Reaching the status of screen siren is not an honour reserved for every beautiful face in Hollywood. From Marilyn Monroe to Elizabeth Taylor, intuitive talent, inimitable charisma, and the readiness to take on challenging roles outside the usual, fostered their successes.
Steadily showing her aptitude in all three categories, Jamie Chung has come a long way since her Real World days. Co-starring in this autumn’s suspense thriller, Premium Rush opposite actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and playing Lady Silk in November’s The Man with the Iron Fists — the highly anticipated premiere feature film from hip-hop artist, RZA — all eyes will be on Chung this season.
While a Google search of Chung’s name calls up an assorted mix of sites wanting to share the “hottest photos” of the 29-year-old actress, there’s nothing about this laid-back California native’s offscreen presence that feeds into a glam vixen persona.
On set, Chung’s receptiveness speaks to her attitude as an actress. Eager to collaborate creatively, and prepared to bring to the table what the job at hand demands, when requested to shed a tear for a scene in FILLER’s fashion video editorial, Chung immediately agrees. She evokes the emotion on command, and the director get his shot in one take. In the blink of an eye — her’s literally — Chung’s face wears the emotion of what could be years.
A consummate professional, the actress is more than a pretty face in Esquire (she recently appeared in an August roundup of beautiful women in the magazine’s “Culture Blog”). Earlier this year, Chung’s performance in the indie-flick Eden helped win the film an Audience Award for narrative feature at the SXSW Film Festival. Directed by Megan Griffiths, the film is set in the early 90s, and tracks the story of Hyun Jae, a Korean-American teen who is abducted by a human-trafficking ring, headed by a corrupt federal marshal played by Beau Bridges. At first desperate to escape, Jae survival instinct tells her that a feigned case of Stockholm syndrome may be her only escape route.
In the emotional and physically demanding role as Jae, Chung demonstrates her versatility as an actress, shifting through the stirred spectrum of outrage, subservience and fortitude. For the actress, roles like these are what keep her interested in the craft. “These kind of stories are a diamond in the rough and hard to find,” she shares. “True stories are always captivating. It was so gripping reading the story, and picturing myself in her shoes. It’s always more interesting to be able to speak to the person you are portraying.” Recently purchased by Phase 4 Films (the company behind last year Toronto International Film Festival selection Hick starring Chloë Grace Moretz), Eden is set for an early 2013 theatre release.
Matching her talent with a fun and disarming nature, Chung has made friends with co-stars including Premium Rush‘s Gordon-Levitt. The two have paired up since the Premium Rush set, to film a short entitled Blue Dildo. The exact opposite of what its salacious tile suggests, the short — directed by Gordon-Levitt — is a quirky and eerie tale of unrequited love. Watch the full film at HitRECord.
Next seen in The Man with an Iron Fists, starring opposite writer/director Rza, and big-hitters including Russell Crowe and Lucy Liu, Chung calls upon her powers of seduction in the role of the tempting and cunning Lady Silk — the gentlemen’s favourite amongst Madame Blossom’s (Liu) coquettes. Produced by Quentin Tarantino, and co-written by Eli Roth, Rza — who composed the soundtrack for Tarantino’s Kill Bill: Vol 1 — takes the audience back to feudal China, where his cleverly-written caricatures of archetypal kung-fu film characters busy themselves with an overload of hi-impact action. Below, Chung talks to FILLER about her turn as Lady Silk, filming on location in Shanghai, and her upcoming visit — a first — to New York Fashion Week.
You studied Economics in university, when you enrolled, was acting on your mind already?
It was always in the back of my mind, but I was too focused on which major to pick (theater not being an option at UCR). I knew I wanted to have a degree in Business because it was the most versatile. I felt like I needed the college education as a back up in case acting didn’t work out.
Pretty responsible thinking! It’s a tough business, and the growing trend in actors switching back and forth from TV to film speaks to that I think. Do you think this is the new norm, where once there was more stigma related to actors moving from big screen to small?
I missed that era. When I started working, the number of films being made per year had declined drastically, and the pay rates had plateaued, actually they declined for the majority! The security of working on a television show can be really sweet. I have no idea what that’s like! The longest show I’ve been on only lasted 6 episodes! I love working on films. You are constantly searching and learning. Nothing beats jumping from movie to movie, the people you meet, the places you get to see. It’s incredible.
What about the process of selecting your roles, are there certain types of characters that especially grab you?
When it comes to fictional characters, the first question I ask myself is: Can I do something interesting with the part. The obvious joy of being in this profession is that you hopefully have the luxury of playing a wide range of different characters.
And the opportunity to play those characters opposite talented co-stars, such as Joseph Gordon-Levitt. How was it working with him on Premium Rush?
He’s fantastic! His dimples are so damn distracting! No…he is a lovely person. He’s been in the business forever. A true pro. There was this scene that took place in the Columbia Library, and they couldn’t seal off some of the floors so they couldn’t control people talking or cell phones going off. It was a pretty emotional scene, and we had to keep cutting because someones phone kept going off. Joe very kindly and loudly explained that this was a intense scene, and that I was working really hard, and to please turn off their phones. There were zero interruptions after that.
