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What was so important that Batman had to be dragged away from Gotham?
I love to do interviews like this. Forget about the talks with the leads, the men and women who have more invested in keeping you entertained with their zany stories from the set than they do the actual nuts and bolts of making the film. I don’t fault those who are able to talk to these individuals and are granted their five minutes but when you have to serve an audience that is interested in these celebrities the last thing that will come out of their mouths will be talking about the kinds of things that make people like Chin Han completely fascinating to me.
Operating on the fringes of what was a cinematic, fiscal juggernaut this summer THE DARK KNIGHT didn’t just break box office records it redefined the notion of what it means to be successful. Just name the moment when this film jumped from jazzy summer actioneer to tent pole classic. What I can tell you, from my standpoint, looking back on it now, was when Batman was lured away from Gotham. Where and when else has any of our heroes left the safe confines of their own turf, to take the fight somewhere else. This moment defined Bruce Wayne’s own insanity. Forget about the parallel line between Heath Ledger’s Joker and Christan Bale’s Batman you have everything you need to know about how far Bruce Wayne is steeped into his own self-righteousness in those moments.
Chin Han knows about Batman. When he and I spoke months ago it was just after the world premiere and still when everyone was in the dark about what was behind all the hype. People were still wondering whether it was worth it. It was. Every moment. It’s amusing now, looking back on the level of secrecy surrounding every plot point and the highlight of this interview has to be Han’s reaction to seeing Bale in all his rubberized goodness…
THE DARK KNIGHT is now available on DVD and Blu-Ray.
CHRISTOPHER STIPP: I looked over your resume and, after talking to a few people, am I to believe that this is only your third feature length film?
CHIN HAN: Yes, this is my one, two three – yes, this is my third feature length film.
CS: How did you land this part?
HAN: I landed it. Let me qualify that first question. It was my third feature film but I’ve worked in television before that and I was doing a lot of classical theatre as well – theatre basically. How did I land it? I think I did it old school basically. I auditioned for John Papsidera and I didn’t hear from them for a few weeks and then I heard from them and they wanted to see more of my work and I didn’t hear from them for another couple weeks and then other people wanted to see more of my work and then they called me back in again. So, all together it took about 6 weeks. It was kind of grueling.
CS: I’m curious, just from the standpoint that you walked into this knowing that it was going to be a big movie. How is it being at the center of this swirl that this whole movie has taken on a life of it’s own and the media and marketing campaigns and what have you – what’s it like to be that fly on the wall?
HAN: I’m still taking it in actually. We were at the premier two nights ago – I had to pinch myself to just make sure I was there on the red carpet with Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Christian, Maggie and Morgan. But I’m still taking it in. Obviously, it’s very surreal and very humbling at the same time but I think I’ll get a better sense to what this means to me in a couple weeks.
CS: And I’ve heard that Christopher Nolan’s IMAX material…I heard it’s amazing that the way he shot it is absolutely spectacular on IMAX.
HAN: Yes. You’ll get vertigo watching it. It’s very stunning. And on top of that I think there are new vistas in this movie. I think some of the scenes were shot in Hong Kong as well so you get to see some very different sights and sounds basically in this film, which are stunning. He’s done a magnificent job on this film.
CS: Did you shoot your scenes in Hong Kong or were you part of the Chicago shooting as well?
HAN: I was part of the Chicago shooting as well. I shot in Chicago. I shot in London, for the most part of the movie.
CS: The character you play, without giving anything away, how does Lau fit into the film?
HAN: He’s an Asian business mogul who has now joined the ranks of these shadowy figures that have appeared in Gotham because of the demise of Carmine Falcone. I think that’s as much as I can tell you. I think you will have fun with this character because I did and he’s one of those characters that are quite hard to read.
CS: Before any of this happened, did you go into this with an “I don’t care what my role is, I want into this”?
