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Posted at 10:45 AM ET, 04/15/2009

Bai Ling, Crazy Cool

By Liz Kelly

Bai Ling's cell phone self-portrait. (Courtesy Bai Ling)
Catching Up With...

Bai Ling is misunderstood. Or so I've been told. I'm on the phone with the China-born actress and perennial Fug target because I characterized her as "bat guano crazy" and her publicist saw it. Mea Culpa. In any case, I've been asked to talk to Bai myself, to understand that she's more than a tabloid-friendly photo op.

Here's what I learned: Ling is one of the workingest actors in Hollywood with nine projects in various stages of production (her latest, "Crank: High Voltage" opens this weekend). She's also an author (she says her book, "Nipples," will likely publish later this year), a singer ("I'm a cross between Fergie and Bjork"), a blogger (check out her free-form stream of Blackberry posts here), an award-winning actress (she won three awards for her role in the Hong-Kong-made film "Dumplings").

If she's a bit eccentric, what's the harm?

At 42 (although Ling claims she's 26 in her mind), she's hardly an ingenue. She's made a lasting Hollywood career out of the unlikeliest of beginnings.

Born into pre-capitalism friendly China, Ling joined the People's Liberation Army when she was 14. She spent three years in a performance troop before returning to Beijing in the midst of the pro-democracy upheaval of the late '80s.

"I come from the most primitive place in the world and I've come this far," said Ling. "I had a dream and I believe that if you sincerely pursue your dream and give everything to it you will find it."

She emigrated to the U.S. in the early '90s and first landed on the big screen in 1994's "The Crow." She's worked steadily ever since with roles in everything from "Anna and the King" to "Entourage" to a memorable turn in "Lost's" third season.

Despite her success, Ling is eager to take on roles that don't cast her solely as the kooky Asian woman. She'd like to work with Steven Soderbergh ("Michael Clayton" "Traffic") or "Slumdog Millionaire" director Danny Boyle and she points to that award-winning performance as a sinister cook in "Dumplings" as proof of her range.

A clip:

But Ling fears her constant presence in tabloids (she was most recently linked to Mickey Rourke, though she says there's no truth to the rumor) and gossip Web sites could hurt her chances to expand her range.

"I am afraid that talented writers and directors will see the gossip," said Ling, "because I want them to see me as a talented actress and give me a stage to shine my talents. Because the roles I have gotten are not as good as who I am as an actress."

Ling's break may come this fall when she stars opposite Helen Mirren and Joe Pesci as a high-priced prostitute in "Love Ranch," a movie based on the first legal brothel in Nevada.


Ling (right) with Jason Statham in 'Crank: High Voltage.' (Courtesy Lionsgate Entertainment)

So, is Ling misunderstood? Well, she is quirky, but far from crazy. She speaks and writes in short poetic groupings of words and casually tosses off sentences like, "nature gave me a previous lifetime as a wild cheetah running around in the forest." She admits to being a "free spirit" and, she says, she has eight little spirits that live inside her. ("They are like one-inches tall, eight little girls running around with mini-skirts," says Ling.) But there is a method to the madness; a bit of heightened reality -- or fantasy -- to the public persona she's created.

"Like those red carpet dresses," said Ling. "That's nothing -- just a little girl having fun. It's something to celebrate. But on the other hand I am a serious, talented actress capable of playing different roles -- as I've already shown everybody. I hope people can celebrate that -- the other thing is emphasized way too much."

(Note: Bai Ling's age has not been confirmed by the actress or her representation, despite Internet sources that list her as being born in 1966.)

By Liz Kelly  | April 15, 2009; 10:45 AM ET
Categories:  Catching Up With...  
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Comments

LIZ KELLY: "Well, she is quirky, but far from crazy."

BAI LING: says "she has eight little spirits that live inside her. ("They are like one-inches tall, eight little girls running around with mini-skirts.")

Sounds to me like any two of those "little spirits" could link arms and bridge the gap between "Bai Ling" and "crazy."

Posted by: byoolin1 | April 15, 2009 10:58 AM | Report abuse

(Not that there's anything wrong with that, mind you.)

Posted by: byoolin1 | April 15, 2009 10:59 AM | Report abuse

Never heard of this woman, but she sounds like a survivor.

Posted by: jezebel3 | April 15, 2009 11:02 AM | Report abuse

After reading a little of the blog (until my head exploded), I conclude that Liz's initial assessment was correct.

Posted by: memphis1 | April 15, 2009 11:17 AM | Report abuse

"I come from the most primitive place in the world and I've come this far," said Ling.

Communist China, even before its economic rise, was a lot of things, but it was far from primitive. Had she hailed from North Korea, that would have been more impressive.

Posted by: mdreader01 | April 15, 2009 11:21 AM | Report abuse

Wow. Just.....wow. I do have to say that she does not look 42. I had her pegged as much much younger.

And Bai, those tabloids are the reason you gave this interview. They're pretty much the only thing keeping you in the public eye. Bit parts and supporting roles are nice, but I can't list any movies or shows that I've seen you in, except Lost. And I didn't even know it was you until about four months ago.
Quality over quanitity my dear, and don't go blaming others for not getting the more substantial roles. You've made your own type-casting bed, now lie in it.

Posted by: eet7e | April 15, 2009 11:29 AM | Report abuse

Man, that is one hard working publicist. Good luck. (And I know you are reading this).

Posted by: 44west | April 15, 2009 11:29 AM | Report abuse

"I am afraid that talented writers and directors will see the gossip, because I want them to see me as a talented actress and give me a stage to shine my talents. Because the roles I have gotten are not as good as who I am as an actress." - Bai Ling

Where have I heard this before? Oh yeah...

