Getting the opportunity to portray an assassin in the Netflix film “Polar,” Fei Ren is happy to show off her kickass and badass side. Empowered and zealous in her portrayal, Fei is awesome to behold. In and exclusive interview, Fei talks about this incredible opportunity to bring this character to life on screen in “Polar.”
What was the initial appeal for you about the role of Hilde and working on the Netflix film “Polar”?
FEI: My first impression was that Hilde is a badass woman! She is confident, skilled, and powerful. Who wouldn’t want to embody that? I also love that she is a flawed character– a villain in the assassin world. There is always something exciting and alluring about playing “bad” people. It’s like playing with puzzles: figuring out why they become who they are is a fun part of the work. I was so excited to work with the director Jonas Åkerlund, because I loved his music videos and movies. I knew it was going to be cool, edgy and one of the kind! Also, I love watching Netflix Originals, and it’s surreal to be in one!
How would you describe who your character Hilde is in the film?
FEI: Hilde is the young shining star of Damocles, the assassin firm. She is an overachiever and loves a challenge. She is also romantically involved with Blut (Matt Lucas), the owner of the firm, and leads a team of young assassins. Her newest assignment will really secure her status in the firm, so she is very focused on hunting down and killing the legendary Duncan Vizla, AKA the Black Kaiser (Mads Mikkelson).
What do you most admire about her?
FEI: She kills with style and precision. Very capable and ambitious. She knows what she wants and how to get it. She is freaky and comfortable in her own skin.
What is it like working alongside such a talented ensemble on “Polar”?
FEI: It’s intimidating at first, because I was star-struck. But once I got on set, everybody was super down to earth. They are passionate about the craft and generous team players. We all nerd out about acting and life, and we played. I learned lots from these beautiful humans. I am super grateful.
How would you describe the dynamic between your character and the characters portrayed by Mads Mikkelson and Katheryn Winnick’s character?
FEI: If Hilde has a role model, it would be Katheryn Winnick’s character, Vivian. But, at the same time, she is threatened by Vivian’s capability and control in the firm, so in front of Vivian, Hilde needs to make sure she isn’t in anyway less than. With Mads Mikkelson’s character Duncan, Hilde knows about the legend of the Black Kaiser, but is also thrilled when she is assigned to kill him, because that’s the ultimate test and proof of her own legendary status.
What do you think you have learned from working on the film?
FEI: Good question. I learned to overcome my own ego and insecurity when presented with such a great opportunity to work with great talents. I learned how to ground myself when there are noises of the world. I also learned that acting in a film in -20 degree weather is very hard. Sometimes professionalism and a positive attitude go a long way in those situations.
Has there been anything that has really blown your mind working on “Polar”?
FEI: Team effort to fulfill the creative vision and how everyone worked so hard and well together. Sometimes as an actor, you are so into the work that you don’t see all the faculties and creative forces behind the whole production. On set, and a big movie set, you really learn and see how things come together. We had lots of location shoots and working with weather is so unpredictable and hard. I am grateful for the whole team being so caring and in it throughout the long days. It makes a huge difference when you can’t feel your fingers in the cold, and you have to shoot a gun and costume department just comes in between set up and gives you a hand warmer. Small to big things like that, where all people work together and go out of their way to make the job well done – it’s beautiful!
What challenges have you had to work with, such as extreme weather, big stunts, or something that seemed impossible, yet the film pulled it off?
FEI: Working with the weather is definitely tough. I had a scene where I was outside holding a gun, and it was probably -20 degrees. I couldn’t feel my finger or my feet when I had to pull the trigger, but it was nothing compared to the whole crew standing there. It’s also unbelievable Mads was naked in that weather standing in the snow. So I have nothing to complain about. Also, with all location shots for the A Team, we had six or seven actors in one scene plus the team of camera crews. It’s always a very small, tight space and Jonas had to work magic. The movie looked fantastic and I am so proud of everyone!
What has surprised you about working on the film?
FEI: In my experience, compared to dramatic or comedic shows I’ve worked on, working on action films seems to be more technical. It can be very specific with the blocking, because there is only so much space, and the need for safety around using weapons. To stay focused on finding the motive for your character within that frame work is important. So, you are not just doing it because it’s what the environment allows, but you also know why your character would move, why they would do certain things. From what’s written in the script to chopped up sequences you have to do on set, you have to remember what happened before, and where you are. It’s a big thing to learn to be quick on your feet to figure it out on set and jump from the ideas you had from the script alone.
What has been the best part about the experience of working on “Polar”?
FEI: I had a taste of Hollywood. The talented stars in the movies are grounded, nice artists. It’s affirming and dares me to dream bigger.
What do you think viewers will appreciate about “Polar”?
