‘Cloud Atlas’ Star Doona Bae on the ‘Genius’ of the Wachowskis and Working in Hollywood

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Sturgess On 'Cloud Atlas'
The actor talks about working with the Wachowskis.
Although she’s appeared in high-profile Korean exports like Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance and The Host, Doona Bae is largely unknown outside the confines of the arthouse cinema circuit. But that may change on October 26 when Cloud Atlas opens. Playing Sonmi-451, a clone in a futuristic Korean landscape, Bae literally respresents the evolution of the human mind in Andy and Lana Wachowski’s epic treatise about the endurance of the human spirit.

Celebuzz sat down with Bae at the recent Los Angeles press day for Cloud Atlas, where she discussed the challenges of transforming herself into not one but several different characters in just one story. Additionally, she offered her thoughts about the burgeoning controversy over the film’s decision to have its stars play characters of different ethnicities, and she reflected on her attitudes about working in her native Korea and internationally going forward.

Celebuzz: Just to get started, talk about your first impression of these characters when the Wachowskis approcahed you to star in the film.

Doona Bae: My main character, Sonmi, when I first got the script, I just immediately got into her, actually. She was so lonely and her life was miserable in the beginning, and then she learned something and she fell in love. She fell in love. Everything was so, I could relate myself immediately to Sonmi’s character in some ways. So for some preparation, I would just empty myself — empty my heart to feel Sonmi’s feelings. So I just think like Somni, feel as Somni. I think that’s all I did — except I had to learn British accent.

CB: What throughline did you create – or did maybe you talk about – with the Wachowskis and Tom to sort of connect all of the characters you played?

DB: I played Tilda, Adam Ewing’s wife, and Sonmi-451, and a Mexican woman, and I found some connection between that. Sonmi loves Chang, and Tilda was wife of Adam — and Adam and Chang is played by Jim Sturgess. It’s quite different, and at the same time I found some connection between them. But actually for me it was like three different films. Because I know it’s the same soul in the others, but for me it was hard to play Tilda as Sonmi. So I discussed with Lana and Andy about that — when I played Tilda, I was so immersed into Sonmi at the time, Adam looked like Chang with beard so I couldn’t get into Tilda at all. So I asked Lana and Andy, I need a key to open Tilda’s mind, so Lana explained and described all the histories between Adam and Tilda and their love stories. And she told me about all the kind of backgrounds between them so I could get into her finally. It was that kind of thing — just different characters, each different films for me. But it tells the same thing.

CB: The themes of this movie seem very personal to them. Did you get the sense that this was something that was very close to their hearts?

DB: Lana and Andy are amazing — they’re really geniuses, I think. I always called them, “Hey, genius!” They are so creative and sometimes they are spontaneous. They try something different every moment, every take, and it was also big fun for me, too. And what I liked most was they made The Matrix, and they’re very great at the sci-fi things, but they had a clear picture of what they want — but at the same time they seemed inspired by me. Can I tell you a story? When I cried, Lana also cry. I mean, we shared the same emotions — it was amazing. So it was such great, great, great time – I had a wonderful time working with them.

CB: One of the questions this movie has sort of raised is whether or not actors of different ethnicities can play other ethnicities. Given how Hollywood has generalized that all Asians are the same, whether they’re Korean, Japanese or Chinese, how important is it to you to make sure that actors play characters who are the right ethnicity?

DB: It depends on the film, I think. If the film deals with real history or more of a realistic thing, the cast should be [accurate to the ethnicity of the characters]. But a movie like this that is ambitious and has a lot of things to say, it doesn’t really matter if you cast like that. Especially for this movie, because it was genius idea I think. Jim Sturgess plays Adam Ewing and Chang — it’s just amazing. Adam Ewing helped the escaping. And Chang’s also the same soul. It was amazing; I loved it.

CB: Having done this film, but also already having a flourishing career at home, what sort of ambitions do you have going forward to work in other Hollywood movies?

DB: I think I’ve always said that there’s no borders between countries in the film industry. I’ve been working in Japanese films, too, and I think this is another challenge for me. But it was big fun, and I would love to do more. It’s such a great experience and I would love to do some more — anything. Any Hollywood films or French, German, anything.

Cloud Atlas opens Friday, October 26. Watch our interview below with co-star Jim Broadbent.

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