Thursday, January 10, 2013

Interview with veteran TV actor Wilson Tsui: Finally ‘promoted’ to male lead

There’s a Chinese saying that goes something like this: ‘A fish that experiences different ponds becomes more fertile.’

In the 33 years that he worked for TVB, veteran actor Wilson Tsui (艾威) was only considered a ‘several hundred dollar per show’ green leaf king – at most. But 4 months ago, when he decided to ‘jump out of the pond’ and join rival station HKTV (formerly CTI), his ‘worth’ immediately increased tenfold and with barely a need for convincing, he has finally achieved a position that eluded him for years: leading male actor.

Throughout the ‘making’ of television history in the past few decades, many people have had important roles – examples in the recent decade include Ricky Wong (王維基), Wayne Lai (黎耀祥), Lee Tim Sing (李添勝), etc. The great effort and ‘fighting spirit’ of people like them have been an inspiration to many of the ‘small workers’ who desire to strive for the best and continue to struggle their way up to the top. Wilson Tsui is precisely one of these ‘small workers’ who received such ‘enlightenment’ – the birth of a new TV station will hopefully become one of those ‘once in a thousand years’ opportunities that can give many ‘small workers’ in the industry new hope and a chance to realize their dreams.

Currently, with the first dawn of this new era, 57 year old Wilson Tsui is finally able to realize a dream – that of becoming a lead actor.

Waiting quietly for talent to be recognized

Having taken the time to dress up and prepare for the interview, Wilson had an especially cheerful aura about him, a rare feeling of happiness and satisfaction that he hadn’t experienced in a while. Towards his new work environment and new job position, Wilson has nothing but praise: “There’s less pressure, more space, and lots of freedom – I’m very satisfied with the environment I’m in right now. Even though many of the people I currently work with are old colleagues whom I’m already familiar with, many things have changed and it’s because of these changes that I’m finally able to reach the ‘first line’ level -- I firmly believe that if I had remained in the ‘old world’ [at TVB], it would have been impossible for this [getting a lead role] to happen. Today, the ‘transformation’ I’ve experienced can be considered a success, but if I hadn’t taken that step [leaving TVB], I know that I would never get the opportunity to climb to this position and never would have a breakthrough.”

The people may be the same, but Wilson himself has definitely changed. Getting to ‘taste’ the feeling of being a ‘leading actor’ for the first time, Wilson expressed: “In the past, I was a ‘border’-line artist: not first line, nor second line either, but rather ‘stuck’ on the border between second and third line – if I didn’t leave, that would have been my ‘fate’ at TVB forever. So to me, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity – of course my goal is to get to ‘first line’, but even if that doesn’t exactly happen, at least the effort was made and I was given the opportunity. I guess you could say that at the current moment, my ‘dream’ has been realized, since in the new series Three Sides of Shape Doctors (三面形醫), I get to be one of the main doctors alongside Frankie Lam (林文龍) and John Chiang (姜大偉) – it may not be the main leading role, but at least it’s a leading role.”

When he was little, Wilson and his family lived in a flat right above the Hollywood Theatre, so watching movies became one of his favorite past-times. Being a super movie fan since childhood, it’s no surprise that over the years, he cultivated an interest in acting; in 1978, Wilson was accepted to TVB’s Acting Class – his classmates that year include Kent Tong (湯鎮業) and Liu Kai Chi (廖啟智). Reflecting on his years at TVB, Wilson expressed that his ‘golden opportunity’ period was very short-lived: “When I filmed Plain Love (情濃大地) with Gallen Lo (羅嘉良) and Eddie Cheung (張兆輝), I played the main villain and the reaction [from audiences] was pretty good – not sure why the momentum didn’t continue on in later series. Perhaps I was just lacking a person who understood me and could recognize the potential -- you know, like how Wayne [Lai] had Tim Gor [producer Lee Tim Sing] – someone who understood and was willing to continue working with you until you made it to the top and everyone else recognized the talent too. I seemed to lack this type of supportive ‘partner’.”

With his passive and introverted personality, Wilson expressed that at one point, he ‘forced’ himself to accept the many ‘unwritten rules’ that exist in the TV industry, but in the end, things didn’t turn out favorable: “Some producers dislike artists who try to ‘sell’ themselves, so most of the time, others do the ‘selling’ for the artists. One time, I found out there was a character that the producer wanted to cast me in, but because some people who didn’t like me had an ‘opinion’ about it, I ended up losing the opportunity. At TVB, the decision of who gets to play what type of characters is usually controlled by a select few people and over time, it’s really these few people who ‘call all the shots’ – if your viewpoint happens to be different from these select few or they don’t know you that well, that’s how a lot of the opportunities could be lost.”

Ambitious, hopes to have a hand in creating a miracle

Looking at some of the TV industry ‘success’ stories from the past years, definitely causes one to reflect: CTI chairman Ricky Wong started his telecom business from scratch and after building it into a successful empire, decides to sell his ‘son’ [the telecom business] in order to start a new venture of building a TV station; Wayne Lai, who started off as an unknown ‘kelefe’ actor, worked hard for decades to refine his acting and eventually climbed his way to the top, becoming 3-time TV King; even ‘golden’ producer Lee Tim Sing, who started as a lowly worker in the props department, slowly worked his way up and at one point, even served as TVB’s Head Director of Production [back in the late 80s/early 90s]. For Wilson, these types of ‘success’ stories are a source of inspiration and part of the reason why he deeply believes that ‘miracles’ do happen: “It’s just like winning the lottery – with some luck and these types of inspirational stories, it’s definitely motivation for ‘small workers’ like me to want to work hard and advance to that level. Sure, some people may feel that I’m being too ambitious – after all, I don’t have the looks nor the qualifications, plus my age – with all the external factors, I know that people will laugh at me. Perhaps people may think that I can’t get to a high position, but just like any other consummate actor, all we hope for is being able to play a good character that has a deep impact on audiences. What types of roles have this impact? Usually the lead roles, as those are the roles that get you recognized and have the most opportunity for development. There’s no reason for me to put myself down and say that I can never get to that type of position – others can say that about me, no problem, but I should never say that about myself – it’s important to have confidence!”

Not afraid of getting on a ‘sinking boat’

Even with the issuance of new free TV licenses at a standstill currently, Wilson still gets his salary from HKTV on time every month -- however he still very much dissatisfied with the sluggish manner in which the government has handled the matter: “I’ve never been to a place where there is only one active TV station and the other one is just a ‘shell’ – and I thought HK was supposed to be an ‘international’ and modern city? The reality is, a television ‘revolution’ and the issuance of more licenses is inevitable if we want to catch up with the rest of the world. Hopefully the government is able to handle this matter in a harmonious manner. It’s not about ‘eliminating’ any particular TV station, but rather it’s a matter of responsibility on the part of the government to promote the growth of the TV industry -- they shouldn’t be waiting until there are so many complaints and criticisms to issue the licenses. Having more TV stations and opportunities is supposed to be a happy thing!”

With HKTV not having its license yet, there’s a ‘risk’ that the boat might sink – towards this, Wilson expressed: “It has never been a concern for me – I still do my job of filming series. I can tell you that the morale of all my colleagues over here is very high and everyone from top to bottom is very united.” With the infectious unity and positive spirit that the HKTV team possesses, it’s no wonder that even Wilson himself was ‘moved’ to personally attend HKTV’s promotional rallies to pass out fliers: “Production is truly taken very seriously here and our boss is very willing to spend whatever money is necessary to achieve high quality filming. Majority of the series are filmed in real locations and even if sets need to be built, they are all ‘working’ sets. For example, when filming Three Sides of Shape Doctors, $700,000 was spent building a medical clinic set at the Shing Fung Film Studio – all the faucets had actual running water, the computers were all real and capable of going online, and we were able to plug our I-phones into all the working outlets to charge! Earlier, for the series Hakka Women (客家女人), we traveled to MeiZhou (in Fukien, China) so we could film inside a real life Hakka village! Real location filming allows both the cast and crew to more fully immerse ourselves in the filming, which results in a very sincere, high quality production for audiences.”


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