arts • 23 Jun, 2015
Interview: Actor and Producer Kim Ly
Hanging Out With The Saigon-Based Superstar
If Kim Ly was any hotter right now, you’d have to shake his hand wearing gloves. And if his face seems familiar, that’s because it was the face of 2014. And it’s been everywhere ever since.
He’s the reason people sign up for gym memberships they can’t afford. And his star turn in Huong Ga has probably led to a few failed kung fu attempts in the bathroom mirror too.
The present’s bright, but you’re going to need sunglasses on indoors for what’s coming. Kim Ly is lined up for two projects, a Japanese-directed Saigon story shooting late summer, and Vietnam’s biggest ever film project: an adaptation of the work of Swedish novelist David Larsson. It’ll be part Swedish, part Vietnamese, just like Kim Ly himself.
Your face is everywhere. Which other of your body parts deserve some attention?
Haha. That’s a good one. Hmm… My back! I used to box a lot. I guess that’s my strongest feature.
Which of the characters you’ve played in films are you most like?
The one I played in Huong Ga. Every character you play you put in your own personality but that one is closest to my heart. He’s strong willed, and family oriented.
For your upcoming film [yet to be titled], what’s your dream female lead look like using parts of famous actresses?
Haha, Truong Ngoc Anh’s eyes! She has beautiful eyes. Jessica Alba’s legs. Meryl Streep’s smile. And Natalie Portman has a good heart, I think.
After that, you’re acting in and producing Vietnam’s most expensive film project. What’s the most valuable thing you’ll bring to it?
Well, it’s my project. I bought the rights to the two books. It’s a story I’m passionate about, and that I can relate to. I’ve got an Oscar winning producer from Canada. And a Swedish production company. I got the project state funded by both governments too, which is a big deal.
It’s a true story, right?
Yeah, Daniel Luthman came and lived with me for a week. He’s an ex-criminal. Been to jail for 12, maybe 15 years. But he’s a super cool guy. I studied how he slept. How he moved around. How he smoked - I don’t smoke. He’s an Interesting character. We hung out with his friends. These biker guys covered in tattoos.
Swedes are known for being cool. How are you not typically Swedish?
I’m pretty outgoing. Swedish people are a little colder. I’ve traveled a lot. It changes you. I’m very open minded. I don’t judge anyone. Not on race, religion, or sexual orientation.
And what is Vietnam to you in three words?
Love. Passion. Future.
Is it better to be talked about than not talked about at all?
For sure! People talk all the time, and the majority of the things are good. The rest I can’t control beyond behaving in a proper way. I handle it by not commenting, especially if involves another person.
Do you think we take something positive from all our relationships?
You learn about yourself, and about another person. And if it’s a romantic connection you don’t really ever stop loving them, even though it might take a little time to get to that point, and the attraction might have gone.
And what would the plot of the film of your life be?
That would be my family history. My father fell in love with a Swedish woman, left Vietnam, and moved to Sweden! They met in Malaysia. He didn’t even speak the language when he got there. He went that way. I came this way.
Which is the part of the filmmaking process you’d like to avoid?
Haha, there’s a lot of parts. The post-production is draining. It’s hard work. Sitting in that editing room watching the film over and over.
Did you have any problems in your fight scenes?
Sometimes we only have ten minutes to rehearse. You learn on the spot. I cracked my hand jumping off some stairs doing a kick. I broke a toe. I got punched in the face. Even with a lot of rehearsal that happens.
We saw an interview with The Raid’s [Indonesian martial arts film] Iko Uwais. He said the worst thing you can do is stop when you accidentally hit someone. Then you have to do it all again.
Right. And fight-wise that is the coolest film. No question.
What can you take from those sort of films?
It’s storytelling at it’s best. They’re thinking in a new way. They make you think.
A good film is like a good song. It makes you feel it like it’s the first time, right? So, if you were a song, which would you be?
Good question. I love hip hop. Nas’ ‘The Message’! Or Warren G and Nate Dogg’s ‘Regulate’. Haha. I don’t know if I’m either of those songs, but I love them. I listened to both this morning.
How’s Swedish hip hop?
There’s a good guy called Petter. The hip hop scene really started ‘97...‘98. If you’re Swedish, and you’re rapping about having guns, you should shut up! And you’re not drinking Henessey. You’re drinking a beer!
You’re not driving a Hummer. You’re on a bike.
Just be real. It’s the same with film. Why does a film like City of God (2002’s Brazilian favela-tale) make 70 million? Because it’s authentic. I want to do the same for Vietnam. It will happen.
So, what have you lost lately that you’d like to get back?
I’ve lost sleep! I’d love to get that back.
Finally, imagine it’s the end of 2015. Tell me your year in review.
I’ve made two more films. It’s been a good year, with a lot of work. And I’ve learnt to handle the stresses and strains better...and I’m getting more sleep.
Words by David Kaye
Photos by Kyanh Tran
Art director & Illustrations by Ivan Kamensky
Makeup by Trieu Vio