It didn’t come easy. It took years and years of pushing and being pushed. I was too shy and I cared too much. Warning: pretentious cliche saying up ahead. As an actor you really need to let go and lose enough of yourself to become another person. It was either that, or becoming vulnerable enough to expose your true self in the shell of a character. It feels easy enough to drown in the emotions when you’re watching it on screen, but the truth is actors don’t get any soundtrack or editing while on set to help them feel different from what they are actually experiencing. It’s unnatural to have been running around all day doing random stuff (because actors really do do the weirdest of things to put food on the table), and suddenly just become another person living another life. We get good days and bad days, easy scenes and difficult scenes, but it still takes skills, practice, and can be very exhausting.
For me, doing a scene where there’s something big going on is easy. Crying, heart broken: I wouldn’t say it’s easy, but it’s okay. Scared: a little more difficult (I was once told by a director he wants to see my pupils dilate in a close-up; have yet to master that one). Drunk: kind of easy. Happy, curious, gossiping, angry, all relatively easy. Candid, by comparison, is level 999 for me. Sure, there’s something happening in every scene, but when it’s not one where your character needs to be actively doing something, that is really hard. On this front I think supporting actors’ jobs are much harder than the leads’. Standing around doing nothing while pretending to be someone else is not something that comes naturally. You don’t want to overthink it, but you also need to be in character.
Over dinner with my TVB (ex)colleagues, we started talking about whether we ever feel completely happy with our scenes. I asked because it’s been so long I think I have forgotten. The nutshell answer is: no, and if it does happen it’s almost a once-in-a-lifetime kind of deal. I guess it’s like throwing a ball, as you’re doing it you know if that’s going to be a good pass or not. Yet sometimes we fluke and it comes out amazing, or finish a scene feeling like a million dollars just to be embarrassed to know that was caught on tape. Sometimes our insecurities kick in and we watch playbacks being completely horrified at the way we looked (*ahem* ugly crying), but then your team or sometimes even after months, the audience reassures you with feedback so positive it keeps you going for days. Perhaps one of the biggest questions for everyone in production is whether it matters you’ve done a good job if the audience doesn’t appreciate it; or the other way around – do you pat yourself on the back if you made something really shit that people loved?
For those who love to act, it’s a great feeling to be challenged to do better, but not everyone feels that way. I might be stepping on some toes here but as snobby as this sounds, there is a huge difference between actors who do it for the fame and those who do it for the love of it. Acting is exhausting emotionally and physically – as soon as I turned 15 and it was legal for me to work pass 11PM, I got scheduled on for a 30-hour set – and if you’re just doing it as a job, you just want to get everything over and done with as quickly as possible. You would get frustrated at how long lighting takes, or how many times you need to rehearse, or that some ‘asshole’ actor wants a retake. I don’t say this to imply I love acting the most or that I was the greatest; I’m far from it. I definitely fell in the trap of wanting to rush everything because I was exhausted. Sometimes, it’s even because I lacked the professionalism to take a shitty project seriously enough to want to give it my all.
To be completely honest, I think we’ve all been there. This is why it feels like you’ve found your soulmate when you work with a dedicated crew you see eye to eye with and have immense respect for. You push each other and the team spirit soars so high you wouldn’t even dream of giving anything less than 100%. I have stood on set on camera back straight and everything with no lines for 5 hours while the leads did their thing, not just because I had no choice, but because this was the one set of crew I loved and had nothing but respect for. As cheesy as it sounds, it was my honor to be there. It was an even greater honor to be reminded by the producer and directors to stretch and take a break, because you know what, you didn’t bitch about it and they appreciate and respect you for it (also because they knew my job isn’t really to just stand there and do nothing).
So yes, when you find the love for what you do, jumping off the roof of an 11-storey building, diving into the ocean when it’s only 6c, or wearing 5 thick layers when it’s 40c out feels like nothing but another achievement. It’s a great feeling.