02 Jun Q&A WITH MICHELLE KRUSIEC, CAST OF SAVING FACE
CHRIS PAFFENDORF: I understand you’ve done a lot of self-promotion. Did that help you in landing your role in SAVING FACE?
MICHELLE KRUSIEC: Ha. Self promotion. That sounds terrible on paper. But I admit, I am my own worst critic and I think my best fan as well. I’ve worked really hard to pursue acting. I think it’s a real privilege to be able to do this for a living and I’m extremely dedicated. When it came time to proving myself for the lead role in SAVING FACE, I think it was to my advantage that I flew myself out to NY to audition for Alice and in addition, studied Mandarin in Taiwan before I was even cast. I think on passion alone, I wanted Alice to know how much I wanted to be a part of her film, but I also think Alice wouldn’t have cast me if I wasn’t essentially and hopefully the best actor for the role.
PAFFENDORF: How different (or similar) has your life been compared to Wil’s, in terms of family and cultural pressure?
KRUSIEC: Wil and I are very similar emotionally. Everyone suffers from their own insecurities and that was a feeling I had to draw on very personally when it came to portraying Wil. I chose something very specific that I felt both Wil and I identified with and hopefully would resonate deeply on screen and in terms of physicality, I was mostly inspired by Alice, the director, to create Wil’s quirks, posture and mannerisms.
Of course, in dealing with the relationship of “Ma” to Wil, that was very organic and familiar. My own relationship to my mother draws on similar feelings of wanting to be a good enough daughter and allowing my mother to maintain a kind of hierarchy over me because I have had such empathy for my mother’s sacrifices and very difficult life. Certainly, if my mother had to move in with me, I think my reaction would be more on the level of bad horror rather than Alice’s sophisticated romantic comedy. Don’t tell my mother I said that.
PAFFENDORF: Did you also identify with the character of Vivian, who has chosen a career in the popular arts, which is not often encouraged among Chinese-American families? (Wil, the surgical resident, seems much more stereotypical of the first generation Chinese-American.)
KRUSIEC: Definitely. I distinctly remember my mother asking me in my junior year of college what “theater” was. I think for whatever reason, it wasn’t a term I often used in front of her so when it was introduced to her I realized that my mother didn’t know that it was one of my majors. (I double majored in English and Theater Arts.) It was very trying during high school to pursue acting and especially as an adolescent, I so much wanted to become a dancer. For whatever reason, I started making money from small acting jobs in the little town of [Virginia] Beach and I think my mother had a hard time arguing against acting because on a very practical levelâ€”I was making money! But overall, it’s taken a long time for her to really understand that I am not giving it up and gain her emotional support which is very different from supporting someone in general, and I think my own resoluteness has forced her to support me.
PAFFENDORF: You’ve been getting some great reviews for your performance in SAVING FACE. Has it led to any other chances for leading roles (other than the main character’s brother’s Asian girlfriend)?
KRUSIEC: Ha. Don’t curse me just yet! As a matter of fact, it has started opening up doors. We shall see where those doors lead to, but in the end, quite frankly, I have always believed in being pro-active. I love to write. I work on plays. I perform Made in Taiwan, my one woman show. I knowâ€”and firmly believe that the road looks promising but I’m not one to sit back and wait. And lets face it, SAVING FACE is an incredible script with incredible female leads. Hollywood isn’t pouring with roles like that. Going out for leading roles is a wonderful opportunity now that is a direct result from SAVING FACE, but Asian-Americans writing, expressing themselves politically, generating new work as artists in all types of mediums, supporting films like thisâ€”those are the things that will help both myself and our community in the long run.
PAFFENDORF: There certainly were some racy scenes in SAVING FACE. Was it a difficult choice to make, knowing what was expected of you in the role? How have Asian audiences responded? And your parents?
KRUSIEC: Racy? That’s not the first word that comes to mind, but everything is subjective. I think Alice directed [Lynn Chen and I] in a very believable relationship and when you have good writing and an excellent story in place, the love scene just falls in place. If the relationship wasn’t authentic then I think “nudity” always comes across tacky or gratuitous. I’ve done nudity before and when it supports the character and the credibility of the story at hand, I think it shouldn’t be a huge concern. I don’t know how Asian audiences will respond. I hope well, of course. And I hope people will be able to separate Michelle the actress from Wil, the character. I think that is how my parents see it. I think my parents are quite progressive in that respect. They see it as my work as an actor.
PAFFENDORF: I noticed that while much of the dialogue was in Mandarin, this was a very American film that addresses the cultural conflicts of Chinese immigrants in the United States. Do you feel that SAVING FACE will reach an audience beyond Asian-Americans, and show Americans of all color the difficulties of balancing traditional values with those that are much more accepted in the US?
KRUSIEC: Yes. I believe this film will do that very thing all good stories doâ€”become identifiably universal. Ultimately, you have a love story at hand. One between a mother and a daughter and one between two lovers. I think the setting of the story, specific to Chinese America, Flushing, etc., gives this age-old theme a wonderful flavor of distinctiveness and authenticity, but it also gives it heart. We are a country of immigrants. All of us, every single one of us, save for the Native Americans, I suppose, came to America for freedom and opportunity. That is “America.” So, SAVING FACE is your quintessential American story.
I think you feel it in the film. It’s not a conceptual thing that Alice is trying to hammer into her audience, so it is universal and I believe is the reason why it has the potential of “crossing over.”
PAFFENDORF: Can we expect to see you at our 6th Annual Festival, in September/October?
KRUSIEC: Well, since SAVING FACE, my appearance fee has increased. So, lets see…I’m joking, of course. I hope that as long as I am working in the arts, if there are things I can share that can inspire, encourage or inform others…I hope I can continue to do so.
SAVING FACE opens Friday, June 3,
at Landmark’s Hillcrest Cinemas.
See www.landmarktheatres.com for showtimes.
Chris is currently a projectionist for the San Diego Asian Film Festival and was a writer of the San Diego Asian Film Foundation (now Pacific Arts Movement).