Lily Ji plays Chinese Cadet ‘Mei Lin’ in the Legendary and Universal Pictures sequel “Pacific Rim Uprising” releasing wide theatrically on March 23, 2018.
Q: Can you share anything with us about Pacific Rim Uprising and your role as Mei Lin Gao?
A: ALL I can share for now is that we have new jaegers. Technology has advanced since the first movie, the Kaiju are bigger & stronger this time around and those of us playing the cadets are much more multicultural.
Mei Lin is from China — definitely a believer in hard work. She is independent, a fighter and pioneer in life. Always proactive and positive with a belief in creating ones’ own path and opportunities.
Q: You are no stranger to big blockbuster films having worked on Transformers: Age of Extinction. What have your experiences been like working on such big film projects?
A: SO much fun for sure – and exciting. I get to engage my imagination constantly because of all the green screens – HA! Everyone is so pumped all of the time while being very professional, efficient and just a joy to work with.
Of course on the first day I was a little bit nervous. I remember it was a scene with only four of us (the cadets). We were all a little bit anxious at the beginning, but Steven [S. DeKnight] was so kind and supportive. After just one take we were all fine. Because we shot most of the film in Australia, it was great for me to work with the Aussie crews again. Getting to speak in an Australian accent with them is just the best.
Q: It sounds like you have always been a natural performer, singing and dancing from a very young age. Can you tell us about your upbringing in Kunming, Yunnan and how it prepared you for this career?
A: YUNNAN has the most minority groups in China. As a Han, I’m like a minority in Yunnan [laughs]. Minority people love dancing and singing, so I guess that culture is really burried deep into my blood.
My mother was a dancer and singer when she was young. She is the one who actually influenced me when I was a kid — she was also my first teacher for dancing and singing. And because my dad works for Yunnan Arts University in Drama Department, I grew up in that environment. He introduced me to a lot of great films, like Boys Don’t Cry and The Piano Teacher. He also brought me to a lot of shows at the theatre, so my passion for performing started very early. They both helped a lot in that preparation.
Q: You are bilingual and have traveled a lot through your life – even hosting your own tourism show (Catch the Sunset with Lily Ji) in Australia. Are there any other countries that you would love to perform/work in?
A: ABSOLUTELY! I love traveling so much, that’s why I created the travel show initially in hopes that I can travel around world.
The UK is definitely one of them, especially for theatre! Would love to go back there, maybe see some Shakespeare again — haha. And I LOVE British accents! I hope I can play a role one day like I grew up in the UK, so I can do the accent. Perhaps also work with some British actors like Benedict Cumberbatch or Tom Hiddleston [laughs].
Q: What are your ambitions as an actor and do you harbor any interest in exercising your creative muscles behind the camera as well?
A: I LOVE Meryl Streep, Frances McDormand, Cate Blanchett, Charlize Theron, Natalie Portman and Judi Dench. They are all my goal to work with one day; as an actor as it would be a dream to work on projects like Monster, Three Billboards or Million Dollar Baby.
I also want to run a theatre company just like Cate did. And yes, directing, producing – even screen-writing – are on my list. I want to create more fun, interesting, complicated, non-cliché with in-depth female characters. In fact, I’m planning to produce this year with some friends, of course still early stage, but I’m very excited about it.
I love Oprah too, she’s my inspiration. I want my career to be just as colorful as hers, not limited only to acting. There’s so much more I can explore, like create my lifestyle brand, a production company, a travel show around world. They are all in my plans.
Q: With the Black Panther film and the TimesUp movement (among many other things) it is clearly a very important moment in the industry. How do you see the current climate and can you speak to any of the challenges you have had to face or overcome?
A: I AM a big supporter of the TimesUp movement. As for Black Panther, I’m so thrilled to see the change.
I do hope us Asians have more opportunities in the industry moving forward. It is a start with projects like Mulan and Crazy Rich Asians getting greenlit, so it’s getting better for sure. I hope the studios will create something for us that is just like Black Panther. That is why I want to produce my own projects so that I can create more opportunities for women and Asian actors. Be proactive and positive, you know?
