Chin Han is the cinematic superstar you may not yet realize is one of your favorites.
The Singapore-born performer has already enjoyed a two-decade career in Asia, where he’s considered not only one of the finest actors of his generation, but the greatest of all time. Kicking off his English-language screen career a decade ago, he’s matched his considerable skills against some of the industry’s most revered talents and taken direction from a vanguard of visually dynamic filmmakers with his memorable appearances in such movies as “The Dark Knight,” “Contagion,” “2012” and “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.”
As his Hollywood takeover continues with roles in “Independence Day: Resurgence” and the upcoming “Ghost In the Shell,” Han joined SPINOFF to reflect on his career.
Spinoff Online: You’ve had a chance to catch your own work in “Independence Day: Resurgence.”
Chin Han: Yeah, I’ve seen it, and wow, it’s quite the ride. I mean, it moves at such a pace. I’m just going to say, hang on to your seats, really! It really moves at such a pace, and all the originals are back. Everything that you love from the first movie is in this movie. It had such a great sense of humor and adventure. You’ll get to enjoy the banter between Jeff Goldblum and Judd Hirsch. It’s just so great to see Bill Pullman.
Obviously, I loved playing the character of Commander Jiang Lao, who is in charge of the Moon Base, which is part of the Earth Space Defense. So yeah, that part is what was really fun to do.
You’ve worked with Roland Emmerich before, but what was especially exciting about being a part of a new “Independence Day” movie? What made it kind of an extra-cool treat for you?
Well, I think one thing, it was nice to reunite with Roland Emmerich on this project because I enjoyed working with him so much in “2012,” and coming back to work with him again seven years later, I found him to be just as dynamic and exciting with his vision and his appetite for spectacle.
It was really nice to work with him because I found him to still have all the same amazing qualities that he had from before, and at the same time, I found him to have a great deal of affection for his actors. More than ever, you will see that in the movie, where his focus is on the relationships between people, between the families. Also, his singular vision for a unified world, and I think that’s definitely very timely, especially in this period of human history. So that was one of the things that was very exciting about working with Roland again.
And I think the second thing was that I’d grown up on “Independence Day!” So it was almost like I knew these characters and these people: President Whitmore, David Levinson, his father. So when I was on set the first time, it was almost like I was reunited with them as well because I had seen them so often on television and DVD. That was what made it very exciting to be a part of the project.
Give me a little bit intel about being that fan inside the professional actor on set as you got to be part of the action.
It’s surreal, just to plug yourself into a world that’s already been created, and created with such success, was very exciting. You also do have a lot to live up to. I mean, you do hope that the fans of the original movie will embrace you like they embraced all the original characters. But at the same time, you hope to speak to the younger audiences and new audiences who perhaps are not so familiar with that movie, and bring them something new, along with something old.
Are you a big fan overall – especially given the kind of roles you’ve had in Hollywood – of the sci-fi and the superhero genres? You’ve worked a lot in different projects with some pretty amazing people. Is that a genre that you particularly enjoy yourself?
Well, I do. I actually started out in the theater. I started out in classical theater. The first few plays I did were Shakespeare and Moliére. So this is quite a surprise – a pleasant surprise – that I landed a string of movies that are from this universe as well.
I’ve come to enjoy it. I love the scope and the scale of the movies that I’ve done. The canon of all these great franchises, like the “Batman” franchise, or “Captain America,” or “Independence Day,” “Ghost in the Shell,” yeah, you have so much source material to refer to. It’s actually very easy for an actor because there’s just so much material out there. You can only hope that you honor the source material and give the fans something to enjoy.
You’ve also worked with some phenomenal filmmakers along the way, from people who are acknowledged masters, like Roland and Chris Nolan and Steven Soderbergh, to some emerging people, like the Russo brothers, and you’re working with Rupert Sanders on “Ghost in the Shell.” Tell me what it’s like to work with these very visionary filmmakers.
Well, the exciting thing about working with the visionary filmmakers, or iconoclastic filmmakers, is that by the very definition of iconoclast, they are so different. They are so unique unto themselves. Even though they do tackle movies that have wide appeal, they’re each so unique unto themselves.
I think for Chris Nolan, the interesting thing about Chris was that even though “The Dark Knight” was as large a movie as it was, I always felt like I was doing a chamber piece in the sense that the scenes were always involving a small group of people. It wasn’t scenes where I was in with hundreds of extras. It was with Morgan Freeman or Maggie Gyllenhaal or with Christian Bale. So that’s his uniqueness in making the experience very intimate.
With Roland, the sheer command of spectacle is very impressive in the sense that there were days when we were on set, I remember, in “2012” where there were 500 Tibetan extras in Vancouver. Or when everyone’s rushing the ark, and there’s like 1,000 extras. He’s like a general in command of his troops.
And Steven Soderbergh, because Steven is also the DP on his movies, it was really interesting working with him in Hong Kong on “Contagion.” It felt like we were doing an indie movie. So they’re all so different in terms of the way they work.
And most recently with Rupert Sanders, he’s such an amazing visual stylist and storyteller that when you go on set, you sometimes just can’t believe what you’re looking at. So it never gets old. It’s always exciting because, as I said, they may seem to be directing one kind of movie, but they’re all very different kinds of directors.
I don’t know how much secrecy is imposed on you with “Ghost in the Shell,” so I’ll just simply ask you to share whatever you want to share about that experience thus far. Either something fun from being on set, your character – whatever you’re at liberty to talk about.
Well, we’re still filming. The project is still in production, so there’s not much I can talk about. But I can say that, I mean, the film is taking great pains to honor the source material. So there will be very many iconic scenes that fans of the original would be able to spot and enjoy.
There’s also a lot of exciting new ways of telling the particular story that I hope that people who have just come to the work will also embrace. So that’s about as much as I can say. There will be surprises along the way as well in terms of what to expect from that film. I myself am looking forward to seeing the finished product.
You’ve had such an acclaimed career in Asian cinema. Tell me what’s been interesting and unique about your experience in Hollywood in comparison to that.
Hollywood comes with such a great history. I mean, every time I walk through the hallways of Warner Bros., or Paramount, or Sony, or 20th Century Fox, I’m reminded of the history and the great films that have been shot on these sound stages. So it is such a mature kind of an industry here. It is a pleasure to work in because you get the best of every field, I think, from working on Hollywood film.
For example, working on “Ghost,” we have Guy Norris doing the stunt choreography, who did all the stuff for “Mad Max: Fury Road.” Working with Chris Nolan, you have a great director of photography in Wally Pfister, who’s the best. With Steven Soderbergh’s editor, Stephen Mirrione, again, such an incredible editor from “Traffic.” So every level is just, it attracts and grows the greatest talents from all over the world in every aspect of filmmaking.
In Asia, you have a very vibrant and growing industry, and it’s growing at such a pace that makes it very exciting to work in as well. So it’s delightful to work in an industry that has reached a certain maturity in its lifecycle, but is also very exciting to work in an industry that is growing really fast. It is a good time to be a filmmaker or an actor, really. Especially like myself, I’m fortunate to be able to go back and forth between the two worlds.
Do you have a next goal? Is there another bar that you’re trying to make come true for yourself?
I’d love to do a romantic comedy next. I think that would be awesome. I haven’t really done a romantic comedy, so I think that that would be the next thing for me, I think. I’d love to do my “When Harry Met Sally” sometime soon.
”Independence Day: Resurgence” opens today nationwide.