NAATA/CrossCurrent Media

An Interview with Double Happiness' Mina Shum and Sandra Oh

by Cynthia Lew;

CL: You've received tremendous attention and accolades for your first feature film.

MS: I know! In terms of nominations, we took the big ones. We've won something at every festival that there's been a competition where we've been eligible. I think that says something about the universality of the film, more than anything. It means that the story is touching people. It's getting notice. All I've ever wanted was critical and popular acclaim. Italy was really important to me because we got the people's choice award and we got special jury mention in the competition. That's both right there.

CL: Sandra, you received the Canadian Genie award for Best Actress yet you mentioned that this doesn't necessarily translate into offers of more work.

SO: In this line of work you can't expect that if you get something, some kind of recognition for your work, that you'll work again. That's the insanity of being an actor; who knows when you're going to work again?

MS: That's the difference between Sandra and I. No job is secure. My biggest tool is that I'm a writer and so I create my own work. Sandra creates the work after someone has created it, she inhabits those worlds. For me, I don't have time off. W hen I get off this tour in San Francisco, I go home, I do a polish of my new script, I write a grant for my next film.

SO: Then she hires me. My work is to link onto her vision and make it come true. I am not a writer. At this point in my life, I have no interest in writing. My only concern right now is acting, practicing that craft.

MS: That is why she is so good. My producer is only a producer, he doesn't want to write, he doesn't want to direct. This is how you get good at your job. And I'm good at my job. I'm not going to be an actor. I'm not going to be a producer.

CL: Audiences enjoy your cameo in the film, however, and your background is in theater. MS: I did directing for stage and acting (in college). But it's not where I get off. I'd rather play in a band, actually, than act. I'm a director. I'm a performer. I'm good at playing certain characters in a performance. Janet Eng is not a small characte r; she's totally over the top. I could never play a subtle part because I don't know how. I can turn it up or turn it down.

SO: That's why she hires me!

MS: That's why I have so much respect for what Sandra does. She is able to inhabit the vision and make it her own. She does it with a sense of commitment and abandonment. There's an abandonment in what you do where a lot of times someone will ho ld back that two percent, you don't hold back. You're a complete mess after some of those scenes, which is good. The trust between us is strong. She trusts to become a complete mess and that someone will be there, that final safety net is there at the bot tom. That's why we work so well together.

CL: This is your first time directing Sandra; you've mentioned that you will be working together in the future.

MS: She's my De Niro and I'm Scorcese. Instead of being Italian, we're Asian.

SO: Like Liv Ullman and Ingmar Bergman. There's a couple of duos that just go on.

CL: Is Double Happiness an idea that you had wanted to do for some time?

MS: Since 18 I've wanted to make this film. It was very hard for me when I moved out. All I wanted to do was have someone tell me, take my hand and say to me, "Girl, we've gone through it. It's not that hard." But no one was there to say that to me so I felt it was very important to give that back.

SO: Both of us overcame these huge hurdles and became what we wanted and what we felt we could become. The whole point is that little seed of the dream.

MS: There're not that many role models, especially for Asian women. It's as simple as give me a color I can identify with. There have been other female directors and other female actors that we admire, but it's when you see an Asian face on the screen . . .

SO: It's so different.

MS: It's funny because it was my film; I wrote and directed it. I'm sitting in Berlin watching the movie, and I'm so glad Jade exists. I really like her. It's like the woman in the second part of Chungking Express; she's real fresh. There's some thing great about her character that I just adored and I'm so glad someone created that. Women heroines, there's not many of them period, let alone yellow ones.

CL: What are you two up to now?

SO: I'm in between jobs right now. I just finished David Mamet's Oleana up in London, Ontario, at the National Art Center in Ottawa. Right now I'm just resting a bit. Actually, I'm going to go back to Toronto and help Helen Lee with her film. We 'll shoot for about a week. Then (I'll) start getting really nervous about money.

MS: That's it, hanging out. And if there are other projects, it would be just way too secret to tell. I'm very superstitious. I've decided that all I'm doing right now is promote Double Happiness. I'm also doing a polish of my new film, Drive, S he Said. After that, we'll start to do financing for it. I'm trying to chill. I'm learning how to play guitar.

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