Hiep Thi Le, the actress known for her acclaimed role in Oliver Stone’s 1994 film Heaven and Earth opposite Tommy Lee Jones, died December 19 of complications from stomach cancer, Deadline has learned. She was 46.
Born in Da Nang, Vietnam, an 8-year-old Le and her younger sister were put on a fishing boat by her mother in 1979 to try and reunite with their father in Hong Kong. After a difficult journey, they eventually met him in there and ultimately reunited with her family of nine, taking up residence in Oakland, CA.
While attending the University of California at Davis as a physiology major, Le and her sister attended an open casting call for Heaven and Earth at San Jose State University. Stone ended up nabbing her for the role of author and humanitarian Le Ly Hayslip, with whom she remained close friends in real life. In addition to Jones, the movie starred Joan Chen, the late Haing S. Ngor and Debbie Reynolds as well as a large cast of Asian professionals and non-professional performers. Le received critical praise and became a pioneer of Asian-American actors in mainstream American films.
After Heaven and Earth, she had numerous film and TV roles including Cruel Intentions, Bugis Street, and Green Dragon starring Forest Whitaker and Patrick Swayze.
In addition to acting, Le pursued her passion for cooking and became a celebrated restaurateur and chef. She opened China Beach Bistro in Venice, CA, followed by the French-Vietnamese fusion restaurant Le Cellier in Marina del Rey. In 2014, she was featured as a contestant on the Food Network competition show Chopped.
Le also wrote an unpublished memoir, Daughter of the Sea: My Voyage to Freedom and Womanhood.
She is survived by her husband; two children; six brothers and sisters; and her parents, who now live in Los Angeles.