It's been five months since Xu Cai Gen stunned us with the Chinese feature film, Home Away (directed by Oliver Yan), and we still can't forget his brilliant performance as Mr. Zhou.
After winning Best Performance of Fest award in April 2017, the incredible Mr. Xu (who recently celebrated his 84th birthday) has moved on to new exciting projects.
In the following interview, Mr. Xu shares some of his thoughts about Home Away, storytelling and acting, and he even has some good advice for you.
How did you become an actor?
Initially I was a worker at a printing factory. As an amateur of Chinese Yangko dancer, I joined a local art troupe and participated in some theatrical performance. Later, I was selected and transferred to Shanghai Film Studio because it was short of actors. I never attended any drama school. Some professional actors from the studio helped correct my accent and instructed my performance from time to time. I learned through performing.
What are some of the most memorable roles you got to portray? Are any characters remain with you, from a set into your real life?
I still remember one scene where I was reading a letter to my dead wife. It was her birthday. I bought a cake, sitting beside her empty chair. My tears kept dropping while reading the letter. The director said the emotion came too fast and asked me to keep it slow. So I had to restrain my emotion for a second take. It felt terrible and I told him I could only follow it rather than controlling it. The emotion is real there. As an old man in my eighties, actually,I bring my real life into characters and not vice versa.
Home Away - Official Trailer
How did you prepare for the role of Mr. Zhou in Home Away? What did you enjoy the most about his character?
I didn’t! The story is so real that it entirely speaks my mind. When Mr. Zhou was drunk and poured out his complaint and grief to his son in the street, I also felt relieved as that’s what I want to say to the young, to those daughters and sons leaving their parents alone.
What part of this project or script attracted you to join this project?
I’m a lucky man. I’m 84 years old now and Home Away is my first feature film playing a lead actor. I want to express my gratitude to Oliver Yan because he really understands how the elderly feel in a deep heart. Old people crave for attention and care from sons and daughters; however, most of us were left aside. It’s a social phenomenon. The first time I read the script, I know this writer is speaking for us.
You've worked with many film directors before, and everyone has a slightly different method... What is unique about working with Oliver Yan, and what are some of the things you learned from working on set with him?
In his very first feature film, Oliver Yan did very well in presenting straightforward ideas and instructions to performers and staffs. He always gave us praises or suggestions for adjustment, which gave us confidence and made his requirement more comprehensible.
Home Away was shot in 14 days but had already won and nominated for lots of film festival prizes. What do you think of the cast and film crew? Is there any difference compared to others?
I have to say I was impressed that everyone was devoted to working, got along very well and was treated equally during filming. I have seen selfish people out there. They just care about their own performance, reluctant to cooperate with others, such as practicing the lines, or even showing no respects to seniors. In Home Away, these never happened. It reminds me of my earlier days in Shanghai Film Studio. People were united to work for the film project as a whole.
You are very experienced and have worked with some big-name directors before. Do you ever feel intimated by a project? What's the secret of consistently delivering the perfect performance, like the one we saw in Home Away?
Once I acted as an armed escort who did martial arts in a film. It was too difficult to me so I asked for a stunt double. However, I did it on my own at last because the customized wig for the character was too expensive. It was tough but I made it. My secret is never taking any performance lightly even when you are just a bit-part player. Always read through the script and prepare well whether you are a leading actor or not.
What kind of movies and TV do you like to work on? Is there a specific genre you enjoy the most (drama, comedy, etc)?
I’d like to work on those educational and informative movies and TVs. Family ethical and historical film are my choices. I note that young people like films just because their idols are playing in it. Sometimes I can’t understand why they are so delighted in the theater. It is the story attracting me most rather than film stars.
You probably get asked this a lot - what advice would you give to aspiring actors?
Being an actor is wonderful as your job is to be on the screen. If you make a great performance, the audience would recognize and remember you. However, not everyone could be the leading actor. Although you might be a minor part without speaking lines, you should always do your best. For a minor role, you should do even better.
Are you working on other projects currently?
In a film memorizing revered Chinese Judge Zou, I acted as a dumb tangled in a civil action and finally received justice from him. Besides, I also worked on Uta Is Not A Stray Dog, a co-produced film by China and Japan, which is similar to Hachi: A Dog's Tale.
Is there anything else you'd like to share?
Thank you Actors Awards. Thank you for your recognition of Home Away and my performance as well. Hope audience can also see this film in the States. I would appreciate it if you visit your parents and understand them after watching this film. In the end, we all grow old.