I first met Jane Le several years ago, when she auditioned for my martial arts short, Safe. She gave a very nice read, and since then, I’ve always wanted to work with her. So it was with great pleasure that I asked her to stand in front of my still camera. I first met Jane Le several years ago, when she auditioned for my martial arts short, Safe. She gave a very nice read, and since then, I’ve always wanted to work with her. So it was with great pleasure that I asked her to stand in front of my still camera.
Jane has just completed the film 1968: Tunnel Rats, a Vietnam War film shot in South Africa; and the play, Boats on a River, which will air on NPR in May 2008. You’ll also find her as the elusive seductress in Tom Jones’ music video, “Chicane: Stoned in Love.” And if that isn’t enough, you can find her in the docudrama Proud American, to be released in September 2008 in 35mm and IMAX.
Asiance: So, tell us about 1968: Tunnel Rats, this movie that you’re in.
Jane: Tunnel Rats is this movie I shot in South Africa about the Vietnam War and the Tunnels of Cu Chi. I was one girl out of twelve guys, and we went through boot camp to get ready for the film. It was intense training by the same guys who trained the Blood Diamond crew. And we shot AK47s, M16s, did mock combat. It was really intense and it really tested my strength within myself because being with a bunch of guys, you have to speak up and have your voice heard or else you just whittle away in the dust. And also I grew up with a family of four women, so I’m just used to more of a girl vibe all the time. It was very life changing because you see yourself, you look outside of yourself, and it was one of those moments.
The film was improvised, so we were able to have our own input on things so you had to fend for yourself and if you wanted to be heard, you had to speak up. I’m normally one who was raised like, speak when you are spoken to, and if they ask you to talk or have an opinion then you say, but if not, you do your work and then you go home. I don’t fully do that all the time, but sometimes with work I don’t want to push my boundaries, I want to respect the person who wrote the piece, I wanna respect the treatment, I don’t want to go too far out there. But on this project I learned that input was really valuable. It brought to my attention that my voice was important, that my opinion does matter. And we wanna hear, because maybe I have a viewpoint about the Vietnam War through my parents or through someone I know that is overlooked.
Asiance: What was your role?
Jane: I was a VC guerilla killer that lived in the tunnels and took care of the children and when necessary would have to fight in the fields as well. It was really intense cause I read this book about a character like mine. You’re not trained, you’re just given this gun and you just go and you spy on these people in their camps, you bring these messages home, and its like you are the people of your land, you fight to live for your country.
Asiance: In terms of other projects, you’re also in a Tom Jones music video, Chicane: Stoned in Love? It’s on YouTube?
Jane: Yeah, and it’s on YouTube, and it’s playing at all the gyms. Which… I’m building my fan base [she laughs], and all over MTV… It’s funny, I shot it two years ago, but I’ve been getting people from all around the world asking about it. I just did this film in South Africa and this guy was like [and she does a pseudo South African accent], “Oh yeah, I just caught you on that Tom Jones video.” And I’m asking, “Like that one two years ago?” And then my friend at the gym saw it.
Asiance: It’s a great video.
JJane: You like it? It’s fun. And I’m getting fan mail…
Asiance: So you’re not a dancer, are you? By training, I mean. [Jane dances throughout the Tom Jones video].
Jane: No, I dabble.
Asiance: Did they have you dance at the audition?
Jane: Yeah. The director, Phil Griffin, he’s actually a choreographer back in the day, so he was telling us how to move and how in music video, you have to move like you are in water, because the camera has to catch every movement – to make it, perhaps, more sensual, or to make it more soft and inviting. And so he taught me that. So he wanted to see me dance [at the audition]. And they were going for this True Romance kinda feel. And they weren’t actually looking for Asian either, that’s the cool part. They were just looking for [Jane jumps into a Southern drawl] Alabama, True Romance. I LOVE that movie, that’s my favorite, I have that video. So I did my thing, and they liked it. And we had to pretend we were driving and look all sad.
Asiance: Where did you shoot?
Jane: We shot in Lancaster [CA], where they shoot a bunch of music videos in that location, I guess. And it was fun, Tom Jones came, met him, he was on his way to Las Vegas to do a tour. It was a two-day shoot. It was a cool experience. Since it was a music video there was no dialogue, you were just being you in the situation. It was very freeing, very freeing to just pop in a car, rob a bank, get this guy to rob a bank with you, and then just leave “em [she laughs]. It just felt empowering. It was fun.
