Blindspot star steps up wing chun training

Actress Jaimie Alexander, playing Jane Doe (left), is set to deliver an action-packed new season of Blindspot.
Actress Jaimie Alexander, playing Jane Doe (left), is set to deliver an action-packed new season of Blindspot.PHOTO: WARNER TV

Hollywood actors are not typically asked to speak Mandarin on screen, which is probably a good thing, given the difficulty non-native speakers have with the Chinese language.

But to play the mysterious Jane Doe in the crime drama Blindspot, Jaimie Alexander has had to wrap her tongue around Mandarin and Cantonese and also feign mastery of the tricky Wenzhou dialect - something that left a big impression on viewers in China last year.

In the pilot episode of the series, which returns for a second season tomorrow on Warner TV (StarHub TV Channel 515, Singtel TV Channel 306), her character is found inside a duffel bag in Times Square, completely naked except for a labyrinth of cryptic tattoos covering her entire body almost head to toe.

With no memory of who she is or how she got there, she is christened "Jane Doe" and ends up working with federal agent Kurt Weller (Strike Back's Sullivan Stapleton) to solve the clues behind each tattoo.

In the process, she discovers she has some surprising abilities, including a mastery of combat skills and languages such as Chinese.

Speaking to The Straits Times in San Diego earlier this year, Alexander - who played the Norse goddess Sif in the Thor movies (2011 and 2013) - says she is game for anything the writers dream up for Jane, whom the show suggests may have been a Navy Seal in the past.

Asked which of the character's astonishing skills she enjoyed learning, the 32-year-old's eyes light up. "All of them!"

"But my favourite is wing chun," she says, referring to a style of gongfu characterised by rapid punches, quick footwork and chess-like tactics.

"I've been studying a lot of it and trained all summer in different martial arts, " she adds, hinting that the upcoming season will be an action- packed one for Jane.

"I learn the fights a lot faster now, which is great. And I really like the efficiency of wing chun, with its minimal movements that require less energy, but are extremely effective.

"So being able to train in that and being centred and focused is one of those things that I'm sharing with the character right now and that I'm learning so much from."

When it comes to Jane's linguistic talents, though, Alexander is not quite as adept, learning just enough to appear to speak a few lines fluently.

"I would love to be able to speak as many languages as her because I love people, I love to talk to everybody and I have such a respect for culture," says the star, who is single after breaking up earlier this year with ex-fiance Peter Facinelli, the 42-year-old actor from the series Nurse Jackie.

Of all the languages that roll off Jane's tongue, Alexander says Chinese has been the toughest.

"That was so hard. First they said, 'So, it's going to be Wenzhounese', which is a very, very rare dialect. And then it was Mandarin and Cantonese, and I was, like, 'Pick one! It's so hard!'"

A scene in which her character helps the Federal Bureau of Investigation translate a clue in Wenzhounese caused the biggest splash in China.

Spoken in the Wenzhou prefecture of Zhejiang province, the obscure tongue is almost unintelligible to Chinese from other parts of the country and, so impenetrable and complex, it was used by the Chinese army as the basis for a military code in World War II.

On social media platforms, the episode that featured it triggered animated discussions of Blindspot among Chinese netizens, boosting the show's profile in the country.

And Jane is not done dazzling viewers with her linguistic abilities.

"There are a few that I'm learning right now for the second season that are very difficult to learn, but that I'm excited about," the actress says. "I cannot say what they are because it will give away a location."

As for what the new season holds for her character, who was arrested by Agent Weller at the end of the last episode, she says: "I'm in a super dark place when we come back.

"And as you can imagine, if you mess with Jane, there's going to be something bad coming your way. So we got to shoot some epic scenes. It was really fun to work with the stunt team and do all that stuff. I can do more stuff than I could last year."

Another thing that is getting easier for her: the ordeal of putting on those temporary tattoos.

"It can take anywhere from 20 minutes to eight hours, it depends how much of my body is showing.

"We have the best relationship, my make-up artist and I. We got a stereo system and a coffee-maker put in the trailer, so we'll be rocking out to Led Zeppelin or the Spice Girls. We have a good time with it."

•Blindspot Season 2 debuts in Singapore tomorrow at 10.40pm on Warner TV (StarHub TV Channel 515, Singtel TV Channel 306).

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 14, 2016, with the headline 'Blindspot star steps up wing chun training'. Print Edition | Subscribe