It’s 10 p.m. on a slow Sunday evening and I’m standing outside the Red Corner restaurant in Thai Town, waiting for my interview with Bai Ling to start. I’ve read her blog, looked at her pictures and listened to stories about frequent nipple-slips. I’m prepared for every Hollywood cliché I can think of, but when I see her appear across the parking lot walking unassumingly towards me, she smiles warmly and every preconception melts away. Suddenly, I just want to know everything about her.
It’s hard not to instantly like Bai Ling, with her languid, deep voice and striking fashion sense that she wears with a nonchalant attitude. She also loves to talk, so much so that I have trouble keeping up, especially when she switches subjects mid-sentence. “Kozuki!” she suddenly exclaims, catching the name of a restaurant over my left shoulder, “Sounds Japanese.” It’s easy to classify her as eccentric with her otherworldly ideas of nature and spirits, however, it’s obvious that she’s not affecting a persona; she believes every word she says.
“I’m totally not in this world,” she admits, “And I feel like I’m not really existing as a human being, but part of me is. I have eight little spirits living inside of me. They’re all different personalities.” According to Bai, most people only know the crazy party girl spirit with her short skirt and exposed nipples, but that same spirit is fearless and doesn’t care about what anyone else thinks. “She’s fire. She’s a burning fire. That passion is so…for me is so magical.”
When it comes to reconciling her natural views with the artificial world of Hollywood, Bai dismisses the premise outright. She doesn’t see obstacles; she sees opportunities. Where others may see problems, she sees puzzles that are fun to solve. “I’m taking all the negative words away from life,” she says. “When you take a situation as a difficulty, you become bitter.”
Beyond simply thinking good thoughts, she also tries to view situations fairly from all angles. Recently, she was caught running late for the Toronto premier of her new film A Beautiful Life and didn’t have time to find a proper room to slip into her gown. So she used an airport restroom to change, which quickly turned into a bad idea. Women started pouring in, accosting her and wanting to find out if she was Bai Ling. The women pressed her even after Bai asked them to leave her alone and not look at her while she dressed. Finally, Bai ran flustered to her awaiting limo where she finished getting ready. Then, in a moment rare for most people, she laughed off the situation. “That lady probably thought I was the crazy one, since I was naked in the ladies room.”
More than just PR for her film, Bai went to Toronto for a humanitarian cause as well. She participated in the Rally for Kids with Cancer, coming in a respectable 9th place out of 21. “I was so busy and tired, but I promised I’d go. I just hope all this money will go to the hospital and to the children. No matter what part I supported, if I’m not there, it’s going to be less. So I’m there.”
When it comes to good causes, Bai Ling tries to separate herself from other celebrities by truly being part of the event or situation and taking a very active role. When Taiwan was hit by the Morakot typhoon recently, Bai secured her own passage to the most heavily damaged area even after she was warned that there would be no Press there. For Bai Ling, this was not a PR stunt and she didn’t just want to donate money. She asked for the most difficult job, whether it was cooking food or scrubbing floors. Bai also offered comfort to the survivors by listening to their heartbreaking stories of losing everything. “I held their hands,” she says, “and I felt like their family.”
Bai Ling has over 60 films under her belt, but ironically, she was quite shy as a child and claims that she couldn’t talk to people. She goes so far as to say that she was “terrified of human beings.” Acting gave her a way to express herself and cross the threshold to freedom. For Bai Ling, acting is less drawing on experiences and more so channeling one of the many natural spirits within her.
“When I’m there, I’m not trying to bring back a memory. There’s no memory.” Whatever the scene is, when Bai Ling is acting she simply believes that the situation is real and behaves accordingly. “So strange! It works though. Every time I play a role it’s like a love affair. Like she’s teasing me, misleading me. Trying to trick me and lead me astray. To see how much love I have for her.”
Her recent film A Beautiful Life is a perfect example of how clean and fluid her abilities are. Bai Ling plays Esther – a stripper with aspirations to be a professional singer. Denise Richards was originally cast in the role, but last minute changes forced the filmmakers to find another actress. Bai Ling was offered the role and she accepted. Having seen the film, Bai Ling delivers a strong performance, but her acting deserves much more credit considering the rush.
“I signed on the day before shooting,” she confesses. “I met the director at 6 p.m. My call time was 6 a.m. I didn’t have time to read the script. That’s how daring and crazy I am.” She even does a bit of singing in a style and genre she’s not familiar with. The fact that Bai is able to pull her performance off with nearly zero preparation is impressive in its own right.
