FANTASIA 2021 INTERVIEW: ‘Baby, Don’t Cry’ – Zita Bai, Vas Provatakis, and Qiyu Zhou

I recently had the opportunity to interview the main cast and producer of ‘Baby, Don’t Cry’ ahead of its world premiere at Fantasia Festival. The film follows Baby (Zita Bai), a teenage girl who feels like an outcast in society as a Chinese immigrant. Her relationship with her mother (Helen Sun) is strained, and she dreams of escaping her circumstances to pursue a new life elsewhere as she observes the world through her video camera. After she meets delinquent Fox (Vas Provatakis), Baby finds herself introduced into a more mature world characterized by crime and violence. Through the relationship that forms between the pair, she also experiences the turbulence and euphoria of young love for the first time.

A film poster featuring a young Asian woman with short dark hair. She appears painted, and a tear is shown rolling down her cheek. A fox rests on her, and pink letters read 'baby, don't cry' in an artistic font.
Image courtesy of Mad Hound Productions

Hayley Paskevich: The film’s title Baby, Don’t Cry evokes a sense of innocence and youthfulness, but there’s also sorrow to it. Was that your intention?

Zita Bai: Yeah, that was my intention because Baby, Don’t Cry is my tribute to my youth and a lot of people’s youths, and is overall like a dark fairytale. It’s myself saying goodbye to my childhood.

HP: On that note, since Baby is a character who often finds herself feeling isolated around others—particularly when she’s at school and around other people her age, and she feels out of place—how much of that was drawn from your own high school experience?

ZB: I feel like that was very personal, because I wasn’t born and raised in America. I moved here when I was a young teen, didn’t speak a word of English. And then growing up in a community that didn’t have a lot of Asian people, for sure I felt out of place. That’s why I just feel like it’s very important to tell a story about immigrant kids. People often mistake me as [an] America-born Asian; they think I was born and raised here. For people like me, we had a totally different upbringing.

HP: Was there a particular reason you chose to set the film in Seattle, given that you’re based out of Los Angeles?

ZB: Actually, Seattle was the first city I moved to when I came to the U.S. And also, you know, the rainy [and] grungy characteristics of Seattle truly add to the story.

Qiyu Zhou: Mmm-hmm.

HP: It definitely contributes to the atmospheric feel of it. On the topic of it being personal, Baby does shoot a lot of things through her video camera. We see several moments filmed in this way, and it allows us a glimpse into the world as Baby sees it. Why was incorporating the footage in that specific manner important to you?

ZB: When I first moved here, I didn’t speak English. I kind of just dived into movies and books, because I didn’t know how to articulate myself. So to be able to craft a film that’s pretty much about Baby’s perspective, we came up with this idea with her capturing details and moments of her life through her camera as her way of expressing herself.

HP: So it was very much your lens into the world just as it was Baby’s then.

ZB: Yeah, mmm-hmm.

Image courtesy of Mad Hound Productions

HP: That’s really cool, thank you for sharing that. So for Zita and Vas, what were your first impressions of one another when you first met? And was it easy for you to bond because of how much time you spent filming together, and how intimate some of your scenes were?

ZB: I just felt his presence when he walked into the room. I did a lot of chemistry tests with different actors, but when our director Jesse saw me and Vas sit together in front of a camera, he was like, “That’s Baby and Fox.” He saw the chemistry between us before I even realized it.

Vas Provatakis: Yeah, I think the chemistry was kind of automatically there. Zita and I are similar in that we allow each other to make mistakes as actors and try things out. When you’re preparing for a character or even when you’re in a scene, you have to be able to make those decisions and just see what works and doesn’t. And honestly, it’s not just one word I could use to describe Zita; she’s a whole array of things. But the first impression that I had of her would be she’s very in control. And when you’re working with someone who is driven and cares so much about the work, you know, nothing’s better than that as a co-star.

ZB: I guess [my] first impression for Vas, he was very bold, confident, and willing to take the leap.

HP: That’s a cool dynamic between you two. And the next question is actually about the dynamic between your characters, because Fox and Baby are an unlikely duo. I was wondering how you would characterize their relationship and what do you think the two of them have to offer each other? Why do they feel so drawn to one another?

