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In which the author interviews actress Bai Ling, star of the new film A Beautiful Life.
Washington City Paper: Where are you?
[Bai Ling, on a crackling cell phone line, is barely audible. The author hears a roaring freeway which he suspects is in California, but can’t be sure.]
Bai Ling: I’m on the freeway driving from my interview. [Ling’s use of the word “freeway,” West Coast parlance for “highway,” supports, but does not confirm, the author’s suspicion that the roaring freeway she is on is in California.]
Are you excited about the film?
I enjoy making independent films. People making independent films make films from their heart. That is what’s important in people’s lives. In the film, my character believes in her dream and is doing everything to find her dream. [Further research by the author confirms that Esther, Bai Ling’s character in A Beautiful Life, is a stripper who dreams of becoming a singer.]
Is this relevant to your own experience?
Right now, it’s better for me than it is in [Esther’s] life…I don’t know what her future is, but I think she’ll find her dream. The goal in life is for you to have a journey where you are walking to your goal. The journey is more important than the goal in the end. Even though she’s really struggling in her life, she has the joy and innocence in her life while she’s living her life day to day. Life is not living lightly—-it’s going through hardships. It’s living life everyday as if you are already in a dream.
Do you miss China?
Yesterday, I was so excited because it was Chinese Independence Day [The author notes that this interview was conducted on Oct. 1]. Whatever the gift I have is because of my country—-that old culture, that old language…I grew up learning instruments. When I grew up, there’s no TV. You grow up with nature. With the pure soul. Poetry, nature, and music. That’s what I’ve been dealing with. Wildness.
Do you prefer capitalism or communism?
Both have their own benefits, and beauty, and freedom. American culture is totally free…but, in communism, you share things. People are building for each other…that is a wise, gentle experience in the universe. They each have their good side. I think right now—-every country is changing towards America and freedom. In China—-if you don’t talk about politics—-it’s like you are in the U.S. People are restricted under communism but are now very free. There is a freedom of energy and spirit.
Do you remember Nixon’s visit to China? Do you remember the Cultural Revolution?
I was in Oliver Stone’s movie Nixon. I was the Chinese interpreter, but I didn’t speak English. When I was 14, I was in Tibet in the People’s Liberation Army. That is my experience—-I was a soldier in the army in Tibet. It was complicated and painful and cruel and very beautiful. China is a really complicated place. All this old culture and history of Buddhism and restrictive communist controlling…[I was] constantly bumping into walls and writing apology letters because I was a free spirit. I am free like a wild cheetah.
What was an average day like in the army?
I was the youngest one. First, I get into the army. The hat and the clothing were way too big. I get to Tibet. They give me a book about rules between male and female soldier. I can’t be the same room alone with with a male soldier. [Bai Ling offers memories in re: the mystery of sex in occupied Tibet, where she was too young to understand what boys and girls did behind closed doors.] I always wondered—-what are they doing inside? I looked through the [keyhole] in the wooden door…I expect to see pieces of clothing flying. It was so forbidden and so interesting and so dangerous.
Did you eventually end up in the room?
Of course. In my [teenage] diary…all I’m talking about is boy soliders and girl soldiers…we are not allowed to fall in love.
Did you ever shoot a gun?
I never [did]. I learned about horses and shooting guns and as a nurse I saved people’s lives giving blood and all that. I was quite brave. In the night shift, I was the nurse.
It’s really strange that you went through all that, and then you were on Entourage.
Do you believe it? It’s a miracle journey. I feel that I’m nature’s cool….i’m air fire winds or water. I am an excellent tool to use as an artist and a actress. A Beautiful Life was written for Denise Richards, but there is a reason for me to be in Hollywood and give a gift. My quality and talent are much bigger than those roles I got offered. Look at my journey. I have that.