I sat down with executive producer Timothy Bui and
director Stephane Gauger to talk about their film, Owl and the Sparrow.
It’s the story of a young Vietnamese orphan in Saigon with more
maturity than she knows what to do with and a quiet knack for setting
up lonely souls. It’s a simple, natural, and delicate story in a raw
and burgeoning setting, and it works for any audience. We talked about
the three lead actors, the social development of Vietnam, and emerging
East Asian cinema.
Me: I figured it would be good if you started with a little bit about your relationship with Saigon. I know you were born there.
SG: Yeah, right. have interracial
parents, my mom is Vietnamese. I grew up speaking the language, came
here when I was five. I think I started
going back in the mid-90s when you could kind of see the changes in
society. The country was opening up economically to the outside world,
so you started seeing the class divide. There were street kids then,
and there still are. It’s still a poor country. These kids would sell things on the streets and I would hang out in cafes and
get their stories. When I was writing the character I always imagined
that I’d be casting a real flower girl from the streets, you know, make
it authentic. The producers in Vietnam were advising me not to do that
because the role of Thuy, the main character, is so-…there’s a lot
going on. She’s in almost every scene. So they said we should do a casting session with someone who
has experience. I asked real flower girls if they wanted to be in a
movie anyway, but they were all
afraid of the camera, afraid of authorities and stuff like that. So we
did a casting session, saw about 10 girls. I settled on the best
one and we only cast her two days before we started shooting. Stroke of
Me: Yeah, she’s really something.
TB: A little discovery.
Me: How did you settle on the other leads?
SG: The two other actors were hand picked. Cat, who plays the
stewardess, I had known from another film and I liked her acting style
because it’s internal and naturalistic. And the guy who plays Hai, the
zookeeper, he had done another film and I had heard about him. So he was
Me: He’s got such a good look for all the close-ups.
SG: Yeah, yeah. He’s also another Vietnamese actor who tends to
underplay and be understated. So for a naturalistic looking film and
having something almost cin