ZB: I think there’s a saying [that] everything happens for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. And oftentimes, when we look back at our youth, we would think about what we went through with our first love. Sometimes we think, “Did we really love that person or was that person just there because it was perfect timing?” And I just feel like the reasons why they were together were because they were at that age and the timing was perfect and they were both coming from broken homes, like only they saw how insecure and how vulnerable they truly were inside.

VP: To piggyback off of that, I feel like there’s a lot of despicable things about [Fox] in this story, and I’m sure it could be challenging for some people to watch him. I think the most important thing is that Baby comes into his life and gives him true unconditional love, where you accept someone where they’re at and you continue to hold them to a certain standard. Like I’m gonna love you here and you have to be able to meet me up here, you know? I feel that standard that Baby holds Fox to, no one’s ever cared about him that much. He’s never felt that kind of compassion or empathy from somebody. So it affects him to the point where it wears down all the toxic traits in him, he starts to actually realize this love that she’s giving him, and he becomes truly selfless by the end.

HP: I think one of the scenes where you really see Fox being vulnerable and letting down his guard was that scene in the movie theater when he’s actually crying. That’s not something you would expect from Fox at all. So I do feel like Baby is able to bring out that sensitive side out of him, whereas Fox can encourage her to be more assertive.

An Asian woman with short brunette hair sits behind a young man with a shaved head. He has a partial tattoo showing that reads "let go," and they are in a dingy apartment.
Image courtesy of Mad Hound Productions

VP: Absolutely, I absolutely agree. That was a very important scene for me. It was written in the script where Fox had to break down when he was watching this movie, and as an actor, I was very afraid of that, you know? And I talked to Jesse—he’s the director of this film, amazing guy by the way. He’s a very sensitive guy who understands his emotions, and he’s very in touch with them. So after talking to Jesse, he allowed me the space to let that vulnerability out, which I feel is something that not a lot of men get to do in our society. After we shot that scene and I drained my eyes of tears, he wrapped me up in this big hug and just kept saying, “You’re a good man.” It was a very, very meaningful moment for me.

HP: You’re so right. In movies that feature masculine characters, men don’t always have the space to have vulnerable moments [or] fully break down, especially not with a woman who is also a strong character. And since I read that you didn’t have much rehearsal time for this film, was there a scene that ended up being more challenging to shoot than you anticipated?

ZB: For me, not really, because we shot the story chronologically. In the beginning, [it was just like how] Baby and Fox weren’t very familiar with each other. And then over time, I developed this connection with Vas ‘cause we all lived together, the crew and cast, and this trust just automatically started to build.

VP: With the right people, it just works. I’m very lucky in that I get to work with people like Zita, Jesse, and Qiyu; they’re just very supportive and caring, and they’re rooting for you. All the challenges that I felt, it was just shit that I put on myself, just trying to do the best job that I can. So working with them kind of alleviated those challenges, ’cause I felt very supported by them.

HP: That’s so awesome to hear that it was a really supportive environment, especially with such a tight-knit cast and crew. And Zita, why did you choose to depict Baby’s mom in a way that feels more surreal and animalistic in comparison to the rest of the characters? She’s shown with pig ears and making pig noises, which is kind of a surrealist element in a world that otherwise feels grounded. What led to bringing that aspect into [the film]?

ZB: A huge shoutout to our sound designer Kyle [for that], ’cause he did the sound design. And then me and Qiyu just sat in the editing room for six months, crafting the fantasy element. There’s a difference between what’s real and what feels real at that tender age, and we sometimes fabricate [the] truth in our head; later, we’ll think to ourselves, “Did that really happen, or was that just how I felt?” So I just wanted to emphasize how sensitive and how frustrating a teenager can be at that age.

QZ: Yeah, it was from [Baby’s] perspective. If you noticed, the mother sometimes have pig ears, sometimes don’t. So when [Baby] feels really oppressed, the mother has the pig ears. We did a lot of things like this [throughout the entire movie] to emphasize Baby’s perspective.

