Fan Bingbing — one of China's biggest symbols and fashion icons, spokeswoman for Louis Vuitton and L'Oreal, and an unparalleled box office draw in the world's most populous country with nearly 40 movie credits to her name and more in television — is talking about craft services. The difference between American and Chinese movie productions is, she says with a laugh, a "long table with food."
The actress is discussing the on-set amenities of her first American movie role, a small part in the third installment of Marvel's massive Iron Man franchise due out in May. Despite frigid weather during its two-week shoot in China, she says, "Everyone was in a good mood." Chinese filmmaking, on the other hand, doesn't have quite as adequate rations and is "not really comfortable."
Fan is at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills discussing what could be a turning point for her. The 31-year-old is facing a critical career moment, as Iron Man 3 and The Moon and the Sun, a historical fantasy film set for release next year, will be important tests of her international crossover potential. Still, she hasn't lost her lightheartedness.
"Just go with it" is the closest she offers to a Hollywood-conquering maxim. The two-minute video of Fan's film repertoire provided by her publicist shows that Chinese acting roles have required the actress to cry, sing, shoot, fight, suffer, scheme and perfect dramatic expressions.
The sizzle reel belies her in-person affect — funny, blunt and easygoing. Her playfulness extends to her off-duty attire. She pairs a yellow and blue blazer with black jeans and a T-shirt. On another person, the bright jacket could be overwhelming, but Fan's long hair, long lashes, untamed brows, pale skin and orange lips — she won't be seen without lipstick and confesses she's obsessed with proper skin care.
Fan may be funny, but a Chinese actress wading into Hollywood is serious business these days. About a year ago, she signed with William Morris Endeavor to strategise how best to break into American movies. Jackie Chan is the only other Chinese actor the agency represents. Last month, when not on red carpets — she walked them at the Oscars, Elton John's Oscar viewing party and the Vanity Fair party — she filled her two and a half days in Los Angeles making the rounds at studios, for which a bankable Chinese star is increasingly seen as a brass ring thanks to the industry's ever-expanding dependence on foreign audiences and global blockbusters. Fan, who said she's been reviewing oodles of scripts, senses she's on the cusp of a transformation from a national to global force.
"I'm becoming a focus," she says. "I'm still a Chinese actress, but with more international exposure." Fan's fashion choices have already upped her exposure markedly. She's known for taking risks and wearing striking, colourful creations, such as the Atelier Versace and Christopher Bu dresses she wore to the Cannes Film Festival in 2011 and 2012. Becoming a globally recognised actress could help move some bags. Fan thinks a plum Hollywood action role could be a path to take to win over a broad base of moviegoers (she points to Anne Hathaway's turn as Catwoman in The Dark Night Rises. (Rachel Brown/The New York Times)