HAN: Absolutely. I would do anything with Chris Nolan. I love his previous films. I love Memento, The Prestige, and I loved Insomnia as well and so I was very thrilled when they were interested in seeing me or reading me but when I got the type and they don’t give you the full script obviously on a movie this top secret, I was looking it over the sides and said there is something special here because there is just so much to his writing. It’s interesting to play those types of characters so that was the icing on the cake. But I would have done it, sight unseen.
CS: How was that just getting part of the script? This whole idea of secrecy - I know there are a few directors out there, J.J. Abrams is notorious for secrecy, were you just given a few pages, were you like, “Come on, is this really necessary?”
HAN: Even when I was looking at the sides for Lau you really had no idea how big the part is, because you have these few pages and obviously these few pages would let them know if you could carry the role but how do I feel about it? I think it makes the job of preparing for the audition challenging as well because you don’t know what to expect next. And when I got the full script I read it through and just delighted to have this kind of a role in a movie.
CS: Now moving forward to where you’ve been as an actor, how was it working over in Singapore and thinking, “I want to make the jump to American films and American media”? What lead up to that moment where you said, “I’m going to give it a go”?
HAN: I was doing television and I wanted to direct more so I wanted to take a break from acting and direct more and then this film came along, which is Blindness quite some time ago and I had fun on that but it wasn’t enough to warrant my taking a break from directing or producing. So I did a couple other projects and then I did 3 Needles with Thom Fitzgerald and that film was shot in 3 different countries that really whetted my passion for acting and that was a few years ago. So it just came at the perfect time. I was thinking of making the move to Los Angeles at that time so it came at the most perfect time really. It was not an overnight process. It took 8 years I think.
CS: And if you have success in this it will be overnight success. Where I’ve looked at your 20 year career and you’ve been doing this for lots of years.
CS: I’m also looking at the way some films overseas play. A lot of times when American films get released here they will do OK but in the international market it does very well. You’ve come from a market in Singapore where there is a different sensibility when it comes to movies and theater and what have you – is it a different sort of theatrical language if I can use that coming to working within American boundaries? Are there basic differences between Asian films and American films?
HAN: I think that there are there are some differences – some differences in story telling techniques – the way Asians and Americans express themselves so that effects the way our scripts are written as well and how our actors communicate their emotions to the audience too. There are some differences – yes.
CS: Where did you go for 7 years since your 1998 debut? There is a big hole for 7 years. What happened?
HAN: That’s when I was producing and directing. I had produced the Asian premiere of The Blue Room which was the play that got a lot of attention on the West End of Broadway because Nicole Kidman did that play. But we did it with a Singapore cast and I was producing a lot of plays which subsequently moved me to musical theatre and I was one of the producers of the musical adaptation of Ang Lee’s The Wedding Banquet. And had wonderful success in Singapore and Taiwan as well. So, those years were spent being on the other side of production.
CS: Why did you go back? It seems like you have a lot of success doing that.
HAN: Why did I go back to acting?
HAN: I don’t know. After working with Thom Fitsgerald and shooting in Taiwn for the most part with Lucy Liu, Sandra Oh, I just realized that my passion really was in acting because of the scope of films. Not just the skill of production, which is very exciting but it’s the reach of film. And as an actor, as a person who creates, you want whatever you create to reach an audience.
CS: Now going back to your Dark Knight experience and being directed by Christopher Nolan. I won’t ask what it’s like to work with him because I think I know the answer to that, but I’m curious to know behind your eyes when he was directing things on the set, what did you take away from the way he manages the film set?
HAN: I think Chris Nolan is the picture of grace under pressure. Watching him direct on set you would never know he was directing a $180 million movie. I never heard him raise his voice. He’s always very collected and he’s always really precise in his direction and instruction. So that’s one thing I learned that you can – you don’t have to be a jerk that you sometimes find in the theater – the directors who have very unique visions but at the same time behave in a way that might not be constructive for actors and production and the thing I took away from it is that you can be talented and have that vision and at the same time be the perfect gentleman. I think Chris Nolan was that.
