Sun, 02 Feb 2003

How does Jennifer Tilly stay so beautiful?

Kenny Santana, Contributor, Bangkok

Jennifer Tilly, 45, who these days is mostly identified with her lesbian character in Bound and the voice for Celia in Monsters Inc. attended last week's 2003 Bangkok International Film Festival. A half Chinese actress (her real name is Jennifer Chan), she excitedly talked about Asian movies, her work and the fact that (surprise, surprise) actors can be jerks sometimes.

During an interview with Tilly, her intelligence and sassiness were evident. But The Jakarta Post also discovered that she didn't know that Bali is part of Indonesia, but was willing to laugh it off. "I just didn't want to look stupid when you asked me about Indonesia."

Question: What brought you here at the first place?

Answer: Actually the first time I heard about it, I was at this restaurant and this guy came over to my table and asked, "Do you want to go to the Bangkok Film Festival because they want people to come and promote the film festival?" I was really excited right after that because I'd been to Thailand four years ago and loved it and I always wanted to come back. And I thought it would be very exciting visiting the Bangkok Film Festival. I thought it would be quite fun. And my friend Paul really wanted to go too so he was talking to them. Then when we realized we had the time open, we decided to go.

Q: You were here four years ago on vacation?

A: I was with a friend, a fashion designer. We were at the Hong Kong Fashion Week and he said he'd like to go to Bangkok and see what it was like. So we came here for three days.

Q: Do you get to see Asian movies often?

A: No, but I've seen some Hong Kong films like The Bride with White Hair by Ronnie Yu who directed me in the Bride of Chucky. I saw some other films that John Woo directed. I had a boyfriend who really loved Asian movies. Now in Hollywood Asian films and Asian filmmaking are very, very popular, Asian directors, Asian films and stuff. Now everybody is watching them and they're enjoying the renaissance. And I think what's interesting about Asian films is they're really unpredictable in terms of Western sensibility, like people take off from the ground, they're sort of fantastical, with great fairy tale elements and a lot of humor, that's what I like. There's also tragedy and they're very beautiful visually. That's what strikes me about Asian films. A lot of times with the great cinematography, the costumes and everything. The films that I've seen were very fantastical, not about day-to-day life, almost like mystical films. Lots of action, that's what I like.

Q: You manage to strike a balance between independent movies and big budget ones. How do you do it?

A: I really like doing independent movies because, for an actress like myself, the roles are a lot better. And sometimes they're more creative, more challenging because you work out of the studio system. If you're doing big budget movies, you have all the executives and the studios; it's not so much the director's vision anymore. When you do an independent film, there's not so much money for people to worry about it. So most of the time it's more personal and there's more opportunity to show what you can do. I like to do big budget movies because you get paid better and they have better craft service (laughs). The thing about big budget movies is you know exactly when they're going to come out. I'm doing an animated movie for Disney right now that's going to come out at this year's Thanksgiving. While I also have a bunch of other movies at the festivals and I have no idea when they're going to come out. I'm hoping soon they're going to the Cannes Film Festival, the Venice Film Festival and the Toronto Film Festival. This is what I like about film festivals because they are very good venues for films to be seen that were not made with a lot of money. And then maybe studio producers will see them and pick them up. With independent films you put so much love and so much effort into them, but sometimes they don't really come out, so you just have to keep your fingers crossed. But then like last year, The Cat's Meow (Tilly starred in it) came out in a lot of theaters because it had a distributor. So you know if you make a good product, people will see it.

Q: You do a lot of voice-overs for animated films, how different is it from doing live action movies?

A: I like doing animation because you can be very creative. You come in, you only work for few hours. And as an actor, you need more takes. Usually in a movie you take five to seven takes. But when you're doing animation you can say the line over and over and over again until you get it right, until you get it the way you want it. Animation is fun, like in Monsters Inc. doing Celia. You do the voice and then the animators come up with all these funny things the characters are doing, like Celia with her snakey hair and all the little snakes with different expressions. So it's much fun to see how they take on from what you give them. From vocal characterization and how the animators make you realize that you're doing things that you didn't even realize you were doing. That's what's fun about animation. But when you're doing regular movies, you're more involved because you're two months on location. When they're doing animation like Monsters Inc., which was a huge, huge hit, I really didn't feel I was in it because I was doing only eight to 10 hours of vocal work. It's more of a personal stake when you're doing a live action film.

Q: Which directors and actors would you like to work with?

A: I would love to work with Martin Scorsese. I think he's a genius. Baz Luhrman, I think he's so creative. And who's that guy who made La Femme Nikita?

Q: Luc Besson.

A: Yes, I'd love to work with him. There are a lot of directors I'd like to work with. Actors. A lot of time you'd like to work with somebody, and when you work with them, you find out they're just jerks (laughs). They push their co-stars off the screen (laughs). But there are actors I really admire. I love Maggie Smith. I think Meryl Streep is a genius, and I think George Clooney is pretty cute (laughs). Those are the people I'd like to work with.

Q: Can you give us any jerks' names?

A: No, no (laughs).

Q: Which one of your movies would you choose to be critically acclaimed or a box office hit?

A: I think critically acclaimed is always nice, because I think all actors have the sense that they're really not doing an important job, so when they make a movie that has a grand statement, it makes you more important. But also box office, I'd love to wake one morning and found out my movie made US$100 million over the weekend. When you do movies that big on box office, it gives you work on films that perhaps might not get made otherwise. It's kinda good to have balance between both you know. To have a movie that perhaps only seven people are going to see, but really a genius one, and movies that the whole populace watches.

Q: What would you be doing if you were not an actor?

A: I'd be a writer, because I like writing and it's a creative skill. Not a screenwriter, because they get no respect from the people and everybody rewrites everything. I would probably write novels or plays. I like writing. I make jewelry also. I have a lot of success with it. I have my jewelry in different stores. So maybe I'd do it full time

Q: If you could stay a certain age, what would that age be?

A: Right now, I like the age I am now. I don't want to get any older, but I don't want to be any younger, and since I don't want to get older, I guess it's the age I am now, 27 years old (laughs).

Q: When you have children, what will you tell them about the world?

A: Umm. That's a big question. First of all, I'd tell them not to go into acting (laughs) and I'd tell them not to believe everything they hear. I think a lot of the time there's propaganda in the papers and news. I would teach them to question all the questions and not to take for granted what they see; perhaps what you see is not what it seems to be.

Q: Do you have a question that you'd wish the press would ask you but never does?

A: How do you stay so beautiful? (laughs)

Q: So, how do you stay so beautiful?

A: Plastic surgery (laughs). No, I'm kidding.