By Jonathan Marlow
When Jonathan Marlow met Tony Leung Chiu Wai, they wasted little time on small talk, lunging directly into a discussion of 2046.
It started in Bangkok in the middle of In the Mood for Love because, at the time, I was starting on another project [Tokyo Raiders]. We stopped shooting Mood and Wong Kar-wai decided to start 2046 and prepared some shots for the futuristic part with some other actors and actresses in 1999. When I came back from Tokyo, we worked on In the Mood for Love again and I did some shooting for 2046 in that period of time. We encountered a lot of problems when all the big names in the movie, coming in from other projects, didn't expect to shoot that long. Scheduling conflicts with actors is one of the problems, and the locations, shooting in different countries, can take a long time. In-between filming 2046, I made three movies - Infernal Affairs I and III and a comedy in Hong Kong [My Lucky Star].
Kar-wai said that he wanted me to play the same character as In the Mood for Love but to do it very differently. He wanted me to play it darkly. It's really difficult, because I was already used to the original Chow Mo-wan. With everything the same, I knew that it would not be easy for me to do. "It will be more powerful if everything remains the same but you act different." "I know, but I can't!" We argued and afterwards he compromised, so I started with the moustache first. I'm the kind of actor that works with appearance first and go inside. If everything is the same, I have nothing to work on, so I start with something to make myself believe I'm some other person. I work with the walking tempo, the body language and the voice and make it a little bit different.
It didn't work at the very beginning. You know when you act, you're very conscious about how you move or how to gesture. You will jump back to the original Mr. Chow very unconsciously. With the same name, same surroundings, you somehow just jump back. I remember Kar-wai sitting in front of the monitor saying, "No, no, no, no, Tony! Same voice again! That's old Mr. Chow!" We went through quite difficult moments. If you're working on and off, over different periods of time, it's hard. I worked with Zhang Ziyi and after her part, then Faye Wong and after Faye Wong finished, then came Gong Li and Carina [Lau]. It was sad for me to see people coming in and out. "Congratulations, you're finished!"
They're the lucky ones!
2046 was a great experience and they made things much easier and smoother. They're all so different and so special. This was my first time working with Gong Li and Zhang Ziyi. Not really the first time with Zhang Ziyi, but we didn't have many scenes together in Hero. They're really good. They're all very talented.
Tony Leung in 2046
To go deeply into a character that long is very tiring and very exhausting. It's like reading a book for five years but only reading a chapter every three months. He used to re-shoot some scenes over and over again. Often, it wasn't a problem of the performance of this actor or actress but because of the costumes. He'll think the costume is not right, so he'll want to shoot it again with a different look. He would show me the rushes and say that he wants exactly the same performance again. How can you do exactly the same thing again? Sometimes, I don't quite remember how I did the scene because I did it half a year ago. He puts so much pressure on you and wants you to do it exactly the same. Sometimes, maybe after you did it again and again, he may some day come up with an idea that we should do it on the street and not in a restaurant anymore.
I never knew how the film would turn out. At first, I thought it was just a story about a man. Now I think it's far more complicated. It is a story about promises, about memory and about love. I can see many layers. When I was shooting, I didn't have any idea what it was about. Even if he has a story in mind, Kar-wai's the kind of director that never reveals it to his actor and actresses. We have a very strange kind of relationship. Although I've worked with him over twelve years, I still don't know him very well. For me, he's a very serious guy. We seldom talk, even on the set. We used to keep a distance, even at rehearsal. I don't know why he wants to keep ourselves fresh every time we work together, but it's how we work.
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