Actress Joan Chen on her Favorite “Role” and New Projects



Long before the likes of Zhang Ziyi and Fan Bing Bing walked red carpets all over the world, Joan Chen was blazing a trail in Hollywood for Chinese actors and bringing attention to Chinese cinema and its stars.

Having won the hearts of Chinese film audiences in the late 1970s, playing a deaf-mute girl in “Little Flower,” she rose to international attention after being cast as the doomed, opium-addicted empress in Bernardo Bertolucci’s Oscar-winning film “The Last Emperor” (1987) and the manipulative mill owner Josie Packard in the cult U.S. series “Twin Peaks” (1990-1991).

Over the last 20 years, Chen has regularly returned to China to star in a number of films and she’s currently in Beijing as shooting starts on the Tang dynasty drama, “Yang Gui Fei” with fellow actors Fan Bingbing and Lai Ming. She talked to BLOUIN ARTINFO about her upcoming projects and the new TV series, “Serangoon Road,” that will start showing on HBO on September 22.




Having won the hearts of Chinese film audiences in the late 1970s, playing a deaf-mute girl in “Little Flower,” she rose to international attention after being cast as the doomed, opium-addicted empress in Bernardo Bertolucci’s Oscar-winning film “The Last Emperor” (1987) and the manipulative mill owner Josie Packard in the cult U.S. series “Twin Peaks” (1990-1991).

Over the last 20 years, Chen has regularly returned to China to star in a number of films and she’s currently in Beijing as shooting starts on the Tang dynasty drama, “Yang Gui Fei” with fellow actors Fan Bingbing and Lai Ming. She talked to BLOUIN ARTINFO about her upcoming projects and the new TV series, “Serangoon Road,” that will start showing on HBO on September 22.

Q. What attracted you to the “Serangoon Road” project?

I have always been a fan of the old school detective genre. I still remember the great joy of discovering Raymond Chandler in the library a few months after I arrived in the U.S. I was attracted to Serangoon Road for the dark and moody atmosphere under the tropical sun. Singapore in the 1960 is infinitely more interesting to me than it is today. My other reason for taking the job was the HBO label. I love watching HBO films and TV series in the U.S. because of their originality and edginess.

Q. Tell me about the character you play.

Patricia becomes the owner of the detective agency by default after her husband dies. She knows nothing of the business, but decides to keep the agency open for reasons more important than business. She was the weakest link in the script when it first came to me, but I saw her potential and the possibility to become a much stronger character. Fortunately, the producers, writers, and directors were open minded enough to allow me to help recreate the part. Looking back, I think Patricia’s struggle, pain, and eventual grace parallel mine in my journey to discover who she was. It was a difficult and ultimately gratifying creative process.

Q. You’re now in Beijing for “Yang Guifei” by director Tian Zhuang Zhuang. What’s your role in that?

I am going to play a supporting character in the film that is set in the Tang Dynasty. I will be typecast, alas, as an Empress.

Q. Are you getting tired of playing the empress? What types of role would you like to be offered?

I was not complaining. Throughout the years, I have learned to enjoy the work process no matter what the situation is. Of course we all crave for something fresh and challenging, something we can sink our teeth into. I don’t know if it is in my cards and I don’t know how to articulate exactly what it is, but I will recognize it when I see it.

Q. Do you think that with time it's getting easier for Asian actors to get roles in Hollywood?

I believe it is easier now compared to 20 years ago when I did “The Last Emperor,” but typecasting is hard to avoid because most people working in the industry are afraid of the unfamiliar.

Q. Your appearances on screen remain scarce. Is that of your choosing or because you’re not being offered the roles you want to take on?

A bit of both; my children are still young and I like to stay at home to be with them. Being their mother has certainly been my favorite role. It is the most important role of my life, and no one but I can play it. In the meantime, as I age, good roles have become rarer and rarer. Being older and more comfortable with the life that I have also makes me less hungry and more Zen about my career. I am not desperately seeking for that one part that will give me an Oscar. I think that when my children are out of the house, I will return to directing more than acting. I made a short film that won Excellent Short Film in the most prestigious Chinese film awards, Golden Rooster and One Hundred Flower in 2012. It will play in the Brisbane International Film Festival this year. The process of making the short reminded me of the headache and the thrill of writing and directing my own projects.

To see Joan Chen’s roles through the years, clicks on the slideshow

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