20th October, 2019
Michelle Lang is an actress, producer, and writer who most will remember for her role as Linda Lee, Bruce Lee's wife, in the 50 episode television series "The Legend of Bruce Lee." In this exclusive interview, Michelle discusses her time working on the show.
Can we start be telling the visitors a little bit about how you got into acting?
I moved around a lot as a child, but the one thing that always stayed the same was my love for acting. I was in over 40 plays by the time I was in high school. I played the Nurse in Romeo and Juliet, Alice in Alice in Wonderland, and so many others. My mom and dad would spend countless hours driving me to rehearsals and performances. When I was playing Glinda the Good Which in the Wizard of Oz and the director of the show had gone to Northwestern University and studied acting. A light bulb went off for me. I didn’t even know you could go to college and study acting! Suddenly, I had a path in life. I was going to Northwestern to study acting. I applied the next year, got in and loved every minute of the acting program. I moved to LA after graduation.
You starred as Linda Lee in the Legend of Bruce Lee TV series, how did you get the role?
I had landed a role as the lead female in a short film involving martial arts. I wasn’t a martial artist at the time, but I had a strong background in dance and was athletic, so I was able to impress the stunt coordinator, Eric Chen (Pirates of the Carribean & Kung Fu Panda). He gave the director the go-ahead to cast me, and I got private lessons with Coach Eric for two months leading up to the film. In the meantime, Coach Eric was hired to be the Stunt Coordinate for the 50 Episode TV series, “The Legend of Bruce Lee.” He sent the director (Li Wen Qi) and producers my headshot and resume. When they came to the USA to do casting, I was one of the many actresses they met. We sat in the theatre at the National Wushu Training center and watched my demo reel together. Then we shook hands, and I said, “I will study very hard for the role.” in Chinese. (I didn’t speak Chinese at the time, but I had a friend of mine teach me how to say that sentence.) I found out I had the role when I was in Spring Green, Wisconsin watching Shakespeare at APT with my parents. I was beyond ecstatic.
How did you prepare for the role?
I, of course, watched all his movies. But the real key was reading, “The man only I knew” written by Linda Lee. The book was incredibly helpful. It gave me direct insight into Linda’s life and her point of view. My favourite passage is as follows, (when Bruce passed);
“I insisted on going back to see Bruce one more time to make sure for myself that he was gone. And as I now reflect, it was at that point, that I felt an incredible strength surge through my body and spirit. No panic or despair. The determination and courage of Bruce himself passed to me.”
It was this line that I kept going back to when working on the role — the strength Linda had. And her deep love and connection to Bruce. I can only hope I was able to give her justice in the series. That I was able to capture her essence in the best way I could.
Were you aware of Bruce Lee and his life before shooting the series?
I knew of Bruce Lee, but I grew up with a family that didn’t believe in watching TV or Movies. So, I hadn’t seen any of his films. In a way, I think it helped me be grounded in the role because I wasn’t tainted by the “largeness” of the undertaking. But I fell in love with him and Linda by learning about his life story. I feel incredibly honored to be a tiny part of his legacy.
Bruce Lee’s family were in involved in some part in the show, did you meet them?
Yes! I met Shannon Lee during the press conference before we started filming. She was gracious enough to email introduce me to Linda Lee. During filming, I would often write Linda emails with questions about a variety of things. From deep, personal things, to small details like what kind of card games she and her mother liked to play. Linda was incredibly gracious with her time, and would always write me back. I still glow inside when I think of those days in China, shooting the series, emailing Linda with all my questions. What a dream.
In the show, you get to do a little martial arts and I know that you now practice Wu Shu. Can you tell the readers a little about your background in martial arts?
