Photos: Tammi Tan
Video: Goh Wen Kai
For most folks, the thought of starting over after spending almost two decades climbing to the top of the career ladder is worse than any horror movie. All that blood, sweat and tears, only to find yourself as a newbie again? No, thanks.
Local veteran actor Tay Ping Hui, however, sees venturing into the bigger, more competitive China market as “a good opportunity to start from the basics, but with years of training”. The 47-year-old recently became the first Singapore artiste to sign with China-based entertainment company Perfect World Pictures, and his first project with them will be a Chinese period drama called Handsome Siblings.
Of course, Ping Hui is no stranger to working in that part of the region. He recently garnered rave reviews for his portrayal of Genghis Khan in Chinese blockbuster The Legend of the Condor Heroes. In an interview with Toggle after yesterday’s press conference announcing his transition, he summed up his eight-month experience filming in Hengdian and Lanzhou as “humbling”.
“If you’re honest about it, I’m a nobody there,” he said. “So in a way, I’m going over as a starter (I call myself a bottom feeder), which allows me to reboot certain things I’ve taken for granted here, and as much as there are challenges and difficulties, it also excites me. I’ve learned a lot, and I’ve also benefitted greatly [from this experience].”
This development doesn’t mean goodbye for Ping Hui and Mediacorp (he will continue to be on long-form drama Tanglin and take on new shows if his schedule permits), nor for him and Singapore, which he reiterated will always be his home despite needing to jet to the Middle Kingdom more frequently for work.
Another upcoming project on Ping Hui’s plate is Perfect World Pictures’ remake of beloved classic The Awakening, although the company’s CEO John Ho said that as the script is still being finalised, they are unable to provide more specific details about the star’s involvement.
Both parties were also unsurprisingly tight-lipped regarding Ping Hui’s new salary, although Ping Hui cheekily confirmed that he is “very happy” with it and, “If I told you, you would be shocked, so I shan’t say anything.” He remained just as evasive about his pay during our one-on-one chat, quipping, “Can I tell you how much I wish I were paid instead?”
Well, can’t say we didn’t try.
Read on to find out if Ping Hui wishes this valuable chance to expand overseas came about when he was younger, what he would and would not be willing to do (plastic surgery? nude scenes?), his advice to younger actors wanting to follow in his footsteps, and more:
Toggle: When did Perfect World Pictures approach you with the contract, and was it difficult for you to decide to join them?
Ping Hui: It’s always been an on-and-off discussion so it was kind of a gradual process. I decided to join them the day my contract with Mediacorp ended (on February 28 this year), but having to open the door and walk out of somewhere I consider my home took a lot of consideration, so I did go through that period of contemplation to weigh the pros and the cons and ask a lot of questions about the future.
Did you speak to your wife before making your decision?
It’s purely my decision, but she told me that any choice I make will be respected and will be mine alone. There was no opposition, no “oh, you’re going to leave us” – it was just “okay, go”, which was quite cool.
Do you wish you were given this opportunity to expand overseas when you were much younger instead?
No. I prefer to go now because my maturity, experience and what I’ve learned have equipped me so much better. Now, I’m more comfortable taking on challenges and facing the tigers, lions and sharks than I was many years ago.
Did you ever feel bullied or taken advantage of as a “newbie” in China?
No, they gave me a lot of respect. First of all, I don’t look like a newbie; secondly, there is an inherent respect for actors over there, especially for those of a certain age.
Frankly speaking, do you find yourself too old to be doing this now?
I think [I’m fine] as long as I make the effort to stay young and not get too fat, plus I believe there is a market for men in their 40s in China, so ironically, old is also gold, but no, I don’t think I’m too old. I’m mature as an actor and I’m happy to be this way.
Does that mean there’ll be added pressure for you to look good?
It’s always a challenge because number one, I love to eat, and number two, I don’t really like to exercise [rolls eyes]. But if there is a role that I need to get in shape for, then I will do it because it’s part of the job. Actually, I’m glad I’m in this industry because if there was no need for me to maintain my physique, I would probably weigh 150 kilograms right now and won’t be able to get out of bed. (laughs)
Would you ever consider going for cosmetic procedures?
No lah, I’m scared of needles and knives. I’m au naturel so far.
What’s something you would never do for a role? Is there something you would draw the line at?
If it’s for the character and storyline and is justifiable, why not? We can talk about some really gross stuff – I have a few images in my head that are not suitable for the screen – but I really don’t have a bottom line as an actor. [What about nude scenes and bedroom scenes?] You’d have to give me some time to train up, but why not?
Perfect World Pictures has co-produced a number of Hollywood blockbusters. Do you see joining them as a stepping stone to Hollywood?
If the opportunity [to act in a Hollywood film] comes up, I’m quite confident my language skills can bring me over, and that my acting skills will not let me be stepped all over. But yes, I would love to do an English movie. That would be really cool.
What is your advice to others, especially younger actors, who wish to follow in your footsteps to go overseas?
You’re not as good as you think you are and not as popular as you think you are, so keep your feet on the ground and your head securely on your shoulders. I think that’s the simplest and most direct way of putting it.