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‘Past Lives’ star Greta Lee on how language and identity are intertwined : NPR


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Greta Lee stars within the new film Previous Lives. She talks with NPR’s Ailsa Chang in regards to the movie and the methods language and identification are intertwined.


Nora and Arthur from the brand new film “Previous Lives” have a loving marriage and a satisfying artistic partnership. She’s a playwright. He is an creator. However they’re so completely different in so many different methods.


JOHN MAGARO: (As Arthur) Is that this what you imagined for your self if you left Seoul?

GRETA LEE: (As Nora) Once I was a 12-year-old?

MAGARO: (As Arthur) Yeah. Is that this what you pictured for your self – laying in mattress in some tiny condo within the East Village with some Jewish man who writes books?

CHANG: That is Greta Lee starring as Nora, who left Korea as a child and left behind her childhood sweetheart, Hae Sung. Hae Sung tracks her down a long time later in New York. Reconnecting with him prompts all types of questions for Nora in regards to the path she selected in life and the way her choices have reshaped her identification.


LEE: (As Nora) He nonetheless lives along with his dad and mom, which is basically Korean. He has all these actually Korean views about the whole lot. And I really feel so not Korean after I’m with him but additionally, in a roundabout way, extra Korean – so bizarre.

CHANG: It is a sentiment that felt so acquainted to me as a Taiwanese American girl, that feeling of dwelling in between – between Western and Japanese, between kinship and distance. Greta Lee and I talked about how her character, Nora, embodied that pressure on this movie.

LEE: In Nora’s case, she’s Korean Canadian. However when you have a look at, as an instance, the language facet of it, it was so vital to precisely convey the fluidity of language. And if you point out, like, OK, feeling extra Asian round sure individuals or much less, that form of fluctuation is one thing that’s so actual and private to me. And we wished to carry that to the character on this story.

CHANG: Yeah.

LEE: So in sure methods, it was so essential to essentially hone in on and be actually particular in sure circumstances about, effectively, is she going to sound – how Asian does she sound? How Korean does she sound originally of a scene versus the tip of the scene after, as an instance, a number of hours of speaking to Hae Sung in Korean? And simply being conscious of all of that, I imply, was a mirrored image of what this expertise is that we’re speaking about – of dwelling within the in-between, experiencing that full spectrum of Western and Japanese and – you realize?

CHANG: Oh, my God, like, particularly that second when Nora’s mendacity in mattress together with her husband and he mentions that she talks in her sleep in Korean. And…

LEE: Yeah.

CHANG: She did not even know that that was what was taking place.

LEE: Nicely, there’s one thing so exposing about language, proper? I imply, my language, my Koreanness (ph) is one thing that is so non-public. And truly, you realize, I used to be, like, stunned and form of tickled by the response from my family and friends initially once they heard that I used to be taking this on – this type of response collectively of, like, oh my God. However are you able to really converse Korean? You possibly can converse Korean? How good is your Korean? Oh, no. And – however what I really feel like what that was honing in on is there’s a lot to the best way we maintain on to – whether or not it is our native language or our second language and what that relationship is like. In order that scene – yeah, that scene when she’s speaking to Arthur about it – it’s so private the truth that her husband can determine that that’s one thing that may be a place that he cannot go.

CHANG: He cannot entry.

LEE: He cannot, and he’s totally cognizant of that.

CHANG: Did you shock your self that you possibly can converse Korean so effectively on this film? Have been you, like, form of re-accessing this deep reservoir in your personal mind? Like, oh, I do know this. I can converse so significantly better than persons are giving me credit score for.

LEE: I by no means anticipated to do a film in Korean with this a lot Korean – a film in every other language…

CHANG: (Laughter).

LEE: …Apart from my major language, which is English. And being immersed and re-immersed in my Korean and Koreanness – it unlocked a number of various things. It cracked open, for me, recognizing all of the shifts that I would made in my life and my profession, this trajectory of what this implies to have this immigrant expertise. Sure, we’ve tutorial concepts of what assimilation is, however it grew to become actually private. And it was – I believe, in a means, it matched perhaps Nora’s expertise of feeling the heartbreak and the lack of identification, letting go of former selves and simply reconciling that, you realize, the alternatives that we make – the place we dwell, who we’re surrounded by…

CHANG: Sure.

LEE: They’ve unimaginable, large impacts on the complete trajectory of our lives.

CHANG: Sure. Nicely, you segued fantastically into my subsequent query. A Korean idea often known as inyeon comes up on this story. Clarify what that’s actually briefly to individuals who do not know what this time period means.

LEE: Inyeon, to me as I do know it, is nearly human connectedness. It is rooted in concepts of reincarnation. And it could possibly be as slight as two individuals strolling down the road and brushing up in opposition to one another. And it may be as deep and huge because the connection that we might have with a guardian or a partner, spanning over a number of lifetimes, even.

CHANG: Precisely. Can I ask you, Greta, have you ever ever felt inyeon earlier than, this sense of, I’ve met you earlier than; I really feel like I already know you, if you meet any person for the primary time?

LEE: One thing that springs to thoughts is I felt a deep inyeon with the script, really (laughter).

CHANG: Ah, yeah. Yeah.

LEE: A deep reference to the script. It reduce by way of me. I had such a profound expertise in studying the attractive phrases that Celine had written.

CHANG: That is Celine Music, the author and director.

LEE: Sure. And it wasn’t till a 12 months later that the job got here to fruition. So for me, like, this concept of future and destiny and connectedness – it is simply embedded in so many features of this job and this course of. And, sure, I additionally really feel inyeon with, you realize, perhaps – there was a boy in kindergarten named Jimmy (ph). Jimmy, when you’re on the market, I believe we had – we’ve inyeon (laughter).

CHANG: You met Jimmy in a previous life…

LEE: Sure.

CHANG: …Approach earlier than kindergarten.

LEE: Yeah.

CHANG: You recognize, I cried a lot, effectively, all through the film however particularly on the finish. And I am not going to provide something away, however it crammed me with such hope, the tip, as a result of it was, like – there’s such magnificence in committing to at least one path. Sure, you lose one thing. You sacrifice one thing with every alternative you make, however you additionally achieve one thing, proper?

LEE: Yeah. I imply, there’s that lovely second at first of the film when Nora’s mom says – and hopefully I am not messing up this quote – that so as to achieve one thing, typically you need to lose one thing. So precisely. I imply, and I can undoubtedly relate to that concept of affection and future not as form of, like, these neat constructs however simply as a dwelling and respiratory entity in and of itself that evolves with us over the course of our lives.

CHANG: Completely. Greta Lee stars within the new movie “Previous Lives.” Thanks a lot for sharing this time with us, Greta.

LEE: This was such a pleasure. Thanks a lot for having me.


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NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This textual content is probably not in its ultimate type and could also be up to date or revised sooner or later. Accuracy and availability might differ. The authoritative file of NPR’s programming is the audio file.


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