Ten years ago, Amanda Schull became America’s dance sweetheart when she portrayed sweet, innocent and oh-so-talented Jody Sawyer in Center Stage. Now, she’s back, as Elizabeth Mackey in Mao’s Last Dancer, a film about Chinese dancer Li Cunxin’s journey from poverty to international stardom (it’s based on a true story!). But don’t expect to see Schull sporting shiny red pointe shoes in the film—she does more acting than dancing this time around. DS caught up with Schull to chat about life since Center Stage and making it in the movie biz.
Dance Spirit: Tell us about your character in Mao’s Last Dancer.
Amanda Schull: Elizabeth Mackey is a student at the Houston Ballet School. She meets Li when he first arrives from China and they fall in love. The role Elizabeth played in Li’s life is one of support. She embodied first love for him in a new, exciting, fresh way.
DS: Why should we see the film?
AS: The movie is a love story, but it’s also Li’s story. It’s about perseverance, inspiration and what a person can overcome and accomplish. When I saw the film in its entirety at the Toronto International Film Festival, I was enraptured the entire time. The set design, the location, the music—it’s all so beautiful. At the end of the showing, the entire audience stood on its feet. I was crying, finally realizing what Li had gone through. It makes any issues in your own life seem so petty.
DS: What’s your advice for dancers who want to act?
AS: A lot of people get into acting to become a celebrity, but to be an actor—to be a good actor—is very challenging. I take acting classes and I’m constantly studying other actors and analyzing their performances. It’s just as tough to be a good actor as it is to be a good dancer! So find the right teacher, classes, agent and manager and hopefully the stars will align.
Photo of Amanda Schull and Chi Cao in Mao's Last Dancer by Simon Cardwell/Samuel Goldwyn Films.