Why Gong Li Traded His Glamor For Chinese Sports Film “Leap’TheWrap”

Gong Li established herself as one of the biggest international stars to come out of China in the early 1990s, starring in the Oscar-nominated films “Ju Dou”, “Raise the Red Lantern” and “Adieu ma concubine” in four years. stretch and then cement her global stardom with films like “Memoirs of a Geisha” and “Miami Vice”. And while director Niki Caro made good use of her compelling glamor in last year’s “Mulan”, the actress tried something different with “Leap,” this year’s Chinese entry into the race for Oscars for Best International Feature Film.

Peter Chan’s film is real sports drama, and Gong Li’s usual style is nowhere to be found in his performance as Lang Ping, a former women’s volleyball star who, as a coach, helped lead the team. Chinese national to global success. It’s a different look for Gong – bespectacled, with cropped hair and a best-in-class wardrobe – but one that was vital to being successful.

She spoke to TheWrap through an interpreter in a recent interview.

Why did you want to tell this story?
First of all, in the recent history of China, there weren’t really any good sports movies – this is the only one. When I saw the script, I felt it was a very meaningful movie. The Chinese women’s volleyball team is not only an outstanding team, but since the 1980s, the Chinese have been following the team. And by following the Chinese women’s volleyball team, we can see the changes that have taken place in China.

How important was it for you to look like Lang Ping, to speak like her and to move like her in your performance?
It was of the utmost importance to be like Lang Ping as she is the most famous leader and coach of the volleyball world champion teams and her image appears on the internet and on television almost every day. His character, his image are so etched in people’s minds that if I had one flaw in my performance, if I didn’t look like him at all, people wouldn’t believe me. So I did a lot of training on his voice, on walking, on his posture. And from there you go into Lang Ping’s inner world – you go into his coaching style, go into his mind.

Did you spend a lot of time with her in preparation?
In fact, she didn’t have much time for me. I was able to observe him for 15 days, but there was no real communication during these 15 days. All I did was watch her – she was training and I was standing there watching her, because I didn’t want to interrupt her work. I had two very short interviews with her – one time it was an interview and the other time it was just to talk over a meal. Lang Ping has a very outgoing personality but she doesn’t talk too much about her personal feelings.

In the film, young Lang Ping is played by Bai Lang, her daughter. Did you work with her to find things that would be consistent between the two performances so that it looked like one person at different stages?
Not really. I believe the director had his own thoughts on how he wanted the role of young Lang Ping to be. Her daughter’s name is Lydia Bai, a very talented young lady who never really learned to act but she did a wonderful job in the movie. I feel like it’s okay if we’re a little different. On set we also became good friends, and when she first saw me she said “Oh, you look like my mom!” I said, “OK, then call me mom.” In fact, we were behaving like a mother-daughter team.

A lot of your co-stars in this movie were athletes, not actors. How does that affect what you do when surrounded by non-actors?
First of all, they are all professional volleyball players and I have to make them believe that I am their coach. If they think I’m their coach, it would be a lot easier to work with them. They are professional athletes, what if they don’t trust you? I told them, “All you have to do is be yourself and act with your heart, be who you really are and that will be enough. You don’t really have to act to be yourself.

Gong Li at the 2019 Venice Film Festival / Getty Images

Part of this film deals with the pressure the team and coaches felt to represent their country internationally. Since you are probably the biggest Chinese star in the world, have you felt the pressure to represent China as well?
I had no pressure, but I understand that I represent Chinese actresses and actors. I consider this to be my personal task.

At this point in your career, are you aware of trying to balance Chinese language films with international films?
I don’t purposely try to balance the two languages ​​in filmmaking, but there aren’t that many strong characters that suit Chinese actors and actresses. If I was offered a role that doesn’t allow me to fully develop my character, I probably won’t accept it. But so far I have worked with Hollywood in many films that I really enjoy, such as “Miami Vice”, “(Memoirs of a) Geisha”, “Young Hannibal”, and I felt that I was given space to fully develop my character. .

If I don’t have good roles that would give me this opportunity, I would probably choose to wait for a good role in the future so as not to waste my time. It is true that we have more choice in Asian films and Chinese films, but that is the situation right now.

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