You may think you haven’t seen Veronica Ngo before, but you have, especially if your stream Netflix. Like her character Quynh, the immortal partner of Andy (Charlize Theron) in The Old Guard, she’s been all over. She was the radio propagandist Hanoi Hannah in Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods; she also played Tien, the Inferni Elf assassin pursuing Will Smith in Bright, as well as and the Kung Fu assassin Mantis in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny; her tour de force, Furie, is on Netflix too. Made in Vietnam, Furie was submitted to the Academy Awards as an International Feature Film entrée. Beyond Netflix, and in a galaxy far, far away, she played Paige Tico, the rebel martyr and Dreadnought bombardier who was the sister of Rose in Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
Like with many Asian stars, crossing the Pacific loses something in translation. Veronica’s Vietnamese name is Ngo Thanh Van. In many Asian cultures, the surname is first, and the given name follows. This confounds IMDb, which in a flailing effort to resolve this difference, labels her with a name that she’s never been credited as – ‘Van Veronica Ngo.’ Nevertheless, in Vietnam, Ngo is a longstanding celebrity. She caught the country’s attention in 2002 as a pop singer, going by her initials NTV. Two years later, she began acting for TV, and had a major break with Vietnam’s biggest martial arts film, The Rebel, in 2007.
The Rebel was Vietnam’s highest grosser at the time, demonstrating that Vietnamese cinema could deliver its own style of gritty brutal action. Since then, she’s appeared in a variety of movies, including two more major actioners, Clash and Once Upon a Time in Vietnam, and even directed herself in two fantasy films: The Lost Dragon, a goofy rom-com about heavenly fairies in modern Ho Chi Minh City that was released for Tet (Vietnamese New Year) and Tam Cam: The Untold Story, a classic Vietnamese legend that begins eerily akin to Cinderella, replete with an evil stepfamily, a prince, a ball, and the fitting of a lost slipper. It then takes an entirely different direction as a tale of reincarnation and undying love. This is a lushly CGI-heavy movie reminiscent of the fantasy films coming out of Mainland China lately. Ngo cast herself as Di Ghe, the evil stepmom, and she’s far worse than Cinderella’s.
Ngo spoke to Den of Geek about The Old Guard along with some of her other projects.
Den of Geek: I’ve been a fan of yours since The Rebel. Let’s start there.
Veronica Ngo: The Rebel was my breakthrough movie. It was the movie that gave me the title of the first female Vietnamese action star. I got supported by the Vietnamese people. They encouraged me to do more action movies and since then I have become the only female action star in Vietnam.
How did you land the role for Quynh in The Old Guard?
When the movie had filmed for two weeks, my agency in America called me and said that The Old Guard wanted me to be a part of it. They said Charlize Theron watched Furie and was really interested in inviting me to her project. During our conversation through Skype, Charlize and I found our mutual voice to acknowledge the fact that women like us work hard to fulfill the roles in the Hollywood action movies. After that 45-minute-long discussion, and with the empathy we had, Charlize felt safe to give me the role.
How was working with Charlize?
For me, Charlize Theron is a talented and extremely brilliant woman. I admire her for the high standard of movies she has played in. Now, having a chance to work with her, I understand why she reached that position in Hollywood. With her outstanding talent, great beauty, and unpredictable ability, I do admire her even more.
The original comic book character of Quynh was Japanese, but you had her changed to Vietnamese. How important was that for you?
I think it is very important since this is the time when I speak up with my own voice and represent Vietnamese talent. I believe we have a lot to show, and because I have this precious chance to connect with a Hollywood movie like this, I would love to show my race and my background in the film industry. Also it is very important to see that the movie made by Hollywood has diverse choices so we can learn together and grow better.
How does Hollywood action choreography compare to how it is done in Vietnam?
Working with an American action team has its advantages. Their team joined big projects so they have the experience and creativity to come up with spectacular fighting scenes. Before The Old Guard, I have worked with other Hollywood action movies, so I am not that surprised with their professionalism.
Furie was such a physical role. How did you prepare? And did you suffer any injuries during filming?
Furie is a movie that I had to prepare physically for over two months. I did have a very big injury during the first week of shooting. I hurt my kneecap and I couldn’t walk for a week. After I hurt myself, the production had to stop filming and wait for my recovery. At that time, I was very scared that I might not walk again. That is why I planned to do it as my last action movie. But luckily, I am all recovered now.
How did you feel when Furie was submitted for the Academy Awards?
I am very proud to hear the news that Furie represents the Vietnamese cinema submitted to Academy Awards. It’s a payoff to all the hard work that we put into the project. There are many people involved. We want to be heard – representing the people, the culture, and the love from Asia to the world.
What martial arts do you practice?
Through all the years I have been an actress, I have trained in many different kinds of martial arts. For each project, I only do my training for that. And if the character requires a specific style, I practice for that.
And how was joining the Star Wars galaxy?
The journey to Star Wars: The Last Jedi was a great experience for me. From being shocked to hear the news of my role until flying to London to start the shooting days, it was a journey [worthy] of being cherished. I felt blessed to be chosen and treated specially. I was fully supported to do my job well.
What’s next for Veronica Ngo?
I am currently producing a sequel to Furie in Vietnam. I hope the world can watch more Vietnamese movies and support us. Thank you.
The Old Guard and Furie are available on Netflix.