I first saw Ines Laimins as PR Boss Esther Lambert in Joe Fiorello’s Love Stalk (The Mighty Dragon review here). Aside from really enjoying her portrayal of this uber-bi*ch character I was totally intrigued as to how this versatile actress first made her footprints in China and how she has adapted to that market.
I am hoping to catch up with Ines soon on Podcast to question her more – a first for The Mighty Dragon!
Vikki: What brought you to Hong Kong?
Ines: Basically a backpack and sense of adventure. I took a 3 month trip through Asia and fell in love with Hong Kong.
Vikki: As a ballet dancer and model, did you naturally move into acting to pursue your creative ambitions?
Ever since my early days as a ballet dancer, the stage always felt like home to me. Being from an immigrant family, my dream of becoming a ballerina was crushed, since the life of a performer was an unacceptable career so I was sent to university. Luckily I fell right in with the theatre crowd and still remain close with many friends in the industry, most having influential careers on both coasts. While there I slowly realized that Northwestern had one of the top theater programs in the US and it formed the basis of my acting journey. And the modelling, I’ve always done print and commercial work, so it’s a parallel path.
Vikki: Was learning Mandarin something you always wanted to do, or is it essential ‘must have’ for any western actor working in the Chinese film industry?
Ines: I started learning Mandarin when I moved to Taiwan from India. It seemed so modern compared to Bombay and that’s where I realized that over a billion people speak Mandarin. I had a light-bulb moment and I knew I had to learn the language. I never felt that urgency while first being in Hong Kong. It’s a lifelong process and I still have a teacher here in Hong Kong that I work with every week when I’m in town.
As far as working in China, well, 90% of the time on set no one speaks English. Without speaking the language I could only imagine it would be very frustrating as filming in China happens very quickly with lots of changes to script, shoot days, call sheets. So it helps to be able to read scripts and communicate with the crew. All communication happens on WeChat with constant voice and text messages. Then there’s communicating with your fellow actor and the majority of mainland actors, even the super famous ones, don’t speak English or are really shy to try. It’s slowly changing though and sometimes now there’s a translator on set.
Vikki: What types of characters do you like portraying and why?
Ines: Characters with strong story arcs, strong women who must make courageous decisions. The roles that still resonate with me are Minnie Vautrin in a History Channel docudrama, Elizabeth Linley Sheridan in my one-woman stage play, and my recent film role as a scientist who forsakes all for her passion and commitment to science.
Vikki: What are the challenges and benefits for you in the Chinese film industry?
Ines: Great question, challenges are many but I love them. Getting scripts in Chinese, told to translate into English only to get on set and do the scenes in Chinese because the star prefers it that way. Or getting scripts with really horrible English that I need to do a rewrite. Set life is not fancy, you’re either insanely sweating in summer or freezing in the winter with NO heat!! But the whole crew endures and we create something together, so it’s like family.
Vikki: What advice would you have for other European actors attempting to work in Asia?
To understand and respect the culture where you are working. You can’t impose a western view and try to change the way things work, just basically go with the flow. Be like water.
Vikki: You wrote the short film, The Gift, will you be writing more?
Vikki: On THE GIFT I worked closely with Lisa Belcher to hone down a 45-page script to fit into a short film format. So I can’t say that I wrote the script as it was originally a short story. But I do have a finished feature script for 5 women, it’s set in Bali and it’s sort of Bridesmaids meets the Hangover. I also have a few scripts in development that are China based and have the recurring theme of my long-term relationship with China. I’ve seen China change so fast and so radically that I can’t help but write about that. It’s been a sort of love affair.
Vikki: I first saw you in Love Stalk as the intimidating boss, Esther Lambert. I compared you to Kim Cattrall in this movie in my review, what did you most enjoy about this character?
Ines: Ahahaha, I love that comparison, she’s sexy, strong, and in-charge. It’s how Joe Fiorello wrote Esther and I felt that when I read for the role. I most often get cast to play boss-type roles but Esther was a bit out-of -the-box with her one-liners, she was great!
Vikki: Where do you see the future of the Chinese film industry?
Ines: China is creating for China. The more I work on different projects the more I see that humour, story, cultural nuances and turns of phrase are completely geared toward mainland audiences. And now with HBO and Netflix making deals to create content for local audiences in their language, I only think that the industry will expand in Asia. I feel very fortunate to be part of that new wave.
Vikki: What can we see you in next?
Ines: There’s a lot coming out in 2019! For the China market, “Waiting in Beijing” (我在北京等你 )comes out in May on Hunan TV, I play opposite Li Yifeng as his NYC landlord.
“Flying Tiger 2” (飞虎2 )comes out in July and I play a secret agent alongside Lee Pace. These are both long-form 40 episode TV drama series and can be seen on either viki.com or youku.com after they are broadcast.
The mainland film I just shot is due to release in October, the English title is not set yet, but it’s something like “Forever Young” (不老奇事 ). I loved this role and got to work with Wang Chaunjun (Dying to Survive 我不是药神) for a week. I play a stem-cell scientist who discovers skin cell recultivation and experiments on herself. Also in October is a CCTV historic drama “Diplomacy Storm” (外交风云)where I played Pat Nixon in the famous 1972 visit to China. It was an honor to play her and recreate her time in China, meeting Mao and Zhou En Lai. This is the type of TV broadcast that falls on Golden Week and will have in the 100s of millions of viewers.
I must mention two smaller roles I had in films that premiered at Sundance and SXSW, respectively. Lulu Wang’s “The Farewell” with Awkwafina (yeah, I got to meet her and play a few scenes) will have it’s theatre release in the US in July and Emily Ting’s “Go Back to China”(with Anna Akana and Lynn Chen) is currently being screened across the US at film festivals. So grateful to have worked with both women directors who have come back to their roots to tell their stories.
Minnie Vautrin – Wikipedia