Thursday, September 20, 2012
TVB’s currently airing drama series Divas in Distress《巴不得媽媽》caused beauty pageant winner Eliza Sam (岑麗香) to become the new ‘Golden [Discussion Forum] Goddess’, but at the same time, it also brought about unexpected popularity for veteran actor Koo Ming Wah (古明華) [known as ‘Koo Lo’ (古佬) to his friends and colleagues], who plays the effeminate character ‘So Gay’ (蘇基) in the series. Since the series aired, Koo Lo has garnered tremendous praise for his performance, with netizens creating a ‘One Person One Like – Support So Gay for an Award’ Facebook page, showing their support for him to win in either the ‘Most Improved Actor’ or ‘Best Supporting Actor’ categories at the TVB Anniversary Awards this year. Within a matter of days, the Facebook page received over 60,000 ‘Like’ votes and over 900 comments praising Koo Lo’s performance – despite becoming an ‘overnight sensation’, the 48 year old actor reveals that he’s not sure how to react to the sudden popularity.
Take today’s interview for instance – when we asked him to do the photo shoot portion of the interview in his ‘So Gay’ persona, Koo Lo willingly obliged. As he prepared for the interview, he bumped into various colleagues at TVB City, all of whom greeted him affectionately, loudly yelling out: “Gay Gay!” [his nickname in the series] or telling him: “So Gay! Support you all the way!” – some of his colleagues even requested to take pictures with him! Towards all of this, Koo Lo responds with a shy grin: “Thank you, thank you!”
Asked about the success of the character ‘So Gay’, Koo Lo grins sheepishly and states: “I never imagined the character would become so popular! Re-watching my performance, I feel that there are still many areas where I could have done better. Back when we were filming the series, the behind-the-scenes crew would tell me: ‘Wow, this character will definitely become a hit!’ but I would respond back with: ‘Oh, stop being crazy! You guys always say that with all of my performances! Tell me, which performance have you not said would be a hit?’ Hahaha! Actually, many behind-the-scenes crew contributed to the success of the character ‘So Gay’ – but of course, I have to thank the series producer Tak Gor (Poon Ka Tak 潘嘉德) for being brave enough to cast me in the role! If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t have so many supporters now and wouldn’t be able to understand how wonderful this feeling of ‘perplexity’ [over the sudden popularity] truly is! But, to be honest, this moment could very well be a temporary thing that will eventually come to pass.”
See, this is how ‘So Gay’ is like in real life!
The past 18 years
After the photo shoot, Koo Ming Wah stepped out of his ‘So Gay’ persona and went back to being ‘Koo Lo’ – the difference in his appearance was significant, as his looks instantly returned to being ‘scruffy-looking’ without a single trace of the character’s ‘effeminate nature’ about him. Koo Lo states: “When Tak Gor first suggested me for the role of ‘So Gay’, there were people who doubted his decision, but he simply stated: ‘He can do it! Koo Ming Wah can do it!’ With that, he gave me the role! The mutual trust that we have in each other, to be honest, it would probably never happen with any other producer! Actually, the role I had in the series Street Fighters 《廟街．媽．兄弟》[aired in the year 2000] was also pretty significant and had a lot of screen time – that series was also produced by Tak Gor. So going from being a ‘nobody’ to being recognized now, I am really very grateful to him!”
In 1993, Koo Ming Wah earned a ‘Best Newcomer’ nomination at that year’s Hong Kong Film Awards (HKFA) for his performance in the film Sex Racecourse《旺角馬場》. Even though he didn’t win the award [TN: he lost to future HKFA Best Actress winner Anita Yuen], he did capture the attention of TVB and not long afterwards, he was recruited to join the TV station. In the 18 years since then, Koo Lo has participated in more than 40 TV series (he had to look up the info in Wikipedia to confirm): “Counting through the series – The Driving Power《非常外父》, Ten Brothers 《十兄弟》, The Wintermelon Tale《大冬瓜》, Street Fighters, etc. – if you ask me how many series I was truly happy filming, there are probably less than 8 altogether! And that’s over a period of 18 years!”