That was really considerate of him…
I thought that was so cool of him to do. Joe actually directed me in his short film!
Tell us about it!
I was working in Seattle on this little indie called Eden last summer, when he asked me to read the short he wrote, and wanted to direct for his website hitrecord.org. It’s pretty funny. It’s my first producer credit! It’s called Blue Dildo. I’m being dead serious. Look it up! He’s a great director. I feel like he can be the next Clint Eastwood. He’s that good.
Let’s talk a bit about your role in The Man with the Iron Fists, what’s Lady Silk part in the village turmoil?
Oh man was that an adventure! I play one of Madam Blossom’s ladies. I’m the damsel in distress, and my Knight and shinning armor is played by the one and only RZA. But [the] real question is: does she want to be saved?
The action in the film looks fast-paced. Was there intense training involved with preparing for the role?
Not at all! The stunt coordinator spoke perfect mandarin, but very little english. We were fortunate to have such a well trained cast. Cung Le is a pro UFC fighter, Dave Bautista is a pro wrestler and Lucy Liu is…well. Lucy Liu. She didn’t need any training! Everyone kind of just stepped up to the bat and killed it.
Are you a fan of old kung-fu movies?
I grew up watching movies like Enter the Dragon.
Did you watch many to get into character?
When I had my meeting with RZA, he put me on to some classics that inspired him the most. The 36th Chamber of Shaolin [and] 5 Deadly Venoms. RZA put me through a crash course!
What was it like working with him as a first time feature film director? Was he very hands on and clear on how he imagined a scene, or did he like to talk through scene possibilities with the actors?
He’s a fantastic director. You wouldn’t even think it was his first time directing. RZA had dreamed of making his own Kung Fu movie his entire life, so he had a clear idea of what he wanted. It’s interesting to work with someone who already has the soundtrack planned in his head. Talk about a multitasking! I must say, he didn’t have much direction during the kissing scenes with me because he was so shy! I know he probably wouldn’t admit that to anyone, but I’m totally calling him out! He’s a sweetie. Sorry RZA, but it’s true!
The film has that Quentin Tarantino-sense of grand cinematic action to it, I know he was the producer on this one, was he ever also on set to lend a hand with directing?
RZA and Quentin actually worked together on Kill Bill and bonded over their love for kung fu movies, so you can sense a familiar tone. Quentin was only on set for about a week. I had already left by then. I’m not sure how much he helped out. RZA was working really hard, but he respects Quentin and Eli Roth’s opinion.
With RZA being the director, and critics tagging Man with the Iron Fists a “hip-hop blockbuster,” is music a major character in the film? I imagine RZA played the soundtrack on set for you all.
We didn’t hear anything on set! It was playing all along in RZA’s head as we were filming, but I had no idea what he was going to do. It’s pretty major because it sets the tone for the entire movie. It’s really well done. Trust. It won’t disappoint!
I will! In between filming, did you have a chance to explore Shanghai much?
It was freezing in Shanghai. We actually filmed in this little town just west of Shanghai called Songjiang. I would take the train into town whenever I could. I ate a lot of soup dumplings at Din Tai Fung, and got plenty of amazing foot massages. It’s always so nice to walk by the water in the old French district. The city trains are so efficient, it was quit easy navigating through the city.
Sounds like you got in some good downtime. How do you typically like to spend a day off, whether on location or at home in LA?
When I’m on location, I love spending my time walking around the new city I’m in. I usually take a jog around the neighborhood I’m staying in to find local coffee joints, nice restaurants, places to shop etc. It’s the best way to explore a city.
I bet the shopping in Shanghai was incredible! Speaking of fashion, your red carpet style is always so beautiful. Do you have a signature look, or would you say you like to mix things up and play with news trends.
Well, thank you! I feel like it’s the only time to experiment and try new things. But the important thing is to know your body and what looks flattering, as well as what fits best. I pick the outfit I feel most confident in.
Do you depend on a stylist, or do you like to handle the red carpet on your own?
I have used one in the past. She is fantastic and classy, but I prefer to do it myself if I have the time. The hunt is also what I take pleasure in! This past year I’ve worked alone, but I use her for all the big premieres like Suckerpunch and the Hangover 2. I do have a strong opinion, but she totally gets me.
What about everyday fashion, how would you describe your personal style?
My everyday fashion is comfortable. I enjoy looking presentable. I think that’s why I’m so attracted to early 18th century fashion. People made an effort to look nice. It’s classy. I love cozy clothes like sweats, but I try to keep that in the house and not in public. Unless, I’m going to the gym of course.
Do you follow fashion much? Are you perhaps attending NYC fashion week?
I feel like I’m more aware of it now, but there’s so many designers to keep track of! I don’t have the time. I’ll be attending my first NYC Fashion Week this year. It finally worked out with my dates, and I’m excited!! I’m a huge fan of Helmut Lang, Malandrino, Prada, Chloe, Alice and Olivia, Vera Wang, Chanel the list goes on!
Styling by Lara Chedikian at Jed Root Makeup by Agostina, Exclusive Artist Management Hair by Tony Chavez for Living Proof