Wira the Champions: Interview with Wira director Adrian Teh and stars Hairul Azreen and Yayan Ruhian

For F*** Magazine

WIRA THE CHAMPIONS

The stars and director of Wira talk making the Malaysian action movie

By Jedd Jong

From left: Yayan Ruhian, Adrian Teh and Hairul Azreen

One of the biggest films to come out of Malaysia in recent years is PASKAL: The Movie, an action film about an elite Malaysian Navy strike team who take on a gang of Somali pirates on the high seas. Director Adrian Teh, who has directed comedies like The Wedding Diary and its sequel and King of Mahjong, is now synonymous with the action film genre. He has followed up Paskal with Wira, which means “Hero” in Malay.

Hairul Azreen in Wira

Wira tells the story of Hassan (Hairul Azreen), a young commando who retires early to return to the village where he grew after learning that his father Munas (Dato Hilal Azman) and his sister Zain (Fify Azmi) are in danger. Zain has followed in her brother’s footsteps to become an MMA fighter, taking on increasingly dangerous fights. The fights are organised by local kingpin Raja (Dain Iskandar Said), who under the guise of being a legitimate businessman and developer, keeps the residents of the village firmly under his thumb as he runs a massive drug and gambling operation. Hassan gets back into the ring and faces off against Raja’s goons, including his mysterious and formidable chief of security Ifrit (Yayan Ruhian).

Hairul Azreen in Wira

Hairul Azreen, who in addition to being an actor is a martial artist and a former stuntman, starred in Paskal and is also known for his performances in Police Evo 2 and Operasi X.

Yayan Ruhian in Wira

Yayan Ruhian, an Indonesian silat instructor, has become an action star after starring in Merantau, The Raid and The Raid 2. Yayan can also be seen in Hollywood films like Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Beyond Skyline and John Wick: Chapter 3. In addition to playing Ifrit, he serves as the action choreographer on Wira.

Adrian Teh on the set of Wira

Director Teh and actors Hairul and Yayan were in Singapore to promote Wira and spoke to F*** at the Grand Park City Hall hotel. Teh spoke to us in English, with Hairul and Yayan speaking in some English and in translated Malay and Indonesian, with Teh and an interpreter assisting. They discussed how Wira marks a milestone for Malaysian action movies, revealed a particularly painful injury Hairul sustained making the movie, the process of designing the action sequences and working with Dain Iskandar Said, himself a renowned director.

F*** MAGAZINE: Adrian, this is your follow-up to Paskal. What made you want to make Wira?

ADRIAN TEH: I’ve always wanted to do this kind of action film, which is [realistic] fighting scenes. In Malaysia, before Wira, I think the level of action choreography has been the same. The level has been stagnant for a while – when people want to do action films in Malaysia, it always will be “like that, like that, like that”. I wanted to do Wira because I wanted to have a breakthrough in the level of choreography and fighting scenes in a local action film. I’ve wanted to do that for a while. The success of Paskal proved to my investors that there is a market for action films Malaysia. After Paskal, they are more convinced to give me the budget for Wira.

Bus set

Adrian, there is one shot in this movie I really love – during the fight on the bus, the camera leaves the window, goes outside the bus, then comes back in the back window, all in one move. How did you film this sequence?

ADRIAN TEH: This is the reason why I hoped to have a breakthrough in terms of Malaysian action films. This is one of the shots I achieved in Wira. The whole bus fight scene took a lot time to plan, to prep and to think how it can be achieved. It combines two sets of filming: one is on [location], plus a studio shoot. We spent a lot of time studying how to get the best out of that scene, and how we can combine the studio scene with the [on-location] scene. Not only that shot, there are a few shots in the movie where we really thought of it and really gave a lot of hard work and preparation to it. The most important element to it is the fighting, is the choreography, the details to each fighting scene. I’m kind of happy with the end product.

Bus fight on location

Hairul, which fight scenes did you find the most challenging?

HAIRUL AZREEN: For me, it’s the one shot, one take – I needed to jump from the second level to the ground floor. I tore three [ligaments] in my ankle. We continued the next day. That was very hard for me, but we did it.

Fall from second storey

ADRIAN TEH: To compare the shot you mentioned just now and that shot, that one is actually technically even more challenging for us to shoot.

Ismi Melinda and Yayan Ruhian on the set of Wira

Abang Yayan, we have seen how Hollywood is influenced by the action cinema of Asia, be it Hong Kong movies, Thai movies and Indonesian movies. From your experience Hollywood, what do you feel the stuntmen there learned from you, and was there anything you learned from them?

YAYAN RUHIAN: I have made movies in Indonesia, in Hollywood and now in Malaysia. They are practically all the same, but the same feeling that I had filming The Raid and in Hollywood is what I felt filming Wira. I believe this movie will be a milestone for Malaysian film like we’ve never seen before, and this might be the next big action film. This is at an international level, like The Raid and like John Wick. The Raid and Wira show that filmmakers in Southeast Asia can create something as good as Hollywood.

Fify Azmi and Hairul Azreen in Wira

The movie is also about family. How did you come up with the story for Wira?

ADRIAN TEH: I started out by wanting to work on an action film like that, then I started looking for a story. Paskal is about a group of Navy personnel who sacrifice their lives and their time with their family to serve their country, that’s the big theme of Paskal. As a creative person, I tried to do something completely [different] with Wira. This time around, it’s about a commando who decides to retire early to go back to his kampung and rescue his family. In Paskal we talked about country and in Wira we talk about family.

Hairul, one of the important elements of the movie is the bond between Hassan and Zain, the audience must believe that they can fight back-to-back as a unit. what was it like working with Fify Azmi, and how did you develop the brother-sister bond between the two of you as actors?

HAIRUL AZREEN: Fify is a newcomer, first time acting. I needed to be comfortable with her on set and in training. The bonding that I tried to develop with Fify had to take place off the set so we could both feel comfortable when we act. We had to train together for three months.

Adrian Teh and Hairul Azreen rehearsing a scene in Wira

Adrian and Hairul, what was the transition like from Paskal to Wira?

HAIRUL AZREEN: It’s different: with Paskal, [the focus was on] tactical armed combat. My characters Arman and Hassan are also different. Arman is a straightforward guy. Hassan must save his family, his sister, so I think they are very different.

ADRIAN TEH: It’s more taxing for him to be in Wira than Paskal, physically and in terms of screentime. In Paskal, we had a team, an ensemble. For Wira, it really depends on him. For me, working on Paskal and working on Wira [presented] two different sets of challenges, but I enjoyed working with Hairul again.

Yayan and Ruhian in Wira

Abang Yayan and Hairul, the whole movie is building up the fight between the both of you, which takes place simultaneously with the fight between Fify Azmi and Ismi Melinda. Did you feel the pressure because there would be so much anticipation to see this scene?

YAYAN RUHIAN: No, because we enjoyed doing the fighting. We prepared for a long time.

ADRIAN TEH: I think because of the bootcamp, because of the training, they enjoyed the sequence. It’s not like they are not familiar with [it] and had to force themselves to memorise it; they can do it with their eyes closed. They’re very familiar, very comfortable with the action.

Yayan Ruhian and Hairul Azreen filming the fight scene in Wira

HAIRUL AZREEN: Acting with Abang Yayan is awesome because I feel like I’ve touched Hollywood. It’s such a thrill. Abang Yayan is a legend, but he is so humble and down-to-earth. For a legend like that to sit next to me and hang out with me is incredible.

It can get so intense on a film set, so it’s important to have a good temperament.

ADRIAN TEH: That’s very important, I agree. Abang Yayan has a very good temperament. He is very firm, but very tolerant of others.

Dain Iskandar Said in Wira

Adrian, Dain Iskandar Said is a director himself. What was it like working with him, and did he offer any advice or did he say to you “you are the director, I am the actor, you tell me what you want in this movie”?

ADRIAN TEH: This is the question I get the most frequently from the media. He is a legend[ary] director in Malaysia, everybody knows his work. You’d be surprised, he’s actually a very good actor. He’s very professional on set, he will never try to overstep his role. He will give me different options in his performance for me to choose [from]. When we wanted to cast him, he did not believe me. He said “come on, you just want me to make a cameo, right?” I said “no, I want you to be the main villain of the movie.” He was like “Are you sure?” and I said “I’m very sure”. He insisted that I ask him three times before he accepted the offer. I had already wanted him, I was dead sure I would cast him in the role, but he asked me to audition him three times. Only then, he said “Okay, now I can act.”

Adrian Teh on the set of Wira

What did you learn making Paskal that you brought to Wira?

ADRIAN TEH: I think I am more thorough with Wira. I paid more attention to detail with Wira. Technically and the time I had with my actors. In Wira, I had a relatively smaller group of actors than in Paskal, so I get to work with my actors in Wira better. Riding on the back of Paskal, there definitely was pressure, so I spent more time on Wira.

Yayan Ruhian and Hairul Azreen in Wira

Abang Yayan, there’s something so mesmerising about watching you fight, the way you do silat. I think there is a difference between what looks on camera and what would actually be effective in a real fight, and the way you fight has the best of both worlds: it looks so cinematic, but also looks like it would really hurt somebody. How do you attain that balance in your fighting?

YAYAN RUHIAN: It’s different, because in front of the camera, it’s not just the killing technique, but the beauty technique, that’s the difference. To kill someone, I think it’s very easy. Beauty fighting is very important in front of the camera. In front of the camera, we need to make the fighting look like real fighting.

Adrian, that’s something you were aiming for right, something that felt authentic?

ADRIAN TEH: Yes. That’s the level of choreography and the level of action we are trying to present to the audience.

Adrian Teh and Yayan Ruhian on the set of Wira

Adrian, there are many ways that filmmakers plan out and prepare fight scenes, including storyboards, animatics and stunt-viz, filming the stunt performers in the gym performing a version of the fight that is shot and edited to be a template for the actual scene in the movie. How were the fight scenes in Wira designed and planned?

ADRIAN TEH: We had seven fight scenes in Wira, three major ones and four relatively smaller ones. That was the first thing I discussed with Abang Yayan when he first got to KL. I put different elements in every fight scene so audiences wouldn’t get bored. There are five fight scenes for Hassan. I discussed it with Abang Yayan, the different intentions Hassan had in each fight scene.

So there’s a character arc for Hassan in the fight scenes.

Hairul Azreen and Fify Azmi in Wira

ADRIAN TEH: Yes – not just a character arc, but in each fighting scene, I have different points to sell. Abang Yayan is very good at that, he knows how to tell a story in a fighting scene, using the design, choreographed movement to tell you the arc of the fighting: who’s winning, who’s losing, and who turned the tide. He’s very good at that.

Hairul Azreen in Wira

Hairul, one of the things I love about your character is that even though he is a fighter and he can beat people up, he is innately decent. I love the part when he is reluctant to punch his friend Boon in the face and Boon is asking him to do it. How do you balance those sides of the character, the decent side and the violent side?

HAIRUL AZREEN: I watched two movies for reference: Ip Man and John Wick. After [a dramatic incident in the film], I’m John Wick. Before that, I’m Ip Man. It’s that simple.

ADRIAN TEH: He’s both Donnie Yen and Keanu Reeves.

Wira opens in Singapore on 21 November 2019 

The Biggest Draw: Disney Animation Research Library’s Mary Walsh talks Disney: Magic of Animation exhibit

For F*** Magazine 

F*** talks to Mary Walsh, managing director at the Disney Animation Research Library, at the launch of the Disney: Magic of Animation exhibition in Singapore.

By Jedd Jong

Disney fans, or ‘Disnerds’ as they like to be known, are in for a treat: more than 500 pieces of artwork used in creating the studio’s short and feature animated films are going on display for the first time in Singapore. The Disney: Magic of Animation exhibition opens at the ArtScience Museum at Marina Bay Sands Singapore and runs from 26 October 2019 to 29 March 2020.

The exhibition offers visitors a peek behind the curtain at the House of Mouse, highlighting the talented artists and technicians who work in various departments on the studio’s animated films and walking visitors through the process of creating these films. The pieces of art on display include original concept sketches, background paintings, sculptures and models which were created in the making of Disney’s animated films.

The highlights of the exhibition include sketches of Mickey Mouse from 1928’s Steamboat Willie, the first animated short film synced to sound, early designs of Snow White, sculptures of Belle and the Beast from Beauty and the Beast and a model of Sugar Rush from Wreck-It Ralph made from biscuits and candy.

The exhibition also includes artwork from the upcoming Frozen 2, marking the first time that art from a yet-to-be-released Disney film has been exhibited.

The exhibit also includes interactive activities, including a station where visitors can get a taste of what it’s like to be a Foley artist, attempting to match sound effects created using props to a scene from Mulan. A zone of the exhibit is decorated to resemble the Nordic autumnal forest seen in Frozen 2, allowing fans to take photos against a backdrop that brings the film to life.