I had been in Karate as a child, but was by no means a “martial artist” yet. My dad took me, I think, as a bonding father-daughter activity. He called me, “Shelly Son” because we both loved the Karate Kid movies. (One of the few movies I saw as a child!) I only did Karate a few years, and I did win champion at the only sparring tournament I entered! It was me against 12 boys in a round-robin. The first round, I was against a white belt (I was an orange belt at the time) who was like a tornado. He kicked and spun so fast I was dizzy just watching him. I thought, “If I let him tire himself out, then I will win.” And sure enough, I dodged his kicks for the first few minutes, and then, once he was tuckered out, I attacked. The second round, I was against a boy much taller than myself. He had a single diamond in one of his ears, and he was an orange belt. I knew there was no way I could beat him, so I had to outsmart him. I would dodge his punches and kicks, but while seeming to submit, I would also move towards him. He stepped out of bounds three times during the match, so I won the second round. The third round against a green belt. He had a broad jaw, and I have no idea how I won the last round. Impossible grit, I think. All the other boys lined his side of the mat, warning him when he was close to the edge, cheering him on, not wanting a girl be the champion. My dad was the only one on my side of the mat. He was my Mr. Miagi. During the match, I got the wind knocked out of me so hard the umpire had to stop the clock so I could breathe again. That happened twice. But I just kept punching, ducking, kicking, moving. I think I won that match with sheer determination.
Can you tell me about your working relationship with Danny chan kwok-kwan who played Bruce Lee in the show?
Danny was incredible to work with. He and I met a few times before shooting any scenes together to talk about the scenes and run lines. When Danny was in scenes with just me, he would speak English. But when he was in scenes with actors who spoke Mandarin, he would speak mandarin. And when he was with actors who spoke Cantonese, he would speak Cantonese. I have a huge respect for Danny. He lead the entire series, speaking multiple languages, and performing for 12+ hours every single day for months on end. Danny always had a smile and a bounce in his step. Even on the days when it was 110 in a hot auditorium, and he had to perform the same fight relentlessly, we would still meet up for lunch. He would always joke and laugh as if he had just come off a cruise. He was #1 on the call sheet, and he lived up to the title. It was an absolute joy to work with Danny.
Any stories you would like to share whilst filming the show?
There are so many stories! My favourite part was getting to see parts of China that I usually would never get to experience. Like the place we shot the Mark Dacascos’s fight scene…it was so far out, I would have never discovered it. But the craziest location was during the big fight scene with all the smoke. It was in an abandoned warehouse on the edge of a river. My character was pregnant during the scene, and one of the news outlets came to interview Danny and myself that day. I remember Danny and me linking arms and skipping down the halls as if we were Dorothy and the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz walking down the yellow brick road. That’s how the whole process was. No matter how many hours, how hot it was or how sleepy we were, Danny and I always had fun.
The first day of shooting we did the scenes in the hospital. I had a huge page count that day, probably 15-20 pages. After the day of shooting I went to change my clothes, and when I came out everyone was already loaded up! I was shocked how fast the Chinese crews work. Suddenly, a hospital that was filled with lights, cords, and cameras only 10 min earlier was vacant! We often had scenes with actors from different countries. During one scene we had an actor speaking French, two speaking Mandarin, one speaking Cantonese, one speaking Italian and myself speaking English. This forced you to not only learn YOUR lines, but also memorise all the other actor’s lines in the scene so you could react properly to what they were saying!
Any problems or incidents whilst filming the show?
My biggest challenge was reading the massive binders of scripts and having every scene ready to go at a moment’s notice — that and not being able to speak Chinese. Reading a call sheet in Chinese proved to be a challenge. Sure, I had a translator, but if I wanted any autonomy I had to learn how to speak the language. Any day I wasn’t on set I would study Chinese, practice martial arts, and dive deeper into the scripts.
Did you keep in touch with anyone from the show after production wrapped?
I do! Mark Dacascos and I run into each other here and there, and a few of the other actors and I have touched base on Social Media. I would love to see Le Wen Qi and Eric Chen again. It would be a trip to have a Legend of Bruce Lee reunion.
What have you been doing since the show ended?
After the series, I continued to study martial arts. I continued to train for four years with Coach Eric Chen after the filming of the series. I also trained stunt work, guns, high falls, and (my favourite) wire work. The studio we trained at, sadly, is no longer around – but it was a stunning school. I would love to do a show where I get to utilise my stunts alongside a role. I always have my eyes peeled for a script where I can do that. I produced my first film (which I also acted in) called Lost on Purpose. Since then, I have produced and acted in several other feature films and TV shows. I am still waiting for the right project so I can mix my love for acting and martial arts again.
Don’t forget to follow Michelle on Social media @TheMichelleLang
TEXT: © Lee Holmes/The Clones of Bruce Lee 2019.
PHOTOS: © Michelle Lang
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