That’s not to say that she’s never had difficulty acting. She recalls the nervousness she felt during Anna and the King where she played Tuptim and starred opposite Jodie Foster and Chow Yun-Fat. Apparently, the studio people wanted to pre-qualify her performance.
“Why are you giving me all this pressure?” she asked. “That’s the last thing I needed! And I’m memorizing Thai. It’s not my language. So it’s not that I don’t feel pressure. It’s scary for me too.”
Looking back over her career, Bai Ling recalls her first American film The Crow where she spoke all of her lines phonetically. That film is particularly poignant because actor Brandon Lee lost his life due to a mishap with a firearm during filming. The experience with Lee showed Bai the kind of magic that movies can cast.
“After [Brandon Lee] was gone, we stopped the film. We didn’t finish. After three months they called us back to watch the dailies again and do some voiceover. I looked at him onscreen and I felt like he was in the room. I could feel his presence. I knew he was still alive, just changed into a different form. I think that’s fascinating about film. That’s why I’m in the business. [Movies] can keep that moment there forever.”
More importantly, the disasters of life have also taught Bai to truly live in the moment and appreciate life. “When you have somebody you love, say, ‘I love you’. When you have somebody you care [about], do things for them. Don’t wait until it’s too late, because you never know what’s going to happen.”
You can watch Bai Ling in her recent film A Beautiful Life as well as her upcoming films Love Ranch, starring opposite Joe Pesci and Helen Mirren, and Confidant, starring with Billy Zane.
Ironically, Bai Ling is fairly disconnected from the entertainment industry except for when she’s working. She doesn’t watch TV or movies, preferring instead to experience life. Like everyone else, three of her favorite pastimes are falling in love, eating food and having sex. Bai also enjoys dancing, noting in particular the nightclub My House in Los Angeles.
For someone who is known around the world, worked with incredible talent and won awards here and abroad, Bai Ling keeps a level head about her success. “Fame and money come and go. It’s not yours. You can’t hold onto it.”
Furthermore, she has no fears about her continued success. She believes that nature has a plan for all beings like a grand chess game. “If I’m doing well,” she explains, “I’ll be put in a better place. If I’m not doing well I’ll be wasted, because I did not serve what [nature] wanted. A lot people have the talent, but they don’t use it.”
Despite the constant references to nature, Bai doesn’t subscribe to any established philosophy or belief system. “I believe what I believe. It’s purely learned from my experience, real life, real steps I take.” Some people believe her actions are calculated, like her nipple-slips. “I just do that for fun. I don’t give a shit! So it’s my nipple. It’s beautiful. Why not show it? I’m proud of them. It’s my gift!” she laughs.
Almost as if to highlight the very thing her detractors focus on most, Bai Ling also has a couple of pet projects related to her nipples. The first is a book titled “Nipples” which is about Bai’s romantic relationships, but from a surreal perspective. The book is planned to be available next year. The other project is an experimental film called Nipples – Pieces of My Dream, which has no commercial goal as of yet. For now it’s just a place where Bai can put down her thoughts.
Finally, admirers and those envious of Bai Ling’s beauty will be interested to know that she doesn’t diet nor does she exercise. She guesses that in a previous life she must have been a cheetah. I stare incredulously at her as she polishes off two entire entrees by herself and then orders dessert. When she sees my expression she says, “When I eat, I want to eat the things I love to eat. Otherwise, if I don’t eat what I love, why do I live?”
She also suggests that choosing the proper thoughts to think is more important than simply selecting proper foods. One needs to keep the mind healthy as well. “I think your mind produces chemicals in your body. I’m so positive; I think that’s why I’m so healthy.” Bai also offers this bit of practical advice: don’t eat too much bread.
It’s almost 1 a.m. by the time we leave the restaurant and it’s a slow walk to our cars parked down the street. When it comes to Hollywood stars it’s amazing how much we think we know about celebrities simply because we see them on TV or on the big screen. After three hours with Bai Ling, I’d be a fool to claim that I knew even a fraction of this woman. Yet the warmth and friendliness she exudes makes me feel like we’ve been friends forever. Before she drives off into the night, she leaves me with some parting wisdom.
“Two words can solve any problem in your personal life or relationships. They are: ‘give’ and ‘forgive.’ Forgive is to give. If you have any problem, think of those two words and you can solve any problem.”
Follow Bai Ling on her blog: www.officialbailing.com