Q:What was your response to being asked to play Aung San Suu Kyi?
A:I got really giddy. She’s alive and she’s under house arrest, and she was the elected president with over 85 percent of the vote and she’s a noble laureate and I’m an artist from Ohio. Good Luck. You have to get it right.
A:Where was the movie made?
Q:In Malaysia. Most of the urban scenes were shot in Penang, an island off the Western coast of Malaysia where there is a Burmese community. And there are Burmese who live in the jungle and when they heard about what was happening, they came to the set.
Q:How did the Burmese respond to you?
A:One night the costume designer took me out of my trailer in my longhi [Burmese dress] to show the director. I was looking down so as not to trip. And the costume director said “Look behind you.” And all the Burmese had stood up and were bowing as I passed.
Q:Was there some confusion about what’s “real”?
A:I don’t know. But the following day I went into the production office and a young Burmese man jumped up and said, “You are our lady, we are doing this for you.” And I was saying, “No, no, I am doing this for you.” And it wasn’t just the Burmese. There were 2000 Malaysian Muslim extras and they would come up to me and ask, “Are you the president?”
A:What is your own ethnic background?
Q:My mother is Japanese and my father is American born of German descent.
Q:What are your hopes for this movie?
A:That more people write their congressmen. That we at least open a forum on trade embargoes. To think that we have an embargo against Cuba and not Burma is ridiculous. SLORC are drug dealing hoods who make Castro look like a cub scout. (SLORC is the State Law and Order Restoration Council, the military junta that runs the country and kept Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest.)
Q:Would you be in favor of any kind of other American intervention?
A:Not military. But many countries want what Burma has. It was the rice bowl of Asia. They have teak. And half the heroin on the streets of New York comes from Burma.
A:Can “Beyond Rangoon” help?
Q:This movie was one of the reasons that Aung San Suu Kyi was released. There’s no doubt about that. So obviously SLORC pays attention to what the world thinks.
A:How often does a movie make a difference?
Q:It doesn’t happen often. I’m proud to have been part of this film and to work with a director [John Boorman] who takes an ethical stand and has artistic follow through.