Disney keeps meticulous records of the artwork created in the process of making its films. The Disney Animation Research Library (ARL) is where the physical art pieces are kept, and the works displayed at this exhibition are drawn from the library’s vast collection, which stretches back to the very beginnings of Disney.

At the media preview of the Disney: Magic of Animation exhibition, F*** spoke to Mary Walsh, the managing director of the Disney ARL, about what it’s like for artists who work at Disney and what fans can look forward to when they visit this exhibition.

F*** MAGAZINE: Great to get to talk to you! Could you tell our readers what you do at Disney?

MARY WALSH: I’m the managing director of the Animation Research Library. The Animation Research Library is the repository for all the original animation artwork that was used to produce our animated short and feature-length films, both from the very beginning, so we’ve got artwork from the early 1920s, all the way up to the present day. We have over 65 million pieces of art in our physical collection. We’re not public facing, but we’re open to anybody in the Walt Disney Company who needs access to that artwork for either creative inspiration, theme parks, new product development, whatever it happens to be. Theme parks, Broadway shows, everything, so it’s really great. Because we aren’t open to the public, we have this huge collection of such beautiful and I would argue really important artwork from an animation point of view, what can we do to share that with the world? We established this exhibition program, and this exhibit is one of the fruits of that labour. We can take this artwork, curate it in a story that we want to share with the world, and then bring it into museums like ArtScience.

What is your personal Holy Grail piece? If you were Nicolas Cage, what would you steal?

That’s funny, Nicolas Cage, I get the reference! I’m going to be honest with you: I don’t have a single favourite piece of art because I’m surrounded by all this beautiful art! I have two kids: it’s like asking which of my two boys is my favourite. Some days I like one boy better than the other because of his behaviour. For me, there is so much beautiful art and it is really the development of the artistry and the craftsmanship from the very beginning to what we’re doing today, and the constant inspiration that the art in our collection provides for our artists. One thing that we really value is we have all this artwork and it’s a fabulous artistic creative legacy that we have, but we don’t look back on it and say “wow, that was great! We’re done.” We’re never done. [The artists] are using that to inspire themselves, to inspire themselves, to educate themselves, so they can create at least that level and hopefully go above it.

Rapunzel by Claire Keane

At this exhibit, there’s a Tangled piece by Claire Keane, who is the daughter of animator Glen Keane. It’s so beautiful that there is that familial legacy. Disney is all about legacy – what do you think represents that idea the best?

The biggest part for the legacy point of view for me is the fact that we can look back at the art that was created. Claire is the perfect example of that: her father is obviously a brilliant animator and draughtsman and a huge component of the artistic output the studio has, ever since he joined in the 1970s. He’s been hugely important in the development and continuing expansion of our creativity and our artistry. Claire’s doing that on her own – she’s following in the footsteps of her father, but all the other great artists who came before him and are coming after her as well too.

Ariel by Glen Keane

For me, that legacy really ties into the idea of mentorship, because all of the senior artists mentor younger artists coming in. Glen Keane worked with Frank (Thomas) and Ollie (Johnston) – he knew them, he could go to them, they were his mentors. He continues to mentor people through his career at Disney. I think that’s really important – the artists joining the studio understand Disney animation because of its impact in the animation industry, culturally and from an artistic point of view. They come in with that expectation and I argue responsibility to create to that minimum level and exceed it. The way you do that in a collaborative artform is to support each other artistically – the mistakes that you made and how you corrected those mistakes. It’s all about sharing that information. I think that’s a true testament to that legacy because it started with Walt and we’re still doing it today.

There is a saying that is attributed to Walt Disney, “everyone has 10 000 bad drawings in them and you have to get them out of the way”.

I don’t know if he actually said that, but the concept I think is actually true. There’s another way that we describe in animation: “pencil mileage”. You have to draw and draw and draw or create on the computer – you can call it “pixel mileage” or whatever you want because it’s based on the tool. It’s an iterative process. When you create something, you’re never perfect the first time out, almost nobody is, but you have to look at a piece and say “how can I make it better? How is that piece going to support the story? How is that piece going to fit in this world? So it’s a very iterative process. You get 10 000 bad drawings before you get one [good one] – that concept I think is very true. It’s all about going out there and being willing to have a bad drawing in order to get to a great drawing.

I think that personally, it’s easy to feel discouraged when I see someone who’s really good at what they do and feel like I cannot measure up to that, so it’s important to know that nobody starts out there. How do you feel this exhibition inspires future artists?

That’s one of the things that I love about this exhibition program. What I hope is that there are artists coming through, maybe young artists, who are like “I never thought about a career in animation.” It’s a viable artform and you can have a really great profession if you’re committed to your craft, if you’re disciplined about it and you’re passionate about it. Hopefully this can show a path to a burgeoning artist who wants to go in that direction and that there are people who came before you and that you can do this too.

I attended the Singapore press conference for Moana in 2016. Producer Osnat Shurer and the voice of Moana Auli’i Cravalho came, as well as Disney artists Roger Lee and Griselda Sastrawinata. There was a sense of hometown pride, “one of our own made it”. What are some stories about the experiences that people from around the world bring to Disney?

I’m glad you brought that up because I think it’s that diversity of thought and experience. We tell global stories. The filmmakers’ intent is to be able to touch the emotional human core no matter where you are in the world, and one way to do that is to surround yourself with a diversity of styles, of thought and of experiences. That is something that we hold very dear and that we’re committed to doing.

A five-year-old will take something different away after visiting this exhibit than a 12-year-old will, than a 16-year-old will, than a 30-year-old will. How will this exhibit speak to those different age groups differently?

That’s a great question because if you step back a little bit, the intent of all the films we make is that it’s for everybody. We don’t target just little kids or just adults. Walt was the one who set the stage, he said “I make films for entire families, not just children or just adults.” With that in mind, when a young person comes in and maybe it’s a child and they’re going to be enraptured and go “oh my god, I get to stand next to Mickey and Minnie and go on this boat and take a photo,” or “I get to see these sketches, what may be very loose drawings, and go ‘maybe I can do that’” and as you get older you can understand and appreciate the artistic integrity of some of the drawings and the sketches and the storytelling.

I also think it ties back to the emotions you have when you see the film for the first time and what age you were. In my case, I’ve watched films now with my children that I watched as a kid. I now look at the film very differently, through their eyes. That is any good art, whether it’s moving images, or a beautiful painting, or a piece of music: if it stands the test of time, it’s going to resonate with you as a human being regardless of how old you are, but your life experiences are really going to inform how you’re viewing or enjoying that piece of art at that moment.

I was in the Little Mermaid gallery and was overhearing the other journalists who were surprised to see the early concept design of Ursula, when she looked more like a lionfish. What are some concept pieces that surprised you?

It was really funny, when I first got exposed to some of the early concept pieces for the character of Snow White, she was blonde, she had braids, she had red hair, so they explored all kinds of different styles. When you think about it, they were developing that film in the mid-late 1930s, so those artists were also reflecting on the societal norms and the fashions of the day and what the concept of feminine beauty was at the time. They were contemporary artists in their timeframe looking out on the world, reflecting on that and bringing it into their designs.

In an early concept, it’s all about creating all kinds of different designs and then really focusing down and narrowing down to what that final design is going to be. Without that iterative process, they wouldn’t have gotten to the final design of Snow White was without all those other concepts. If you don’t give the time for experimentation, sometimes you won’t get the best work. I think the timeframe for that iterative process is really important.

As someone who has spent your career educating people about Disney animation, what are your feelings about the recent live-action remakes? They do bring it to a new audience, but there’s also the school of thought that it’s derivative. Where do you stand on that?

For me, it’s really about the storytellers. If that storyteller and filmmaker thinks they can deliver a different take on it, why not allow them that ability to do it? If it introduces that story to a whole new generation who may not have seen the animated film who may then go back and appreciate it, it can be a gateway, and the gateway goes both ways. From my point of view, if the storyteller is committed to the story they want to tell and the visual realisation of that story is different from the original one, why not give it a go and see what that’s like?

Visit https://www.marinabaysands.com/museum/disney-magic-of-animation.html for tickets and more details.

Action, Lights, Camera: Interview with stunt coordinator/performer Ingrid Kleinig

ACTION, LIGHTS, CAMERA: INTERVIEW WITH STUNT PERFORMER/COORDINATOR INGRID KLEINIG

By Jedd Jong

Getting set on fire, crashing motorcycles into vans, dangling from the side of a skyscraper, driving a big rig across the Namibian desert, duelling with Vin Diesel and shooting arrows into oncoming orcs – it’s all in a day’s work for stunt performer/coordinator Ingrid Kleinig.

Kleinig grew up in Australia in a family of professional stunt drivers. Her career kicked off in a dramatic way, when she performed suspended in mid-air 42 metres above the arena at the opening ceremony of the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney. Kleinig was a member of the physical theatre troupe Legs on the Wall, performing acrobatics on the side of tall buildings.

In Australia, Kleinig worked on TV shows including Rescue Ops and Cops LAC, before going on to work in Hollywood. She has been a stunt double for Evangeline Lilly in the Hobbit films and Ant-Man and the Wasp, Margot Robbie’s stunt double in The Legend of Tarzan and Suicide Squad and Brie Larson’s stunt double in Kong: Skull Island and Captain Marvel.

As was one of only two female stunt drivers on Mad Max: Fury Road, she was part of the team that won a Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Stunt Ensemble in a Motion Picture. Kleinig’s other credits include The Last Witch Hunter, Ghost in the Shell, Justice League and Spider-Man: Far From Home.

Ingrid Kleinig Alain Moussi Margot Robbie

Ingrid Kleinig, Alain Moussi and Margot Robbie on the set of Suicide Squad

Kleinig was in Singapore as one of the invited guests at the Disney Storytelling Plus bootcamp, joining people working behind the scenes in the entertainment industry to share her experiences with young aspiring filmmakers. I had brought action figures of Harley Quinn, the Wasp and Captain Marvel along to the interview – noticing the Harley Quinn figure, Kleinig chuckled and said “this brings back memories”.

In this interview, she told me about the role that stunt coordinators and performers have in storytelling, why she doesn’t like to use the term ‘accident’, and a competition between her and Margot Robbie that made producers very nervous.

Photo credit: Alina Gozin’a

JEDD: Looking through your filmography, it’s so impressive. In the Hollywood Reporter video about women in stunts, you said that you would rather be a stunt performer than an actress because you get to do all the fun stuff. 

INGRID KLEINIG: Absolutely.

What ranks as among the most fun of all the stuff you’ve done, give us the greatest hits!

KLEINIG: The greatest hits – I rode a motorcycle and crashed head-on into a van that was on fire, then flew threw the flames and landed on the road on the other side.

No biggie.

KLEINIG: No biggie. I’ve crashed a Lamborghini into a lake and gone head-first through the windshield. I’ve made out with Jared Leto, in a sense [laughs] – on camera, that was as Harley Quinn. I’ve done so many great things, it’s hard to narrow it down.

In your bio, it says you have a background in physical theatre. I looked it up, and that involved literally hanging off the side of skyscrapers. 

KLEINIG: Indeed! You did your research. I spent about ten years working with a company called Legs on the Wall, and we did the festival circuits around the world doing acrobatics on the side of skyscrapers.

Ingrid Kleinig on the set of Mad Max: Fury Road

Recently, we’ve seen several second unit directors and stunt coordinators become directors, the most prominent examples probably being Chad Stahelski and David Leitch of 87eleven. What are the unique insights that someone with a background in stunts can bring to the table as filmmakers and storytellers? 

KLEINIG: A lot of directors of action films don’t necessarily have experience shooting action, so coming from that background obviously Chad and Dave now with the John Wick films and everything that they’re doing, Hobbs & Shaw, they’re very much action-based films. It centres around the physicality and stunts and so what they can do is enhance that side of it. There are so many other people coming to the table with the acting side of things and have got their bases covered.

Ingrid Kleinig, stunt coordinator/fight choreographer Richard Norton and Margot Robbie on the set of Suicide Squad

From our point of view, what we do when we’re doing pre-production for a film is stunt pre-viz, which is basically creating a film. We’ll get a script and everything is scripted except for this scene which might be a five-minute fight scene. All it says is – I quote – “they fight”. Or “the biggest finale fight ever of a film” and again I’m quoting, it says “an all-or-nothing battle ensues.” That’s it. We have to fill in the blanks and come on board three months before the actors come on board, before we start shooting, and we play around with ideas and come up with concepts. Go to the director, give us their notes, it’s a back-and-forth. We’re brainstorming and creating and filming from the ground up. That leads directly into second unit direction and of course direction.

Leading on from that, what is something a director says or does that gives you confidence in them and lets you know that they understand how to work with a stunt team? 

KLEINIG: Good question! I think the best thing that a director can do is show faith in their stunt coordinator and their stunt team. You can see it very early on. I particular enjoy working with a director that knows what they want. They’ll come into a room, you show them a scene that you’ve worked [on] thus far, and it’s immediate. “Yes, no. Yes, no. Yes, no.” The “no’s” are generally because of their own story points that they have in their head that haven’t been communicated yet or hasn’t been [worked] out with the rest of the cast and crew. Not stylistically, but more in terms of character arcs and plots and that kind of thing. “She can’t do this here because the scene after this is such and such”. Someone who has all that information in their head and who can see the overall picture, it’s a real privilege to see that at work.