From our calculation, the reason for Koo Lo’s ‘dispirited’ feeling was probably because the majority of the roles he played in those 18 years were either insignificant villain characters such as a rapist, murderer, criminal, debt collector, etc. or if he happened to play a ‘good’ guy, he was usually a one of a group of workers at a café or perhaps even a street vendor. There were times when the characters he played didn’t even have a name and his status was even less than that of a 4th or 5th line actor: “Actually, throughout these 18 years, the time I spent NOT working was even greater than the time spent filming! If we talk about time spent actually filming something, I would say it was only about 100 days out of the year – so pretty much I only spent a third of the year filming!”
Koo Lo continues: “I’ve never been disappointed about not getting to be male lead – all I hope for is that the characters I play can have a little bit more to do. For example, in the series Gun Metal Grey《刑警》, I played the role of a veteran cop – with that role, I was already very happy that I was able to find myself in that character and in that performance! Because I truly truly love acting!”
Path to becoming a voice actor
Luckily, Koo Lo still had his job as a voice actor to help him make a living. As a voice actor, Koo Lo participated in the Cantonese-language dubbing process for foreign films such as Puss In Boots, Toy Story 3, Shrek 2, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Three Kingdoms, etc.: “Prior to joining TVB, I worked at the HK Repertory Theatre – one day, Ting Yu (丁羽) [renown veteran voice artist] came to visit and said that he was looking for some ‘new voices’ – just like that, I became part of the theatrical group and from that point on, I would film series as well as do voice work on the side.”
Two years prior to accepting the role for Divas In Distress, Koo Ming Wah had actually already made the decision to transfer to the voice acting department at TVB and not film series anymore: “To be very honest, the first 2 years after I joined TVB, I felt happy because everything was so new and fresh, but then 5 years went by, then 10, then 15 and I started to see creativity becoming more and more limited – I started feeling that my ‘fighting spirit’ was slowly diminishing, so I thought perhaps it was the time for a change.”
Koo Lo continues: “But then prior to switching over, I got the chance to film Gun Metal Grey and work with actors such as Felix Wong (黃日華), Michael Miu (苗僑偉), Vincent Wong (王浩信), Oscar Leung (梁烈唯), etc. – seeing them have such passion and heart for acting, it immediately reminded me that in actuality, the company didn’t really change and such actors were always present, it’s just that my attitude toward acting had changed. After switching to the voice acting department, I swore to myself that I would take my work and life more seriously going forward – as a result, I was able to learn a lot more about acting, since I had to watch a lot of films for my job in voice acting. Then, at the beginning of this year, Tak Gor challenged me to take on the role of ‘So Gay’.”
The youthful HKAPA days
Koo Ming Wah graduated from the HK Academy of Performing Arts (HKAPA) in 1990. He revealed that back in the day, he decided to apply to the HKAPA because of his friend, comedian / actor Tat Ming Cheung (張達明): “Tat Ming and I were classmates in primary school and high school, so we were really good friends. After graduating, he continued with his studies, whereas I went to work at my brother’s factory as a machine operator. Not sure what triggered it, but one day, all of a sudden, he came over and asked me if I was interested in joining a theater company with him – just like that, we ended up joining [veteran actress] Law Koon Lan’s (羅冠蘭) theater troupe.”
“Later on, we found out about a place called the HK Academy of Performing Arts, so Law Koon Lan suggested that we try to apply. Since my factory job at that time was extremely boring and I wanted a change in environment, I decided to go with Tat Ming to apply. Only Tat Ming was accepted the first year -- I tried applying again the second year and finally got in.”
Koo Lo emphasized that the 4 years he spent studying at the HKAPA were the happiest years of his life: “If I didn’t have those 4 years, it definitely would have been regrettable! Since grants and loans were available back then to help with schooling, seven of my male classmates and I pooled some money together to rent a house in Sheung Wan to serve as a dormitory -- with 8 guys going to school and hanging out together day and night, imagine the fun we had! Haha!” [Koo Lo’s 7 male classmates included Sunny Chan (陳錦鴻), Emotion Cheung (張錦程), Tat Ming Cheung (張達明), Joey Leung (梁榮忠), Chung Chi Wing (鍾志榮), Desmond Tang (鄧偉傑)].
