Interview: Fan Bingbing
As a screen goddess, fashion icon and one of the world’s most highly paid actresses, Fan Bingbing has built an impressive – and intimidating – reputation as China’s most influential celebrity. Ahead of the release of her new screwball comedy, One Night Surprise, the stunning star reveals to Time Out her light-hearted and downright silly side. By Radio Li
Back in 1998, when a bright-eyed and smiling teenage Fan Bingbing debuted on our screens as a loyal maid in the popular TV series Princess Pearl, people were already talking about her as a star in the making. But it’s likely that even the biggest fans of then-17-year-old Fan would be surprised by the incredible heights the Shandong-born actress has reached in the intervening decade and a half.
Fan turns 32 on September 16, having already amassed a mind-boggling portfolio of 60 movies and TV series. And while her age may have nearly doubled since she first appeared on our screens, Fan’s value has multiplied more than a hundred-fold. This year she finds herself cited as one of the world’s highest-paid actresses (with staggering estimated earnings in 2012 of CNY110m) and named at the very top of this year’s Forbes China Celebrity 100 list, overtaking Taiwanese pop heartthrob Jay Chou.
She’s already one of China’s international fashion icons and made her Hollywood debut in Iron Man 3, though her scenes with Wang Xueqi were only shown in the mainland China release. With a role in the upcoming X-Men: Days of Future Past (due for release next year), Fan is poised to become a global superstar. Most recently, Fan has reunited with her favourite comedic director, Eva Jin, in One Night Surprise – a rom-com in which Fan plays Michelle, an advertising executive who finds herself caught between the handsome triumvirate of Aarif Rahman, Jiang Jinfu and Daniel Henney as she goes in search of the gent she took home after a long, hazy night and knocked her up. The character of Michelle is apparently based on Fan herself, which is where our intimate chat with the glamorous star begins…
Hi Bingbing, it’s great speaking with you. Let’s start with One Night Surprise and your character, Michelle. We hear you were heavily involved in this character. Tell us about how you and Eva Jin worked together in moulding the role?
Eva discussed the story with me the whole way. She said she had written this story about a girl, told me the story and asked me how I felt about it. As soon as she finished, she also sought advice from me. I shared stories about what had happened to my girlfriends and how they dealt with love affairs, and so did she.
A lot of rom-com leading ladies, including Hollywood actresses, like to play silly or aloof. Did you ever think about taking your character that way?
Actually, the look of Michelle is not that much different from the real, daily-life me. Maybe I am still in Michelle sitting here and talking with you at the moment. It’s her personality – being the naïve big girl, instead of being dumb or silly dressed-up – that makes people adore her.
What are the similarities between Michelle and you in private life – the moments when you don’t need to face the public?
We are quite alike, especially her silly personality – kind of like a little girl. We two are quite alike. When I’m in public, I’m actually different.
Would you say those similarities brought about a ‘tailor-made’ element to this character for you?
I suppose it could be one of the reasons to claim a ‘tailor-made character’ here. I am pretty lucky, since co-operating with female directors is always a pleasant experience.
What’s a Fan Bingbing-style comedy look like?
I think it is just like – the most ordinary and most common girl behaving silly.
Do you have a favourite female comedian?
I think it’s Julia Roberts. Her romantic comedies, especially Notting Hill, I liked. She left me with a very deep impression in the theatre.
The image of women has changed a lot in romantic comedies. Such as with Bridget Jones’ Diary a decade ago, she is a very different person to someone like Michelle.
There have been big changes over the last 10 years. People used to think ‘leftover’ girls were losers, but now ‘leftovers’ are the best ones, because they have excelled in every respect. This movie tells those ladies who have really high standards to get emotionally in touch with the people around them, and maybe they can find love. True love can be achieved in this way. In the end, maybe the guy that’s by your side whenever you feel hurt or sad is Mr Right. Perhaps he’s not the one that you take as your lover, but he proves that he will be around for a long time.
Have you had a similar experience?
I think I have, but we haven’t yet developed to being lovers. The care that these friends have shown for me has been stronger and longer than my previous boyfriends.
Fan BingBing with One night Surprise co-star Aarif Lee
Aarif told us that you got injured on the set. But overall, it sounds like it was a fun movie to film.
On this movie, we often laughed. Aarif is a funny guy. For example, he was singing Wang Feng’s song towards me while I was reading my lines, and I had to try my best to hold back from laughing. Also, it’s well known that I do my facial on the way to the set and have my makeup done later. Our director began to copy me – wearing her facial mask when she arrived, and so did Aarif and the other actors.
What about Jiang Jinfu and Daniel Henney?
The first time I met Jiang Jinfu, who was born in 1991, I told him I was 10 years older than him. ‘Do you have a girlfriend? You must be in a relationship at school?’ I asked him. He was embarrassed – so cute!
Don’t judge Jiang by his looks, though. He is well-behaved, mature and reliable, which probably comes from his growing-up environment and education.
And what about Daniel?
I think he is a very attractive man; I think he is the perfect example of Prince Charming. Such Prince Charming-type actors are hard to find in China, and he is a very talented performer. I would like to work with him again if I have the chance.
Daniel Henney and Fan, taking a ride
In terms of the characters in the movie, who would you personally be attracted to?
The one Michelle finally chooses, who is willing to give and keep you interested.
Do you think that’s because Michelle is somewhat based on you?
Yes, it must be the same. But I don’t think it’s just me; I think most girls would choose the same.
Do you think you’ll keep working with Eva?
I think I will. I’ve joked before that for literary films, I only co-operate with Yu Li; for comedies, Eva Jin is always my first choice. Because, firstly, the two of them are my friends, but they are two completely different types of directors – one is more immediate with many profound ideas; the other one is very fairytale and very romantic. So I think collaborating with the two of them doesn’t conflict.
You’ve previously said that working with male and female directors is different, as you get more of an emotional catharsis with females.
Yes, I let my little girl’s side come out a lot. But also, in the female fairytale world, there is a clear distinction between good and evil. Her films have that.
When you were young, did you long for that fairytale?
Yes, even now.
What fairytale love story fascinates you most?
Snow White. She suffered a lot and even ate the poisoned apple, but one day her Prince Charming came and rescued her from misery in the end. They lived a happy life together after.
Xu Zheng, who you worked with on Lost in Thailand, has a cameo in this film. Did he agree to work with you on this project during that time?Yes. We’ve been friends for years, when we started working together in 1998 or 1999. At that time, he was just starting out his career, and so was I. Then we happened to meet quite frequently. I quite admire his talents. Later, he invited me to act in Lost in Thailand, and in exchange, I asked him to join One Night Surprise.
Do you think you would want to follow in his footsteps and direct your own movie?
I’ve never thought of becoming a director. People keep asking me why I don’t direct one for myself. Directorial debuts are always a hit. But I think everyone should clearly know where their talents lie, and I know myself. Firstly, I don’t have the talent to be a director. Secondly, I don’t have the patience to do it. I am quite lazy, only focusing on my own role, which I’m happy with. If I have to take care of the whole movie, I know I’d be exhausted. I am used to worrying too much – I’m a Virgo and too much of a perfectionist. So I don’t even dare to think about directing a movie. If I did, I’d be afraid I would age 10 years.
Finally, what’s next for Fan Bingbing? The number of movies you’ve been doing in the last two years has slowed down a little. Are there lots of movies in production for the next year or so, in Hollywood or in China?There is no plan. Actually, there has never been a particular plan. If there is a good character or one that I like, I’ll take it. I never do things purposefully, but just take roles that I like. Translation by Anne Yang
One Night Surprise opens Thu Sep 12.