Ingrid Kleinig and Brie Larson on the set of Captain Marvel

They have all the pieces on the board, moving them around, and it hasn’t all been fitted together yet. 

KLEINIG: Yeah, absolutely. They’ve got the overall picture. We’ve got the script and the pre-viz and what have you, but we are concentrating so explicitly on the action scenes that often we can lose sight of what’s come before and after…

The connective tissue.

KLEINIG: The connective tissue, absolutely. That’s where…working with a director that can be like Rain Man and keep all the balls in the air is a privilege.

Evangeline Lilly and Ingrid Kleinig on the set of Ant-Man and the Wasp

While every safety precaution is taken, stunts are inherently dangerous and sometimes tragic accidents happen. Olivia Jackson was very badly injured doing Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, Joe Watts is in a coma after an accident on the set of Fast & Furious 9, and Joi “SJ” Harris died on the set of Deadpool 2. How do such incidents affect the stunt community, and what is it like trying to maintain standards of safety and prevent accidents from happening?

KLEINIG: First of all, I don’t believe in the word ‘accident’. There is no such thing as an accident. There is always human error at play in those instances, so there has been a mistake somewhere along the way. In every one of those instances, obviously hindsight is a wonderful thing, but you can see the point or the moment where something could’ve been done to prevent what happened. Unfortunately, that’s hindsight speaking, and beforehand there were checks and balances that weren’t put in place or an extra step wasn’t put in place.

A lot of the time, I think it’s because it’s not necessarily a difficult stunt. It’s often not the most difficult stunts when people are getting injured. Because it’s not seen as a difficult stunt, perhaps not all the safety measures are put in place.

Perhaps it’s a complacency? That’s too strong a word. 

KLEINIG: It is…I think because as a community we do amazing, crazy things all the time, so you can get a little casual with it, especially when you’ve been doing it for a very long time. The global stunt community is very small. We all know each other or there’s one degree of separation so any of these things hit us all very hard. All we can do is learn from them and maintain diligence, and just be aware that every day, not to become casual about it. Maintain the checks, have multiple eyes, multiple heads and multiple heads on every single set-up.

Left: Ingrid Kleinig. Right: Margot Robbie

Andy Horwitz, a producer on Suicide Squad, said of Margot Robbie “Her double is always on set, most of the time [she] just stands there and watches. She keeps thinking she’s going to have to go in.” I understand that a lot of times producers say things like that to hype the movie up, and I don’t want to take anything away from Margot Robbie, but I wanted to know, how did you feel hearing that? 

KLEINIG: [Laughs] You know what, Margot Robbie absolutely earned everything that everybody always says about her. She’s one of the most physically talented performers I’ve ever worked with. She’s unbelievable. She trained as a classical dancer very strongly growing up, which means that especially when it comes fight choreography, we can do anything we want with her. She’s Australian and we tend to be very outdoorsy, very capable with those kinds of things and very competitive. She and I had this great sort of constructive competitiveness that brings out the best in each other.

There’s actually an anecdote where we were doing breath-hold training for Suicide Squad. I would get to four minutes and she would get to four-and-a-half, she went to five and I got to five-ten, and she got to five-and-a-half. We kept trying to up each other and trying to up each other, and the producers were like “Stop. You have gone above and beyond, no one needs to overdo this, we don’t need anything more. We don’t need five minutes. We only need one minute. Stop.” It’s great and it brings out the best in each other for the film and the character when we’re working so hard.

Ingrid Kleinig on the set of Suicide Squad

Everyone has days when they don’t particularly feel like going to work. Broadway actress Amber Gray calls it the ‘I Don’t Wannas’. What happens when you get a case of the I Don’t Wannas, how do you get yourself through the day? 

KLEINIG: Caffeine! [Laughs] There are days when I wake up and I just go “ugh, I don’t want to go to school today!” but I think it comes down to the fact that I love my job. The hardest part of my job is the pre-production, because sometimes it feels like you’re going round and round in circles. You do a fight scene, you perfect it, you film it, it’s edited and put together, everything’s there, it feels like a complete work of art, you hand it over and it comes back in pieces. You have to do that over and over again. I think for Ant-Man and the Wasp, we did 30 pre-vizes for the restaurant fight scene. It just kept coming back. We sent it out there into the world thinking it’s a work of art. Each time it comes back in pieces, we rebuild it and it just gets better and better. While it’s exhausting, you have to look back and go “we’re doing this because it’s going to get better.”

Watch Ingrid Kleinig’s stunt reel here:

Sir Mix-A-Lot: Interview with Oscar-winning sound mixer Andy Nelson

By Jedd Jong

Filmmakers strive to create an immersive experience, to give viewers a chance to step into carefully crafted realities that they can get lost in. Whether it’s an alien world, a distant period in history or a dizzying musical fantasy-scape, sound is an element that is often overlooked in creating this immersion. Every film crew includes sound recordists, designers, mixers, composers and editors who ensure that the audience hears exactly what they should.

Andy Nelson is a re-recording mixer with over four decades of experience under his belt. Growing up in London, Nelson’s career in the industry began at age 16, when he was a projectionist at a local cinema. He then moved into sound mixing for TV and movies, working on films like Schindler’s List, The Thin Red Line, X-Men, Moulin Rouge!, Star Trek (2009), Les Misérables and Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Nelson has garnered a staggering 21 Oscar nominations, and won for Saving Private Ryan and Les Misérables. At the 88th Academy Awards, Nelson was nominated for two separate films in the same year, Bridge of Spies and The Force Awakens. He has mixed for directors including Steven Spielberg, James Cameron, Stanley Kubrick, J.J. Abrams and Terence Malick.

Nelson was in Singapore as one of the invited guests of the Disney Storytelling+ Bootcamp, joining others who have worked behind-the-scenes in film and television to share their expertise with a new generation of filmmakers and storytellers. Nelson spoke about an emotional moment he experienced working on Schindler’s List, how different musicals require varying approaches to sound mixing, the differences between John Williams and Hans Zimmer’s methods of film scoring and his work on Spielberg’s upcoming West Side Story.

JEDD: You have an illustrious list of credits. To the average moviegoer, they think of “sound” as just one element, but there are so many categories within that. There’s music, Foley, sound design, re-recording, sound mixing, ADR. Can you break it down for us and take us through what your job entails?

ANDY NELSON: I normally work with a partner. I handled all the music and the dialogue myself, and the other mixer handles the sound effects, but between us, we have to craft the tracks. I usually start with the dialogue and I try and make sure everything is perfectly clear and clean and the best it can be from the performance point of view, then I usually craft the music into that. When the composer’s written all the score, you assume you’re going to need all the music that’s been written, then we put the sound effects into that.

Then, once all the components are in, a little bit like a recipe, then we start to blend it and mix it together and pick our moments through each scene. Is this a strong sound effects moment? Is this a strong music moment? Should there be any sound at all? Silence is pretty powerful as well. We work in tandem, obviously with the director all the time, to design the track the way he or she wants it to be.

From left: Ron Judkins, Andy Nelson, Steven Spielberg, Bradley Cooper, Mark Ulano and Gary Rydstrom at the 2019 Cinema Audio Society Awards

Many elements of filmmaking require a balance of creativity and technical mastery. How do you achieve that balance with regards to sound mixing? 

NELSON: The way I approach it is I have to know what I’m doing from a technical standpoint, but I never want to let that get in the way of telling the story. Sometimes you just do something that maybe technically isn’t the right thing to do, but if it works, it works. One of the things you have to do as the mixer when you create the final soundtrack is you have to create a trust between you and the director, because they’re putting their baby into your hands, essentially. One of the things I’ve never wanted to do is let the technology get in the way, or make them feel that I would say “no, we can’t do that because…” I treat it much more as a creative process for that reason.

Avatar

Over the years, you’ve worked with directors including Steven Spielberg, James Cameron, JJ Abrams, Terence Malick and Stanley Kubrick. How much are directors typically involved in the process of sound design, mixing and re-recording?

NELSON: Oh, heavily, very heavily. Somebody like Jim Cameron on Avatar, he would allow us to do our pass and get us into shape, but then when he came in and sat down and wanted to start, then we would roll our sleeves up and get to work. He would be very pinpoint precision, laser-sharp about what should happen at this moment, how that sound should be at that moment. With Steven, I’ve done 18 films with Steven so we have shorthand between us that’s pretty good nowadays. I get a first pass at the entire movie and then he’ll come and sit with me and we’ll work through it together.

Schindler’s List

As a fanboy, I have to ask, do you have any memorable Steven Spielberg stories? 

NELSON: Gosh. I’ll tell you a story about when I was working on a scene on Schindler’s List, a very complicated scene we were doing. I played it to him and I finished playing and I put the lights up. He was sitting right next to me. He had tears rolling down his face and he said “I don’t know what I would do to change this, so let’s move on.” It was a very important moment for me because it told me so much about him as a director. It wasn’t that I had done an incredible sound mix or anything, it was just that the scene was working and as a director, that’s all he wants, for the scene to work the way he imagines. For me, that’s a master storyteller at work. As a director, he could’ve said “let’s go through it again ten more times or 50 more times,” but he was so precise in what he wanted and it achieved what he wanted on an emotional level. I’ll never forget it. It was only my second film with him. I’m going to be doing West Side Story with him next year; that will be my 19th film. I hope it continues.

Steve Pederson, Steven Spielberg, Michael Kahn, Andy Nelson and Scott Millan, on the mixing stage for Schindler’s List

I think it was Marco Beltrami who said “befriend the sound mixer so music gets placed louder in the mix than sound effects.” What is it like determining what gets priority in the mix; who decides that? 

NELSON: We all kind of chip in, really. I’m handling the music physically myself, I happen to love music, it’s one of the reasons I got into it in the first place, was falling in love with what music does to visuals, it just took me to places in my mind and it still does today. I’m a defender of music, but I feel that music is overused in movies nowadays. I think that sometimes there’s too much score – I’m the first to put my hand up and suggest “Do we need it here? Is it coming in at the right point emotionally? Does it connect with the story correctly?” I’m definitely always trying to advocate to make the music work, but I’d be the first to say if it’s not working, we shouldn’t be using it.

Leading on from that, I wanted to talk specifically about musicals. You worked on Moulin Rouge!, Les Misérables, La La Land and you’re going to be working on West Side Story. Each of those movies is quite different from the others, even though they’re all musicals. What was the approach to the sound of Moulin Rouge!, Les Misérables and La La Land

Moulin Rouge!

NELSON: They were all completely different. First of all, Moulin Rouge!, you’re dealing with Baz Luhrmann. Baz Luhrmann is the most incredible creative director you could imagine. He spins with ideas constantly. His films are so richly layered that it took us weeks just to dig through and find all the little moments that worked in the way he wanted to tell that story. It was an incredibly complicated soundtrack to mix.

Les Misérables

Jump forward to Les Misérables, that was a completely revolutionary film in the sense that they recorded everything live. That took a tremendous amount of organisation. Tom Hooper started talking to me months before they started shooting about the approach and how we’d have to paint microphones out digitally and how the set had to be much quieter than normal because you had to protect the vocal. All we were relying on was the best vocal we could get.

La La Land

La La Land was a mixture of the two, oddly enough. There were some live moments in La La Land, particularly the Audition piece at the end, which was all live, little bits of the duet on the hill were live. There were also big playback moments – you can’t really do live recording if there’s a lot of instance, for instance. With Les Misérables there was no dancing, so it could be live. La La Land was a little bit of both, and I thought it worked really well for that reason.

West Side Story (2020)

With West Side Story, there has been an earlier film adaptation of that musical. How much will your approach to the sound be influenced by that? 

NELSON: I think Steven wants a different sort of style and a different take. It’s obviously the classic music with Leonard Bernstein’s score, it’s exactly the same songs, but he’s going to approach it in a different sort of style altogether. I can’t really speak to it because they’re right in the middle of shooting, I haven’t really seen anything of it yet. There may be some live recording; we’ll see.

Gary Rydstrom, Gary Summers, presenter Anjelica Huston, Andy Nelson and Ronald Judkins at the Oscars in 1999

There are hundreds, sometimes thousands of people who work on a given movie. To a certain extent, your contributions to a film might be considered less “visible” than say that of an actor or a director, but you are doing crucial work and you have been recognized for it. What are your thoughts on the concept of recognition within the industry, and what do you feel gives you validation and satisfaction in your work? 

NELSON: Look, anything that you get an accolade for is always a real treat; I don’t take it for granted in the slightest. I think what I’ve always tried to do is value the relationship I’ve created over the years with directors and composers, because I’m very close with people like John Williams and Hans Zimmer, I’ve worked on many, many different films with them all. Those relationships to me are the most satisfying thing. If a film happens to get some accolades on top of that, then we all celebrate, but the work is the most important thing. The sense of accomplishment when we seem to pull something off, that’s the satisfaction for me, not the awards.