Asiance: So where did you grow up?
Jane: Born in Orange, city of Orange in California, and at age ten I moved to Laguna Niguel, which was different because Garden Grove is a Vietnamese community, so I felt very comfortable there, and when I went to Laguna Niguel it was different, because I was one Asian in the class, basically. That took some time to get used to. I learned a lot about being different from something you can’t help, your race. There was this kid in school when I had to do show and tell, and I was nervous and shy. I just did it really quick and this kid asked, “Where are you from?” And I said, “Oh, my family’s from Vietnam.” And he stands up and points at me and yells aggressively, “You’re our enemy!”
Asiance: That must have had a big effect on you.
Jane: It does. I wish it didn’t, I wouldn’t want them to have a power over me like that, but unfortunately it did. But I am very thankful for my experiences of feeling different because of my race, because then it allowed me to be more sensitive about subject matters, and I can apply it to my work.
Asiance: It’s part of being human.
Jane: Yeah, it’s part of being human, and I think that everyone goes through it. I think it’s what you chose to recognize and what you choose to recognize is going on. I have [Asian] friends that are like, “No, there’s never racism, never experienced it.” And I’d be like, “Really? That’s very interesting… ” or I’d say, “No? Never, ever in your life?” [And they’d say] “No, never!”
And then you make your friends, I just found my niche at one point. But my upbringing in Laguna Niguel made me more aware of where my place was in the world, because growing up in Garden Grove where everyone’s Vietnamese, you just feel normal, like, that’s who you are, that’s not a big deal. But apparently when you leave the nest or go somewhere else, apparentlypeople are scared of change, or of difference.
Asiance: So how did acting come about?
Jane: So I’d always been studying acting since high school, I majored in theater in college, and I always wanted to perform, I always felt this need to perform. But then I went to France to live there, to study with a French family, and found this whole other side of life that I felt was unchartered, that I’ve never experienced before. Just appreciating everyday life and traveling, meeting people, expanding your mind and your viewpoint. All of a sudden politics became interesting to me, I was never really open to it before.
So I wanted to live there. And when I came back I wanted to perhaps not give a go at acting. It seemed so hard, it seemed like you’d be a failure, based on what everyone kept saying. “You’re not gonna make it, you’re Asian.” And so I didn’t know if I wanted to do something that hard, make my life that hard.
And I saw this nurse one day at school, and she said, “Oh, there’s this casting on the radio. You should definitely look into it. I’ll give you the address, you should send in your headshot, you’d be perfect for it.” So then I did that, but then I went to Paris again, because I couldn’t leave Paris, I fell in love with Paris! I wanted to live there and work in some random job, and just be happy, and you know, just live your life.
And then I came back from that trip, and I got this phone call from this woman. She said that she wanted to bring me in for this audition that I had submitted for three months ago, that she’d been calling me ever since. So I get the phone, and I’m like, “Oh my gosh, I wanna audition, are you still there?” And she says, “Well, today’s the last day, the producer’s leaving today, but we really want to see you, can you come in today?”
My mother has my car, so then my sister drives me, but her car is this old ’60 Mercedes that’s not gonna chug all the way to Orange County, so we take our friend’s car, this beetle, and we drive to Orange County. I’m in there for two hours, I’m reading with the writer/director, and I get it.
Asiance: So how’s acting been treating you?
Jane: I went through this period when I thought everything was in the cards, I got the movie, I got my agent from my acting teacher, went to LA, thought I’d be a great sensation! [She laughs self-mockingly, amused by her own naivetÃ© at the time]. And then, had to learn what life’s really about. Like it’s about hard work and experiences and going through it. I learned through the four years that I’ve been here that it’s not about the parties. [She laughs at herself again.] It’s not about being at the right thing at the right time or the right place. It comes down to my own hard work. I think at the end of the day I’m happy with that, and I value that because I know I earned it on my own. And I like that philosophy.
Asiance: Do you think you’ll ever do anything else besides acting?
Jane: No… I can’t imagine it. It’s so weird, I can’t imagine anything else right now. It’s funny, every time I work on a project it just re-establishes doing this, you know what I mean, you ever get those moments?
