By Emily Feimster
Bai Ling may be known for her scanty outfits on the red carpet and her controversial nude photos in Playboy, but this Chinese actress is beginning to make even bigger waves in the film world. With a number of movie credits already under her teeny belt and six more on the horizon, it's no wonder her star is on the rise.
"I have six movies I have completed and I'm exhausted, but I can't wait for them to come out," says Ling in between rehearsals for VH1's "But Can They Sing?" First up for Ling is the comedy "Man About Town" with Ben Affleck, in which she plays a journalist. Ben, she says, is "going to be great in the movie because the role is very challenging and he completely lets himself get into it. Some moments are very funny, and sometimes he is very vulnerable." (Well, just as long as it's better than "Gigli!")
She'll also be making an appearance in the musical comedy "Southland Tales" starring the Rock and Seann William Scott. Though these guys seem like an odd choice for such a project, Ling notes, "The Rock is really good. He's so prepared and so precise, and Seann is very charming. The film will be awesome. It's like a modern version of old Hollywood stories combined with a musical and science fiction. It's very unique."
Working in Hollywood certainly is a stretch for Ling, who grew up in the conservative Szechwan province of China. "I was extremely shy as a child, which probably lasted until I was 14. I couldn't talk to people," she recalls. "In the classroom, the teacher would ask me a question and I would stand there without saying anything. After class, they would take me to the office, but I still wouldn't say anything. Then they took me home and asked my parents what was wrong. My parents would look at me embarrassed. I felt like I was standing outside of my body looking at myself like, 'What is wrong? Why can't you talk?' But there was so much fear in me."
It wasn't long before Ling would get a chance to break out of her shell. When she was 14, she enlisted in the Chinese People's Liberation Army where she spent three years in a performance troop entertaining soldiers stationed in Tibet. After her service, she became a performer in a local theater in Beijing.
So what drew Ling to the stage? "I knew that there was a beautiful universe inside of my heart. I thought that acting would be the best way to open myself to give all the gifts I have to the world through art," she responds. "I also learned in my previous life that I was this wild animal and I ran around in nature free, but when I adopted a human body, I couldn't function because there were so many rules." In short: "Acting makes me free."
In 1991, a more confident Ling immigrated to the United States and soon landed her first English-speaking part in "The Crow." It led to her starring alongside Richard Gere in the controversial "Red Corner," but her role as a pragmatic Chinese People's lawyer strained her relations with her native country and ultimately led to her being banned by the government. It certainly didn't help matters when she posed for Playboy in June.
When asked how she feels about the controversy from her homeland, Ling responds, "I came from the most conservative place. I got a negative response in Asia because they think I'm crazy for showing my body. Playboy is like a porno there. To me, I'm doing something very beautiful. The human body is a gift from nature and it needs to be celebrated."
Despite her country's disapproval with her choices, Ling believes that the people will eventually come around. "I think through time people will get to know who I am through my work," she says. "I'm basically a role model of doing things so that other people can see whether it's good or bad for them to do." Well, that's one way to look at it.
"I'm grateful for life and for the fact that I'm able to keep working in the most difficult industry," she says. "I just want to continue doing what I love."