The Director’s Guild of America West’s Asian American Committee’s honoring of Ang Lee was this past week. It was an inspirational night, with a retrospective of Lee’s most well known films (though somehow The Hulk was excluded…) and a talk with Lee along with a few Asian American directors.
Startlingly honest and up front, Lee was humorous and passionate about his experiences and his work. He gave not-so-small kernels of wisdom as well as some snippets of on-set details. One was about how Hugh Grant wouldn’t follow the blocking — the foundation of direction in Lee’s mind — and how Kate Winslet chased after him in one of their scenes in Sense and Sensibility. Lee said that directing a star is quite different from directing an actor, which is not to say that Grant is untalented; but simply that a different mode and mindset is required of a director who works with someone of that stature.
One of the words of wisdom I took from the event is that Lee believes we, in the real world, are living fake lives, but on film, we try to strip away the façade and show the truth. It takes an enormous amount of trust, Lee says, to do that. “Play” is what he names it, and when actors entrust him with the task of directing this deeply meaningful play, he’s pained to have that much responsibility. Even driven to feeling as if he wants to quit.
The investment that Lee brings to each movie is evident in the emotional power of his films. And in his work ethic. His long-time editor, Tim Squyres, said that Lee seldom has his next movie lined up while in the editing process. He devotes all his focus to the film at hand.
Lee also feels that newer or younger actors have an openness that established actors have a harder time accessing. While he can give experienced actors layers upon layers of subtext, sometimes they’re unable to bring the freshness that a younger actor can.
Quite interestingly, Lee doesn’t believe he has a style. Just that, he says, he puts his whole heart into the film.
As Lee mentioned during the panel, a director makes a movie, and, by virtue of individualized, unique imagination, an audience member molds that movie for him- or herself. Same goes for the rest of the panel. With that in mind, here are some links to those who were fortunate enough to be in the audience that night.
Photo courtesy of Lynn Chen — The Actor’s Diet.