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Manifest Destiny

GS: One aspect of that movie has become controversial. Do you remember how in the book, the tightwad husband was a Caucasian guy? In the movie he was turned into an Asian guy.
JY: We didn't want to have all the husbands be Asian. We thought that would be a little odd. And we couldn't make the Andrew McCarthy part Asian because then you miss the whole background, because some of the poignancy of the Rosalind Chao/Andrew McCarthy scene was with the society element. So I think it had more to do with balancing it out. Otherwise it would be like three women with white men. And that other male role was very small. Tamlyn Tomita's boyfriend was a very small role so if we made that one Asian, then people would have complained and said why did you make that role Asian, it's the smallest of the roles.
Janet Yang
Janet Yang with Steven Spielberg and Xie Jin, a director known as China's Steven Spielberg, during filming of Empire of the Sun (1989) in Shanghai.

GS: We understand the logic but we don't think the people who are angry about it will follow those subtleties.
JY: Angry people don't follow subtleties.

GS: You're covered because you also happened to have made the movie that's the most admired by Asian males.
JY: I think it's really easy to criticize but much harder to create. I think peple are too hard on each other in general. The Asian community can be too hard on people. I'm not saying we shouldn't be vigilant and do everything we can to raise consciousness all the time, but I particularly feel sorry for friends of mine who are actors. They are asked, “Why did you take that role where you have an accent?” Or people call me up and say, “We have room for a Vietnamese. Do you think we can cast a Chinese?” It made everybody extremely paranoid and fearful -- and intimidated about ever getting anything right.
     The only was to battle [Hollywood stereotypes] is to creae things and to prove by example. That's my life philosophy. You have to prove by example. Just going around pointing your finger -- what does that do? Just puts everybody on the defensive and they're like, “Okay, forget it. I'm not even going to try to do anything.”

GS: Which is why we're talking to you -- you're there doing it.
JY: I'm trying and it's really hard. Everything's hard. What I'm tring to do these days is even harder. I'm trying to make movies with a lot of Asian content and not just Asian American to incorporate resources, talent and stories from Asia, trying to close this gap because one of my frustrations is that Asia and Asian Americans don't click.
     I'm already involved in a project based on the story of Helie Lee. She's a Corean American and we're going to the Pusan Film Festival next month. She helped nine of her Corean relatives escape from North Corea.
     The book's quite fascinating and she's now spoken in Washington on Corea and she's at all the universities across the country.

GS: What made you and Lisa think that you could start a production company? As you know better than most, it's a tough business.
JY: There are people who start production companies all the time. It's not hard to start a production company. When Lisa and I started talking about working together, we said we were thinking of leaving the studio and Sony offered the deal.


GS: So what is your title?
JY: We were founding partners but the company is now my company. We started the company in 1996. We had a deal at Sony for three years. We were on the lot and they paid our overhead. At the end of three years, though we developed a lot of projects and I was able to make movies elsewhere, we hadn't made a movie with Sony. So like many deals, our deal expired, wasn't renewed. Lisa at that point had to go back to her family company, Jim Henson Pictures. She wanted to run the film division there and I continued on with Manifest.

GS: So you are the sole owner.
JY: Now I am.

GS: Then you must have produced that movie starring Ashley Judd.
JY: High Crimes. I was the main producer on that, yeah.
     It was originally set up at Tri-Star, under Bob Cooper's regime, and then Chris Lee took it over for a little bit. We developed a script and got a draft that I thought was pretty good. However, Tri-Star was folded into Columbia and all these projects were let go. We had it in turnaround. I ended up getting it to [director] Carl Franklin and he liked it very much and wanted to do it.
     But it was not set up yet, so I started sending it around to a few people and we ended up setting up at New Regency, I think it had something to do with the fact that Double Jeopardy with Ashley Judd had just opened up to box office so it was seen as an Ashley Judd vehicle.

GS: The Weight of Water is another one you produced.
JY: That was also originally at Columbia with Phoenix Picturs. It was developed there for several years and they didn't want to make it. I set it up at Canal Plus before it had been completely reconfigured, but at the time they weren't financing productions. We made the film two or three years ago. It had a fantastic cast, Sean Penn, Catherine McCormack, Elizabeth Hurley...

GS: Alex Ho was involved?
JY: As a line producer.

GS: Was he someone you had met at Ixtlan?
JY: Director Kathryn [Bigelow] probably met Alex when she directed one of the TV series that Oliver produced, and I actually met Kathryn through Oliver because they were friendly. PAGE 6

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“And we couldn't make the Andrew McCarthy part Asian because then you miss the whole background, because some of the poingnancy of the Rosalind Chao/Andrew McCarthy scene was with the society element.”