Le Thai Hoa, the Vietnamese-Canadian actor who plays General Nhuan in this summer's blockbuster X-Men: Days of Future Past, tells Luong Thu Huong that his Hollywood experience has been rewarding in multiple ways.
Inner Sanctum: How did you land the role of General Nhuan - a Vietnamese fictitious participant at the Paris Peace Conference 1973?
I know that X-men: Days of Future Past was cast locally at first in Quebec, Canada but eventually it opened for the rest of North America, and I ended up in getting in.
Though I was born in Montreal, my parents are very proud of their Vietnamese origin and kept speaking Vietnamese at home. However, my Vietnamese was still limited. Late in 2000, I started learning Vietnamese more seriously on my own by getting more involved in community events across Vancouver in which I had to work with older Vietnamese people from the North [Viet Nam].
I think that I probably won the role because I've been a professional actor for the last 16 years in North America, and I'm comfortable in Vietnamese. Though the producers needed someone who could speak northern Vietnamese, and I'm not a native northern Vietnamese speaker, I can still fake it because I know the differences. And most of all I think I grabbed the attention of the directors and producers especially with singing the song Kalinka, a Russian folk song, which I think is really appropriate to the scene and the character. I have a background in classical music and a large repertoire of international songs. Not many Vietnamese actors did similarly in the audition so I drew the attention of the producers. What are the odds the other actors vying for this role did the same?
Inner Sanctum: How was the experience of working with famous Hollywood actors and actresses like Jennifer Lawrence or Hugh Jackman?
I got the opportunity to work with Peter Dinklage from the Game of Thrones TV series and Oscar-winner Jennifer Lawrence. Peter is very interesting and we chatted a little in the makeup room. He has an amazing voice, and is a man of theatre who is very serious with his act. It was nice to work right there in front of the camera with him.
Jennifer Lawrence is, of course, a very nice person. She is actually like what people say about her: humble, friendly and down-to-earth.
Inner Sanctum: Can you share some of your unforgettable memories while acting in X-Men?
One was when my friends came to visit me on set. I knew it was a special project so there was tension. The assistant directors were not comfortable so what I did was that I went to Jennifer Lawrence and said: "Hey Jennifer, you know my friends are here. I want to make them happy so I can kick them off as soon as possible so would you be kind enough to take a picture and I'll be in it too". She was wearing high heels and in between shoots she often took her heels off to read a book or eat snack. What she did was walked across the set bare feet into the waiting room where my friends were and we took a picture. I was pretty impressed and surprised because there was stuff on the way like chairs and electrical cords.
Another unforgettable memory is that I got to hang out with other overseas Vietnamese actors who played as Vietnamese delegation at the Paris Conference after the shooting and have dinner together. We went to their places and ate delicious authentic Vietnamese dishes cooked by their wives.
Inner Sanctum: What is your favourite scene in the film?
I have to say that it is the one featuring character Quicksilver in slow motion. We see what Quicksilver is doing and that scene took place in the Pentagon when the characters had a minor escape. It is a funny scene which has a very nice 1973 song called Time in a Bottle by Jims Croce, which enhances the artistic touch of the scene. I'm very impressed with the scene. I have been an actor for 16 years but I don't know how they shot such a scene, technologically.
Inner Sanctum: How long did it take you to finish your parts? What was the hardest part of your role?
People might be surprised by this but when I started the business I had no idea how long it takes to shoot a movie. But the three scenes I had in X-men took me eight days to act. Initially, I had only four days, then the director decided to add more action bits in the boardroom scene, which took four more days.
It was a challenge to say General Nhuan's sentence in Vietnamese: "Dau phai ngay nao minh cung duoc chien thang dau" (We do not win every day though). For me this part was a bit harder so say in Vietnamese than the other parts. I don't sound like an authentic northern Vietnamese general at all.
But the biggest challenge I would say is the scene when Mystique (acted by Jennifer) choked me. The director wanted my eyeballs to go up as my eyelids were closing and I just couldn't do it, somehow. May be I was too nervous. He then told me to simply close my eyes. I wonder how disappointed he was, but it was a difficult thing for me.
Inner Sanctum: As an overseas Vietnamese actor, what do you think of opportunities for Vietnamese actors to act in Hollywood blockbusters?
In Quebec, a writer actually told me the fact that he intentionally focuses on writing characters for Vietnamese actors, but I don't know if in Hollywood the production sides behave that way. There are lots of Asian people in North America because it is very cosmopolitan and multicultural, but it's not reflected yet in the movies that come out from Hollywood. So opportunities for Vietnamese actors are very little.
This is partly why a few of us embrace the opportunity to return to Viet Nam even though we were born there or not. I myself admire and feel grateful to overseas Vietnamese actors like Dustin Nguyen who I think have paved the path for people like me.
Inner Sanctum: What is one thing you would like to accomplish this year or in the next ten years?
I'm working on scripts with a friend who is a scriptwriter and a director, Nguyen Tri Dang, so I would like to have an opportunity to realize one of these movies in Viet Nam. I would also like to work with my director Cuong Ngo of Pearls of the Far East and Nguyen Quang Dung, who always make blockbusters.
I also intend to fly down and stay in Los Angeles (where Hollywood is) from January-May 2015 during what we call "pilot season", hoping to make the run of auditions and possibly book a role on a pilot. — VNS