It seems ironic that Bridget Fonda is co-starring in the new Jet Li actioner Kiss of the Dragon. Ironic, because the movie was co-written and produced by Luc Besson, and the actress appeared in the Hollywood remake of Besson’s La Femme Nikita.
Fonda merely smiles at the suggestion, but is grateful that this time around, she does very little butt-kicking.
“After I said that I’d do the movie, there was a call back the next day, and I said, ‘Am I supposed to be doing action?’ You have to tell me if I’m supposed to be getting into physical shape like I did in Point of No Return. I trained for 6 weeks to learn how to do the fighting for that. Just to get limber enough not to pull every muscle in my body.
But Luc said, ‘No, no, you just do all the running away.’ All I had to do was turn up and look out of it”, she adds laughingly, referring to her role as a junkie hooker in the movie.
In Kiss of the Dragon, Jet Li plays Liu Jiuan, a mysterious operative who travels from Shanghai to Paris on a mission so sensitive, the details are unclear even to him. A few clues lead Liu to Jean-Pierre Richard, a brutally corrupt cop. When the mission goes horribly wrong, Liu falls into a deadly trap and becomes embroiled in a vast conspiracy - accused of a murder he didn’t commit, on the run in a city he doesn’t know.
When Liu is thrown together with an American woman forced into prostitution, the unlikely duo goes up against the cunning and ruthless adversary who set this trap in motion.
What was the hook?
Fonda took the unusual step of agreeing to do Kiss of the Dragon even prior to seeing a finished script and putting herself in the hands of a first-time director.
“I looked at it as a chance to have an adventure”, she explains. “First of all, I really liked Jet Li and from everything I know about him, people have said that he’s the most decent guy who he turned out to be, and what he wants to do, more than anything, is to do good work that he can stand behind. So I knew that we weren’t going to have anything exploitative.”
Then of course there’s Luc Besson as an added attraction, “who has his own style and is very strong and opinionated.” So Fonda felt that “any time you were going to take a chance this it, so I signed on for the adventure.”
An adventure which included not being cast as merely ‘the girl’ in what is clearly a male genre. “I knew that wouldn’t happen in a Luc Besson movie. He loves women too much; there’s no way he could let her be just the girl. So what could easily have been ‘the girl’ part gets woven more into the story. Besides, I’d just stomp my feet until I got my own way, anyhow”, she laughs.
I did it My Way
Fonda has been ‘stomping her feet’ in Hollywood since her starring role in 1989’s acclaimed Scandal. Despite her famous family, there was no added pressure for her to become actress, but admits she “was pretty defiant as a kid, and everything had to be my way.
In a strange way, I didn’t think I was going to act until I did a school play, liked it and I thought maybe I would try.” But there was no way the precocious youngster “would take any advice on the subject, even if I needed it, especially from my dad. So I was going to do it my way. And she did.
“Looking back on it, I saved a lot of time insisting on seeing what I had, instead of trying to skip a few steps along the way.”
Fonda has always had sense of defiance, “a tempest in a teapot" as she puts it. "I really doubt that there’d be any stories about me being such a nightmare. I think I’ve been spoiled by having worked with people who I felt had earned their respect, so I require it.”
Fonda has earned that respect over the years, appearing in over 40 films, from the likes of Singles and Single White Female, to Godfather 3, Mr Jealousy and Jackie Brown.
In the past 15 years, Fonda has established herself, within the Hollywood community, as a committed, no-nonsense professional, an actress first, celebrity second. She says she has been able to avoid the more celebrityism aspects of her job, “because I tend not to get harassed. I doubt that I’d handle it too well if I were. Consciously or unconsciously, I don’t tend to court a lot of attention and try not to air my dirty laundry in public; I’m not an exhibitionist in that way.”
In the 15 years since Fonda first burst onto the screen, she feels that her “viewpoint has changed a lot since then. Things now are made much more by committee and so it’s harder to get out a more individualised piece of work and have it come out remaining as quirky, or what have you.”
Fonda admits that usually in this process “you get a script which you think is really wild and then you get the next set of re-writes and you go: Wow, this is blander. Then the when you get the next set you go: I wonder if I’d taken this job if I’d read this draft. Then you have you go back and fight to get back some of the little things that made it special.”
It's a tough act
Which is why, Fonda admits she doesn’t work as much as she’d like. Also, she says, for her, the business of acting in the past decade and a half “has gotten harder, which I didn’t think would happen. I always thought that the longer you did something the easier it would get, but the longer you do something, the more you require of yourself, so as my ability heightens, the bar raises as well.”
But Fonda is not career-driven, she says, and just wants to audiences to like what she does. “I’m just happy if they get it. If I read something that I’m passionate about, I want to share that passion with the rest of the world.” And that passion continues.