China Diary

Day 25: Cross-Examination

An actor came to meet with Max. Without revealing any names, he’s a big shot actor here in China, and we are trying to lure him to play one of the key roles in Iron Sky: The Ark. Max’s style is, as I’ve told before, quite interesting: he has developed this story and these characters for many years, and also he’s really aware of what’s working for the Chinese market, and he’s hell bent into making Iron Sky: The Ark a big hit here. I’m the first to sign that ambition, so I’ve given him quite a lot of say over the casting of Chinese actors, since I really don’t know them basically at all outside of the typical Jackie Chan, Chow Yun-Fat and Fan Bing Bing.

So this guy is a big name. Usually, when considering big stars you would expect a huge entourage, a lot of useless waste of time around the persona and expensive taste, but this guy reminded me of a Finnish actor, one of those long-time stage actors who don’t care about the money, or which stars are attached to the project, but actually want to dig deeper into the story. They want to understand what they as an actor can bring to the table, and that I find the best kind of actors to work with.

Actually, come to think of it, there are four types of actors. Number one, and the most usual kind of an actor is an aspiring (young) talent, one looking to make her’s or his first big break. They are willing to do nearly any role, as long as it provides visibility, and want to do it as well as possible. They are easy to work with, but they usually lack the experience and the foothold of the business to really challenge the director to make their role even better.

Secondly, there are the professionals who never made it big. They’ve been in the business a countless years, and they’ve been directed by everyone plus their mothers. They show up, know their lines, do their work and go back home. They’ve lost their interest in pursuing the big stardom, knowing it’s not necessarily about the amount of time, blood, sweat and tears they pour into one role, but more – it’s a numbers game. The more roles you do as well as you can, the more probable it is you find the right director, right role and the right amount of screentime and then, you’re headed for the awards.

Third are of course the big stars. They are very hard to reach because they have an army of agents and managers working for them, so being directly in touch with them is really rare. Before they even read the script the production has had already agreed salary, shooting days and what kind of hotel rooms they want to live in. If all this matches, then it’s the script and only after that there’s a chance to approach them as a director. It makes a lot of sense: there are only a handful of names people know all around the world, and everyone wants them to work in their movies.  If they were to read every script and have every conversation with every director in the world, they’d be doing nothing but that for the rest of their days. Knowing how heartbreaking it can be reading one really bad script, I totally understand the wish to avoid that.

Fourth are the ones I met on Tuesday at Max’s office: hardened professionals who are both stars but in it for the art itself. They go hard on the director, to find out if she or he knows what they are claiming to be doing. They want to have a full trust on the director, on the story and on the character. Sometimes, this can be also very taxing: sometimes, a character doesn’t need to be the deepest, most layered presentation of human flaws and strengths – all you have to do is just go out there and say your lines and get out of there. But in the case of this role, this is exactly what I’m looking for, because it’s a delicate role: the whole film is based on a father-daughter -relationship which goes haywire, and for those little tilting points, turns and curves it takes, we need someone who can really dig into it.

In the end of the lengthy (three hours!) grilling session, he said he does have another six projects lined up, and he’s trying to make the decision between them. Until then, I was having a good feeling that this convo is going strongly, we were agreeing on the character and the way to portray it, but after the cold fact that we are not the only ones with interesting characters in the script in China market, my mood took a tumble. Well, now it’s up to the actor, agent and producer see if anything comes out of it. But if nothing else, being cross-examined by an actor of a specific role is very rare in this business in this depth, so at least there was a lot of things I came to think for the first time, really, and made me prepare better for the job in October.


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