Yu Nan is a rare breed of Chinese actress. After graduating from the Beijing Film Academy in 1999, her debut performance in Lunar Eclipse (2001) caught the attention of French film producers, who readily cast her in Rage (2003). Before she knew it, Yu was in the unusual position of being better known abroad than in her native country, even after she took the Golden Rooster Film Festival prize for Best Actress for her performance in The Story of Er Mei (2003). However, as she told tbj in a recent interview, this is just fine with her.
tbj: Since you started your film career, you have starred in only a few Chinese art films. Have you intentionally avoided commercial movies and TV shows, both of which could have made you more famous among Chinese audiences?
Yu Nan: Art films have always been favorites of mine. I have no regrets about my choice of films so far. Also, today there are not many high-quality Chinese commercial movies for me to choose from. I want to guarantee the quality of what I do. I don't think of my career as a ticket to money and fame. I do it because it's a lot of fun and because I enjoy the process of performing.
tbj: It took four years for the producers to find an actress to play the role of Chinh in the movie Rage (Le Fureur). Why do you think they decided on you?
YN: It's fate. In 2001 I won the award for Best Actress for Lunar Eclipse at the Deauville Film Festival. I didn't know that the scout for Rage was there. He saw me and asked if I had a minute. Then he shot me from different angles with his video camera. Later they informed me that they wanted me to audition and that took about a week. Things were settled after I came back to Beijing. Before the movie started, they sent me to an intensive French language school, and I spent three months learning. I made progress quickly. When we started shooting, it wasn't hard for me to communicate with everyone on set.
tbj: What about the experience of shooting a film in France?
YN: The process of making films in France is so different from that of China. Rage was a big-budget commercial movie. Before it started shooting, everything was arranged; all I needed to do was to concentrate on my role. At first I felt a great deal of pressure, and was worried about not being qualified for the role, especially as I was starring opposite Samuel Le Bihan, who is a big star. I felt very nervous, which actually helped, as when we started shooting it was very easy to express all the emotions that had been building up. I wanted the audience to feel that I was expressing myself through my role, not that I was just a Chinese actress reading out my lines in French. I got a lot out of this movie. I made a lot of friends, learned a new language and was lucky enough to gain some invaluable experience on an international movie set.
tbj: The Chinese films you've made have all been directed by Wang Quan'an. Do you think this collaboration limits the development of your acting?
YN: I've also considered this and I hope, at some point, that I can work with other directors. But I've never felt limited by cooperating with an old partner. We work well together. For instance, it's easier for me to open up in my acting. That's definitely an advantage.
tbj: You are not as well known to audiences in China as you are in France. What do you think of this?
YN: Yes, that's true. But I don't have any special plans to focus my career in China or abroad. There are no boundaries in the art world.
tbj: What are your plans for 2006?
YN: Two films. One is about modern urban life and will be shot in Singapore. Hong Kong director Stanely Kwan will supervise the production of this film. I like his movies very much. The other is The White Deer Plain (Bailuyuan), which is adapted from Chen Zhongshi's novel. Shooting for that will begin in June.
(That's Beijing March 3, 2006)