“There’s not much I can do about the fact that I’ve become a kind of tabloid obsession. I can’t change that. And yes, the websites, the gossip pages, and all of that stuff have hurt my career. I'd like to have my own charity, do work overseas, be in Oscar-nominated films, write movies, produce movies/shows/videos, design clothes, make music, write books, etc." - Lindsay Lohan

Posted by: mdreader01 | April 15, 2009 11:35 AM | Report abuse

*shrug*

To paraphrase an old Rosie O'Donnell bit about LaToya Jackson: If I had that body, I'd be grocery shopping naked.

She's beautiful, and manages to keep herself in the public eye (albeit more usually for her GFY wardrobe and odd little statements than acting abilities). If that's what it takes in this image-obsessed society, then that's what it takes.

Besides, I'd rather watch Bai Ling than Heidi and Spencer whatstheirnames (or any of these reality show fluff-heads) any day. She's far more intriguing. And I think she knows exactly what she's doing.

Posted by: Chasmosaur1 | April 15, 2009 11:41 AM | Report abuse

So she keeps acting bat-guano crazy so she can get interviews in which she wishes to be recognized for not being bat-guano crazy. Red China may not have been the most primitive place on earth, but if you want to join any other army at 14, you need to pick some rebel group in Africa or someplace. B-g crazy or not, I believe her about Mickey Rourke, beside whom she appears sane. And we are all 26 in our minds.

Posted by: reddragon1 | April 15, 2009 11:49 AM | Report abuse

Before reading this, I always thought of Bai Ling as Paris Hilton without the rich family. Famous for no discernable reason, and puts herself together well.

After reading this, I think Bai Ling needs to hone her focus. Sings like "a cross between Fergie and Bjork"? Pick one (aim higher with Bjork -- she has more talent). Want to work with A-list directors? Turn down any role listing you as a "prostitute" unless you change your last name to either Fonda or Sorvino.

Posted by: td_in_baltimore | April 15, 2009 11:51 AM | Report abuse

I have had a number Chinese students who wrote in a very poetic style. I also noticed when I visited China that the most simple of phrases (trash cans at the great wall telling you not to litter) were often phrased poetically. Wish I could remember some of them. The poetic style of speaking may be cultural.

The rest of it I can't explain.

Posted by: Roxie1 | April 15, 2009 12:19 PM | Report abuse

After reading this post I have come to one conclusion and his has nothing to do with Ms. Ling. I want to be a publicist. For any celebrity from A to D-list, really, because if all you have to do is read Celebritology and say, "Doll, you gotta do an interview w/my client. She's not as crazy as you think," and then send an invoice, I think I could do that. In fact I know I could.

Posted by: pras40 | April 15, 2009 12:57 PM | Report abuse

Uh, okay.

Posted by: lolyla | April 15, 2009 1:11 PM | Report abuse

yep, Liz you got it right the first time. However, I do like Bai Ling much more than I did before. And if she is really 42, I want what she's having.

Posted by: hodie | April 15, 2009 1:29 PM | Report abuse

I love Bai Ling. Even when she's doing something completely nuts, like stealing what was it, batteries at the airport(?), she's still pretty fabulous in her own Bai Ling way. I love, love, love her fug-worthy clothes and it's always a pleasant surprise when I see a photo of her with all her lady parts covered up.

And I am actually 27 in my head - man that was great year.

So, good luck to you Bai! That's probably me cheering that you hear, although it could be one of the little girls in your head.

Posted by: VaLGaL | April 15, 2009 1:33 PM | Report abuse

All this talk about how great Bai Ling looks at 42 -- and she does, granted -- reminds me of those old Pearl Cream commercials with Nancy Kwan.

"Have you ever noticed how Asian women always look so young?" According to Nancy -- at the time of the commercial, probably around 100, but she looked as good as she did in "Flower Drum Song" when she was 20 -- it's because they grind up "real pearls" into powder -- WHAT?! It's true. Cue the mortar and pestle -- and package the resulting powder with some base so you can brush it on your face and there you have it -- instant youth in a highly-priced jar.

Clearly Bai Ling has been indulging in the Pearl Cream. Or maybe Asian women just always look younger than other women. Somebody get Nancy on the phone.

Posted by: td_in_baltimore | April 15, 2009 2:28 PM | Report abuse

Clearly Bai Ling has been indulging in the Pearl Cream. Or maybe Asian women just always look younger than other women. Somebody get Nancy on the phone.

Posted by: td_in_baltimore | April 15, 2009 2:28 PM
------------------------------------------
And all along I thought it was a pearl necklace. How Billy Gibbons of me.

Posted by: sasquatchbigfoot | April 15, 2009 3:05 PM | Report abuse

Bai Ling's publicist is BG Crazy, but damn if she's not doing her job! I can't help but wonder HOW Bai's publicist got you to change your mind, because clearly this post should have been called "Bail Ling, Crazy" (full stop). Bai is on GFY today as well and the fug girls link to some other wacky interviews! Worth checking out, if only for the WTF factor.

Posted by: talleyl | April 15, 2009 3:11 PM | Report abuse

I thought she was amazing in Red Corner. If you haven't seen it I highly recommend it. She and Richard Gere have a wonderful chemestry and the story was good fun.

Don't get me wrong, still kooky, but I think she is right when she said she has some talent.

Posted by: mwalkerg | April 15, 2009 3:47 PM | Report abuse

Bai Ling was on "Loveline" last night (in the DC Area)...

She's Bat Guano Crazy.

Posted by: VTDuffman | April 15, 2009 3:47 PM | Report abuse

Chemistry, not chemestry -sorry, long day!

Posted by: mwalkerg | April 15, 2009 3:47 PM | Report abuse

I DID see her in "Dumplings" and I liked her -- but I like her more for her crazyee. Do you, Bai!

Posted by: crissyfresh | April 15, 2009 4:38 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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