Andy Nelson and John Williams at the 2014 CAS Awards

Speaking of composers like John Williams and Hans Zimmer, what is the process of working with them like, and what are some of the differences that you’ve seen between the way different composers work? How do you accommodate that in your mixing? 

NELSON: Well, if you take John Williams, John Williams has a very classic style of writing and he is much more about the performance of the orchestra and tends to want the orchestra to play together, because that’s where he feels the cohesion happen between the players.

Does he still mostly conduct himself? 

NELSON: He does whenever possible, yes, absolutely – and the orchestra loves it, you can tell.

It’s a thrill.

NELSON: It’s a thrill. With somebody like Hans, he’ll approach it differently where he’ll record the strings, then record the brass, then we blend them together afterwards. There’s good and bad in both of those [approaches]. The good part is I have more control, but the bad part is they’re not playing as cohesively as if they were all playing in one go, so you win some and you lose some. It’s just different approaches. With someone like Hans of course, he wants to layer in his synthetic sounds with it, the Hans Zimmer sound, which is often string samples that go with the real strings, whereas someone like John would rely more on the real strings only.

Was there a particular film (or films) that you watched as a kid that make you first sit up and take notice of that film’s use of sound? 

NELSON: Funnily enough, the first film I was ever taken to as a kid was West Side Story.

Full circle!

NELSON: Very much full circle. I can’t say I sat up and took notice of it at the time, but I think I was aware of it more and more. When I started working at a cinema at the age of 16, the first film I learned to throw on the projector was actually Midnight Cowboy, and I remember thinking how great the sound was in that, how great John Barry’s score was. I became very aware, and I started collecting soundtrack albums at that age just to take home and listen to because I just fell in love with cinema music, without even knowing I’d be handling any of it to come, because at that point I didn’t know what my career was going to be like at all. Easy Rider was playing at the same time as Midnight Cowboy; another fantastic soundtrack.

What a moment that was!

NELSON: It was a great moment. The James Bond movies, you know. Music in film has always transported me, as a kid right up to today. When the lights go down and the music plays, I’m in another land. I’m in heaven. [Chuckles]

With Jerry Goldsmith, I’ve never seen a single episode of Star Trek Voyager, I heard the Voyager theme and started crying. He has that power.

L.A. Confidential

NELSON: Jerry is great. I worked with him once on L.A. Confidential, which was a terrific film Curtis Hanson made. I loved Jerry, yeah, never got to work on any of the big shows with him before he passed away, sadly, but what a talent.

What are some of the most cherished memories in your professional life that you find yourself revisiting? 

NELSON: I honestly can’t tell you that there’s one; I tend to categorise them in different ways. To this day, the smile on my face when I first ran The Force Awakens with J.J., just because I felt he’d gone back to…tapped into the real magic of what Star Wars was, I’ll never forget that moment. I had a smile on my face through the whole time we worked on that movie. Can’t wait to see the new one.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Did you work on the new one?

NELSON: I haven’t started it yet, but I am going to do the new one. Probably in about a week’s time I’ll be starting.

Exciting!

NELSON: Yeah, I’m looking forward to it.

The Thin Red Line

Avatar was obviously fantastic, very challenging for me. A lot of Steven’s films, just because he’s such a master filmmaker, obviously. Terry Malick, Thin Red Line, another good one. I could go on and on. They’re like favourite kids, what’s your favourite child? You can’t say. [Chuckles]

Finally, you have won and been nominated for many awards and have attended awards shows including the Oscars and the BAFTAs. Do you have an awards show story you’d like to tell?

NELSON: I mean, getting up on stage and having to accept the award for Les Mis, I’d never wanted to stand up on that stage and speak because I was terrified at the thought of that. We’d made an agreement that if win [the BAFTA], one person would speak in London, and if we were lucky enough to go to the Oscars, I would speak for that. I said “we’ll never be there”.

Simon Hayes, Mark Paterson and Andy Nelson at the Oscars in 2013

You thought you were safe.

NELSON: I agreed to it and I wasn’t safe. I had to stand up. That was in itself extraordinarily terrifying because there’s nothing quite like that moment. Then we celebrated a lot afterwards, so that’s good [chuckles].

Clockwork Fantasy: Cirque du Soleil’s KURIOS – Cabinet of Curiosities press call

Clockwork Fantasy: KURIOS press call

inSing peeks into the Cabinet of Curiosities at Cirque du Soleil’s KURIOS

By Jedd Jong

Beneath the grey-and-white grand chapiteau (big top) situated on Bayfront Avenue lies a world of wonders that comes alive during each performance of KURIOS – Cabinet of Curiosities. KURIOS is the 35th show produced by Quebecois entertainment company Cirque du Soleil, the world’s largest theatrical producer.

Cirque du Soleil has become known for its contemporary circus productions that put a spin on traditional circus acts by combining them with storytelling, elaborate costumes and sets, theming and special effects.

Photo credit: © Martin Girard shootstudio.ca

KURIOS takes inspiration from the steampunk genre of science fiction and is set during the turn of the century in an alternate past. The show is about a character known as the Seeker, who opens a portal to a dimension called the Valley of the Possible Impossibles. This is where the most outlandish and imaginative ideas reside. The otherworldly characters upend the way the Seeker sees the world, inspiring him with their incredible abilities.

inSing was at the press call ahead of the show’s opening for a limited engagement in Singapore. Since its debut in 2014, KURIOS has toured North America, and Japan, where the company spent one-and-a-half years before taking the show to Singapore. After its month-long engagement here, KURIOS will move on to Australia.

Writer-director Michel Laprise. Photo credit: Jedd Jong

KURIOS is written and directed by Michel Laprise, who set out to create something unlike any other Cirque show before. “We wanted to do something different, but true to the core of the values of Cirque du Soleil, what we love,” Laprise told the press. Laprise joined Cirque du Soleil in 2000, spending five years as a talent scout before being appointed Special Events Designer. He collaborated with Madonna on her Super Bowl XLVI Halftime show, before going on to direct the pop diva’s MDNA tour.

In devising the show, Laprise and his team drew up a list of what previous Cirque shows had done out of necessity and out of convenience. “We kept what we do out of necessity, but everything else, we challenged ourselves to transform it,” he declared. KURIOS has a lower stage than the company’s other touring shows, meaning the performers are closer to eye level with the audience, creating more of a connection between them.

Photo credit: © Martin Girard shootstudio.ca

Speaking about the climate that led to the creation of KURIOS, Laprise said “We were in a very bizarre mood in 2012-2013, people were sad. I thought ‘why are we sad? We live in abundance!’ People were talking as if we were living in hell.” Laprise decided to create a show that would make audiences feel good and realise how lucky they are. “After the audience leaves the big top, they will think ‘wow, everything is possible’,” Laprise mused.

Head of Wardrobe: Julie Desimone. Photo credit: Jedd Jong

To create the enchanted Cabinet of Curiosities which comes alive in KURIOS, more than a hundred costumes and 426 props are used in the show. The costumes are designed by Philippe Guillotel, and it falls to Head of Wardrobe Julie Desimone to, in her own words, “maintain the integrity of the costumes as if every night is opening night.”

Mathieu Hubener as Mr Microcosmos. Photo credit: Jedd Jong

“You want to keep it beautiful, you want to keep it creative, and it also has to really be safe and it has to be comfortable,” Desimone stated. Her favourite costume in KURIOS is that of Mr Microcosmos, a fastidious figure who represents technological progress. “It’s a challenge for my department because it’s not just a costume, it’s not just a jacket and a tie, it is a prop. It is a very large, foam, fiberglass, roughly 30-pound (13.6 kg) prop,” she said of Mr Microcosmos’ outfit. It took a team of propmakers approximately 250 hours to build Mr Microcosmos’ belly, which opens up to reveal several surprises.

The amount of moving parts in the show keeps Desimone very busy. “We do a lot of maintenance every day. We have a full team of people that just do maintenance for hours. By the time the show comes, what we’re putting on stage has been looked at and gone through many, many hands,” she said.

Photo credit: Jedd Jong

While there are unique challenges to being the Head of Wardrobe at a show like KURIOS, Desimone described it as “the best job in the world.” She called the cast “incredible,” adding “When you think about what they do on a daily basis, you have to have that energy, you have to have a little bit of youth, and have to be ready to roll with the punches.” Desimone said of her cohorts, “we all have a common thread, we’re all really adaptable, we like to change, and we like to explore. We’re all very adventurous.”

Photo credit: Jedd Jong

One of the acts we watched during the press call was the Aerial Bicycle act performed by French acrobat Anne Weissbecker. The typical aerial hoop used in acrobatic performances is replaced by a bicycle, which Weissbecker rides onstage. The bicycle then takes to the air, with Weissbecker hanging beneath it.

Anne Weissbecker and Mathieu Hubener. Photo credit: Jedd Jong

When asked what the hardest part of the act is, Weissbecker replied that it’s “To make it look easy”. She pointed out that she must maintain the right speed and the perfect amount of tension on the rope so the take off is smooth and she doesn’t swing too far out from the ring. “You have to make people dream, so you have to hide what is difficult,” Weissbecker said, voicing a sentiment that many of her fellow performers probably share.

Photo credit: Jedd Jong

Weissbecker began studying circus arts at the age of ten, eventually overcoming her biggest fear. “I didn’t like trapeze because I was afraid of heights. It was not high, it was probably about one metre, but I felt it was so high. I get used to it, with training, you can push yourself and really have fun doing what you love,” she enthused.

Photo credit: Jedd Jong

The other act we saw was the Banquine, a tumbling act performed by 13 acrobats. The act was previously featured in Cirque’s Quidam and is something Laprise specifically wanted as part of KURIOS.

Ekaterina Evdokimova and Kirill Tyurganov. Photo credit: Jedd Jong

Kirill Tyurganov, who was a member of the Russian Sports Acrobatics Team before joining Cirque du Soleil, is one of the Banquine performers. “For me, this act is about breaking limits and going [beyond] the edges,” Tyurganov said. “We don’t have any additional equipment, we don’t have any props on stage, it’s all about skills and reactions.”

Tyurganov said his background as a professional athlete prepared him for the world of Cirque, but there was still a lot to learn. “When you come to Montreal, to international headquarters of Cirque du Soleil, you really dive deep into the atmosphere of creation, of something crazy and sometimes it’s mad,” he recalled.

Photo credit: Jedd Jong

Tyurganov has taken his wife and two young children with him on the road, describing it as an extended vacation for them. He was full of praise for Singapore, declaring “As soon as I arrived, it was like ‘oh my god, the future is coming’.” He expressed an admiration for “the mixture of cultures, food, people,” calling it “wonderful”. Tyurganov described his visit to Gardens by the Bay as “like living in Avatar”.

KURIOS features a score by French film composer Raphaël Beau, which is performed live every night. The band is led by Marc Sohier, who plays the bass guitar and double bass. “The role of the music is to support the image, the action, with the right intensity, the right volume,” Sohier said.

Marc Sohier and Eirini Tornesaki. Photo credit: Jedd Jong

The star of the band is Greek vocalist Eirini Tornesaki, who portrays the Street Singer. She described the show’s sound as “electro-swing”, and said she appreciates being part of “a big group of people working all together for the same goal, to deliver one show.” Tornesaki continued, “Sometimes when I step back and look at that, I feel very privileged to be part of such a beautiful group that puts so much energy and effort and professionalism to make this show happen.”

Rachel Lancaster, who has a background as a dance artist, choreographer and director, is the show’s resident artistic director. She voiced her hope that the show serves as more than mere escapism, saying “more than just the two-and-a-half hours that you spend watching the show or the journey emotionally that you’re taken on, it should also be with you for days or months or years.”

Some of the cast and creatives of KURIOS. Photo credit: Jedd Jong

Lancaster gave praise to the team of people from many disciplines who work on the show, saying she finds fulfilment in “the small things we achieve every day.” “My job is to facilitate and help to make them happen, and when they reach their goals, I’m incredibly proud, but it’s all of their hard work,” she said of the many artists and technicians who help make KURIOS happen.

Photo credit: Jedd Jong

Focusing on the theatrical presentation aspect of KURIOS, Lancaster said “That’s the beauty of theatricality, how to create something that touches the audience and takes them on this journey out of nothing sometimes.” She remarked that “the best theatrical moments are usually the simplest,” stating “You can throw all the bells and whistles and light and magic at things, but if on a basic theatrical level it doesn’t work, you can masquerade, but if you really want to touch people, it’s got to be real.”