Asiance: Oh yeah, I totally do. I just wish it were more often. [We both laugh. All actors want to work more frequently.]
Jane: Yeah, sometimes it takes a project to really inspire you. I think Tunnel Rats really inspired me, changed my outlook on a lot of things. Funny, it’s like, you only live once, so why don’t you make the most out of it and believe in yourself? Because I don’t think before that film I believed in myself that much, I was so doubtful. I think you just get scared of committing to something. Once you just commit to it, you feel like that’s what you’re meant to be or do.
Asiance: It’s liberating, in a way.
Jane: Yeah, it’s liberating that you owned up to it. “Cause I was always having one foot in the water, not knowing if I really wanted to dive in, because what if I drowned, you know? And sometimes you’ll never know unless you just jump right in and see if you can just tread water, or survive. And for the most part, I have, so it just re-establishes that this is my calling.
Asiance: So what else have you been up to? You just did a play, Boats on a River, right?
Jane: It’s called Boats on a River by LA Theaterworks. Yeah, it’s going to be playing on NPR next month. You asked me earlier what got me into acting. I’m an imagery person, I feel, so I’ve never quite put it into words. And it took me talking to the playwright, the writer, because her dad served in the Vietnam War, and my parents were living in that era and fled by boat. So as we were talking, we were feeling so much, and we were expressing basically what they went through, and I told her, “I wasn’t raised in Vietnam, I was raised here, but I have this close connection to that world for some reason. I don’t know if it’s a past life or something, but when you talk about it with me there’s something that comes out, like I lived it. And she made me realize that perhaps its our parents’ repressed emotions of this intense world that they had experienced, this intense era that they didn’t get to, like… like it’s so shocking that they don’t want to talk about it everyday, but you live with it, you live with this feeling. [So much so] that we become artists that we want to express this, that we have this desire to tell this story. And it made complete sense when she said it [she snaps her fingers, as in Eureka!], because I was trying to analyze it, and I was trying to intellectualize why I was an actor, but it just came down to that. I come from this family, we don’t talk about how we feel, we don’t talk about what we went through, my mother has a nightmare every year from this war, but she doesn’t talk about it, and look at us, my sister works in fashion, my little sister wants to be a photojournalist, I’m an actor. It’s written in our face, this is what it had created in us, you know, and that’s my revelation.
Asiance: That’s cool.
Jane: Yeah, it’s pretty cool. Because I was trying to think, oh, maybe I just wanted to be the center of attention, or something like that, but once she talked about that, she [the playwright] was like, “I feel like my father never talked much about the war and through that I’m writing all these stories about children in Cambodia, and the sex trade, and my next play, I want to write about Vietnam.” It makes complete sense, and I just never touched upon it. You never know, sometimes we say something but it’s actually another thing.
Asiance: Sometimes it just comes when the time is right.
Asiance: So what do you do when you’re not acting and not working?
Jane: I hike, or I read, I love to watch movies. Before I used to watch movies for its artistic value, and intellectual value, but lately, I guess because my days have been so tiresome or so stressful, always working, now I just watch movies to relax and be happy [she laughs]… like every other person.
Asiance: I think we all do that.
Jane: Like I never did that before, I thought that was wrong [she laughs again], but now I do that, and I quite like it.
And then I like to eat dinners, see friends, go to museums, go to the beach.
Asiance: Well, thanks for your time. Break a leg.
Jane: Thanks for the interview.
For more on Jane Le:
Proud American: www.proudamericanfilm.com
1968: Tunnel Rats: www.youtube.com
Chicane (with Tom Jones):
Boats On A River:www.calendarlive.com/stage/662095,0,7871293.event
Photography by Ming Lo
Make-Up and Hair by Alister Hart
Styling by Jane Le
Ming Lo has been a fan of the moving and still image for as long as he can remember. He shoots headshots, portraits, fashion, beauty and corporate work. More detail on his work can be found at www.minglo.com.
Like many in Los Angeles, Ming wears several hats. He is also an actor, director and investor. His latest acting credits include Pursuit of Happyness; Jarhead; Million Dollar Baby; Dirty, Sexy Money; Private Practice; and Navy NCIS. Prior to working in entertainment, Ming employed at McKinsey & Co. and at Goldman Sachs & Co. Ming has an MBA and MA Political Science from Stanford University and an AB in Government, cum laude, from Harvard College.