A star in the making

With roles like Paige Tico in Star Wars, Hanoi Hannah in Da 5 Bloods, and, most recently, Quynh in The Old Guard, alongside A-lister Charlize Theron, Ngo Thanh Van is fast becoming a rising star in Hollywood.

VNS reporters Ly Ly Cao and Minh Phuong spoke with Van about her latest film and a celluloid journey that has taken her from Ho Chi Minh City to Hollywood.

A star in the making
IN THE ACT: Ngo Thanh Van puts her all into every role she plays. Photo courtesy of Studio 68

How did you end up being in The Old Guard?

Ngo Thanh Van: It was filmed two years ago, in early 2019. I got a call from my agent in the US saying there was a project that wanted me to take part. I didn’t know what it was about straight away, but my agent mentioned Charlize Theron, so I knew it was something big.

I’m a fan of hers, so it was exciting to hear her name. I first spoke with Gina, the film’s director, then a week later heard that Charlize had reached out. I was surprised she wanted to talk to me.

Two days after talking with her on the phone, the part was mine.

How did you convince the producer to change your character to Vietnamese?

I’ve always wanted to play Vietnamese characters, and obviously I’m from Vietnam. So I asked the screenwriter to change my character’s name from Noriko to Quynh.

I explained that the character was a Japanese woman but I don’t understand the Japanese way of thinking at all. When I began to prepare for the role, I wasn’t really sure how to. But if the character was Vietnamese, I would have a much easier time of it because I know how Vietnamese think, what they would say, and how they would respond to certain situations.

When I spoke with Charlize she was excited about the idea and asked the screenwriter and the producer if the change was possible. They thought it was an interesting suggestion and agreed to change Noriko, a character from the comic, to Quynh.

What has driven you to success in Hollywood?

I think any actor has dreams and a sense of purpose. While most have their eye on Hollywood as the end-point, I’ve come here so I can learn how a movie is made.

I’ve produced Vietnamese movies for nearly five years and always want to find out the best way to do things.

 

After The Old Guard was released on Netflix, your Starmeter ranking on IMDB rose significantly. How do you feel about that?

Starmeter rankings always go up when a movie is released. Mine moved up twice in about three months, which was awesome. I started out at about 14,000 or something, which was close enough to the bottom to be the bottom. It then started to rise in the thousands, and eventually in the hundreds.

It’s been good to have people recognise my name and I’ve started to see some attention come my way. From a higher Starmeter ranking comes more acting offers in different projects from different countries.

It’s hard to make any decisions at the moment because of the pandemic. Like everyone else, I can’t go anywhere. So, while offers are coming my way and I’m pleased more people know about me, I really can’t do much of anything.

A star in the making
COLOURFUL ATTIRE: Ngo Thanh Van and the costume she wears in The Old Guards. Photo courtesy of Ngo Thanh Van

What advice would you give up-and-coming actors?

I think the most useful advice for younger actors coming through is don’t refuse any role. It doesn’t matter how small it may be, if you focus your talents it can become an important role.

In many of the Hollywood films I’ve appeared in I’ve only been on screen for maybe a minute or even less, but it required 200 per cent effort. Sometimes you can shine in just a minute, but you must focus on your character.

So, don’t knock back any role that comes your way, because any character can make you shine. VNS

Ly Ly Cao & Minh Phuong

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