KURIOS is turning fantasy into reality from July 5 to August 4 2019 at the Big Top at Bayfront Avenue. Tickets start from $95 (excluding $4 booking fee) and can be bought here: https://www.sistic.com.sg/events/kurios0819

 

Home is calling: Invisible Stories set visit

For inSing

HOME IS CALLING: INVISIBLE STORIES SET VISIT

inSing meets the director and actors of HBO Asia’s new original series on location 

By Jedd Jong

Photo credit: Jedd Jong

HBO Asia has begun principal photography for its latest original series Invisible Stories, which is being shot on location in Singapore. The six-episode half-hour drama series revolves around the lives of everyday people living in the fictional housing estate of Sungei Merah.

The series is created by Singaporean writer-director Ler Jiyuan, who worked with a team of local writers to realise Invisible Stories. Ler has directed episodes of local TV series and TV films including Zero Calling, Code of Law and Gone Case, and recently wrote and directed episodes of Grisse for HBO Asia.

Invisible Stories is produced by Singapore-based company Birdmandog as part of HBO Asia’s partnership with Singapore’s Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA).

Showrunner and director Ler Jiyuan. Photo credit: HBO Asia

“80% of Singaporeans live in HDB flats. I myself grew up in an HDB flat in the 90s, a three-room flat back when there were still gangsters,” Ler told the press during a break on the set. “My father was a taxi driver. Invisible Stories is the universe I came out from as a child,” he revealed, adding “I feel that it will be interesting for international audiences to see this side of Singapore, the non-crazy rich side.”

The stories being told in the series include that of a taxi driver who moonlights as a spiritual medium by night, and a banker who is a family man but lives a secret double life by night. The series features a regional cast comprising actors from Singapore, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Taiwan and Thailand.

Photo credit: Jedd Jong

inSing was on set at a coffeeshop or ‘kopitiam’ in Chong Pang, a quintessentially Singapore location. This is the partial setting for the first episode, starring Yeo Yann Yann. Malaysian actress Yeo has starred in notable Singaporean films including 881, Singapore Dreaming and Ilo Ilo. In Invisible Stories, Yeo plays Lian, a single mother working at the drinks stall in a coffee shop to support her autistic teenage son.

Ler wrote the role of Lian with Yeo in mind. She was initially hesitant to take on the role, for fear of it being too emotionally taxing, but later accepted. “The first thing I felt is that it would be very heavy for me. As a mother, I am also struggling with my child and my work,” Yeo confessed. “I’m juggling between taking care of my child and my work, I was trying to avoid something that was so heavy for myself. I was scared, because once you’re in it, you have to dig [into] the pain. Of course, there’s joy, but the pain is so much deeper.”

Photo credit: Jedd Jong

Yeo said she was inspired by an interview she watched in which actress Meryl Streep said she felt a responsibility to take on roles that would give voice to the voiceless. Yeo said of participating in a project that will represent Singapore on a global stage, “I’m proud of it, and I’m proud of giving voices to the unheard.”

Photo credit: HBO Asia

Yeo was sporting bruises, including bite-marks, that she assured us were mostly makeup. Yeo had shot a scene the previous day in which Lian’s son Brian had a meltdown. “A meltdown for an autistic child is when they don’t feel right. You take something away from them, they have a meltdown,” Yeo explained. The cast worked closely with a special education teacher to ensure that the life of an autistic person and their caregiver were portrayed sensitively and accurately. “Many things that we perform were approved by the advisor. The advisor was very happy that we didn’t over-exaggerate it or under-represent it,” Yeo said.

Director Ler Jiyuan. Photo credit: Jedd Jong

The issue of caring for an autistic child hits close to home for director Ler, who has two cousins with non-verbal autism. “I put myself in the shoes of a caretaker, Ler said, adding that “for them, it’s a really hardcore commitment. It’s emotionally draining, financially draining, especially for those of the lower rungs of society.” He emphasised that “the story is a very painful one, but one I still feel is necessary for us to see.”

Devin Pan on the set of Invisible Stories. Photo credit: HBO Asia

Taiwanese actor Devin Pan plays Brian, Lian’s son. Speaking in Mandarin, Pan called the meltdown scene the “most challenging scene” he has ever filmed. “You need to be very physically and mentally strong to make it through scenes like that,” he said.

Yeo Yann Yann and Devin Pan. Photo credit: HBO Asia

Yeo and Pan worked during rehearsals to form the mother-son bond their characters must share, and it carried over into the interviews with Pan holding Yeo’s hand when he felt nervous about being surrounded by the media. Speaking about working with Yeo, Pan said “I think this is the most fortunate thing that’s happened to me since I’ve left Taiwan to take on this job.” Both Yeo and Pan have a theatre background and he commented that they have similar personalities, saying “We’re both relatively carefree and easy-going but we focus on the performance, so we find it easy to play off each other when we’re acting.”

The series was born out of a desire to tell the stories of people whom we pass by on the street everyday in Singapore and wouldn’t necessarily give a second glance. “Every coffeeshop has a drinks stall aunty, but you never really think about who she is,” Ler explained. “That’s what I’m trying to do, to tell a story about people like that whom you’d walk by and never really notice; in regular dramas they’d just be extras,” he remarked.

Photo credit: HBO Asia

Yeo gained a new appreciation for what it’s like to work at a drinks stall in a coffeeshop. “Even just staying there for five minutes is not an easy thing, it’s very hot inside, it’s really not easy,” she said.

Yeo also took her seven-year-old daughter onto the HDB flat set the previous night. “She saw us struggling, melting down, fighting,” Yeo said. “I asked her ‘are you afraid of it?’ and she said ‘no, it’s fake!’” Yeo said her daughter does have some interest in acting, but that her dream job is an art teacher.

Ler Jiyuan, Yeo Yann Yann and Devin Pan on the set of Invisible Stories. Photo credit: Jedd Jong

Invisible Stories is set to premiere later this year on HBO Asia’s on-air, online and on-demand platforms.

 

Strut Your Stuff: Kinky Boots musical press call

STRUT YOUR STUFF

The cast and creatives of Kinky Boots discuss the award-winning musical, making its way to Singapore for the first time

By Jedd Jong

From 5 – 14 October 2018, the stage of the Sands Theatre at Marina Bay Sands Theatre will be transformed into the assembly line of the Price and Son Shoe Factory. This is the main setting of the musical Kinky Boots, adapted from the 2005 film of the same name.  The musical was first staged in Chicago in 2012 and went on to be a smash hit on Broadway and the West End, winning awards including Best Musical and Best Original Score Tony Awards. The show boasts music and lyrics by rock star Cyndi Lauper and a book by Harvey Fierstein.

Kinky Boots is set in Northampton, England, where Charlie Price has just inherited a shoe factory from his father. Without any ongoing contracts, the factory is about to be shut down, and Charlie finds himself at an impasse. A chance encounter with the flamboyant, assertive drag queen Lola changes both their lives. Charlie learns that the heels on Lola’s boots keep snapping, because the boots Lola wears weren’t designed to withstand a man’s weight. Charlie decides to make boots for Lola and her troupe of drag performers, changing the factory’s output from men’s dress shoes to “two-and-a-half feet of irresistible, tubular sex”. Charlie and Lola form an unconventional partnership, with the goal to debut a collection of boots at the prestigious Milan International Shoe Exhibition.

This production has gone to U.S. states including Philadelphia, Arizona, Colorado, California and Vermont since September 2017. From June to August, the production then toured China, with stops in Shanghai, Guangzhou and Beijing. After its Singapore stint, the tour will return to the U.S., visiting states including Kentucky, Alabama, Florida, Indiana and Tennessee.

inSing spoke to members of the cast and crew about their experience being on the road with Kinky Boots. Lance Bordelon stars as Charlie, but was not available to speak to the media at the press call. As the actor playing Lola, Jos N. Banks has most of the spotlight on him. Banks described the show as being “about love and acceptance” and said that’s why it’s been received so well.

Most of Lola’s musical numbers, especially her introductory song Land of Lola, are as bold and flashy as the drag queen herself. However, Banks’ favourite moment in the show is the song Not My Father’s Son, which showcases Lola at her most vulnerable, recalling the expectations placed on her growing up by her father. “It’s the first time in the show that the audience really gets to connect with Lola because it’s pared down,” Banks said, adding “you don’t see the big wig and costumes, you see Lola as a person, and that’s the moment you instantly connect with the audience.” The song starts off with just the piano and Banks’ voice. “There’s something very beautiful and I think there’s something very remarkable in the silence of it all,” he concluded.

Company manager Andrew Terlizzi called the show “a story that reaches everybody.” On the effect the show has had on audiences, he said “Chinese audiences who have never done drag performances themselves were inspired to come in full drag to see the show.” Terlizzi said the show had “opened [audiences’] eyes that they can be who they are”.

Wardrobe supervisor Michael Lavin oversees the show’s costumes, including those all-important boots. “We have a lot of very specific items that have to be maintained to very specific directions,” Lavin noted, adding that finding local suppliers and replacement parts when the show is on tour can be a challenge.

Dancing in said boots can seem like a formidable feat, but the performers in Kinky Boots make it look easy. “After a couple of weeks, you get used to it,” Philip Stock, who plays one of Lola’s Angels, told us. “There’s a different centre of gravity, you have to engage your core in a way you wouldn’t normally, but once you figure all that out, it’s normal,” he remarked.

Stock’s fellow Angel, Derek Brazeau, reiterated the show’s message: “just be who you want to be.” “All of us having differences is what makes us human. We’re not perfect, and I think that’s what makes us beautiful,” Brazeau said.

We spoke to the musical’s leading ladies Sydney Patrick and Hayley Lampart, who play Lauren and Nicola respectively. Lauren is a factory worker at Price and Son who finds herself falling for Charlie, but there’s a complication: Charlie’s already engaged to Nicola, who can be demanding and has grown frustrated with Charlie’s mission to make boots for drag queens.

Patrick cited Everybody Say Yeah, the closing number of Act One, as her favourite part of the show. “That’s when we decide as a factory that we’re gonna go through with the plan,” Patrick said, describing the number as “just a party onstage and everyone’s dancing on the factory pieces”. The conveyor belt on the factory floor splits apart, forming individual treadmills that the factory workers dance on. “It’s scary in the beginning when you’re learning it,” Patrick said of dancing on the treadmill. “We had a gymnastics day, when everyone was learning how to flip and stuff. Now, it’s normal. It’s just fun as this point.”

Patrick recalled how her mother introduced her to the film when Patrick was a teenager. my Mum said ‘I saw this cool independent British film’ – my Mum’s all into independent films. She sat me down and made me watch it with her. It’s so amazing, and many years later, I was like ‘there’s this musical called Kinky Boots’ and she said ‘that’s the movie I showed you!’” She told us that her parents were excited and proud to see her join the cast of the show, and would travel to watch the show as it went to different locales.

Lampart recalled watching the original Broadway production while she was in college in New York City. “I went out and saw it right away because it was such a hit immediately,” she said. “Billy Porter and Stark [Sands], it was the dream cast. Annaleigh Ashford, they were so good, Lena Hall.  When I saw it, I remember being like ‘oh my god, this would be so cool to be in,’ and it’s so crazy that it happened! Here I am, in Singapore.”

Both Patrick and Lampart have performed on cruise lines: Patrick on Disney Cruises and Lampart on Norwegian Cruise Lines. Patrick described herself as a “travel addict” and enjoyed visiting the different ports of call, but there are challenges to working on a cruise ship too. They touched on the difficulty of keeping in contact with the outside world and that the nature of a cruise is that time zones keep getting crossed.

“It’s such a fast-paced life and I really like that, I think I’m very adaptable because of that,” Lampart said of working as an entertainer on a cruise ship.

The Lauren character’s solo number is a wistful lament called The History of Wrong Guys, in which she reflects on her dating past and realises she’s falling for Charlie. When asked to offer romantic advice to those who seem to keep ending up with wrong guys (and/or gals), Patrick offered “If you are authentically you, you’ll attract someone who loves you, so you don’t have to try, you don’t have to try and prove anything to anyone. I think that’s probably the best lesson to do when you’re looking for your Mr or Mrs Right”.

The life of a touring theatre performer can be an arduous one, involving eight performances a week, moving from city to city, and long periods spent away from home. However, it is one that Patrick and Lampart find rewarding.

“I think we live in a world that can be very disconnected and very impersonal because of technology, texting and social media,” Patrick said. “Hopefully people who come to see theatre witness raw emotion that they can connect with and can think ‘I’m not alone’ or ‘I’ve had that experience before’ and they can open their hearts and minds to other people’s stories.”

Lampart remarked that shows like Kinky Boots “don’t come often,” and that the show’s directors told the cast as much. “They said this show makes such an impact on people and when you walk offstage every night after the finale, you just feel the feeling of maybe, hopefully changing someone’s perspective. It’s such an amazing feeling,” she enthused.

Tickets start at $65 (not including $4 booking fee) for D Reserve Seats. Tickets are available here.