HP: I definitely got the sense it was from Baby’s perspective of her mom as very much trying to control her life, even though she is a young adult starting to make her own choices and her way in the world. So, to continue on with that animal theme, I was wondering why the fox, as in both the animated fox running throughout the film and naming one of the lead characters Fox? Why did you choose to use the fox as a symbol of the new life Baby is offered?

ZB: This goes back to Chinese mythology. There’s a folklore with a saying called “huli jing,” which directly translates to someone who is very sexually charged and rocks you in bed—and this often is a woman. [Laughs] And for this female-driven genre film, we wanted to reverse the gender stereotype and have Fox be seen as a “huli jing,” as this sexually-charged being. And to answer your question [on] why Fox runs away? Sometimes, especially in your teenage years, some people are just there to help you grow up. And when they’re done serving their purpose, then you have to be on your own.

HP: It goes back to what you were saying earlier about how sometimes people seek other people out of necessity, just looking for a connection in that moment— especially young adults and teenagers when you get into that realm. I was wondering too, are there any fun stories behind the scenes that you could share?

QZ: Well, in the movie, [the cast is] wearing shorts and T-shirts—but we shot in Seattle in November. [Laughs] There was a reason why they look so gloomy and depressed [in the movie]. Maybe that helps, the coldness. And there’s a scene of Fox lighting a lighter to warm up Baby. That was totally improvised, because Vas was actually cold. [Laughs] So we added the line, “Let’s get in there, it’s freezing!”

An Asian woman with short dark hair wearing a beret. She is seen cupping a flame in her hand, which someone has lit.
Image courtesy of Mad Hound Productions

HP: It’s great how you were able to do that so seamlessly, because that’s totally something Fox would do for Baby; it didn’t feel out of place at all. And has it been a challenge trying to promote Baby, Don’t Cry? I read the director’s statement about how the story itself is very much meant to be a broad theme but also a specific theme when it comes to immigrants. How have you gone about talking about the film, and how would you describe it in a sentence to someone who is curious about Baby, Don’t Cry?

ZB: At its core, Baby, Don’t Cry is a universal story. We all have to grow up at one point, and coming-of-age is never-ending. What’s so specific about Baby, Don’t Cry is that it’s about an immigrant child, and I guess that just speaks for itself. [Laughs]

VP: One of the interviewers we had today said this film feels like a movie for people who are on the outside or have been on the outside, and I think that’s a really good way to sum it up. These are people you would walk by and probably think nothing of, you know? But you get to see into their world and to see what they’re actually like, and I love films that add nuance like that. They make people more three-dimensional.

HP: Oh, for sure. Even the way that certain scenes are shot, it really adds to the intimacy. When you have the close-ups, it feels like we are right there with them—the camera isn’t removed, if that makes sense. It’s not like we’re spectating on them; it’s like we’re in the moment.

QZ: Thank you for saying that. I do feel the movie is very, very cinematically shot, thanks to our DP Adam Lin. I also think the lighting is very brave. Sometimes we lose light entirely just to create her emotional journey, like how she would actually walk into the darkness. And then there’s a smaller light, like from the lighter or some streetlight, [that] just comes out to slowly lighten her up. By the way, shoutout to Jesse, who came up with the very brilliant lighter scene. The scene was improvised by the director and the actors. And I also really want to say [that] Baby, Don’t Cry is a movie about how people will eventually become who they are. You’ll always grow into yourself, and we really hope the movie can give people who are still questioning themselves—because they’re special or different—they can [have] courage in becoming who they are, becoming their real colours.

HP: That’s such a lovely sentiment. And it actually leads well into my final question: What do you hope the audience ultimately takes away from Baby, Don’t Cry after watching it?

ZB: I can’t say anything that tops that. [Laughs] Qiyu said it perfectly.

VP: Along with that, I think every film follows a trajectory of growth in characters. You see them start somewhere, and you see them end somewhere. And you know, I think it’s the same in life. We’re here to grow and learn and get better, and hopefully make things better for people that come after us. If anything can be taken away from the movie, just don’t be afraid to grow, learn, and challenge your surroundings.

HP: It very much is a movie about identity and establishing that sense of self over time. Thank you for taking the time to speak with me today about the film, and I wish all of you the best of luck with it.

QZ: Thank you so much, Hayley. Thank you for covering us.