something I’ve seen that might be a good idea for a story. We always ask each other, “Am I being useful to you?”
Q: Are you working on something now?
Tang: No. C’mon, I’ve been working from 2012 until now. I’ve worked on five movies. It was too much for me.
Q: Will you get a break after promoting this film?
Tang: I go to Korea after this and then another two days in Taipei to promote the movie. And then I’ll be done. Then, I’m doing a charity event, and then some ADR for another two movies I finished. And I have a commercial shoot. That would be for Chinese New Year.
Q: That’s what you call down time?
Tang: Yeah. (She laughs.) And I want to go study in London.
Q: What do you want to study?
Tang: Theater. I’ve always liked theater.[/private]