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Murray Clive on acting in China

Murray Clive is a burgeoning Beijing-based actor who originally hails from South Africa. With recorder in hand, I waited for him in a pizzeria that lacked any natural light thanks to the smoggy, overcast day. When he finally arrived dressed in shorts, T-shirt and thongs, somehow the depressing atmosphere lifted ever so slightly.

Being an actor in China

Q: You look much younger in person.

A: Looking young is not necessarily a good thing. In China, the older you are, the more jobs you get. There are not many foreign roles for twenty-year-olds due to the historical themes of many Chinese productions.

Q: Why don’t you go to Hollywood where Caucasian actors typically get the lead roles? Aren’t you good-looking enough?

A: To be successful in Hollywood, you need a lot more than that. The competition is incredibly fierce and even seasoned actors wait tables to make ends meet.

Q: How did you choose to be an actor in China?

A: I didn’t choose China, China chose me. Basically, I just arrived and realized how big the industry is. Here I get to enjoy a lot more screen time (上镜机会) and am therefore able to hone my skills bit by bit. I really like acting, and the Chinese market is the biggest in the world. The opportunities are only increasing as the rest of the world realizes how much China has to offer.

Q: How long have you been in Beijing?

A: I moved to Beijing about six years ago after having studied Chinese in Taiwan. Before that I trained in Canada at various acting schools.

Murray Clive with famous Chinese actress Jiang Qinqin (蒋勤勤) in a movie called First Target (一号目标). Photo: Courtesy of Murray Clive

Q: You’ve had some major roles, taken part in some big productions and worked with a few top actors here in China. What is your overall opinion on acting in China?

A: There are many positive things that I’ve already mentioned. Of course it’s not always easy adapting to the Chinese set environment. I take my job very seriously and basically, I just want to be treated like a professional. Don’t treat me like a student or an English teacher. I’m an actor. So treat me like one. I don’t like it when the crew assume I’m inexperienced or that I can’t speak Chinese or that I have no idea about life in China. Of course they may have worked with those types before, but there’s no need to paint all foreigners with the same brush. I love China, I love Chinese and I love acting and it’s important for people to recognize that. Let’s not fixate on our differences. We’re here to shoot a movie so let’s do that.

Q: You speak great Chinese and you seem well-accustomed to local life. Are there things that annoy you?

A: (chuckles) I hate being called a Laowai (老外) because that term just reeks of cliché and stereotype.

Q: Does this branding affect your career?

A: Yes, referring to you as a laowai implies that you’re an outsider first and a fellow human being second. I would prefer it to be the other way around. Now how does this relate to acting? Well here’s an anecdote.  I went to a huge TV show gala and when I was walking down the red carpet, the presenter introduced me as ‘international actor’ and then later referred to me as ‘foreign friend’. I also went to a charity event that was tied to a TV show that I had just shot. When I went up on stage, they didn’t use my Chinese name but my character name from the show to introduce me.  How are you supposed to build a brand if you’re called ‘foreign friend’ or some other fictitious name?

Murray Clive in the movie First Target (一号目标). Photo: Courtesy of Murray Clive

Q: Do you prefer working on movies or TV shows?

A: TV shows pay better but artistically speaking, movies are far superior. Unfortunately, I’m not at the level where I have the luxury of choice. Last year I was blessed enough to work with Dolph Lundgren and Scott Adkins in a 3D movie called ‘Legendary’ (传奇). It will be out in August this year.

Q: Tell us more about it.

A: Well it’s a British-Chinese co-production. It’s about a giant reptile that has somehow managed to survive in a remote lake in China since the Jurassic era. When workers start building nearby, this creature develops a taste for human flesh. A trophy hunter, played by Dolph Lundgren, is called in to deal with the problem. I play Chuck, Dolph’s dim-witted and cowardly sidekick.

Q: There seems to be a lot of co-productions being shot here.

A: Yes there are. In order to capture the biggest audience, this movie has a foreign director and screenwriter, a Chinese and western crew and cast and all Chinese locations. It pretty much ticks all the boxes for maximum appeal and therefore maximum returns. Hopefully the story will be engaging. Oh, and it’s in 3D and the Chinese theatre goers are crazy about 3D.

Murray Clive with action star Dolph Lundgren (道夫龙格尔) in a 3D movie called Legendary (传奇). Photo: Courtesy of Murray Clive

Q: So you obviously hope to work on more of these co-productions?

A: Sure. There’s basically no need to go to Hollywood because Hollywood is coming here.

Q: When you’re not shooting how do you spend your time?

A: If you don’t find something to do with your downtime you can go crazy. So it’s important to work on your own projects. I still study Chinese. And I’m doing a very part-time philosophy degree. But most of the time I’m chipping away at a sitcom idea that I plan to shoot this year.

Q: Can I ask what it’s about?

A: Two foreigners trying to get setup in Beijing and all the cultural stuff they have to adapt to. I Iove good comedy and I’m hoping this will have a ‘Friends’-like feel although that’s no easy task. All the dialogue, including foreigner-to-foreigner will be in Chinese. I too am hoping for maximum appeal and therefore maximum return. (laughs)

Q: How do you think this will benefit you?

A: As a foreigner, you can’t just rely on agents to get you jobs and build your career. That route will take too long. There are other platforms on which you can showcase your skills and get exposure. That’s another beautiful thing about China – the possibility of going viral is one great idea away.

Murray Clive in a TV series called Locking in the US Envoy (锁定美军特使) . Photo: Courtesy of Murray Clive

Living in Beijing

Q: Do you prefer speaking Chinese or English?

A: We are in China, right? (smiles) I like a healthy cultural and language exchange. It annoys me when friends insist on speaking English for their sole benefit.  It’s nice to share.

Q:  How do you feel about your life in Beijing?

A: It’s pretty tiring. Look outside, the air and traffic. Thank God I’m on my own. Raising a family here would be rough.

Q: Why do you say that?

A: Well let’s just say my kid was sick. If it was winter I’d wait for ages to get a taxi. Then I’d be stuck in traffic. Then when I got to the hospital I would have to go from here to there then back to here and then over there. And if my kid’s condition wasn’t serious before we arrived, it would be by the time we left.

Q: If you did leave Beijing, where would you go?

A: Shanghai probably. I like Shanghai. But I don’t think I will leave anytime soon. There is just too much going on here. Besides, my heart is in Beijing.

Murray Clive (穆雷克), outside the pizzeria where the interview was held.  Photo: by Rebecca Lin

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