Marvellous by Design: Ryan Meinerding interview

MARVELLOUS BY DESIGN


Marvel Studios Visual Development head Ryan Meinerding talks crafting the look of a cinematic universe

By Jedd Jong

A decade and 20 movies in, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is going stronger than ever, with hardcore fans and casual viewers alike watching with rapt attention with every film that’s released. In the beginning, before the MCU became the juggernaut it is today, the success of this franchise wasn’t such a sure thing, and studio head Kevin Feige was not sure if audiences would respond well enough to warrant the studio moving forward with the interconnected series of films.

Audiences have more than responded well, and a big part of the appeal of these movies is how they look, and how the design that goes into each MCU movie crystallises decades of material from the comics drawn by hundreds of artists and brings it to life onscreen.

As the head of the Marvel Studios visual development team, Ryan Meinerding has had a hand in crafting the look of the costumes, character designs and locations for practically every Marvel Studios film. Meinerding had worked with Iron Man director Jon Favreau on a version of John Carter that did not come to fruition. Favreau brought Meinerding on board, and alongside comic book artist Adi Granov and other artists, Meinerding devised the look for the first film in the MCU.

It’s staggering to think that most every image on screen in an MCU film began as a piece of concept art that Ryan and the visual development team working under his direction created. As a guest of the 11th Singapore Toy, Games and Comics Convention (STGCC), Ryan is in Singapore to meet fans and speak about his experience working on the MCU movies.

Ryan spoke to my good friend Tina Gan (a.k.a Red Dot Diva) and I at the preview of STGCC. He covered his journey with Marvel Studios so far, the character he is fondest of designing costumes for, the strength of the visual storytelling in MCU films, what it’s like working with different directors brought onto the movies, and how the visual development team works to ground the designs in reality.

JEDD: This is the tenth anniversary of Marvel Studios. Looking back through the ten years, can you take us through your history with the studio?

RYAN MEINERDING: Wow, that’s a large question. I was brought on board by Jon Favreau, I worked with Jon Favreau previously. I got to work on Iron Man 1 to design the Mark 1 and did keyframe with Adi Granov on Iron Monger, and we were trying to figure out the boot test sequence when he’s building the suit in his garage, and a couple of other things. After that project, Marvel asked me to come back to stay on board and help them figure out some of their next films, so I worked on early passes on Captain America, on Thor, and after that period of time, we went straight into Iron Man 2 and Thor.

I had recommended Charlie Wen to help come on board and help figure out Thor, so we worked together on Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger. After that, when we were going to work on The Avengers, Marvel Studios asked if I would hire more artists and form a time. We hired Andy Park, Rodney Fuentebella, Jackson Sze and eventually Anthony Francisco, and that team has stayed the same throughout the rest of the movies. We hire freelance artists as well, but it’s a real joy having been there from the beginning, creating a team and having the team deliver on all of the films since The Avengers. It’s a real treat, all the artists I get to work with on a daily basis are amazing. The fact that the cinematic universe has grown from the singular movie to something that’s 20 movies large and still going strong is really incredible.

TINA: How would you describe the essential MCU look and feel?

RYAN: Since Iron Man was the first movie and he’s one of the few superheroes whose superpowers are based in technology that could actually be created, I’d say there’s a grounded quality to everything we’re trying to do. We’re usually trying to make things feel as real as possible, whether it’s about making a suit that can make you fly and having super strength, or whether it’s designing a suit for Captain America where it feels like a real tactical thing, while still retaining the iconic look from the comics. Usually we’re trying to take something iconic from the comics and turn it into something that feels as real for the story world that the directors and producers are looking to create.

JEDD: In any adaptation, especially with comic book movies, there’s always a ‘war’ between iconic imagery and original thought. How would you describe fighting that war?

RYAN: I don’t know if we ever look at it as ‘original thought’. We’re usually trying to take what’s iconic and try to make something that feels real, and honestly add enough detail to it that with HD cinema and HD TV screens, the characters don’t feel too simple. The characters in the comics were always designed to be simple and iconic so they could be drawn over and over again, and we’re trying to take those icons and really flesh them out in enough reality in concept and aesthetics to make them belong in the real world, so they feel almost more real than real.

TINA: There are many moving parts in a film production, so when you have a design for a costume, where does the costume designer come in? Do they have a say after your designs have been approved to make alterations?

RYAN: Film in general is a huge collaborative experience. We are fortunate enough to get the designs approved by going to meetings with the producers and directors, and the costume designers are in those meetings as well. If they have concerns or they want to have input and say “we don’t think this will work”, we work around that. Once we finish and have the designs approved, they take the designs and see what will really work on the actors, and the actors have input on what will be comfortable and what they’re looking for in the costumes as well. There’s always a give and take, we’re giving and taking when we’re trying to get the designs approved, and they’re giving and taking with what they can accomplish.

Alexandra Byrne, who’s an Academy Award-winning costume designer whom I’ve gotten to work with on a few movies like Thor, Avengers and Avengers 2, described the collaboration with us the best I’ve ever heard it. She said, “we can achieve something together that we can never achieve on our own.” We come at it from a concept artists’ point of view of loving the characters and wanting to do justice to the comics, and they come at way from what’s the way this costume can be built that can look the best on the actor, and those two things together end in a result that hopefully elevates the character to a place that they couldn’t have gotten to without us working together.

JEDD: Different directors have different styles of working with people. What was it like working with Jon Favreau vs Joss Whedon vs the Russo Brothers?

RYAN: Jon is great to work with. He loves working with artists, he’s an artist himself. On the first Iron Man, my desk was 20 feet from his office. He was very involved with things. He was very collaborative, he’d say “come up with some ideas about how Tony can build the suit in his garage”, and I would come up with ideas and  pitch him and he’d say “I like this, I don’t like this”, that was always really exciting.

Working with Joss is incredible too, he’s a lot of fun. In presentations he’s the guy who’s making everybody laugh, he’s just fun to be around. He was incredibly collaborative too, he has very distinct ideas about what he wants to get out of a costume, what we would bring to it, and he would react to it.

The Russo Brothers are also really cool because they have a lot of notions about grounding the costumes. They want them to feel real, to feel really practical. In most cases that ends up like the Captain America movies, pushing Cap towards a very tactical feel. Each director I’ve worked for has been amazing in their own way. It’s been a real joy to work with such talented filmmakers and try to deliver what they’re looking for.

JEDD: The MCU is unique in that it’s the first successful cinematic universe in this era of movies, and many studios have tried to emulate, but never to the same degree of success. From your point of view, what is the balance between keeping a cohesive overview of the universe while ensuring each movie and each character has their own personality? What is that like visually?

RYAN: I’d like to say that I was responsible for the whole universe, but Kevin Feige is really the guy that has all that working in his head. We as the visual development team are fortunate enough to just try to make every movie work, and Kevin will give notes on what he thinks is going to work in the long run. I think the real useful part of the visual development team and the work that we’ve done on the characters and how it fits in with the movies is the visuals are so tied to the story.

If you look at Captain America in the first movie and the first time he put on the costume, the costume was essentially the look from the comics, but it was him in the USO show and it was something he thought was silly and wanted to walk away from, even though he was a symbol of something greater than himself. When he got a chance to put on his own costume, he chose things that were a little cooler, he had the helmet, he had the leather jacket and the pants. When he came back from that mission, he could see the value in not only being a soldier but a symbol, and that translated into his look for the movie.

That sort of desire to tie the visuals and the character to something very concrete in the story is something that I feel is unique to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Because it becomes so tied to that story, it allows you to move on from that in the next movie. It’s not like you’re constantly searching for the single Captain America costume that’s going to work, it’s what is going to work for this movie and this story point and allow that visual to represent that one moment. So in the next movie, the icon can be broad enough, and the next movie can have another grounded point.

 

In The Avengers, Coulson makes him his costume and he’s a symbol again, but he feels uncomfortable as a man out of time. In Winter Soldier, when he’s actually meant to be in contemporary time periods, he’s more of a stealth figure. All of that stuff allows for a very grounded notion of “this is the character’s journey, this is where he’s been, this is where he’s going in this movie.” That kind of stuff speaks to Kevin’s overarching view and understanding that the journey is larger that just one single thing.

Honestly, if we’d landed on a singular really, really strong version of Captain America and it wouldn’t change, all of a sudden it would take away the storytelling possibilities. The fact that we’ve been able to change, the icon is flexible enough to be reinvented several times in the films, that’s actually one of the strengths of it. It’s not necessarily that we need to have that one definitive version.

JEDD: And even now as Nomad when he rips the star off, that’s storytelling too, visually.

RYAN: Totally.

TINA: Which was the most challenging movie to work on, and which was your favourite?

RYAN: The most challenging movies are always the Avengers movies, because there are so many characters. With every Avengers movie, there are more and more characters, so it just winds up being harder and harder to do. You’re trying to give each character as much love as you would if they were in their own movie on their own, but there are upwards of 30, 40, 50, 60 characters in some of these Avengers movies. My favourite character, I love designing Cap costumes because that storyline, that journey that he’s on, is one that I’ve been able to work on from the beginning, and I’m very fortunate and happy to have been working on from the beginning. Spider-Man is also very fun to work on.

JEDD: In the MCU, I think Kevin Feige did something smart in starting off with Iron Man, which is based in technology, before branching off into the fantasy and cosmic realms. Which of the realms do you most enjoy working in?

RYAN: I definitely have worked more in the grounded reality of Iron Man and Captain America. Cap is slightly different, Winter Soldier wound up being more like a political thriller, but I enjoy all of them. I think the strength of the universe now is that it has so many different aspects to it. Bringing them all together into the Avengers movie is also a terrific, fun thing to have characters bouncing off each other that you never thought you’d see. Iron Man bouncing off of Doctor Strange bouncing off of Guardians, it’s a lot of fun.

TINA: Is there something particularly cool that was designed and thought of that did not make it into the movie?

RYAN: On Iron Man 1, we designed looks for JARVIS, him as a computer system, as a wall installation. There were going to be some things when Obadiah breaks into the house, JARVIS was going to be disabled and you were going to see what he looked like.

We also had some fun ideas for Hulkbuster. When Hulkbuster was going to land in South Africa to fight Hulk, we were pitching ideas that he could take over office buildings, he would have enough reach in the technology that he could light up different office windows to point arrows, to say to pedestrians “leave the area”. We had fun ideas like that, Tony is really looking to protect all the people around him.

I don’t know if there’s anything specific besides small things like that. I’m very fortunate in that a lot of things I’ve worked on have been able to become the look that’s on screen, so I’m generally excited about the way the characters turn out in the films. In the explorations that we do, we always try to explore enough things for each character that the directors and producers feel they have enough choices to work with.

JEDD: I love to take ownership of the work I’ve done, sometimes it’s me being a little selfish, but I like to take credit for what I do. What happens when you watch the movie and go, “oh, that’s a head Andy Park did, but that’s a body I did and Charlie did the wings”. Do you look at yourselves as a team, or do you go “oh, that’s mine!”

RYAN: We always try to be very respectful of if somebody’s doing a design that’s being responded to, we try to let that artist run with it. There are times when what you’re describing happens, but hopefully we’re all a team enough that we can be excited that what’s on screen looks good and be excited that we got to work together and collaborate on it.

Crazy Rich Asians Constance Wu, Henry Golding and Michelle Yeoh interviews

For inSing 

A GIRL, A GUY AND A POTENTIAL MOTHER-IN-LAW

Stars Constance Wu, Henry Golding and Michelle Yeoh talk Crazy Rich Asians

By Jedd Jong

While visiting the Singapore set of Crazy Rich Asians last year, inSing spoke to stars Constance Wu, Henry Golding and Michelle Yeoh. Here’s what they had to say about the film:

CONSTANCE WU

Constance Wu plays Rachel, the lead character in Crazy Rich Asians. The actress is best known for playing Jessica Huang in the TV series Fresh Off the Boat and has appeared in TV shows like Torchwood, Covert Affairs and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Wu is an outspoken feminist and champion for Asian representation in mainstream Hollywood media. As a take-off on the #StarringJohnCho meme, the #StarringConstanceWu meme similarly served to highlight how many Hollywood films could’ve worked with Asian stars like Cho and Wu in lead roles.

Wu spoke to inSing about filming on location in Singapore, working with her co-stars Henry Golding and Michelle Yeoh, how she spent her downtime in Singapore, and the importance of Crazy Rich Asians in the Hollywood landscape.

inSing: What does being part of this project mean to you?

CONSTANCE WU: Being rich, being crazy and being Asian [laughs]. It’s great being part of an ensemble that really gets along really well, and is trying to make a story that’s really fun and wonderful.

What was it like filming in Singapore and Malaysia? Does the heat get to you?

We had such an incredible crew that once they realised that they needed to bring more air conditioners and stuff like that, the crew was so hardworking and so caring that they really took care of us. Even on days when it’s really hot, there are all these people with fans and water around. Even though it’s been hot, the local crews have been so wonderful, it’s so great.

Can you go out without being recognised here?

I got more recognised here than I did in Malaysia. But yeah, I think I can blend in. Sunglasses, baseball cap [laughs].

What is it like working with Michelle, is she intimidating?

