Interview conducted on 29 September 2009 via tele-conference call.
Singaporean actor Ng Chin Han made his Hollywood breakthrough role as Hong Kong baddie mogul Lau in Warner Bros' 2008 box office smash, "The Dark Knight," opposite Christian Bale, Morgan Freeman, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Gary Oldman. The success of securing the role was not immediate after having spent 20 years producing and directing numerous plays and musicals, and playing supporting roles in mostly indie movies. Versatile on stage and in film, Chin Han currently spends his time between Asia and Los Angeles.
He will next be seen in Roland Emmerich's highly anticipated film, "2012," along with an ensemble cast of John Cusack, Amanda Peet, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Danny Glover and Woody Harrelson.
Ng Chin Han
What attracted you to come on board this movie?
I read the script just before the premiere of "The Dark Knight" last year and as an actor I'm always looking for different kinds of project to work on and it gives me an opportunity to do action on a scale that I've never done before. Secondly, it's a disaster movie with the King of Disasters, Roland Emmerich. So it's very hard to say no to that experience.
The movie is based on the prophecy of the Mayan calendar predicting the end of the world on 2012. Do you perhaps believe in it?
I'm a spiritual person. I believe in the beginning and ending of things. I think it's more a metaphorical interpretation of beginnings and endings, so in that sense I don't think the world is going into destruction the same way as how it is in this film. But at the same time, if you read all the literature, you can't help but think it is coming true when you some parts of the world are being hit by giant tsunamis and earthquakes.
So tell me more about your character in "2012".
I play Tenzin, a Tibetan who discovers a secret that the governments of the world are keeping from the people and he then has to make some very difficult decisions that will determine the fate of the group of survivors namely John Cusack, Amanda Peet, Tom McCarthy.
One of the many posters released for "2012".
Was there anything special you had to prepare yourself for the character?
I had to learn Tibetan! It was a very foreign language to me, so they had to send me CDs and put me on tele-conference calls with instructors. And when I got on set, we always had a Tibetan translator to make sure we pronounced all the words in the right way. Secondly, the action sequences were very intense. There was some tricky underwater sequences where we spent days and days in water getting soaked and ... very pruney (laughs). But it was quite amazing because we were shooting in these gigantic water tanks with a big camera crew and scuba divers' making sure everyone was safe. Moreover, it was shot over winter 2008 in Vancouver. Very cold!
(laughs) It probably felt like you were in "Titanic".
Actually, the camera man for all the underwater shots worked on "Titanic" and "The Abyss"! So we had a really good time doing that.
When you played Mr. Lau in "The Dark Knight", it wasn't a token Asian character in which most of our Asian actors end up becoming in major Hollywood production. Did you take that up into consideration when you looked through this movie?
Totally, I always consider that. Stereotypes are just boring to play, so I tend to turn those roles down. I look at characters that can be played by Caucasian or even African American actors. That's the basis of my choices.
3 Feb 2008: "3 Needles" premiere - Shawn Ashmore, Olympia Dukakis, Chin Han, Thom Fitzgerald and Lucy Liu.
What was it like working with such big names in the industry?
It's always very interesting! There's that initial excitement and after that the feeling is terror (laughs) in which you realise there's a lot of work to do with these people and that you have to really pull your weight on this movie set with all these giants in cinema.
Who among them on "2012" left the deepest impression on you?
Cusack was very interesting. I grew up watching his films. He was every bit as quirky and private as I expected him to be. It was nice working with him and Woody Harrelson as well. We didn't get to work directly, but we were on set at one point in time when our schedules overlapped and Woody struck me as an amazingly talented, funny and also crazy actor.
How was it like working with Roland Emmerich?
He's the master of these types of movies. I remember the first day on set, they flew me from L.A. to Vancouver, then they drove me up to the mountains in Cache Creek and right in the middle of this remote mountainous area in British Columbia, they built an entire Tibetan village with about 500-700 Tibetan extras with helicopters flying overhead and military vehicles everywhere. The scale of the set was gigantic. So when working with Roland, everything about his movie is very big. Following that, he makes it very easy for you to act, you know exactly where you are in the story and you know what you're doing, especially with those big action sequences.