Challenges? Definitely my time at NIDA (National Institute of Dramatic Art). My English was not that good, improvisation class was my nightmare. It was like I was still translating what they said in my head, then to think about what to react with, but the scene is already moved on to the next. So I cried a lot at first, it was really frustrating for me. And Shakespeare time was killing me as well. I was Queen Margaret in Richard III, in order to smoothly say all the crazy long monologues, I had to practice all my lines 30 times every night before bed. Gladly, I got great feedback, and everyone was shocked when my language improved so much.
Another memorable thing: I was suffering from light depression at the time because of all the changes. It was like I was under a spotlight, all of the sudden, I’m the only Chinese person in class — and not the “golden” one like I’m used to. I felt like an outsider and didn’t have fair chances for casting because I was a foreigner.
I felt hopeless. All I could do was just work harder, watch more films, read more books & plays and train harder because I wanted to prove to that I was equally as good as others. Keeping myself busy helped me pull myself away from all the negativity and I learned that all the complaints and anger would not be helpful to me at all. I just had to keep moving forward and the hard time will pass.
When I returned back to China, I had to start from scratch with no connections at all. I didn’t know anyone, but gladly I knew how to make a CV, so I ran around to send it to different casting directors or productions. Just like a snowball, it takes time to roll. Luckily Transformers 4 was doing a talent search reality show — that os how I started, then slowly things got better.
Another challenge might be my appearance, I’m not the typical Chinese skinny girl type. Some people think I’m too big for an actress, so I was really upset for a while. I exercised a lot and even though I’m still not super skinny, I’m healthy, more confident and finally learned to accept and love who I am and what I look like. I focus more on improving myself and doing my job better, not that other stuff which I cannot change anyway. Plus, I think our aesthetic is getting more international now, we are all unique and beautiful in our way.
Q: What do you feel has been the key to your success? Do you have any mottos or advice you can share?
A: STOP whining, start doing. Never stop learning. Be open to all possibilities.
Stay true to who you are. Just like Ellen DeGeneres said, “For me, the most important thing in your life is to live your life with integrity, and not to give into peer pressure. To try to be something that you’re not. To live your life as an honest and compassionate person. To contribute in some way. So to conclude my conclusion: follow your passion, stay true to yourself.
“I am a woman in process. I’m just trying like everybody else. I try to take every conflict, every experience, and learn from it. Life is never dull.” – Oprah Winfrey.
Q: I saw on Instagram that you are learning German for an upcoming project. Could you elaborate on that and any other upcoming projects we have to look forward to?
A: Yes, learning German for my new project as the lead for a Chinese TV show – a sitcom kind of like The Big Bang Theory and Two Broke Girls.
Apparently, my timing for comedy is spot-on according to my teachers and schoolmates, so I finally get to showcase my comical talent! It’s about a group of expats from around the world who return back to China, how they try to fit in and build their careers and lives. My character is a German expat, that’s why I’m learning German for my preparation. Luckily I have friends who were actual German international students, so they shared with me a lot of interesting stories and habits. But my experience in Australia is definitely helpful for sure.
I have also just wrapped shooting the Tencent feature film, Treasure League, in the lead role of ‘Tutu’ slated for Summer 2018 release. I got to be the action girl — very fun to shoot and cool to be the “badass.”
And, the new iQIYI sci-fi actioner, Twilight Zodiac as the Chinese lead ‘Maya’ being produced by Roger Corman, directed by Ernie Barbarash, starring Scott Adkins and Andy On to be released later this year. Additionally, I have a Chinese television drama called The Gods which will be aired this year. In it I play ‘Deng ChanYu,’ the most beautiful girl in town, and a strong female General who helped win the war.
It’s a variety of projects that you can see a very different “me” in. Remember, my transformative-ness got me into NIDA my acting school, so I would love to continue to be different people and live different lives.