Trust, no caution needed

By Liu Wei (China Daily)
Updated: 2007-12-19 07:42

Tang Wei didn't know what it was that she was auditioning for, or who was involved with the production. She had no idea that 10,000 actresses, including many A-listers, were competing for the role.

Tang Wei and Tony Leung Chiu Wai in the film Lust, Caution (Se, jie)

In the little-known actress' first audition for the project, she read lines from a fake script. For the second audition, the director showed up.

It was Ang Lee.

Surprisingly, Lee poured a cup of tea for her, as if he had noticed her tension. They then talked about Tang's family, her school and her stage experience. After graduating from the Central Academy of Drama, China's best institute for theater arts, Tang has spent most of her time on stage. She told Lee her favorite director was Ingmar Bergman, but she had no idea he was also one of Lee's favorites. When she mentioned that her mother was a Yueju opera singer, Lee asked her to sing.

As Lee later described it, that day they found something in common - a love for theater and southern China.

"Lee was like a senior family member," Tang said in a phone interview. "He was a modest, good listener. I felt very happy when I found the communication was so smooth, no obstacle at all."

When the call for the third audition came, Tang was told to wear a cheongsam. "I had no cheongsam at all, actually I seldom wore dresses then," she said. After hanging up the phone, she rushed to a tailor's shop.

No one gave her any feedback at the third audition. She had the fourth and fifth soon after with makeup and full costume, which helped her get into the character, a student-turned spy in the chaos of 1930s' Shanghai.

After five auditions, Tang was getting nervous. "I said to myself, 'you have tried your best, now it's time to relax'."

Another call led her to Hong Kong last summer. There, she found that the crew had begun preparations for Lee's new project - the espionage thriller Lust, Caution.

"Everyone was busy," she recalled, "Material was piled everywhere, but no one came up and told me that I was the leading actress."

But she suspected that was the case, as Lee had told her they were planning a celebration.

"Celebrating what? I asked myself, but I felt that something was happening," she said. Even so, to stop the news from leaking to the press, the crew had a simple dinner.

"It was like, everyone has been busy preparing for the film. I knew work had begun."

To prepare for her role, Lee gave her a pile of historic records and books to read, and she had to watch plenty of films about 1930s and '40s Shanghai. She threw herself into Greta Garbo's films and the poems of Xu Zhimuo, one of the most famous Chinese poets of the 1920s. Rehearsals included walking with a book on the head and tying her knees together with a ribbon to emulate the elegant pose of Shanghai ladies. She also learned southern opera, Cantonese, Shanghai dialect and English.

The biggest torture for the 28-year-old, however, was trying on different clothes.

"I seldom shop. I think shopping is exhausting. When I had to change clothes, they jokingly asked me if I needed headache pills."

Tang said that Lee once told her: "What you will learn is more than 60 years of courses at the film academy."

The newcomer had to act alongside Asian superstars Tony Leung and Joan Chen and yet, of the 118 days of shooting, 114 were focused on her. She slept three hours a day, sometimes five to six. But despite these hardships, she said: "Even if it is the only role I have in my life, I feel content."

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