Koo Lo continued: “After we got off from school, we would all hang out at the house and review through the stuff we learned or sometimes just sit around and chat. Of course, we had fun outside of school too, eating and drinking, hanging out with other friends, partying, etc. Haha! The school environment was very nice too -- the buildings were clean and pretty, there were a lot of glass windows with a view of the harbor, pretty girls dancing upstairs [TN: referring to the dance department at the HKAPA]…haha! Those few years, we didn’t have any burdens and could do pretty much anything we wanted (except for illegal stuff and things that might embarrass our families). That was definitely the ‘good life’…haha! It was also during those 4 years that I got the chance to really study acting and explore it in depth – because prior to that, I didn’t feel that I had any talent for performing at all!”
A mother’s love for her child
Aside from Tat Ming Cheung encouraging him, Koo Lo also decided to go into acting because of something his mother said to him: “At that time, I asked my family: ‘If I wanted to go back to school, would that be okay?’ The reality is that back then, my family would not be able to support me financially, since our family was big and only my dad was working – therefore, when I asked the question, my dad did not give an opinion, since he knew he would not be able to support me…however….” (Koo Lo’s eyes start to tear up) “…my mom took the matter to heart…” (the tears slowly start to flow) “…my mom told me: ‘Little brother [his nickname as a child] – life is short! If going back to school is what you want to do, then go ahead and do it! Mom will support you no matter what!’” (at this point during the interview, Koo Lo could no longer hold back the flow of tears and sobs silently).
After regaining his composure, Koo Lo continued: “Those words from my mom gave me tremendous strength and energy! It completely changed my life!”
Growing up as the 5th of a total of 6 children, Koo Lo’s family lived in a small house in Ngau Tou Kwok. During the day, the place where they lived was a manufacturing center for wicker chairs and at night it become the place where they ate and slept: “My dad was the only breadwinner in the family. Every morning, my mom would make porridge and some eggs and that would be our breakfast – once a month, we’d get the chance to go out to the city and have a bowl of noodles. A lot of times, we would help boil water for the workers making the chairs so they could take a bath, then after they finished eating dinner, we would help clean the tables – after they got off work, we would help clean up the place…life was pretty difficult back then!”
Out of the 6 children, Koo Lo was the one who had the closest relationship with his mother: “My mom and I were very close! That’s because as a kid and even when I was growing up, she never had to worry about me – at school, I always made sure that I was on my best behavior and never did anything that could get me in trouble. Even though my mom never went through much education, she was a very reasonable and understanding woman who loved all her children dearly – she sacrificed a lot and invested all her time and energy in raising us to be good people. She is a model mother!”
Two years ago, Koo Lo’s mother passed away: “She had diabetes as well as heart problems...she went into the hospital one day, but the doctors weren’t able to save her….” As Koo Lo recounted his mother’s passing, tears once again flowed down his face: “…but the benevolence and love that both she and my dad showed to us children really impacted me greatly and helped me understand what type of parent I should be in the future!”
This is truly what we call ‘teaching with love’!
He is willing to die for her…
Koo Ming Wah is married and has a 14 year old daughter named Tammi: “I met my wife back during my Acting Academy days – she was in the dance school (specializing in Chinese dance) and I was in the drama school. We dated for 8 years and this year, we will be married for 16 years already.”
After his wife graduated from the HKAPA, she became a freelance dancer – unfortunately, not long after they married, his wife got into a car accident that caused permanent injury to her leg and ended her dancing career: “After that, she became a ‘lazy bug’ – even when I told her to go out and work, she wouldn’t do it! Haha!” (He pretends to be upset.)
As for his daughter Tammi: “Hahaha! She is very independent! Her classmates know that I am her dad, but they’ve never bothered her about getting celebrity pictures or autographs – but even if they do, she always handles the matter very calmly, though it could also be that I’m just not popular enough! Ha!”
Koo Lo continues: “The great love that my mom showed me definitely affected the love I have for my daughter! When my daughter was born, she had difficulty coughing up the spittle in her throat and I thought to myself: ‘can I cough it up for her instead?’ Her health is not very good and even when she was a child, she would constantly get sick – she also has asthma as well as kidney problems. Sometimes when I see her getting really sick, I get scared that she might not be able to make it through and worry that she might leave us – each time, I pray to God and ask him to take my life instead! It’s true! If you ask me who I would be willing to die for…my wife – no, but my daughter – absolutely!”
Seeing Koo Lo’s eyes start to well up with tears again, I [the reporter] couldn’t help also feeling a knot in my throat.
Source: East Week Magazine, Issue 473 (via HK Channel)
Translated by: llwy12 @ AsianFanatics
Labels: Other Entertainment News