So I’m watching Toy Story with my daughter yesterday and the phone rings. I pick up the receiver and pause, realizing that the caller ID is reading: Bai Ling. I knew I had this phone interview set up for today – gawdamnit I even prepared for it. But when an international movie star’s name pops up on your home phone… I gotta’ tell you… your bob can get discomulated.
Lucky for me Mrs. Ling is actually a really nice – very forthcoming person. Here’s what we talked about yesterday afternoon:
JR: To kind of prepare for this – I’ve never seen Red Corner before, I don’t know why I just hadn’t, and I watched it this weekend and I really, really liked you in it.
Bai Ling: Oh thank you.
JR: And you’re one of those faces we see in movies – like The Crow and Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow and I saw you in it and had to look you up because it was bugging me because I had to know who you were.
Bai Ling: Yeah. I’m very different. Each role I’m in is very different, so people cannot even recognize.
JR: Yeah you are definitely different. You’re not playing the same key over and over again.
Bai Ling: Yes.
JR: Now you went to Iraq for a while – do you want to talk about that?
Bai Ling: Yes. I just felt like at this moment in my life, it’s like I’m building a new, fresh new Bai Ling, because, before like the media didn’t do me justice. They went the other way to portray me as this crazy, sexy girl on the red carpet. But I think there’s much more I have to offer. Basically, I have a gift as an actress, and I want to present the sophisticated side of me as an actress and a person.
JR: So what’s your plan on getting back there?
Bai Ling: Um… because right now, like how I dress is totally different. I’m starting to change myself – the outlook the feelings of how I view myself that will change others. Like for example I’m talking to you right now…
Bai Ling: About my experience in Iraq. Which nobody’s ever talked about. I don’t know why? I always tell the press out there, your dare to trash me – why not dare to celebrate me? So why only trash me – not celebrate me? The day before I got to Baghdad, three bombs dropped right where I was going to. It was really, really dangerous. Landing somewhere like that was really, really scary. And I went there, and there was no press – no media there. I did it basically from my heart, because I got a lot of emails and messages on Facebook and all that – that the soldiers said that my movies and my image helped them pass through difficult times. So just for that I wanted to go. And there was this old man – over 60 years old, and this young boy – like 18 years old – and they would follow me around there that entire time because they had never seen a woman before.
JR: Oh reeeeeally…
Bai Ling: And then I got sick there, and I was in the hospital there, and I thought: “Wow I might die here.” It was really, really scary. And also, before I got there we met in Washington and I had to sign paperwork that said if I was injured or died there that it wasn’t their responsibility – I would be basically on my own. So I definitely felt nakedly alone in a dangerous place. But I’m doing it – not for any other purpose – but for my heart. So basically I was lying in the hospital with IV’s in my arms – I was like: I’m going to die in Iraq…” I’m such an adventurous, risk taker…
JR: That’s a pretty big risk.
Bai Ling: Yeah. Right? It’s craaazy.
Bai Ling: So one flight got canceled because of the dust in the air. You could not see clearly even ten meters away. And I was in the desert, and I’m throwing up, and I have the worst headache I’ve ever had, and I’m like: “If you don’t give me a shot I’m going to die.” Whatever I ate I threw up. I was like: “Sh*t, what’s happening to me?”
JR: (chuckles – because, lets face it, the word sh*t is almost always funny in a celebrity interview)
Bai Ling: And then they gave me this uh, like life jacket – which was like so heavy. We’re in over 100 degree heat and I’m wearing the life jacket, and I thought I was going to die just like that. So I took it off. And I just held it inside the Blackhawk helicopter. If they shot us, I didn’t care, I just couldn’t wear it anymore. It was just too hot. And I was like: “What am I doing here putting myself through this crazy stuff? I could die here and nobody would know.”
JR: Did you start having second thoughts?
Bai Ling: Yeah I did. I thought that I shouldn’t have taken on this trip. I really had nightmares before I left. I couldn’t call my mother because I couldn’t tell her where I was going. She would have had nightmares. And I can’t lie to her, so I wouldn’t call her.
JR: I would imagine that she would try to talk you out of it.
Bai Ling: She would have said: “You’re absolutely out of your mind.” I had nightmares about something going wrong, but I already decided that I had to go. The whole experience was for like three weeks. When I left the soldiers – I was in tears and I told them that I really admired them. And they told me of all the celebrities that told them that they would visit – I was the only one that said they would come and actually made it there.
JR: I think one thing I picked up early on about working with people in Hollywood is that they’re mostly full of sh*t. And maybe that’s what they admired about you – is that you actually said something and then went and did it.
