In a blush embroidered Monique Lhullier gown, dripping in diamond jewellery by Chopard, Zhang Ziyi presented Antonio Banderas with the Best Actor Award at the closing ceremony of Cannes Film Festival just a few days ago. This was just one of numerous notable appearances she made at the Festival, including an appearance at the prestigious annual Cannes Masterclasses. Amidst it all, Hong Kong Tatler got the chance to speak to her about her career and the legacy she hopes to leave behind
Zhang Ziyi first walked Cannes Festival's famous red carpet at the screening of Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon 19 years ago, then a wide-eyed, 21-year-old actress from Beijing, oblivious to the frenetic world that is Hollywood.
She would go on to become one of the most sought-after actresses of her generation, taking on some of cinema's most celebrated roles starring alongside the industry's biggest names. We sat down with her at Cannes as she reflects fondly on those earlier days, how she's handled fame, and how motherhood has changed her.
What is your most unforgettable experience to date at Cannes?
I have to say, it's the first time I attended the Cannes Film Festival 19 years ago. I can still remember the first time I walked the red carpet—it was my first Cannes Red Carpet experience, arm in arm with Ang Lee for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. That was very meaningful to me.
You've played numerous and varied roles in your 20-year careeer. What would you say is your most memorable role so far?
I think that would be my first starring role in my first-ever movie, The Road Home. That is the most memorable to me and favourite because that movie kept me in that age—you know, 18 years old, young, a girl in the big screen—you can never repeat that. So that’s very special to me.
What does it take to be a good actor?
Be real. Be genuine. And you have to learn through experience, observe people and know as much about human nature and personalities as you can. Then you can really take on roles.
What do you want to be remembered for?
I want to be remembered as a good actor. I have reached 20 years doing this and I strive still to be able to do this. I still want to be able to find real roles, real characters—those characters you can relate to.
What’s next for you?
My new movie is coming out on May 31, Godzilla 2. That was a fun movie to make and watch. On September 30, there is a Chinese movie coming out called The Climbers. It’s an action-adventure movie about a group of Chinese climbers reaching the top of Mount Everest in the 1950s/1960s.
It is a very inspiring movie to celebrate the Chinese and their resilience.
How did you feel being chosen to be the Godmother at this year’s Cannes Trophee?
I believe the Cannes Trophee is such an important and valuable recognition in the industry because it supports young talent. I was a young, new talent 20 years ago so I know how important it is to have support at this very early stage in your career.
What advice would you give actors, actresses who are just starting out?
You have to be patient. Especially today where everything is about speed—fast food, fast production, where in two weeks you can produce a TV show, or a movie in two months. Everything is just so business-like, and so little about the arts and the passion for the art of acting.
I came from a very old-school way of thinking. Back then, I felt that I was cool, young, and fun but in my professional life, I took and still take it very seriously. I take my time and do things one by one so that I am certain I can do them properly.
Being a star is easy, but being a respected actor is not easy. You have to be patient and not take shortcuts.
What role would you love to play?
Maybe I can do a musical—sing and dance? Why not?
How has motherhood changed you?
Life is completely different. It has changed so much. Before, my life was really about what would the next script or character will be, what would I wear—that was my life. But now I have to divide my time; I need to work out a work schedule that will suit my child.
And because I am blessed with a very steady family, I find it easier to turn down projects and focus my attention on them.