CS: That’s insightful. I think a lot of directors get a little taste of their own hype and you hear stories of some that like to yell and make actors go through 40-50 takes in order to do that.
HAN: You probably know who those directors are as well.
HAN: Yes, Chris definitely isn’t one of them.
CS: Growing up, were you familiar with Batman? Is that the international appeal for a movie like this that it will do well in other markets because everyone knows who Batman is?
HAN: Batman has a 70 year history if I’m not mistaken. I remember reading the comics when I was younger and I remember when the first Batman movie came out so I do remember the time – there are a lot of good comic book movies and some bad ones – that was also the time of Superman, Superman II, Batman and yes, I was very familiar with the movies and a big fan of the series. When I heard that the sequel to Batman Begins was going to be called The Dark Knight that secretly gave me goose bumps because that movie didn’t even have the name Batman in it and you will see why when you see the movie tonight and you will see why it’s called The Dark Knight, it resonates on so many levels that way.
CS: And even on that level, the giddy schoolboy, did you have a chance to see Bale dressed up as Batman and was it neat on some level?
HAN: Yes, it was. The first day on the set they flew me in from Los Angeles to Heathrow. I got off the plane, been traveling for 15 hours now and then I think one of the production assistants tells me Chris is ready to see me. I go to the set which is huge and the first thing in front of me, the first thing I see day one is Christian Bale in the Batman outfit. That was pretty amazing.
CS: I know a lot of actors I know would say “It’s work”, “It’s a job” but that just has to be a thrill on some level.
HAN: No. On every level.
HAN: I’m not going to pretend to be too cool for school here…
HAN: I really did get a big kick out of seeing that and working with Bale as well.
CS: How was he? The guy is not out there a whole lot in public – kind of introspective – how was it being as an actor being on the set with him?
HAN: Two aspects of the business – one is the job at hand and the job of the actor and the other aspect in this business is you are doing press conferences or doing interviews, like this, and I think with Bale, as reserved as he may be, I found working with him to be quite wonderful because I think he’s very generous as an actor – he gives us a lot to work with and I really enjoy working with him.
CS: And now I see you have gone from one small film to another small film, with 2012..
HAN: Yeah, a very small film…
CS: Not a lot of people are going to be able to see it so good luck to you on that one – you are shooting in August for 2012? Does this mean a bigger part for you?
HAN: It’s a very interesting movie and I think that I would describe it as an ensemble cast and I am more than happy with my part in it. It’s hard to ask an actor that question because it’s all objectivity with respect to the importance – my part, yes, it’s very, very important….
But I will reserve judgment on that and say I am happy to work with this group of actors. Moving from one excellent group of actors to another. Another pretty impressive budget. I mean, John Cusak, Woody Harrelson has been added to the cast – a lot of people whose work I love. So, I’m very excited about it.
CS: I’m trying to get a handle on it – is it a bunch of eco-warriors to prevent disaster?
HAN: It’s about the end of the world basically.
CS: Oh, one of those…
HAN: It’s about the end of the world as we know it. 2012 in the Mayan calendar represents the end of the world and basically this movie is about the apocalypse. So obviously I go from one quiet movie to another one.
CS: Well sir, I don’t want to take up any more of your time but I have one more question for you. You’ve done a lot of theater, a lot of classical training which I respect, these movies aren’t going to win any independent spirit awards – when you look at what jobs come on the horizon are you all for throwing yourself at whatever comes your way or do you have a plan, a trajectory of where you want to be in five years?
HAN: No, I don’t have a plan. Different kinds of movies satisfy different appetites in me. I think The Dark Knight is a very unique movie – much more than a comic book movie so in terms of that I think I approached The Dark Knight as I would a drama really – like I did 3 Needles. Now Blindness which I did was a small movie, is more film noir and I always enjoyed that type of film. In 2012, obviously, we know the movie is going to be balls-out excitement and action so that fulfills another perhaps boyhood fantasy of wanting to be in a movie like that. So they all satisfy me in different ways and I don’t have a plan so to speak, as an actor.
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