In first-time director Alice Wu’s new Asian American lesbian romantic comedy Saving Face, which opened in limited release this weekend, Michelle Krusiec and Lynn Chen play Wil and Vivian, a doctor and a dancer who fall in love against the backdrop of their insular Chinese American community in New York. I talked to Lynn and Michelle recently about the movie, their first kiss, and how they feel about playing the first Asian American lesbian couple in an American theatrical release.
AfterEllen.com: Michelle, how did you get cast as Wil?
Michelle Krusiec: That process took a while. It was May, 2003 when I first met [producer] Teddy Zee, who had seen the show I made in Taiwan. It wasn’t until August that I was actually cast. Between May, June, and July I was preparing for the role as if I had been cast, hoping that all the work would eventually pay off, but I didn’t get a firm confirmation until late in the process.
AE: What preparation were you doing, learning Mandarin?
MK: That was a big thing because when I first initially met with Alice, I had probably one of the best auditions I have ever had, because I totally connected with her. But I wasn’t fluent in Mandarin. I was at an elementary level at the time and my pronunciation was pretty bad. It was very possible that people could hear it and it might draw you out of the performance, and that’s what she was concerned with. So I tried to get myself as proficient as possible. Essentially I think I went from elementary grade to high school grad in three months.
AE: (to Lynn) How did you get the part of Vivian?
Lynn Chen: My manager at the time only represented Asian actresses, so he was being called for every single part. He sent in all the stuff, I went in and auditioned, and immediately they said “You should read the script.” So I did and was called back two weeks later, called back, again and again. It was similar to Michelle, I knew I was their first choice and they were telling me things like, “You might want to look like a ballet dancer, you don’t have the part, but you might want to do these things.” I was like “okay” and did those things, but it was a long casting process for me. I started in May or June and was not officially cast until a few weeks before production started like in September.
AE: What did you two think when you first met each other?
MK: Truthfully, I thought Lynn was really sweet, and I wanted someone to be more like, grrr! To dominate me. I think that is a more stereotypical response: one woman is dominant and the other one is passive. That was sort of what I fell into, I wanted a women who is strong and hard, who was going to take me, because I was a passive and introverted character. Lynn’s performance took it in a different great direction. Alice went with a totally different choice. Alice’s casting choices sort of show how unique she is.
LC: When I first read the script and when I was auditioning and stuff, I had a different picture of Vivian in my mind. I pictured someone who was strong, who was comfortable in her own skin, but less classy then she ended up being. I pictured someone who was sort of raw and just said what ever the hell she wanted to say and didn’t apologize for it. When I was auditioning and saw the wardrobe, I was like, “Oh, okay, she is a little classier than me” with my stained tank top, and my bra hanging out.
AE: What was your initial impression of Michelle?
LC: When I was in the final stage, I knew what was going on and found out they had cast Michelle as the lead already, and I was like, “Okay, great. I have to find out everything about this girl because I have to know exactly who I am going to be working with.” I had HBO on Demand, I watched all the movies she had been in and fast forwarded to Michelle’s part and paused and watched. I rented Pumpkin and all these movies. I was like, “Wait a minute, she has done so many different types of roles. I can’t put my finger on who I think she is!”
LC: When I first walked in the room to audition with Michelle, I had known she was a good actress, but I had already tested with someone else before that–like a month before, someone else they were considering for your role.
MK: (surprised) You did?
MK: (laughing) I don’t want to hear this.
LC: I tested with her, and I was like “this isn’t working.” I was worried about the project because I didn’t think she was right for the role at all. I thought if they were really considering this girl strongly for it, then I was in trouble, because A, I don’t think she is right for it, and B, I am not feeling it.
AE: The chemistry wasn’t there.
LC: Right. When I went for my final audition with Michelle and I did it with her, I was like, “I can totally see this happening and we’re on the same page.”