Jan 19, 2012
CS: How did you get Christian Bale involved with starring in it? He obviously had just been nominated for an Oscar at the time and this should get a larger Western audience due to his involvement. Did he have an English script for his part?
Zhang: At the beginning, I gave the English script to Steven Spielberg, a friend of mine, and asked him who he thought would be good for the part and he made a few suggestions–Christian was one of them–and then later, I asked the producers David Lindley and Bill Kong, who all recommended him as well as other candidates. When I spoke with Christian, he showed the most enthusiasm towards this project and we clicked right away even though there was the language barrier, but we felt like we could work on the same page and have the same skills working together. That’s how I got Christian Bale. One element that brought us together is that he likes to fine-tune the characters throughout the whole script. He knows that a lot of directors probably don’t want to change the wording of the script, so he was asking me if I was willing to change that and I said, “This is how I like to work. I like to change things and make it better and better over time, maybe even literally a day before shooting for that scene.” Throughout the whole process, Christian literally helped to shape the John Miller character the way he is right now and make the character a better character.
CS: I’ve heard that about Christian from other directors, that he’s very involved in developing the script and characters, but how was it working with an American in another language? I believe this is the first time you’ve directed an American actor.
Zhang: Before shooting, I actually spent tons of time with Christian, talking about the script and what has to be changed. Of course, the plot and the structure of the characters but fine-tuning the details, and literally two hours before shooting every day, we got together again just adding more details or editing out details, and that was pretty much the process. Just a lot of communication back and forth months before the production takes place and every single day before we start the scene. Christian is very humble and always asked what I wanted and then he gave me a few options as well to let me choose from.
CS: What about dealing with the issue of having known actors like Christian Bale who everyone will know and mixing them with unknown actors while trying to find the best cast?
Zhang: Actually, the older actresses that played prostitutes, they know Christian really well because they saw Batman and his previous works, so they were really nervous on the film set working with him because they knew how big a star he was. But eventually over time, he gets along with people and they don’t get as nervous as they do in the beginning. As for the younger girls, who are 12 and 13, they had no idea who he was, because they really hadn’t seen that many movies, maybe none, and they were too young to watch many of his movies anyway, so they just thought he was an American hanging out on the set. They would tease him, they’d play and make faces with him, they laugh with him, and were very relaxed around him. In terms of the crews, we definitely had to make an English call sheet, which we’d never done before and nobody knew how that was done, and Christian doesn’t even look at call sheets, but we had to make it. Also, calling out the orders had to be done in English like “Action,” “back to 1,” “roll camera, roll sound,” all those sorts of things which also were challenging for me because I had never done that before, but I learned every phase and I said it on set so everyone understood. Actually, we were so used to the English phrases after Christian left that we were still using English phrases for another few months.
Source: Coming Soon