In a time when many Chinese thespians settle for bit parts in an attempt to break into Hollywood, it was a surprise for viewers to discover that actress Li Bingbing (李冰冰) had landed a fairly important role in the recently released Transformers: Age of Extinction, also known as Transformers 4 <變形金剛4>.
Even more surprising was her fluent use of English throughout the film, reports Jayne Stars.
“I accidentally learned it,” Bingbing half-joked, when asked about her much improved English in a recent interview with Tencent Entertainment.
For Bingbing, speaking English did not come easily when she first entered Hollywood. She struggled with her pronunciation when filming The Forbidden Kingdom <功夫之王> in 2008, and problems persisted in Snow Flower and the Secret Fan <雪花秘扇> and Resident Evil: Retribution.
However, since Transformers director Michael Bay refused to let her use a translator on set, Bingbing was forced to rely on her own strength – which ended up improving her English by leaps and bounds.
“I’ve always been learning the language, but my improvement in English was entirely forced out because I had to film and do interviews,” explained Bingbing. “Think about it, I had to do 30 interviews every day in Hong Kong. Each one is five minutes and they are all in English.
“This type of training gave me a lot of pressure because I didn’t want to lose face or bring shame to the Chinese people,” she went on. “But people must have pressure. Even though I almost collapsed under the pressure, it is only after you experience this collapse that you can improve.”
Fortuitous First Meeting with Michael Bay
In Transformers 4, Bingbing gets quite a few chances to show off her English while portraying Su Yueming, the head of the Chinese branch of a Transformers technology firm. The character was originally meant to be male, but after meeting with Bingbing, Michael Bay decided to change the character into a woman.
“At the time, I had a hard time imagining what an Eastern female face would be doing in a science fiction film with an automobile/person protagonist,” said Bingbing, recalling how her management company had suggested she try out for Transformers 4. “I wasn’t terribly excited, but my company said that since I was already in America, I should give it a try.”
Bingbing later visited Bay’s production studio and found her interest piqued by the many Transformers models. She even struck up a conversation with Bay himself, though – at the time – she had no idea whom she was talking to.
Although Bay has a reputation for being a strict director, Bingbing seems to have enjoyed a good working relationship with him. She even successfully persuaded him to include additional scenes for her.
“He has to take care of so many people and so many things,” Bingbing explained when asked about Bay’s directing style, which has been described as intimidating. “He has the clearest idea of what he wants his movie to be like, so he is very single-minded. When he focuses all his attention, others may not know what he’s thinking, and he won’t have much to say to them.”
Rising Future Presence in Hollywood
Though much has been made of the stampede of Chinese actors into Hollywood, Bingbing remarked that the competition “really isn’t so cut-throat.” The important thing is for actors to display their unique strengths and abilities.
“We should let Westerners see the tenacity, wisdom, beauty, and kindness of Eastern women,” she said. “Chinese actors who do make a name for themselves all have their own personality and charisma, so they will definitely have their own opportunities.”
No matter what the Western reception of Transformers 4 may be, Bingbing seems optimistic about her future in Hollywood. Her future plan is to understand more of American culture, which means watching American shows, seeing more of America, and simply experiencing more of American life.
“I feel that life is really the source of an actor’s ability,” she shared, “so it’s good to relax and feel and experience life.”