Bai Ling has the key to success. Do what you are passionate about. If you do that on thing, everything else flows and life is not a struggle. Bai Ling, who has starred in major Hollywood ventures such as "Anna and The King", "Star Wars 3" and Ang Lee's "The Wedding Banquet" was in Kolkata as part of the jury for the KOLKATA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2015. I hadthe opportunity to speak with her about her life and journey in Hollywood. How did you begin acting? Is this something you had dreamt of? To me everything in life happens naturally, I was very shy almost mute as a child. I was, for some reason fearful of life and of people. I know I have a beautiful rich universe inside me. There is a power of magic hidden, if I don't find a way to express it, then it will explode. At that time I there was a real passion to express the raw truth inside of me, a feeling that was so real and strong. I think acting found me. It is my path. Through playing a character, I can actually be me, but hide behind a mask so that other people think it's a just a character.To me, it’s a great joy to be true and free. It’s like suddenly a child can have her wings of freedom to dance with joy. And because I am the only one who knows it’s the real me, I feel safe and not afraid. It's a gift that I have, because I have never learned acting, but it comes so easily, because I just express the truth of how I feel. But the key is that I need to trust myself to know that I have a beautiful
gift to give! And the gift we have, it is not for us to keep, but to give.
Which has been your most cherished role? I have many; I would say all of them. Because there is a part of me in all of them. Each character gives me the joy to express each part of me. "Anna and the King" comes to mind, because I had to shaved my head completely to play her. This was very difficult for me as it would be for any woman. As a girl, hair does so much for us, from protecting us to making us feel beautiful and safe. When you have no hair, you feel totally naked. I would encourage every woman in the world to shave her head once in her life. She will experience what I went through and what kind of magical strength and power I gained and realized that I actually have. She will understand the power and strength they also actually have. That kind of pure nakedness is powerful. I became totally vulnerable therefore I became totally powerful and almost larger than life. It was the requirement that I have to first purify myself in order to play her, then it becomes possible to freely access the power of pure love I have in my heart, which I gave to the character, Toptim. Many people cried for her, because she gives you her heart, the true love. And truth always has magic in it.
What challenges you in a role? Almost nothing, as I expressed to you earlier, “acting” comes easily because I am not acting. I think the challenge will be I trust myself enough that at any moment I can open myself completely to give the truth to my character, and if I can trust myself 100 percent. If I trust then I can do almost anything with any character I play. I played roles that were originally written for a man. I played a character that was originally written for a white woman, the leading role in the film "The Key." I have just finished a Chinese film called “Lord of Shanghai,” where I play the lead female character from the age of 28 years old all the way up until she is 80 years old. It is all because I completely trust myself and let my magic open my wings to fly, to sing and dance.
Where do you draw your strength from, in moments of challenge? Trust, totally trust! In order to meet my potential and give my magic, only the magic in the truth can conquer the challenge. To do that, you have to first totally free your mind to allow your heart to take control. Once you let your mind go, then you become the magic tool, and everything then becomes possible. I would say our minds are our great enemy in almost in everything we do. Trust and believe that you are born to do this, and then the challenge becomes joyful steps that you are happy to take.
One piece of advice for struggling actresses, who like you, have no industry insider to jumpstart their careers? I love this question, because it comes to the root of doing everything. I think in anything you do or want to do, and can be successful, you have to see if that thing you do is the passion in your heart.
If you want to be an actor, you have to know first if you have natural talent. I believe everyone has their own special talent to make them successful. I am talking about the special gift that everyone brought to this earth, that special gift that only belongs to them. If you find that gift and it does not matter what it is - a chief or a doctor or actor, you will be successful, because It is meant to be.
So try this, close your eyes and ask your heart: what is my gift? What is the thing that makes you passionate and happy and excited to give to the world? Not the things you want. If you just want the fame or money, you will probably never find the success that you want. Fame and money are the reward for what you do and give, it can come and it can be gone. It’s only the things you do and do the best, that no one can take away - those things mean you will always have the success that you want and deserve. Like myself, I actually don’t know what fame is like in Hollywood, I got nothing when I came to Hollywood. I did not even speak English, but I know I have a gift to give and I am so excited about it. It’s like a little girl who has nothing, totally naked and walking barefoot in the dark alone. Suddenly a bright moon appears to guide her. It is all because I am here to give my talent,
not try to get something. So find your heart’s passion and gift, then give that, and I guarantee you will be very successful and very happy. How was your experience at the Kolkata film festival? I love the City of Kolkata, so beautiful. I want to thank Kolkata International Film Festival for inviting me as an international jury member. I had such a wonderful time as a jury, watched 11 beautiful movies from all over the world, not only did I give what I know, I also learned a lot from those movies. I enjoyed getting to know our jury member guests and our film festival local people. They are all wonderful. I felt such delight and generous spirit. The film festival took very good care of me and made my stay in Kolkata so pleasant. So for that I am grateful. But not only that, because of the festival, I had free time and went all over the city, saw so many beautiful temples and experienced the local culture. I felt the spiritual gift the land of India has, it’s like I feel India's soul connected with mine. It gives me such joy and I feel blessed that I was there.
I went to where India’s great writer Rabindra Nath Tagore ’s home, where he lived and taught, such a soulful and brave man. I still remember his soulful eyes, there is a bright light coming through. And also I went to Mother Teresa ’s house, such a tiny little house, but so clean and humble. I stood there for a long time, in the sweet quietness and I felt her presence. Such a little lady, yet so magical. I could imagine how hard her road must have been, and how much strength, love and faith she must have had. I am so grateful for the Kolkata Film Festival for giving me the opportunity to experience India’s beautiful gifts. Last, I always give a “cookie” on my social media @realbailing on Twitter and Instagram. Today’s cookie is: Give and forgive. I learned English word by word. These 2 words can solve any problems in your life.
Photos courtesy of Premendu Bikash Chaki
Contributing Writer, Abhijit Ganguly, is an extensively published journalist based in Kolkata, India. His stories cover the global arts scene and the fusion arts movement with the culture and art of India. Ganguly’s work includes personal interviews with world renowned dance troupes, film directors, fine artists, sculptors, as well as jazz, hip hop and classical musicians. He is known for presenting an inside view of the artist's craft and what motivates their creativity. Ganguly also delves into the artist's take on what a young person in Kolkata can learn from each artist, so that the youth of the city can learn to master these skills.