2046 reportedly took five years to complete?
Tony Leung: We didn't shoot it all at once though. We were shooting it on and off. We encountered a load of difficulties, because there are a lot of big stars in the film and they don't expect to shoot that long and they had committed to other projects in-between. So there were scheduling problems with the actors. And then the SARS epidemic happened in-between, so not only show business, but all the other businesses, were shut down. There wasn't anyone willing to work at that time. And the epidemic lasted quite some time. Then there were the locations. We weren't shooting in only one country. We were shooting in three countries. We were only able to shoot indoors in Hong Kong, and we had to shoot outdoors in Bangkok. Because we weren't able to find the kind of streets in Hong Kong that existed in '68. It had changed that much. There were also the labor costs. We had to build the futuristic set in China. Another reason that it took so long is that the filmmakers are perfectionists [laughs].
How long did your part take to shoot?
About a year total, but once again, we were shooting on and off. I've done three other movies in-between! [laughs]
Was it hard to get back to the character of Chow each time you returned to the project?
Really tough. To stay in a character for five years is really tiring. It was really hard every time I went back to the set. I needed 1-2 weeks to warm up to get back to him again.
And he's not a real happy guy. You probably didn't look forward to inhabiting his skin.
Sometimes. But at least there were so many beautiful actresses in the film. That helped.
You've made a number of films with Wong Kar Wai. What is your collaborative process like from the start of a project?
I think that the way Kar Wai works is that he wants people to stimulate him. To inspire him. He gives a lot of freedom to everyone on the set. Not just the actors, but all of the crew. Our relationship is very strange. We never talk on the set. He'll just give me a little hint, a little clue, at the very beginning [as to what the project is about]. I start off knowing very little. We develop everything on the set, as we shoot. What I know at the very beginning is just my character. That's how we work together. We've always done it that way. It's how we worked together back on Days of Being Wild, in our early days. No one will work like Wong Kar Wai. I find it quite inspiring. Sometimes you have more space in creating your character. Because he will not give you a specific direction, so you can do whatever you want. Nothing is right or wrong, because you don't know what is right or wrong. Every time is like an adventuresome journey. No one knows what is happening during the shooting. And no one knows what the story is about. Not just me, but everyone on the set. And we shoot so much footage that we can cut it into five different movies.
But do you think that Wong Kar Wai has it set in his mind what the film is going to be from the very start?
I'm not sure. I think that he might have an idea at the very beginning, but he changes as he goes along.
Does he have a solid script in terms of the dialogue?
Sometimes. We used to give us the script for that day. When we arrive on the set, they give us the script of that day.
2046 contains a few characters who have appeared in Kar Wai's other films. You've spoken about this film as almost a summation of all your previous films together. Do you think you'll revisit these characters again?
I hope not [laughs]. I don't want to revisit Mr. Chow again. I think we should do something different. I talked to Kar Wai on the set, and said that this is the best we can do, in terms of the types of movies we've been doing since Days of Being Wild to 2046. We can't do it better and we should try something different.
Did you spend much time thinking about the Chow from In the Mood for Love while developing his current incarnation?
I tried to avoid thinking of that original Mr. Chow. Because on the first day, Kar Wai told me that he wanted to play me the same character again, but that he wanted me to play it differently this time. That he wanted me to play him as a dark, cynical playboy. And he wanted me to act differently, but with the same face. So I was trying to get rid of that Mr. Chow, to get rid of his past. Very much like what the character did in the movie. I didn't ask Kar Wai why he wanted me to do that on the first day, but I think he had a reason. When I saw the movie, I realized that Chow is trying to get rid of his past, but things keep reminding him of it. In the first few months, while I was trying to create this new Mr. Chow, I would jump back to the old Mr. Chow subconsciously. I don't know why. I had this difficulty. And Kar Wai kept reminding me, "No, Tony, this is not right. This is the voice of the old Mr. Chow." I was trying to create a new Mr. Chow, but things kept reminding me of In the Mood for Love. The scenes, the room number, everything. You're trying to be a new man but things just keep reminding you of the past. This is how I felt on the shoot. One day I discussed with the art director, "Do you know what we are trying to do? 2046 or In the Mood for Love? It seems like everything just keeps reminding me of In the Mood for Love." At the time, I didn't know that the story would be about lost memories [laughs]. But it works for the character and it really helps.
And do you think Kar Wai knew that conflict would be there for you and that it would help the film?
Yes, but he never revealed it to us during the shooting.
Kar Wai's shots seem incredibly meticulous in their construction. Even in the smallest, seemingly least consequential ones, there is great design in the camera movement and framing.
He spends a lot of time on every shot. We spend a lot of time waiting there, in a sense. He averages 3-4 hours on a shot. So we didn't do much on one day of shooting. He spends lots of time on the lighting and camera movement. And we do it over and over again. Many takes. Even the very intense scenes, like I did with Gong Li, the kissing scene...he'd do it forty times. And Gong Li would have to cry forty times! And it's exhausting. Every time we'd do that shot in a 1,000 foot magazine. We'd do a ten minute take for every shot.
Does he give you lots of correction in-between takes or do you just keep doing it over and over?
We usually just keep doing it. He feels that everything is okay, but something is off...the lighting, the camera movement, so we have to do it all over again.
It sounds like Stanley Kubrick's style of working a bit. The repeated takes and the meticulous perfectionism.
Uh-huh. I sometimes think that Kar Wai is trying to make you exhausted [laughs]. To make you get rid of all those skills you have. Because in the first few takes you still have a lot of energy and are trying to do some technical thing. And I think he hates that very much. He wants you to just be yourself. No techniques. No skills. I think that's why he kept doing things over and over again. Because then you get exhausted and just act naturally.
What do you think happens to Chow after this film? Can he ever be happy?
No. He'll never be happy. Because he loves to live in his dreams. He loves to live in the past, and he never wants to take any more risk. He never wants to commit to any relationship anymore because he doesn't want to get hurt. I think he's a coward in some respects. He can't take failure well. So his ideal relationship is in the past.
What does the title 2046 mean to you?
In the film, it means a room number, or the train to the past. To me, 2046 means something very personal. A secret that you can not share with others. I have this kind of thinking.
Entretien avec Terry Keefe, trouvé ici.