What do a superhero action blockbuster, an intimate western love story and a foreign language film have in common? For one, they’re all directed by Taiwanese-American director Ang Lee.
The Film Foundation and Louis XIII Cognac partnered up Wednesday night to cohost Creative Encounter, an evening of conversation with two-time Academy Award-winning director Ang Lee and actress Anne Hathaway, who worked with Lee on Brokeback Mountain in 2005.
Held in the Charles Aidikoff Screening Room in Beverly Hills, Creative Encounter began with a video montage of Lee’s numerous films along with a discussion about Lee’s love affair with filmmaking, illustrating decades-worth of the hard work and talent the Film Foundation aims to preserve as an “art form that stands the test of time.”
Despite his incredible successes thus far, Lee didn’t always want to be behind the camera. Coming to the United States from Taiwan when he was 23 years old, Lee had all the intentions of becoming a famous actor, but he soon realized an unavoidable obstacle standing in the way of his dream: he couldn’t speak English. Wanting to continue to be a part of the entertainment industry in some way, Lee resorted to directing.
“I went to film school but I was doubtful and I didn’t think I would make any money or do anything,” Lee reflected on his decision. Does he still have his doubts? “Not anymore,” Lee said, “Not after the two, three Oscars. I can’t deny that I’m a talented filmmaker now, but I used to deny it for a long, long time.”
Lee soon fell in love with directing, discovering that he could take something pretend in order to convey a truth. It’s another similarity his many diverse works share: the hopes and disappointments that all humans have. His leaps between genre and style also are due, in part, to Lee’s drive to explore the unknown.
“It’s like sight-seeing; why would you want to go to the same place?” Lee said. “In marriage you have to be loyal, but in filmmaking…why not explore?” He’s admitted to turning down several movie deals in the past that he felt were in a genre he had already spent time in.
Lee also reflected on his long career from the beginning, back when he directed one of his first films in 1992, Pushing Hands, about the clash between Chinese traditions of family and modern Western ideals regarding individualism. If he could, would he travel back in time to give his younger, less experienced self advice?
“No,” Lee said simply. “I’m not saying that movie was perfect. There were things I did that I think now, ‘Oh, don’t do that, that’s so embarrassing,’ but I was doing my best.”
Actress Anne Hathaway, who won the Oscar last year for best supporting actress, weighed in on her 10 year friendship with Lee and her initial first impressions. The two met when 21 year-old Hathaway auditioned for Brokeback Mountain –– in an extravagant princess ball gown, no less, during a lunch break from filming The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement.
“I was so intimidated when I walked into the room, but when I met [Ang], I felt like I’d known him for a long time,” Hathaway reflected. “Before, I never referred to myself as an actress but after working with him on this film I thought, ‘I can call myself an actress now.'”
Continuing with his theme of human condition, Lee revealed his plans for a new film centered around boxing. “It’s two guys beating each other senseless, but with meaning,” Lee said, “And I think that’s the bottom line of life: the effort we put into something.”