Five Favorite Films With Bai Ling
The star of this week's Crank: High Voltage opens up about movies, her career, and her eccentric off-screen persona.
Living one's life in the spotlight is a daunting undertaking for most, but few celebrities set themselves up for negativity as bravely or unapologetically as Bai Ling. After making her Hollywood breakthrough opposite Richard Gere in 1998's Red Corner, the Chinese-American actress has since racked up an impressive number of credits, zooming breathlessly through mainstream roles and independent films alike. Yet, Ling has become best known in some circles for her off-screen persona, her antics on the red carpet, and the sometimes strange (and wonderfully frank) sayings she shares with press and on her candid personal blog, Naked Seduction.
RT sat down with the Crank: High Voltage star to talk movies over lattes in a Beverly Hills cafe and to learn more about the woman behind the persona. We learned that Ling's brand of celebrity comes at a cost; the Chinese-born actress willingly lives her life in the open, channeling her very existence as a gift unto the world, a candidness that often invites the harshest kinds of criticism. And Ling is not without her moments of vulnerability, as we discovered when she shared her sadness at being exiled from her homeland following the release of Red Corner, or when she revealed the difficulty of keeping a smile when critics attack her in public.
Despite all that, Bai Ling soldiers on by living life on her own terms (and by enjoying the hell out of her work, which includes appearing in this week's Crank: High Voltage opposite Jason Statham and in Taylor Hackford's upcoming Love Ranch, opposite Helen Mirren). Read on for our candid interview.
Bai Ling: I feel like I'm not in this world; I feel like I am here, but every day I'm living in my own world. I don't read anything, I don't really watch anything, I'm in my own world, with the spirit and the soul of the universe, that have been given to me. I think that through my blog and my movies, in my own way I give a little bit of this to other people's soul, people who forget about life, forget about romance and love, every day they're trying just to make money and be successful. You wake up and you have tons of money, and you're bitter; but the blue sky, and the birds and clouds and the romance are passing by you. A lot of people say how rich I am, I have a house, I have land. I say, I am the richest person in the world, do you know what I have? The universe.
It seems like very few people would embrace something like that.
BL: I'm not just saying that; I live that. And I'm innocently in it, and so happy; I'm like a little girl. Today I opened my curtains and it was sunny, and suddenly I just smiled. To me every day is a new day, a new moment in life, there's no time...society is time. We're always late, we're always rushed, we're always leaving, but in nature there's no time. When there's no time, there's no hurry. There's no agenda, there's no purpose. You just [share the moment], you smile, you talk, you have coffee, you share that moment.
When you have an agenda, you don't see what nature gives. When a moment comes, [like when] the sun sets and [creates] light sculptures... for me, I enjoy that I saw it. I saw it! They're more real than a real thing you can touch. Because it's for your soul, it's food. And that's what gives you the beauty and the romance and the delightfulness of the spirit, and you can basically affect others. That's my gift, I feel. I talk to you, and other people read it -- truthfully -- if they allow themselves to not be judgmental about what Bai Ling says and not criticize me, they will see I'm not here to talk about myself; I'm sharing with you what I see that people don't notice, but that's there everyday.
It's the appreciation of the small things that many people have a hard time embracing.
BL: It's like breathing; without breathing, there's no other thing. You're alive, can you imagine? What a gift! We don't see it. Like air -- whether you notice it or not, it's there, serving you every moment. How generous, to just give for free. And we take it for granted. But when someone takes your breath away, you go ah, you were right! You don't know how beautiful we have it. I think that's the most valuable thing we have.
I just hope that you can help in a way -- media, how they portray me; they don't understand me at all. Or they prefer it that way; I know how magazines want to sell. If Bai Ling's sophisticated and elegant, there's nothing really to talk about. If she's crazy, or her nipples are always out, there's something to trash and to talk about and to laugh at. But, I understand the magazines' relationship with Hollywood; I accept that I'm an actress -- and I've said, I have eight little spirits within me -- one of them is crazy, she's courageous, she's out there. She enjoys showing off, because she thinks she's beautiful; she is! And I'm ok if you trash me. I dare you to trash me, and I also dare you to celebrate me. Why only one way? Why not embrace day and night? People don't know the darkness, the nighttime, how pure and valuable it is. Without the darkness, without pure black, you'd never see the stars and moon. You can't ignore it. And those things have a higher purpose.
I think you're very courageous to live like this; the nature of it leaves you open to both good and bad, and most other celebrities are very guarded.
BL: People tell me, "Don't trust journalists," but if I don't trust, I can't talk. What would be the fun for you? Sometimes I get trashed because I'm so open; it's like saying "I love you," and getting slapped. It's kind of sad sometimes. I'm so open, so pure, I give you love, and a person steps on me... even then, you have to dare to love. Otherwise, why live? So therefore, I have to be loyal to myself, and I have to be truthful. Hopefully if I have ten interviews, just one person grabs it, and I'd be happy. I think it's a rare thing that few people can appreciate it, because they're too busy being brainwashed by society, by the magazines, by other people's views, they forgot to have their own views, their own voice, and their own talents. I think everybody's a star and a magician, but you give that up to follow others. I think if you're loyal to that, you will like me, because you'll know what I'm talking about. Otherwise, you won't understand me, and you'll think, "She's out of her mind!"
Did you always have this philosophy?
BL: I think when I was in China, I grew up like a wild animal and adopted a human form. And I don't know how to function because I'm so free. I'm a totally free spirit. When I say everything it seems wrong, because my mind functions differently, like I'm running a different program. I was constantly writing apology letters when I grew up -- to my parents, to my school teacher, to my army leader, to my government -- and I thought about it, what did I do wrong? I'm only having fun playing with my own thoughts. My own soul, my own structure...I think society is formatted, like with time, systems, boundaries. I'd think, one day I'll rule the world, and the world will be so much more beautiful, because I'd abort boundaries that divide people, create violence, and pit people against each other.
I believe in the universe, in nature. Like my name; Bai is the simplest character, it means white. In writing, it's the simplest character you can have. It means white and purity. Part of me is childlike, simple, pure, white. Ling, I just learned, in the complicated Chinese character, is like lightning. It's like a light storm. It's intriguing, it's so dangerous, and it changes... I think I'm basically the circle of life; I'm like a child, but I have the wisdom of the universe.
I'm not out to get something, I just want to share who I am. There's no agenda. I talk about my nipples -- I think they are beautiful! And people say, she's doing this for what? I'm doing this for nothing. I'm totally being who I am. A lot of people don't understand. They're living in a shell, bitter, trying to trash others. Why don't you come out of life, compliment somebody, give them love, and say something that you know in your heart is right. For me, I believe that being Bai Ling, in this body and soul, is a gift. And this gift is not for me to keep. You only live once. I feel like the only brilliant, most beautiful thing you can be, is to be the pure extreme of who you are. No matter who you are. You have to go extreme to show it.
Next: Bai Ling on what she needs to win an Oscar, how she chooses her roles, and how she nabbed her role in Taylor Hackford's Love Ranch, opposite Helen Mirren