FEI: It’s super entertaining, exciting, sexy, funny, and wild. The movie will definitely trigger lots of reactions from you. In the premiere, the audience laughed lots, gasped at times, and were turned on and moved. It has all kinds of layers of sensual impact! I love it.
At this stage of your career, what do you think you have learned from the roles and projects you have worked on?
FEI: There is a balance in owning your character work and allowing it room to grow with the collaborations from all other creative team members. I have to trust my instinct and allow myself to play. I think film making is such a collaborative art form. There is initial audition, and once it’s on set with makeup, hair, costume, the director’s vision, set, blocking and other actors bringing in chemistry, your role might evolve and deepen or change quite a bit from your original idea. It’s important not to hold on to the idea of what you think you character should be, but get into the whole skin of it, get into the body, allow your body and instinct to play, and allow yourself to be in the moment. It’s where the best work lives. On the other hand, take ownership of your work. Sometimes, everybody has input of what they think your character could be. It can be confusing if you take all suggestions, so find the balance and trust what you bring as long as you serve the true intension behind the story you are telling.
What has surprised you most about your career so far?
FEI: Dreams do come true. Work hard and the right opportunity and artists will come, and you will be able to align yourself with them. I used to think I am lucky, but honestly, I worked very hard to earn the confidence I have and the tools I can bring to work on the character. It’s a luxury to imagine I can make a living out of pursuing my passion in art. I used to not dare to really hope for any success because I started acting so late, the industry is so hard, I am an Asian, blah blah blah… There are always many reasons to fail, but at the end of the day, I had to get over the fear and follow my heart. It’s very fulfilling and hopeful. Now I dare to dream bigger, to be excellent, and to make more impact. So, this career path has been surprisingly rewarding.
Then what are the perks of where you are in your career right now?
FEI: I think the great people I know and the trust I have for myself. I know I will be able to continue grow, and I have amazing beings around me that inspire me, believe in me, and guide me to become a better artist and human. Truly, I feel full of joy and gratitude as I am thinking of this question.
What has been your proudest achievement as a working actor at this point in your career?
FEI: Working on “Polar!”
Has there been any great advice you have gotten about working as an actor?
FEI: So much great advice from different teachers and people I have worked with. Here are the great ones that I worked with every day:
Find your true voice and be your own voice!
Just focus on the work! Go to set, work, and leave. Nothing else matters.
Allow your character and text to take over your body.
Surround yourself with people who are authentic and truly happy for you.
Play! Be present!
Success is never owned, it’s rented, and you have to pay the rent every day.
An ounce of behavior is worth a pound of words, both in acting and life.
Listen! It’s about affecting others, not about you.
Be bad until you are good, be good until you are great!
What advice would you offer to other upcoming and aspiring actors?
FEI: Whatever work you are doing, whether it’s in a classroom, on stage, on set, or in your living room with your phone taping, every chance you have to act, have fun and do it. Keep doing it. We all go through different stages of learning. Keep getting better at it. Ten thousand hours rules. Be so excellent that people can’t ignore you! Also, learn from different teachers in different areas. Try a different area of the industry as well! It’s all part of the learning process. I think you become a better player when you have various tools and faculties of this big storytelling machine. Lastly, strip away your ego suit when you are working. Don’t take anything for granted! Many of the best artists I’ve worked with are humble, passionate, and generous humans. They don’t bring their ego into work place. I also deeply believe in doing what you love, and the rest will follow. It’s important you get into acting for the right reason, or any career really. Ask yourself what the ultimate goal is in terms of being of service to people, and if you can do that through acting. Having that super objective in life and as an artist is important.
At a time when women’s voices are rising to be heard and respected around the country and world, what do you recommend your fans do to lend support in that endeavor?
FEI: Let’s keep the conversation going, in life with friends and in work! I think it’s only the beginning of a change for better. Like any movement, it takes time for the ideas to translate into reality. The statistic of meaningful, female, leading characters in successful movies is still depressing to look at, even more so when it comes diversity. Let’s keep writing, producing and filming diverse human stories. Not just to fix the data, but to really embrace the abundance and strength of human stories. I also feel truly grateful I have fantastic ground of female friends and mentors in my life. They are my community and we support and inspire each other. Also, the whole #MeToo movement is not just in the polarized entertainment industry, it’s literally everywhere. We have to keep working on speaking up and supporting each other. We also have to keep negotiating, communicating and educating gender and sexual politics.
Do you have any other upcoming projects that you can share that fans should keep an eye out for?
FEI: I am in the process of developing a few plays. Some to act in, some to direct. They are my passion projects and a playground for me to focus on stretching and deepening my craft and myself.
Released on January 25th, “Polar” is available now for exclusive viewing on Netflix.
“Polar” film trailer: