Christopher Lee’s advice to young actors: work on your language

What went on at multi-award winning actor Christopher Lee’s acting master class

Christopher conducted a one-day sharing session with his peers in Mediacorp
Christopher conducted a one-day sharing session with his peers in Mediacorp
16 Nov 2017

Christopher conducted a one-day sharing session with his peers in Mediacorp

Christopher Lee may have picked up numerous acting gongs over the course of his 22-year-long career, but he did not enjoy acting when he first entered showbiz in the mid ‘90s.

The multiple Star Award winner only developed a genuine love for the craft 10 years after he joined the industry, during the period he was filming You Are The One in 2005. He had finally understood the nuances for acting and had fallen hook, line and sinker for it.

In his words, “I never looked back.”

As someone who did not receive any formal training in acting, it was no wonder the Star Search 1995 1st male runner-up wanted to share and impart some of his experiences with his peers so that they could avoid “going the long way” like he did and focus on bringing their A-game to work.

He also wanted to pay it forward, like how Xie Shao Guang and other veteran actors had helped him in the past, said Chris. “I acted with him (Shao Guang) a few times before and they don’t necessarily have to teach us anything - sometimes just observing them act on set is in itself a form of chance [to learn]. And when we act, they will help by giving us pointers.”

A sharing session, attended by close to 30 actors, was quickly organised after a conversation Chris had with Chong Liung Man, Head of Chinese Drama Productions. This is the second workshop helmed by an actor, following former actor Shao Guang’s “return” in September.

We got to sit in during the last one and a half hours of the session yesterday and witnessed Chris doling out heaps of helpful advice and solutions to problems encountered by younger actors like Ian Fang, Carrie Wong, Jeffrey Xu, Felicia Chin and Teddy Tang, to name a few.

(Continued on next page: The most important area local actors need to work on)

Attendees at Christopher's acting workshop
Attendees at Christopher's acting workshop
16 Nov 2017

Attendees at Christopher's acting workshop

On top of clearing their doubts on what to do - or not do, he also advised them not to wear cosmetic contact lenses (because our eyes are the windows to our soul and the key to establishing a ‘connection’ with viewers) and to study their lines at home before going on set (so that they will be well-prepared for all sorts of curveballs).

One point he repeatedly emphasised to the group was the importance of being fluent in Mandarin.

According to Chris, having a good grasp of the language is one of the key factors to being a good actor. He even recommended that the young actors engage language coaches or sign up for classes, like he did when he was younger, to improve their diction and enunciation.

When we remarked about his improved fluency in the language, Chris modestly replied that it was still “considered poor” compared to actors from other Chinese markets, with “a lot of room for improvement.”

“Once you are strong [in a language], you are able to take on more difficult roles,” he quipped, during an interview with Toggle after the session. “Of course we all know how to emote – and that is something that Singaporean actors are good at, but we are lacking a conducive environment [to learn the language] because of our speech habits in our daily lives, [especially since] our culture is made up of a mish-mash of languages.

“We may be good at being conversational in a local context, but things get challenging when we are required to speak in a formal setting, like an office environment,” he explained.

(Continued on next page: Why its important to memorise one's lines but not rehearse them at home)

Christopher sharing his experiences with the attendees at the sharing session
Christopher sharing his experiences with the attendees at the sharing session
16 Nov 2017

Christopher sharing his experiences with the attendees at the sharing session

He also advised young actors not to take criticisms and negative comments made by netizens to heart, and encouraged them to “work together” as a team on set towards the common goal of producing a good show because “no man is an island.”

“These (negative comments) may have existed many years ago, but because our lives are so intricately linked to these [social media] platforms now, we are constantly exposed to it. Take for example, when you watch a movie, 10 out of 50 moviegoers may not like it and that’s very normal. What’s important is [the desire] to constantly upgrade ourselves,” he said.

While he emphasised the importance of prepping one’s lines at home before going on set, Chris shared that he and his wife Fann Wong have never rehearsed their lines together at home while filming upcoming Channel 8 drama series, Doppelganger.

In fact, “rehearsing” is something he doesn’t encourage because it may end up constraining an actor’s performance and expression due to the difference in atmosphere at home and on set.

“I guess we can be considered ‘old birds’ by now (chuckles), so we know how each other would play a role, but what’s different in this case is we haven’t worked together for more than 10 years, so we would have both grown in different ways too. I realised she has grown and I really enjoyed what she brought to set, plus there were new sparks…

Another reason why the married couple never rehearsed their lines at home? “Because there’s too much happening at home!” he laughed, indirectly implying that their hands are full with their 3-year-old ‘Zed Zed.’

In case you’re wondering if the queen of his heart is lavished with special treatment when they work together, the answer is no.

“She may live with me, but how I treat her is like how I’d treat the other actors I work with when we’re on set.”

Doppelganger Prequel debuts February 6, 2018 at 9.30pm on Toggle.
Doppelganger Prequel – The Telemovie debuts March 11, 2018 at 7pm on Channel 8.
Doppelganger debuts March 13, 2018 at 9pm on Channel 8.

What is one thing Christopher learned from his younger peers?
What is one thing Christopher learned from his younger peers?
16 Nov 2017

What is one thing Christopher learned from his younger peers?

"I think we need to listen to them and that’s a mantra that I live by since I started acting. No matter the actor’s age, even if he is much younger than me, I need to understand his thoughts because what he presents his point of view based on his age... What he suggests is something I need to react to, unless its something technical that he can’t do, or he is unable to present the emotions that he needs, then I will help him to my best efforts. But I’d need to listen to them still."

Group shot of the attendees at the sharing session
Group shot of the attendees at the sharing session
16 Nov 2017

Group shot of the attendees at the sharing session

The actors took a group picture with the Chairman of Mediacorp, Ernest Wong, CEO Tham Loke Kheng and CFO Jamie Ang, who dropped by while doing an office tour with guests from Temasek Holdings.

Photo: The Celebrity Agency

Singapore-China co-production 'Palm of Ru Lai' (2004)
Singapore-China co-production 'Palm of Ru Lai' (2004)
16 Nov 2017

Singapore-China co-production 'Palm of Ru Lai' (2004)

"A time [in my career] that was a big turning point was when I filmed Palm of Ru Lai. I remember the director spoke to me and I was so relaxed from our chat that I could feel that what I presented (or acted out) then and before was completely different."

Channel 8 drama 'You Are The One' (2005)
Channel 8 drama 'You Are The One' (2005)
16 Nov 2017

Channel 8 drama 'You Are The One' (2005)

Chris called the period he was filming You Are The One as the era he gained 'acting enlightenment.' It wasn't the show that led to it, he clarified, "But it was during this period that fell deeply in love with acting and never looked back." 

Related:
Xie Shao Guang conducts acting workshop for young artistes
Christopher Lee’s Golden Bell Awards loss upset son?
Fann Wong, Christopher Lee’s son makes cameo in Doppelganger

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