In the thriller Skyscraper, now in cinemas, Dwayne Johnson plays a security consultant trying to rescue his wife (Neve Campbell) and two children who are trapped in a burning 225-storey megastructure in Hongkong. Wait, there’s more to that: his family is stuck with a bunch of terrorists who are responsible for the fire. Oh, and it gets worst: our hero is outside the building and to get to them, he has to first get pass an assassin, played by Hannah Quinlivan. For Mandopop fans, Quinlivan, who also goes by Kun Ling, is the 24-year-old Taiwanese model-actress wife of Jay Chou, and Skyscraper is her Hollywood debut. Nestled in a suite on the 108th floor at The Ritz-Carlton Hongkong, Quinlivan, whose father is Australian and mother Korean-Taiwanese, tells us what it was like to work with The Rock and about the joys of playing a villain. 

8 DAYS: In Skyscraper, you play Xia, an assassin, one of the bad guys. The production notes say you auditioned for the part a day before giving birth to your son Romeo...

HANNAH QUINLIVAN: Actually, I did [the audition] three days after my C-section and I was supposed to leave the hospital. So, I shot my audition tape [while I was] in a wheelchair. I had guns and I tried to make the most of acting with my face. [The producers] thought the wheelchair was a prop and it was a play on Kill Bill, but it wasn’t. 

Here, looking at you, you’re very sweet. But in the movie, you have — pardon my French — a bitchy face. Did you work hard on it?

Kind of. I really enjoyed being the bitch. Normally, you don’t get to be a bitch in real life. But you can be as bitchy as you want in a movie. I like the name [writer-director] Rawson [Marshall Thurber] gave my character: Xia in Chinese means ‘summer’. But she’s so dark and I like [the juxtaposition]. Her name is Summer but she is cold as winter.

Xia is a physically demanding role that required you to train for a month.

In the beginning, because I had just given birth, my body was still recovering. So, I was a bit frustrated with myself: What are you doing? You are a bad character but you’re still soft. But my stunt team trained me like a man and they really went hardcore and pushed me out of my comfort zone. I do feel more empowered. I do feel that I could fight back. Normally I’d just run [from a fight], but now, it’s okay.

And the black outfit made it easier to get into character…

Actually, I thought it was a bit sexy for me. It was a bit transparent but I was wearing a leather jacket over it.

Did Xia undergo any changes from script to screen?

It was similar between what was written and what was filmed. I really responded to what Rawson had created for Xia. But some of my lines were in Cantonese that I didn’t understand. [Co-star] Byron [Mann], who’s from Hongkong, taught me say them in a street, badass way. You normally say ‘cai lou’ for police, but in a very bad way, you say ‘sai cai lou’. Xia is bad and her language will be bad too.

Your character beat up Dwayne Johnson in her first scene.

I [wasn’t convinced] that she could fight Dwayne. She’s not tall, she’s small. How is she going to fight and kill Dwayne? So I was glad Rawson gave her a Taser and a gun. That convinced me I could fight him. 

In terms of work ethic, what did you learn from Dwayne?

I do admire him. He treats everyone kindly; even though he’s busy, he’ll make time for you. He’s a really nice person and he works out every day. When I see him [posting pictures of himself working out in the gym] on Instagram, [I feel] need to do that too to keep myself in shape. It’s encouraging.

You worked with The Rock in your Hollywood debut. Do you have a wish-list of actors to work with?

Dwayne was my first. So that was a tick. It was a dream come true. In the future, maybe [I would love to work with] Anne Hathaway. 

You co-starred with Orlando Bloom in S.M.A.R.T. Chase, a British-Chinese action thriller. How was working on that compared to Skyscraper?

Because S.M.A.R.T. Chase was a co-production, I could speak Mandarin and English, and I was near home [̕cos it was shot in Shanghai]. For Skyscraper, I was in Vancouver two months. It was a Hollywood film set where I had to speak English all the time. It just felt really different. But I like going to the cafeteria. When it’s six o’ clock, everyone would sit around, like they’d in a restaurant, and talk about life.

Jay and the kids, Romeo, now one, and Hathaway, three, were with you in Vancouver.

He came on set quite a lot, to be next to me and keep me company.

Seth Rogen once said he didn’t know how big Jay Chou was in Asia until he was on the road promoting Green Hornet with him. Was Dwayne aware of how big a star Jay was?

I don’t know if Dwayne is aware of Jay’s popularity in Asia, but I know my producers are. They would make funny jokes about [the photo of him, Hannah and Dwayne that was posted on Instagram]. [The Netizens labelled Johnson as having] ‘gentleman’s hand’ because he was standing beside me and he didn’t really touch me. They saw what Jay posted on Instagram, which became news in Asia.

Jay’s been in two Hollywood movies, Green Hornet and Now You See Me 2. What kind of advice did he give you for your Hollywood debut?

He didn’t really give me any suggestions [on how I should play Xia]. He would tell me to be real careful with [the martial arts fighting and the guns]. He didn’t want me to [overexert] myself because I might get hurt. I still pushed myself anyway; I wanted to do it.

Jay played good guys in those movies. Do you think he’d make a good villain?

Actually, he could but he feels responsible for his character’s actions. So he has to be a good guy, [but] I can be the bad guy.

Photos: UIP, IMDB 

Skyscraper (PG13) is in cinemas now.