Oh, no! Michelle is very kind, very down to earth, she’s not as intimidating as Eleanor. But when she plays Eleanor, she definitely brings that. But as a person, no, she’s very kind

How about working with Henry?

It was great. He was really eager to do well.

Henry has discussed the backlash he received because of the ethnicity of the character of Nick. He was saying that you can’t get more Asian than him, because he grew up in Asia and spent all this time in Asia. What was your response to that backlash?

I don’t think it’s true that you can’t get more Asian than anybody, than him, because that implies that there’s one standard, and I don’t think there’s any standard of what’s more Asian or not. I think you create your own identity, and the identity you create is borne of many things: where you choose to live, what language you speak, what language your parents speak, what music you love, what stories you love. Those are all factors that make you who you are, and there isn’t any one person who’s more Asian than another person. There are just individuals. And that’s why this movie is so great: it doesn’t show Asians as just one monolith. It shows the diversity amongst Asians. You have characters as different from Kitty Pong to Rachel. You couldn’t be more different, both of them are Asian. Diversity within an Asian cast shows the richness of character within a culture and the richness of individual spirits within a culture, that are influenced by the culture but still claiming individual identity.

Everyone loves you from Fresh Off the Boat, and now you’re in Crazy Rich Asians. Do you see yourself as the ideal Asian-American representative in Hollywood?

I don’t think I’m the [ideal] Asian representative. I really like bringing to life stories about being Asian in the world, because there aren’t a lot of them, and I think they’re beautiful stories. It’s an honour to work with Nina, with Jon, and with Kevin Kwan’s story. It’s based on very personal things that happened to him.

Have you met your fair share of crazy rich Asians?

I’ve never met many.

So you’re very much like Rachel, in that you’re not used to this opulence.

No, not at all. I don’t even think I’ve met a crazy rich person, Asian or not, any person. I grew up working-class [laughs] in Virginia, in the United States.

Awkafina has said that there have been projects where she feels like the token Asian on set, and in this movie, that’s totally gone and she feels happy to be among her peers. Do you feel that this is a landmark, moving forward?

Sure. We’ve actually never had a studio movie that starred all Asians that wasn’t a period piece. Because The Joy Luck Club, that came out I think 20 years ago, it was partially a period piece. A lot of the Asian cinema that we see in theatres are period pieces, like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. They’re all beautiful and I love that we have a lot of period pieces, but why don’t we ever see Asian-Americans in a contemporary context? Why don’t we see mainstream movies where they’re using cell phones, you know? [Laughs] It’s not because we don’t, you’re using your cell phone right now. It’s a way to include them in the current conversation by showing them in a contemporary context, saying that they are here and they are contemporary, and our stories matter. So that is really ground-breaking, and is part of the reason why I took on this project.

On your Instagram, we saw that you made The Rabbit Headquarters your first stop in Singapore. What made you want to visit them?

I love rabbits, I have a rabbit and I couldn’t bring her here.

What’s your rabbit’s name?

Her name is Lida Rose. She’s four-years-old and she’s very cute. I really missed her, I don’t know why, but I really love rabbits. So the first thing I wanted to do when I came to Singapore was to go see rabbits.

You also posted on Instagram that you went to watch Wonder Woman in Singapore. Do you think that that’s on the horizon, an Asian female-led genre piece in Hollywood?

I don’t know, but I do consider this film to be a female-led piece. Even though a lot of people think it’s a love story, I don’t think it’s a love story. I truly think this story is about women and the sacrifices they make to protect men. If you look at what Michelle’s character does, Eleanor, [she] makes a sacrifice to protect Nick. If you look at what Astrid does, Astrid makes a sacrifice so that Michael doesn’t feel inferior about his lack of wealth as well. It’s all about these quiet sacrifices that women make, they don’t need to show off, and how they navigate them through their female friendships, especially Rachel’s friendship with Peik Lin, played by Awkwafina.

I do think with movies like this movie and Wonder Woman that hopefully stories that have females who are not just objects of romance but who are making sacrifices and making choices and having agency in their lives, that those are stories we’ll see. If it happens in the context of a big Marvel blockbuster, that’s great too, but if it happens in the contemporary context of Crazy Rich Asians, that’s awesome too. I think the thing that we want is narrative plentitude, as opposed to narrative scarcity, so we want more stories, and not just one. If you don’t identify with one story, then maybe there’s another story you identify with.

When you were growing up, did you find that there weren’t enough female Asian characters to look up to?

Yeah, precisely because I’m not interested in actresses who are known for their beauty. I am interested in actresses who are known for their talent and their depth. This is not the fault of the actresses, but a lot of Hollywood movies try to sexualise or romanticise women, as if they’re just supposed to be there are be pretty. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it, but that’s not what moves me. Growing up, I didn’t think about it too much, because you’re just a kid – you’re thinking about what you’re going to have for lunch [laughs]. You’re not thinking about those kinds of things.

I grew up in the theatre, and the theatre is very welcoming. Especially where I grew up, all the gay people went to theatre, because it’s a welcoming place. I always felt very welcome in the theatre, and that’s why I kept pursuing it, because it felt like family there.

We saw you filming a very emotional scene. How do you get into that headspace?

Oh, that’s boring. I don’t want to bore you with all the stuff I have to go to get into that. That’s the most boring stuff, actor’s stuff. I’ve trained my whole life as a serious actor. I’ve gone to a conservatory, I’ve done Shakespeare, I’ve done all of it – and it’s boring! It’s like if I taught you how to fix a car. It’s very boring [laughs].

But it gets you to that place.

Yeah. Different people have different techniques. You find the ones that work for you, and then you use them. But when the writing’s good, it’s pretty easy, and when the actors are good, it’s easy too.

HENRY GOLDING

The producers of Crazy Rich Asians searched far and wide for their dashing  male lead, and settled on British-Malaysian TV personality Henry Golding. Golding is best known as a TV presenter, having hosted several travel shows. Despite having no acting credits to his name prior to this film, Golding is poised for stardom, having clinched a role in the upcoming Paul Feig-directed thriller A Simple Favour opposite Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively. He is also set to play a gay Vietnamese man returning to his home country in the independent film Monsoon, from director Hong Khaou. The story goes that an accountant on Crazy Rich Asians mentioned to their line producer that they had seen Golding host a red carpet event, reducing most of the women there to jelly.

In this interview, Golding spoke about making his acting debut, addressed the backlash to his casting, discussed working with his onscreen mother Michelle Yeoh and the explained the predicament his character Nick Young finds himself in.

inSing: What has it been like filming the movie?

HENRY GOLDING: Filming has been insane. It’s been a real learning curve for myself, but the crew here have been nothing but welcoming. It’s just become this huge family. I think that really makes a difference, and the one person who spearheads that is Jon. Jon is like a big brother to everyone, he’s got the patience of a saint, and that trickles down. When you’ve got a good director who doesn’t stress or shout, it makes everybody’s job easier. It’s been nothing but an amazing experience. I have nothing bad to say about it!

What were the challenges you’ve had to overcome, seeing as this is your first feature film role?

I’ve had very little onscreen time in terms of acting experience, but through the years, I’ve always wanted to get into acting. Movies are a big, big passion of mine, and have been for such a long time. Whilst watching movies, I’ve been analysing this whole time, and I’ve identified bad acting, and in a way, my love of movies and actors really helped bring something of mine. Acting is being in the moment, and being very present. Being intuitive to emotions, you blend those together, and I hope I did a good job.

Did you feel nervous acting opposite performers who’ve been in the industry longer than you have?

That was the weird thing, not at all. If anybody, it would’ve been Michelle who would’ve freaked me out. Michelle is queen bee. She is classy, she’s the person you wish for Michelle to be, and much more. I’ve grown up watching her and when we first met, I called her up when we landed in KL and said “would you mind if we had tea [together]”, and she said “no, not at all!” So we had 2-3 hour tea and crumpets, just to get to know each other. From her side, there was zero diva, almost minus diva-ness. She’s really been everybody’s favourite, she’s a saint.

The producer Nina Jacobson said you are the ideal Nick, and you had everything they were looking for in Nick. But of course, there has been some backlash because of your ethnicity. What would you say to the critics?

There are plenty of directions we can always go with this. We’ll go through the spectrum. Historically, Asia, especially Southeast Asia, is such a mix of blood, in terms of Peranakan, you’ve got the Malacca and Penang, all those Dutch and Portuguese influences, there’s mixed blood everywhere. That’s something that the Westerners, even Chinese-Americans, don’t understand. We are such a melting pot here in Southeast Asia. What we should be proud of is we’re representing this side of the world. People are only concerned with Chinese-Americans in Hollywood. Then there’s the rest of us, who are maybe a little bit of Malay, a bit of Peranakan, everything.

When it comes to me being half-English, to me, I identify more with my Asian side. I’m from Sarawak. You cannot get more Asian than coming from five hours into the jungle. I would put myself against anybody from the States – how Asian do you have to be? I don’t understand. I’ve lived all my life in Asia, I align myself with the Asian cultures, but then it’s easy for somebody to say “he’s not Asian, he’s just a white guy!” They’ve never left wherever they’re from. It’s easy to point fingers, it’s easy to criticise, and it’s easy to always never be able to make everybody happy. That’s something we have to come to terms with. But for me, I’m extremely proud that I’m able to represent Singapore, Malaysia, all of us Southeast Asian countries. It’s very important that we’ve made it this far, and I take my hat off to Warner Bros. for taking it there. We’re breaking boundaries with this film.

Tell us about your character Nick.

Nick is…his own self. Nick has a very rich history, especially with Singapore. His family is of the old guard. For Nick, he is very acutely aware that he’s the heir apparent to these riches, that he’s Singapore’s poster child for that old system, but he wants to be his own person. He wants to shine as Nick Yong, not of Ah Ma’s creation or Eleanor’s creation. He left to find himself – he went to Oxford to study, then he went to New York, all under the guise of trying to find himself – and he found himself in Rachel. That bond is essentially the core of the story. It’s a love story. He is a bit silly in not explaining what is waiting for Rachel, but what he’s most afraid of is her judging him for that, and her thinking differently of the Nick that she fell in love with. He’s caught in between this hell and heaven, where he needs to introduce to that part of his life, but he doesn’t want to scare her. He doesn’t know how to put it across, because his grand idea would be to bring her over and throw her into that pot.

So it’s a little bit like Eddie Murphy’s character in Coming to America, in a way.

In a sense, in a sense. Thankfully, Rachel does enjoy herself, and ends up falling in love with Singapore, almost finding something in herself. She was never in touch with her ancestry, apart from her mother, her Asian-ness. For her, all of this is new. It goes back to how Asian you have to be to actually be Asian. For her, she’s a foreigner, coming to Singapore. She’s learning a culture that she’s not familiar with.

How strongly did you identify with the character?

It was very strange, because Nick shoes that I stepped into are very similar to my own, in a sense. His sense of not really identifying with the past – his identity is something he’s always had problems with. He’s not ashamed of his family, but he’s very aware that it can be very jarring for someone like Rachel. When I was growing up in England, I was seen as a foreigner, then when I’m back in Asia, I was a foreigner as well, so where do you belong? You’re a stranger everywhere. When I was creating Nick, it was more conceptualising the ideas and the memories that Nick had. Growing up with Colin, how he met Rachel, the process of him falling in love, and his relationship with his mother, one of the key components of this story. Those are the things I had to explore, and have those triggers ready for a scene which would bring those to the front.

MICHELLE YEOH

Malaysian actress Michelle Yeoh is no stranger to moviegoers in Asia, and has made considerable inroads into Hollywood as well. She is perhaps best known for her roles in the Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies and the Lee Ang-directed martial arts epic Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. She has also taken on prestige pictures like the Aun Sung Suu Kyi biopic The Lady. Lately, Yeoh has appeared in sci-fi projects like Star Trek: Discovery and Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2.

In Crazy Rich Asians, Yeoh plays Eleanor Young, who butts heads with protagonist Rachel Chu (Constance Wu), who is dating her beloved son Nick (Henry Golding). Much of the conflict derives from differences in culture and class, with Eleanor being the main obstacle standing in the way of Rachel finding happiness with Nick. In this interview, Yeoh told us about her character, working with co-star Golding and director Jon Chu, and the heart of the movie behind the sheen of material wealth.

inSing: How do you function in this heat without sweating buckets?

MICHELLE YEOH: There’s a crew behind us who runs around with fans [so] we don’t melt.

Throughout your career, you’ve worked with so many great directors. How does Jon Chu measure up?

Oh, wonderfully. I told him a couple of days ago, he reminds me of a young Ang Lee. The intensity, the way he works, the way he talks to himself, the way he visualises. He’s so hands-on. The way he runs around the set looking at all the details, I really enjoyed my experience working with Jon. He has been an absolute delight.

What was it like working with Henry Golding, see as it’s his first movie?

