Taiwanese actor-turned-director Peter Ho says being the guy calling the shots behind the camera helped him better communicate with his collaborators. 

Ho, 46, won Best Director at the Golden Bell Awards for the 2018 teenagers-gone-wild drama Age of Rebellion. He’s also best known for starring opposite Fann Wong in 1999’s The Truth About Jane and Sam.

His latest, Who’s by Your Side, is a hard-to-classify, odd 10-part series that explores the relationship issues and marital challenges confronting a troubled married couple played by Kaiser Chuang and Vivian Hsu.

​​​​​​​The source material is a horror novel, but in his adaptation, Ho decided to dial down on the fright factor (“down to maybe 5 per cent”) to focus more on the human nature and dynamics in the story.

Chatting with over Zoom in Mandarin, Ho explains, “I’m interested in exploring the dark side of humanity. The title itself says it all: When you’re helpless, who’s going to rough it out with you? Is that the person you really want to be with in your darkest hour?”  

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Between takes: Peter Ho on the set of 'Who's By Your Side' with (from left) Chiao Yuan Yuan, Vivian Hsu and Kaisen Chuang. Ho says shooting the show under COVID-19 compliant conditions was a major challenge. “We were making this during a face-mask shortage,” he says. “Luckily, we had enough face masks. Every day, I was worried that someone in the crew or cast could be infected and that means the set would be shut down. To finish one day’s filming with without an infection was a blessing.” 

Has becoming a director made Ho a better actor?

“I think my acting skills are still okay,” he says. “This does, however, make it easier for me to talk to them in terms of what they specifically want from my performance. I can even step in to help them on set, if they allow me to contribute.”  

On the other hand, Ho’s acting background is a great asset to tap on as a writer/director.  

“When I am writing the script, I can visualise what the actors can and cannot do,” he says. “Because I know every trick in the book, I can help them avoid acting cliches. Take crying, for instance.”

He continues, “Crying on-screen is exhausting. I am constantly looking for new ways to express sorrow, ways which I can easily to communicate to the actors and play to their strengths.”

What’s the best way to make actors cry — and there’s a lot of crying on Who’s By Your Side?  

“The actor must first respond to the script emotionally,” Ho explains. “I’d also try to make the set as comfortable for them as I can, so there’s no pressure for them to cry.”

 Ho would also keep the shoot as simple as possible.

“There’s a tendency for directors to film crying scenes with multiple takes from different angles,” he says. “I prefer to do it in one take to keep things intimate. The multiple angle/take set-up is more suitable for action scenes, not emotional ones.”

Elsewhere, Ho also praises Hsu’s commitment to her role — by putting on 7kg. Was it tough to talk her into doing it? 

Not at all, says Ho, chuckling. “Vivian is a professional and she knows that to make her character — an auntie who works in a supermarket, with no time to look after herself believable — she has to make that transformation. That 7kg is the perfect gain.”

He adds, “Who would turn down the chance to gain weight for a role? It’s the perfect excuse to indulge in all kinds of food?”

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Identity crisis: Ho in a scene with Fann Wong in 1999’s ‘The Truth About Jane And Sam’. In the Derek Yee-directed romantic drama, Ho, then 23, played a Singaporean while Wong a Hongkonger. Ho recalls, “For a few years after the movie, many mainland Chinese and Hongkongers actually thought I was from Singapore!”

Who’s By Your Side? Is now streaming on HBO Go, with new episodes dropping every Sunday. It’s also on HBO (Singtel TV Ch 420, StarHub Ch 601), 9pm. The Truth About Jane and Sam is available on Netflix.

 Photos: HBO Go