Bai Ling: How many people would do that?
JR: Not too many.
Bai Ling: That’s something I want people to know about me. I’m not one of those people – like you said – that are full of sh*t.
JR: Yeah. Well it drives me crazy. But I can understand the sentiment of those soldiers. How everyone says that they’re going to do something – but you actually did it. I thought that was pretty cool. Pretty neat.
Bai Ling: Thank you.
JR: I saw that you’ve got some projects in the future. Are you striving to get back into movies like Red Corner – get back to that place?
Bai Ling: I think that the projects are there, it’s just that I have to get to there. Basically I have a very positive outlook now. I know what I want. I know what I want to present to the world. When I did Celebrity Rehab – for me it’s not about the show, it was important for me to learn – to understand the assets I have to contribute to the world. That’s something I’m basically changing. Because of the show, I gave such truthful, honest – my heart – and I told my story, I got so much positive feedback. So many fans love me because I was such a positive role model. Which they probably never had.
JR: A lot of regular people have alcoholics and drug addicts in their families – or struggle with the same addictions. They can probably identify with your situation.
Bai Ling: I’m here in Hollywood for a purpose. I came here alone. Didn’t know anyone. Didn’t know English. So now I’m here working, and I’m meant to be here working as an actress.
JR: So is there any director or filmmaker in the future that you would like to work with?
Bai Ling: Yeah. I always liked Steven Soderbergh. I like Traffic and that other movie… Uh. The one about lies.
JR: Sex, Lies and Videotapes?
Bai Ling: Yeah. I just feel like he’s very unique. I met him once. And he told me he’d seen some of my movies and thought I was a talented actress. Oh. And I’d like to work with Tim Burton. He’s kind of wicked.
JR: I think you would fit there. I heard you were in the People’s Liberation Army?
Bai Ling: I don’t know of any other actors in Hollywood that were ever in the army – in Tibet.
JR: I can’t think of any.
Bai Ling: I was a soldier there when I was 14. I’m writing a book about it called Naked in Tibet – it’s almost finished. It’s about my experience – but it’s not an autobiography. It’s a novel. It’s more like magic realism. Things are very magical, very sexy, very unique – with a very modern way of writing. I also have my blog – officialbailing.com – and I write there. Stuff from my spirit. Basically I feel like there’s a lot of areas I haven’t yet touched.
JR: Do you want to do more writing? Because I know you play music.
Bai Ling: I actually recorded a song a few days ago. It’s going to be a smash hit.
JR: Oh really?
Bai Ling: Seriously.
JR: I saw you playing that…. um, what kind of guitar was that in Red Corner?
Bai Ling: That was a Pipa. It’s a 5,000 year old, complicated instrument. I learned to play it as a child.
JR: You don’t see too many movie stars ripping it up on a guitar – usually because they can’t. And the neck on that thing…
Bai Ling: Yeah. It was hard to learn. I just got invited to the biggest film festival in Spain – the San Sebastian Film Festival – as an official juror member. Another jury member is Frances McDormand. It’s a big honor. So people do respect me in the industry, I just have to get back to Red Corner.
JR: Yeah. Well it certainly seems like you’ve got the drive and ambition to do it.
Bai Ling: I feel the magic. I feel it.
JR: I was a little shocked because I don’t keep up with tabloids – I don’t even have cable television – so when I was doing research on you I was kind of shocked out how much negative press you have gotten recently. Because I only really know you from your movies – so I don’t want you to think that everyone out here in spectator-land has a bad image of you.
Bai Ling: That’s good. Don’t go read and watch those other things.
JR: (chuckling… again…) Okay.
Bai Ling: Keep your feelings pure.
JR: Will do. So it sounds like you’re getting back on the road back to where you were.
Bai Ling: Yeah. I’m very excited. I just got two film offers. There all very solid projects.
JR: Can you talk about them?
Bai Ling: One movie’s called Repeater. I play a body guard and bounty hunter. It’s like an ass-kicking role, it’s so cool.
JR: I was thinking that you’d be good in something like that.
Bai Ling: We’re going to shoot starting next month. The other one’s called Pandora’s Box. It’s a little bit like they’re bringing back Brian De Palma’s Dressed to Kill in a modern way. A psychological thriller kind of thing. I play a psychiatrist, but she’s heavily involved in a murder mystery. It’s an extremely intelligent, sexy part…
JR: Written for you.
Bai Ling: Yes. True. (chuckles)
You can follow Bai Ling on Twitter @RealBaiLing. The final episode of the fifth season of Celebrity Rehab airs this Sunday. Check local listings.