Fantastic. He’s like an old-timer. I’ve really, really enjoyed working with him. He’s very passionate, he’s very eager and he wants to do this well. I think if you ask anybody in the crew, they all adore him. Everyone wants to take him home to show their mother, and all the mothers want to take him home as their sons!

How do you approach a role like Eleanor?

It’s not difficult, because first of all, the book is there. I have a very close understanding with Jon, which is very important because as the director, he is really the soul of the film. We’ve done some major changes as well, we really worked on the relationship between the mother and son. I think this is very key for me as an actor, and key for the movie as well, otherwise what is it that holds all this craziness together? It’s that the mother would die for him. She would do anything for him – you know how Chinese mothers are. You know they would jump in front of a train for you. The thing is, we think that when we’re brought up in America, you’re like a banana. You’ve forgotten what it’s like to be respectful to your elders, you listen to them instead of just chasing your own dreams and things like that. In this movie, I think we approach this subject matter and deal with it accordingly. I think there’s no right or wrong, some of the old ways need to be changed, but I think with Eleanor, when I saw this, it was a very good opportunity. All the things you’ve heard about in the past, the Tiger Mom, the matriarch, the mother-in-law, even in the black-and-white movies – I think in this one, we try to break that cycle, if it’s possible at all.

Will this film dispel the myth of Crazy Rich Asians?

No! I hope it gives you a chance to laugh at them, and laugh with them. The thing is, we’re not trying to laugh at them, we’re trying to laugh with them. There’s nothing wrong with laughing at ourselves. I think we can take ourselves too seriously at times, that makes you miserable and makes the people around you miserable. Life is short, and can be very unpredictable, so if you don’t enjoy the moment you have, it’s a missed opportunity.

It’s there in the title, Crazy Rich Asians. How do you reconcile the materialism and the opulence with the heart?

I think there is always that balance. It doesn’t mean that if you can afford all these material things, you don’t have heart. When you are very rich, it’s how you spend the money. You can pamper yourself, but also be aware and compassionate to those around you who need it. Sometimes when you’re very young, and you have it, you haven’t got the sense of control or the sense of discipline yet, to understand what you can do. You think “me, my car, my plane, my ship, my my my my my!” I hope one day this person will have his eyes opened and be enlightened, or have a good mentor who can show him the right way.

How is this role different from the others in your career?

I hope that every time I come into a role, it is different, because otherwise, you just see Michelle Yeoh. When I get offered a role, I have to see “why am I doing this?” Do I love the script? Do I love the director? I don’t want to make a movie where you watch it and go “oh, that’s just Michelle Yeoh being Michelle Yeoh again”. It’s like when we designed for Eleanor, this is not what Michelle Yeoh would wear, this is not the kind of hairstyle I would have. My assistant went “you never wear that!” And I said “good, it’s not me in the movie!” You have to step into the roles of others, otherwise it will lose the fascination for me, and for the audience as well.

This film is seen as a very big step forward for the representation of Asian people in Hollywood? What do you see as the future for Asian actors in genre projects, stuff like Star Trek or Marvel?

I hope I have that magic ball to see! I think it’s very important that we keep pushing for these genre movies. It’s so rare, so few and [far] in between that we get [them]. We are such a big community. We have to be more united, to get out and push more of these projects out there. We have to create the box office, we have to create the marketplace. Just think about the African-Americans, and the Indians – they make these movies because there is an audience of it. If we Asians can stick together and demand more of these movies, then Crazy Rich Asians gets made.

 

Mega Bites: interview with The Meg actor Masi Oka

For inSing

MEGA BITES
Masi Oka talks being hunted by an ancient killer shark in The Meg

By Jedd Jong

Even in 2018, there are still corners of the world’s oceans that remain unexplored, and while it might seem implausible, it is tantalising and terrifying to imagine that hiding in one of those corners might be something like the Carcharocles megalodon. Scientists estimate that this fearsome ancestor of the Great White Shark stalked the seas between 23 to 2.6 million years ago and could grow up to 18 metres in length.

In the sci-fi action thriller The Meg, based on the best-selling 1997 novel by Steve Alten, a Megalodon rears its toothy head. the titular shark terrorises our heroes, led by Jason Statham as former deep-sea rescue diver Jonas Taylor.

Jonas had a traumatic run-in with the creature five years earlier, but nobody believed him then. Jonas’ ex-wife Lori (Jessica McNamee) is the pilot of the submersible Mana-One Origin, which is trapped in the Marianas Trench and effectively held hostage by the Meg. Jonas is hired by oceanographer Dr Zhang (Winston Chao) to lead the rescue effort, despite the insistence of Zhang’s daughter Suyin (Li Bingbing) that she can spearhead the rescue herself. The other crew members stuck alongside Lori in the tiny capsule are ‘the Wall’ (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson) and Toshi (Masi Oka).

inSing spoke exclusively to Oka about his work on the film. Audiences might be most familiar with the actor from his role as Hiro Nakamura on the TV series Heroes and Heroes Reborn. A man of many talents, Oka started out in Hollywood as a visual effects artist at Industrial Light and Magic (ILM), working on films such as the Star Wars prequels. His diverse CV also includes a stint as an English, Spanish, and Japanese translator at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain.

Photo credit: Lisa O’Connor for AFP/Getty Images

Oka has recently taken on projects as a producer, including the Netflix film Death Note. He is a cultural envoy to the U.S. Embassy, endeavouring to bridge the gap between Japan and Hollywood in the realms of arts and business. His acting roles in film and on TV also include Hawaii Five-0, Get Smart, Punk’d, Jobs and Austin Powers in Goldmember.

Oka told us what it was like working on the submersible set, how his behind-the-scenes expertise informs his acting when working on a visual effects-heavy film like this one, the camaraderie between the cast and crew, and how the nature of the co-production between American and Chinese studios influenced the final product.

INSING: Hi Masi, thanks for talking with us. Please tell us about your character Toshi.

MASI OKA: He is a Japanese co-pilot for the Mana-One submersible. We are the first expedition to go 11 000 metres under the ocean’s surface, and we also have a fateful run-in with an enormous creature, later revealed to be an ancient species of shark long thought to be extinct. He’s an overall fun tech guy, very smart, but also very goofy and loves to joke around.

Is Toshi very much like the screen persona your fans know you to have?

I think there’s a piece of me in it. Any character I play, whether it’s on TV or on film, I always approach it with a part of me, by exaggerating a part of me.

Were you a fan of the books by Steve Alten before you got the job?

To be honest with you, I hadn’t read any of Steve Alten’s books before getting the job, I didn’t know what The Meg was. When you get the opportunity to work with Jon Turteltaub, who did National Treasure and who’s such a great director, that was very inspiring. There’s such an international cast, and ensemble cast, and to be able to create a new Jaws for a new generation, was just something I couldn’t pass up. It’s a great opportunity.

This movie has a really eclectic cast. Which of the actors do you share most of your scenes with, and what was the vibe like on set?

I shared most of my scenes with Dari and Jessica McNamee. We’re the three pilots of the Mana-One submersible. The vibe on set was so fun, it was amazing. Jon Turteltaub took us out for dinner, he took care of the cast and everyone, and we felt like a family. It was like being at summer camp with friends and family. There was a camaraderie, we were collaborative, and we were just goofing around – sometimes goofing around too much. We improvised a lot on set, hopefully you see that in the DVD extras.

Was it harder for Jon to wrangle the shark or you guys?

It’s probably harder to wrangle us. At least with the shark, he just has to press some buttons. It was just a fun atmosphere. Jon is very self-deprecating, he’s an amazing leader.

You worked as a digital effects artist at ILM. From your perspective having been in the industry, what can audiences expect spectacle-wise from The Meg?

It’s amazing, it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before. It’s an over-the-top thrill ride with action, humour and fun. It’s a family movie that the whole family can enjoy. This shark, you’ve never seen anything like it before. I think the CG artists did an amazing job creating this. I had to imagine what it was going to look like on set because it hadn’t been created yet, but it really exceeded my imagination in terms of the sheer size and epicness of it, and the fear factor.

What have you learned from working both behind the scenes and in front of the camera?

I’ve learned a lot in terms of the process that goes into creating these things. Many times, actors don’t understand that us standing in one place and standing two centimetres to the right – there’s a reason for that. Those two centimetres help the post-production folks to save not only money, but hours and hours of work and headaches. Being a visual effects supervisor, having worked behind the scenes, it gives you an appreciation of everyone’s work. Also, it helps me communicate. When people tell me “we’re going to do some comps and roto you out here,” I don’t have to have that explained to me. To be able to communicate with people and speak people’s languages allows the set to be more efficient, and gives everyone mutual respect for each other’s work.

Yeah, that’s something you hear from actors who talk about working with directors who are actors themselves, they understand the craft from that perspective.

Exactly. It goes both ways – to understand both ways is really important.

It’s no secret that, unfortunately, there are more bad movies about sharks than there are good ones. What makes The Meg a good shark movie?

I’m actually happy there’s been a lot of bad shark movies, so The Meg can blow them out of the water. The amount of resources that went into creating this is amazing. We have a great director, an international global cast – the CG, the acting, it’s still grounded, it’s based on reality, it feels like the stakes are real. We want to have people scared, but also laughing, crying, maybe even angry at times, and then scared again. People go through a huge range of emotions, and that also makes The Meg something in the class of its own, compared to other shark movies which jump the shark.

This film has been in development hell, or development hell’s aquarium, if you will, for a while. What do you think were the challenges the production team faced in bringing this book to the big screen?

I think Warner Bros really believed in the film. It took time to make sure we did the film justice. That means we had to have the right budget to create the special effects, the technology. There’s a lot of reasons why things go through development hell, but I’m really glad Warner Bros. persisted and found the right creatives and the resources to make this. It took a while. Nothing’s easy when it comes to moviemaking. That’s a credit to everyone that Warner Bros, Steve and the producers continued pushing forward.

Jason Statham is one of the actors who’s pretty close to the action heroes of the 80s and 90s. What was your impression of him?

Absolutely. Jason’s a wonderful actor, he’s very generous and very charismatic. He’s definitely a lot larger than life, but he’s really just humble and a generous guy. When he gets on the screen, he is that persona – he’s everything you expect of an action hero and he encompasses all the qualities of an action hero.

The Meg very much plays on our Thalassaphobia, the fear of what might be lurking in the ocean. Do you have that fear?

Yeah, I definitely do have that fear. I’m also afraid of dark places, small spaces [laughs]…I’m glad that I’m playing a character. If this were me in real life, I would not be able to do what Toshi’s doing.

Movies like The Meg are sometimes described as “B-movies with an A-movie budget” – do you like that characterisation of the movie?

Not really – I think it’s a strange thing to say something’s a B-movie when the production quality is super-high. We don’t take ourselves seriously, but we’re definitely not campy. There are campy movies out there, but this is a real film, it is a creature film but it is grounded and has real stakes. People will go on an emotional ride. It’s an A-movie with A-production value.

That’s a difficult balance, making a genre movie that people are emotionally invested in.

Yeah, it has to do with Jon’s direction, the way that shots are laid out, music, acting, it all comes really well together, a nice blend of humour and emotional stakes.

In the movie, the characters who were originally Japanese in the book are replaced with characters who are Chinese, but who serve similar functions as the original characters. How do you think this change affects the story, or if does at all?

I think we got a bigger budget because of that, with the Chinese studio. I’m glad that they kept at least one character, my character Toshi, Japanese. In fact, that’s what the Chinese producers said, they wanted to improve on Japanese and Chinese relationships through film, which I love. I’m always trying to use entertainment to bridge cultures. I’m really grateful for that.

It sounds like The Meg has a really big thrill ride element to it, and I love theme park rides. If you could design a theme park ride based on The Meg, what would it be?

Oh wow! If I could design a theme park ride based on The Meg…wow. They should definitely be in that submersible and get plopped down into water. It’s hard to say anything without giving a lot away. It might be more of an escape room – you’re in a submersible and you know the Meg is approaching in 30 minutes, and you need to find a way out of there.

What are some of your favourite creature features besides Jaws which you mentioned earlier, and how do you think The Meg measures up?

My other favourite is probably Godzilla. Being Japanese, I grew up on manga and anime and iconic monster movies. The Meg is completely different – the technology is different, we don’t have suit actors or maquettes. It’s a 75-foot shark that’s completely CGI. It’s definitely in a class of its own.

Finally, if you could bring one prehistoric animal back from extinction, could be a dinosaur or anything else, what would it be?

A prehistoric creature? What would it be…hmm…you know, dinosaurs are great, probably a Brontosaurus because they don’t seem to be too dangerous. One of my favourite anime movies is the first Doraemon film, Nobita’s Dinosaur. Nobita befriends a [Plesiosaurus] named Piisuke. Jurassic Park kinda ruined it for me, but the one prehistoric creature I would want to resurrect would be that. It would be my bodyguard. Meg 2 can be the dinosaur.

You’re commanding the dinosaur into battle against the Meg.

Exactly. You’d need a dinosaur who can actually swim.

The Meg opens in Singapore on 9 August 2018