Yangzom Brauen is an actress, activist and writer. She had her Hollywood debut in the film Aeon Flux in the role of Inari. Since then, she has played in various American independent productions. Yangzom’s acting vocation aside; she has always been extremely active and vocal in the Tibetan Freedom movement. At one time, she was president of the Tibetan Youth Association where she organized public demonstrations and cultural events. After being arrested in Moscow for protesting the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, she became famous in Europe not only as an actress but also as a fearless non-violent freedom fighter for Tibet. We had a chance to sit down and get to the bottom of certain issues and explore what is going on in the modern world. Read below for the full interview…
Even though you moved to Los Angeles to persue acting more, you are heavily involved still with your German-Swiss productions. Ultimately, are you looking to migrate more to Hollywood films or still continue to be in Europe and North American productions?
Yangzom: For me it is more about the story and the part I will get to play. This can be in any of the languages I speak. So it doesn’t really matter where you live, as most of the time [you] shoot somewhere else anyways. I love Los Angeles, it is very creative and it is the city of entertainment. That’s why I moved here to be surrounded by my profession.
Last week Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao vowed to strengthen the capabilities of the Chinese armed forces to win “local wars.” He pledged to raise China’s domestic security budget to a whopping $111.4 billion, much of which will likely go toward Beijing’s campaign of terror in Tibet. Thanks to your advocation, he has lost the global war for legitimacy in the past. In 2012, how else do you plan to help the cause?
Yangzom: I wrote a book called ‘Across Many Mountains’. It was originally published in Germany and became an instant bestseller. It is the memoir of my tibetan grandmother, my mother and I. I write about the old Tibet my grandmother grew up in, about the invasion of the Chinese, the flight to India when my mother was six years old and the new start in a modern world. This is another approach for me to tell people around the world what happened and still happening in Tibet. I am very happy that my book will be available in Chinese this year.
You have a new film out this summer called ‘Escape from Tibet’. Does this film deal with important issues as well? What was it like shooting the film?
Yangzom: It deals with the history of Tibet, about an Escape of Tibetan kids and families. It shows that still today, Tibetans run away from Tibet, or their parents send them away so they can get a Tibetan education in India and be close to the Dalai Lama. It was a great experience for me and the rest of the cast and crew. We were shooting for two months up in Ladakh at about 4000 meters high. This was challenging in the beginning to get adapted to that height. I felt I was going back in time, when my grandmother and mother ran away and had a glimpse of how it felt like. But, of course, we were always safe when we run over a snow mountain, not to compare with the real escapes. This is a movie and I hope it will be shown all over the world.
10 years ago you directed a documentary ‘Pilgrimage in Exile‘, as well as some television work as well. Is directing something you feel comfortable doing and would like to do more in the future?
Yangzom: I love directing and it will be something I will for sure do more in future. As an actor you have no say about the look of the film and you are not involved in the editing process. But as a director you are attached to the project from the beginning until the end. Something I do miss as an actor. One day my dream would be to direct and play in my own film.
You mentioned you wrote a book entitled ‘Across Many Mountains’. Admittedly, someone like myself, who isn’t really familiar with Tibetan culture, what would one learn by reading this book about the Chinese occupation, refugee life, and resettlements in the West?
Yangzom: It is almost a 100 year Tibetan history. From 1920 till today, it spans three continents from Asia, to Europe and America. It was important for me that the reader connects with my grandmother and my mother. To get to know more about Tibet and our destiny, I have a screenwriter who is writing a screenplay to turn it into a movie. This is something I always wanted to do once I completed the book.
That’s great! I feel your message is very strong and one more people should be aware about.
Yangzom: I feel the same and I am very thankful that you are giving me the possibility to talk about Tibet. [It is] one more person and that is how it will go on. I always tell people that even if it is just a small thing that you do for Tibet, don’t lose faith, as the steps are small and everything will happen in a slow term. If you don’t do anything, nothing will change.
You had a role in AEon Flux starring as the character Inari. How was the audition process like and was one of the deciding factor for you joining the cast because filming was in Berlin?
Yangzom: At the time they were holding auditions, I was planing my trip to NY for vacation. So, I sent a tape to the casting director and when I arrived in NY, I got an e-mail saying that the director loved my tape very much and wanted me to read for a bigger part with lines. So then again, I taped myself and send it via Fedex to Berlin. When I returned from my trip a week later I directly drove from the airport to the production office and had to read again, this time with the director there. Three days later, I got a call that I got the part.
Do you have any favorite Asian films?
Yangzom: I love Takeshi Kitanos movies. One of my favorite film of his is Zatochi (the Blind Swordsman). Another director I love is Wong Kar Wai and my favorite movie of him is In the Mood for Love. I also love the classic film the Seven Samurai.
Finish this sentence: A common misperception of me is…
Yangzom: …that I am a very strong person. The reality is that I have a very sensitive and soft side in me.
What suggestions do you have for girls from other countries that are interested in acting or the entertainment industry here in the U.S.?
Yangzom: First come to L.A. and see if you can imagine living here for a long time. Then get a work Visa, a car, an apartment and find an agent. Be flexible and don’t take anything personal. Become hardworking but dont lose your love for acting. At the end you will find out if you want to stay or leave. Either way is fine and it doesn’t mean you gave up. I think everything is a learning process and L.A. is one of them.
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Roland Wagner/kickfilm/snakefilm/Book: Tashi Brauen