Did you ever imagine that your career would take you to Hollywood?
I've dreamt (laughs). My mum was a big movie fan, so I kind of picked it up from her. She would introduce me to movies starring Audrey Hepburn, Kerry Grant and Paul Newman. So as a child I would watch all those movies and dream about going to Hollywood, but whether did I plan on this? No, I didn't because there's no way of planning this. I've worked as an actor for a long time in theatre and TV and suddenly to have "The Dark Knight" and "2012" come at this time in my career. Some of my friends say I'm like a 20-year overnight sensation.
16 Jul 2009: "The Dark Knight" New York premiere – Chin Han, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Christian Bale, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Aaron Eckhart and Morgan Freeman.
Speaking on "The Dark Knight", how did the offer come up to you?
I did a film called "3 Needles" with Lucy Liu and Sandra Oh in 2006. I didn't think too much of it and by that time, 2007 came along I got a call from L.A. that they wanted to see me for "The Dark Knight". I knew I'll be competing with others all over the world. So then I decided to fly over to L.A. to meet with them and within six nerve wrecking months, it happened.
What was your most memorable experience?
Working in the company of Heath Ledger who was creating this unbelievable character right in front of my eyes and everyday you go on set, you'll see these things he was straying and it was so stunning and original. Working with Morgan Freeman, who is one of my acting heroes, was great as well. Having said that, "2012" was very memorable as I get to do a lot more action in this film because the whole experience with "The Dark Knight" was very tense and "2012" was like going to the playground, you don't know what to expect.
"I do go to much cooler parties in L.A. in this past year."
How has this transition from Singapore to Hollywood changed you?
When I'm home in Singapore, I'm still the same person. I go for suppers with my folks and I take my nieces to the zoo. What I can say, is that I do go to much cooler parties in L.A. in this past year and that has been quite an experience. And also it's really fun to see a lot of your heroes at events. I was just at a comic con and was having a drink with Jon Favreau who directed "Iron Man" and we're talking about "The Dark Knight" and his movie as well. And a couple of weeks ago, I was at the premiere of "Funny Man" chatting with JJ Abrams about "Star Trek". Being in such talented company, that's very inspiring for me to be in. I'm very grateful for it.
For a person who hasn't seen this movie yet, how would you sell this movie to me?
You're in the hands of a master storyteller. I think "Independence Day" and "The Day After Tomorrow" were all just building up to this one. I think this one topped anything he's ever done before it's 10 times the destruction you get in "The Day After Tomorrow". It deals with a lot of human issues and the choices we have to make when faced with this type of inevitably – the end of the world.
"I've had quite a few explosions and giant tsunamis chasing me already, so I think falling in love might be my next big thing."
What was your favourite scene?
There's a sequence that you can catch a glimpse off in the trailer which is the destruction of Los Angeles, California. That sequence is just unbelievable! It takes you on this incredible roller coaster ride and just when you think it's about to be over, it goes on and takes you on a wilder ride again. That whole sequence is a pretty amazing eye candy for all of you who love disaster movies. Also because I live in L.A. now, I recognise a lot of the landmarks that are destroyed in the movie so it makes it more of a scary experience when you see a city that you know very well sink into the Pacific Ocean.
If you knew when the world was coming to an end, what would you do?
I would invite all of you to come over for a very big barbeque party where we would talk about our shared love for movies, sit back, enjoy the wine and watch the fireworks as the world comes to an end. No point stressing and fretting. There's nowhere to run to anyway (laughs). When the world comes to an end, you're all invited to my party!
What's your next move?
My manager and I are looking at some intimate, complex sort of independent dramas. Because I started out in the theatre, I might be interested in going back to doing something quirky as an independent movie. I'd love to do something like "(500) Days Of Summer" for example (laughs), it's one of my favourite movies this Summer. I've had quite a few explosions and giant tsunamis chasing me already, so I think falling in love might be my next big thing.
Well then, all the best Chin Han!
"2012" will hit cinemas this 12 November 2009!
Cinema Online, 27 October 2009