An exciting prospect for English film and stage, Anglo-Chinese actor, Jing Lusi, has been crazily busy over the last year. Having relished performing in her recently finished run in the play, 4000 Miles, at the The Print Room, London, she has recently appeared alongside movie eminences Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman in Before I Go to Sleep, an adaption of SJ Watsons’ thriller about anterograde amnesia.
Probably best recognised to the unschooled as nurse Tara Lo from BBC’s Holby City, a role she’s now departed, Southampton-based Jing has also been thrust into a wide range of roles over the last couple of years, most notably as Princess Meng Li Hua in Malaysian historical epic, Clash of Empires, a high octane, blood-shedding role that really took her outside of her comfort zone.
It’s a lifestyle she welcomes with a charming vivacity and also a kind of humbling amusement. The way Jing Lusi talks is refreshingly unassuming, and also a little goofy. She speaks to Glass with candour about 4000 Miles, a comic, unfurling family drama, as well as her approach towards her work and the relaxed outlook she has about her future.
The film 4000 Miles has come and gone so speedily in the capital. Are there any forthcoming plans for production?
It’s been so, so quick (but) they’re discussing about it going somewhere else. People have been absolutely blown away by how lovely it is – and I’m not just saying that because I’m involved in it. At our best we hoped that people would enjoy it but actually the response has been amazing.
Tell me about your character.
There’s four characters, two main ones which are Vera played by Sara Kestelman and Daniel Boyd who plays Leo. There are two girls that enter Leo’s life and I’m one of them called Amanda who’s a fashion student from San Francisco. She’s very opinionated and very drunk.
Is this kind of comic character someone you are comfortable playing? Your roots appear to lie in straighter roles.
It is funny but we don’t play it for laughs. We’ve had such a massive response from the audience (in that respect). There have been times, because my scene is quite comedic, that I can’t get my lines out because I’m waiting for the laughter to die down. Obviously it’s brilliant when you’re making people laugh. It’s a very nice change from making people cry, which I did for a few months as well.
The play was originally a success off-Broadway and has been transplanted here. Have the producers tried to anglicise it for the Bath and London audiences?
I don’t think we’ve particularly gone out of our way to anglicise it. Our director is English and we’re all English so we did a lot of research into American lifestyles. I think if anything we wanted to make it authentic rather than make it European or Anglo in any way. Vera, who was Sara Kestelman’s character, lives in the West Village in New York and Sara has spent a lot of time in Greenwich (Village)when she was performing on Broadway. She brought in so many photos and we stuck them all over the rehearsal room, so we kind of immersed ourselves as if we were really in New York.
Did you see it in New York before you took on the play?
No, I didn’t. I wasn’t even aware of the play until they gave me the script and I just thought, “what a fantastic piece of work”. I think because I’m so used to reading TV and film scripts that reading a play was actually very different. But what a lot of people have said about this play is that is actually very cinematic and it could easily be shot. It’s all about nuances.
Is your first theatre role?
Yes it is! Well I did a musical (Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat with Philip Schofield) when I was ten so that doesn’t really count.
What different approaches have you taken between your filmed work and theatre?
There’s so many. On screen you don’t need to be that particular with how loud you are, you’ve got a boom in your face and if it really goes wrong you can just go into ADR. But in theatre you just have to project and be louder than you would normally. You have to realise that you’re playing for the audience. I’m quite loud anyway. Whenever I go into restaurants with my friends they’re always shushing me … and that’s just going to make me worse.
You’ve already worked in differing genres; comedy, drama, and action epic. Is there anything else you’d like to try.
I’d like to do more comedy. I think because there’s something very nice about making people laugh and I think people don’t laugh enough. Somebody who came to see the play complimented me on my comic timing which I didn’t even know I had. So it was very nice to be talked about in a completely different way. Whereas with drama and tearjerkers, it takes a lot out of you emotionally to do that.
Talking about more serious roles, you’ve recently finished shooting an adaptation of Before I Go to Sleep, a psychological thriller with some pretty big names.
Yes, I did a very short shoot on the Nicole Kidman film which was surreal because it was my first job after Holby City and I was straight back into scrubs as I was playing a nurse. It was very surreal to meet Colin Firth and Mark Strong.
And you were in the The Malay Chronicles: Bloodlines, aka Clash of Empires. That looks like an incredibly bizarre experience?
(Laughing) It’s a bit like their Troy. Merong Mahawangsa, is a kind of hero. He’s the one that formed their land through a series of battles and bloodshed. So it’s a big story for them. It was such an honour to be flown out there and to play a princess for a few months.
And you had to actually learn Malay for the role?
Yes, they actually sprung that on me when I got there. That was fun. It was quite a lot of learning phonetically and voice coaching. It’s tough. Especially at short notice and also with a language that you have absolutely no connection with. You really can’t connect emotionally with the words you’re saying because you’re so freaked out by if what you’re saying sounds right.
So you were born in Shanghai and moved to the UK when you were quite young?
Yes, I moved when I was five to Southampton.
Did you move because of political reasons?
I think it was a mixture of everything. My Dad left China because he was caught up in the whole cultural revolution. We have quite a dark history – they weren’t particularly great to my family. He was on manual labour farming for a decade of his life but when they reinstated universities he did exams and got a scholarship to come and study in England. So he was out of there! He tried to bring us over but the government were like, “oh no, that means he’s never coming back”. That’s why I couldn’t leave until I was five.
And have you visited recently?
Well most recently was 2006-2007 but in China, especially somewhere like Shanghai, things change within months so things must be completely different (now). I’d like to go back more but it’s just finding a good time. You want to go for more than a week but in my life you might get a job in the time that you’d go.
So what are your plans now the play is over?
I’ve planned a trip up a mountain for three weeks. It’s a mountain retreat in Spain. I went last year and it’s all meditation, yoga, raw food. I think it’s so important, especially living in London and living in the West that you just need to connect with the bigger picture and ground yourself more. I’m looking forward to it but knowing how my life goes I’ll probably get a really cool job (instead) …
So have you any acting jobs fixed for the next year or so?
No I haven’t. Everything happens so last minute. I used to be really scared of the void and the not knowing but actually, it’s quite exciting.
So you think It’s healthy to have that kind of confidence about the unknown …?
Yes, I think it’s really tough for any actor whether you’re just starting or whether you’ve been doing it for a while to know what is next and I think nothing will change. I’ve worked with brilliant veterans like Sara Kestelman and David Yip on Holby City, and from what it sounds like nothing really changes in that respect, so just embrace that and just have faith!
by Benjamin Lovegrove
Photographs by Trent McMinn Find him on twitter @Trent_McMinn
In photo three: Jing wears a Isharya Moon Bali cocktail ring from iLoveDesigner.com
In photo five: Jing wears a Outhouse Natural Turquoise necklace and gold chain from iLoveDesigner.com
For news and updates on Jing’s upcoming projects check out her website or follow her on twitter @JingLusi