Mao's Last Dancer: The challenge of casting Li

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"Mao's Last Dancer," the feature film adaptation of Li Cunxin's best-selling autobiography, is directed by Bruce Beresford. The film is being released by the Samuel Goldwyn Company on August 20.

“When I first read the script, I thought we’d never find anyone to play Li,” says Beresford. “Obviously, we had to have a first class ballet dancer – indeed, not just first class, but superlatively good – he had to be young and handsome and he had to be able to act a very complicated role in two languages, Mandarin and English. And, I thought, does such a person exist? But, we hunted around and we found Chi Cao, a dancer with the Birmingham Royal Ballet.” 


Casting Three Li's


In the end, three actors were cast as Li – Chi Cao who plays Li as an adult; Chengwu Guo who plays Li as a teenager, and Huang Wen Bin who plays him as a boy.


Jane Scott says:  “Bruce said to me early on, ‘Of course, if we don’t have those actors/dancers, we won’t have a film.’  So, it was important to be able to find the right people in the world and I suppose, strangely, those people have come to us one way or another.  It was obvious that Chi Cao was a fabulous opportunity for us and indeed for him, I think, to play this extraordinary character.  We found the little boy, Huang Wen Bin, in China and we also had the great opportunity of meeting Chengwu Guo, who was attending the Australian Ballet School in Melbourne. We saw Chengwu dancing at his graduation from the Australian Ballet School, auditioned him and he was fantastic as the middle Li. 


Finding dancers


It was always going to be difficult to get the dancers released for the film and I worried about this but actually, we’ve had the most wonderful assistance from each ballet company. First of all, the Australian Ballet was most generous and Artistic Director David McAllister made all of the dancers available to us whom we wanted  in the film and vice versa. So, that’s been fantastic. And also, there’s part of the Australian Ballet’s production of “Swan Lake” in the film which was wonderful to be able to show. From the Birmingham Royal Ballet and the Hong Kong Ballet too, we’ve had great help and so really none of it was as difficult as I thought it would be.”



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