In “Lust, Caution,” the uncanny ability of Tang Wei — in her her feature film debut — to exhibit internal conflict provides the window into the movie’s soul. As director Ang Lee explains, it’s the paradox of human nature that pits us in a constant battle between wanting to expose ourselves and share our feelings, while also attempting to keep things secret.
“When people do expose themselves, there’s a tendency to polish it,” explains Lee. “Except for Tang Wei. She’s exceptional. She has the naivete of a first-timer and the talent of believing while forgetting about everything else.”
Carrying a project of this magnitude on one’s shoulders, a once-in-a-career opportunity for most actresses, was a particularly tricky proposition, especially given the Pirandellian nature of playing a role within a role: Wong Chia Chi, an idealistic would-be Chinese actress recently abandoned by her father during WWII; and Ms. Mak, a role Wong plays to seduce a Japanese collaborator with the purpose of assassinating him. Tang so immersed herself into the dual part that it took her months after the shoot to re-establish her own identity.
Her first meeting with Lee didn’t occur under the most ideal circumstances: a family crisis prevented her from getting any sleep the night before, and her voice was practically shot. But her vulnerability worked in her favor.
“I think I opened my heart,” explains the 27-year-old about how Lee settled on her after considering more than a thousand other candidates. “This was the most important thing to Ang. He wanted to find an actress who could give all of herself to the character, because (Wong Chia Chi) gives all of herself to the part she performs. Ang could sense this.”
One of the astonishing aspects of Tang’s talent is her ability to show emotion. Her passion draws the audience in, and it influences everyone around her.
“I think it’s very important for her character,” explains Lee. “She’s easily emotionally charged, and (the audience as well as the other characters) believe in the charged emotion more than real life. The acting is fake, but the crying is real. And that’s excitement.”
AN ACTOR SHOULD ALWAYS: “Maintain curiosity (in) life, retain a childlike heart, and take in everything calmly.”
I’M INSPIRED BY: Greta Garbo
FAVORITE FILM CHARACTER: Scarlett O’Hara (played by Vivien Leigh in “Gone With the Wind”)