Internationally renowned Actress Summer Qing is a native of Beijing (China), and graduated from Beijing Film Academy’s performing division. She made an attention-grabbing film debut as the female lead in Chen Kaige’s 1990 Cannes Film Festival-competing LIFE ON A STRING, about a pair of blind musicians in a rural village. Qing’s naturalistic performance contributed greatly to the film, which cemented Chen’s reputation as one of the foremost international filmmakers.
Soon after, she played the lead in the film of another acclaimed director, Lin Zifeng’s KUANG (CRAZY), and was nominated for Best Actress at one of China’s top film awards, the Hundred Flowers Awards. The popular television series, “Close to Forbidden City”, then shot her to fame across the country as a sweet-natured ingénue.
In 1996, she starred in the Chinese historical epic, THE EMPEROR’S SHADOW, which is a fictionalized account of China’s first emperor and his relationship with a court musician. In official competition at the San Sebastian Film Festival, the film was widely recognized for its vast scope and breathtaking visuals. In 2007, she was featured in the Hong Kong action movie FLASH POINT, which was a box-office hit across Asia. Most memorably, she played the pivotal part of Soong Ching-ling, wife of Sun Yat-sen and an honored historical figure known to every Chinese person, in the hugely successful 2009 film THE FOUNDING OF A REPUBLIC. The film was made to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China and produced by China Film Group and DMG Entertainment. For that role, she won a Hundred Flowers Award for Best Supporting Actress. She won the same prize at the Macau International Film Festival.
In 2011, Qing joined the cast of the time-traveling epic LOOPER, where director Rian Johnson acclaimed her as the perfect figure for Chinese women. While on set, Qing worked with Bruce Willis, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Emily Blunt in her first Hollywood production. One of the most exciting and action-packed films of 2012, ‘Looper’ has made quite the impression on film fans! Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Summer Qing to discuss her career, influences, experiences while on the set of ‘Looper’ and what the future holds for this rising star!
Where did you grow up and how did you get started on your journey in the entertainment industry?
I was raised by my grandma, my mom’s mom. I grew up in an environment where there are a lot of Chinese officials and diplomats. I always thought I would become one of them. Believe it or not, there wasn’t any inspiration for me to become an actress until I actually enrolled in the film school. Only after I entered the Beijing Film Academy did I learn such great actors’ names as Meryl Streep and Robert De Niro. Then I was inspired to become an actress. I made my first film “Life on a String” in my junior year and started my journey into the entertainment industry.
Who would you cite as your biggest professional influence?
The actress that I particularly admire is Meryl Streep. I have seen almost all of her past work: “Out of Africa,” “Kramer vs Kramer,” “Mama Mia” and the “Iron Lady,” to name just a few. Her ability to portray so many different types of characters in such diverse genres has set a benchmark for all other actresses. She is like an evergreen tree. She has been challenging herself all these years and never for once left us disappointed. How amazing! I do learn a lot just from watching her performances all along.
One of your latest projects is “Looper.” What attracted you to this project initially?
Simply put, an amazing writer/director with a well-developed story, a great character that represents Chinese women, and, last but not the least, Bruce Willis!
They say every actor learns something from each project. What did you learn from your time on the set and with the cast?
In a rather abstract way, I’ve learned why ‘love’ is essential in making a great movie. I’ve always believed that holding love and being truthful in heart is essential to acting, and Looper is just another project that proves this point. Rian, Bruce and Joseph, like all other cast and crewmembers, have shown so much love to me on the set. After each wrap of my shoot, they would clap for me with so much warmth. We had a lot of laughs on the set. That’s really a universal language to friendships, which helped all of us get so close to working together on this great project.
What was it like working under the watchful eye of director Rian Johnson?
I had a wonderful experience working with Rian. He’s so charming and humble! He gives very good directions and at the same time respects my opinions, too, so that I can give my best performance on set. I believe he has all the qualities of a truly great film director. I certainly hope that we shall work with each other soon again, no matter where.
What is your fondest memory of your time on set?
Working with Bruce Willis is one truly great experience. I will never forget the first day I arrived on the set. He came to me, pulled me into his arms, and gave me a big long hug. He didn’t say a word but that said more than enough. We were like an old couple finally reunited, ready to take on another adventure in life. It was so romantic and emotionally intense. From that day on, I have only seen the loving and caring Bruce on set, for which I am very grateful.
How do you typically prepare for a role and bring the character from script to screen?
Most of my roles involve intense emotions: passion, sadness, confusion, sympathy, and etc. Such experiences are no stranger to anyone. As an actress, I imagine myself to be my characters, to experience and feel what they have experienced and felt. The degree and intensity of the emotion is critical. When I act, I will motivate and adjust my emotion to fit my parts in each and every scene. For example, in ‘Looper’, Bruce and I had a strong connection. Our love saved him from his past. How I prepared for it was like this. I really found myself feeling for him. I did love him, wanted the best for him and devoted myself fully to him. Our part of this sci-fi thriller is more romantic than anything else.
Is there a particular type of film or genre you are anxious to explore in the future?
Actually, yes. I wish to try playing something different. After so many years of playing the good girls and the perfect woman type of characters, I find people have a certain set image of what kind of roles I should be playing, which in a way sets limitations for me. Currently, I’d love to try something different, to play a bad girl or even a villain. For instance, the Joker (by Heath Ledger) in the “Dark Knight,” or the witch from “Dark Shadows” (by Eva Green), or the girl in “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” (by Rooney Mara).
How does working in Chinese cinema differ from American cinema?
I don’t think there is such a big difference on the creative side. However, “Looper” has an amazingly professional crew. Every department and crewmember adds points to the overall quality of the film. However, many Chinese directors are not so lucky. So many things happening are deducting points to the quality of the film. Still, we are still able to make great films in China. Again, I don’t think between working on a Hollywood production and a Chinese one, one is better than the other. What does matter is to have a great team, which, I’m glad, “Looper” is proud to have.
You worked in television and film. Do you prefer one more than the other?
Honestly, I prefer films. However, if a great TV project like “Homeland” comes along, and I can play a character as Claire Danes did in it, I wouldn’t say no.
How do you feel you evolved as an actress since starting out?
Filmmakers create dreams for their audiences. We help them experience what they otherwise wouldn’t be able to experience in reality. I feel lucky to be an actress to have the chance to play various roles in different dreams. Acting itself is another life experience. Above that, I live my own life. I observe, experience, and treasure the bits and pieces of life moments. I just love what I do!
Best advice someone has given you so far in regard to your still career you can pass along to aspiring actors?
Be true and truthful to people and more importantly to yourself. Only by doing that can we shine with our true self in our work.
What other projects are on the horizon for you?
I will be working with the best Chinese playwright and theater director Stan Lai on an eight-hour-long play, which will be a groundbreaking cultural event in Asia. At the same time, there are a few international film projects under development and/or in negotiation.
Is there anything else you would like to say to your fans before I let you go?
I hope the American audiences will remember Summer Qing for “Looper” and I hope you guys will be able to see me again soon!