Interview with former TVB veteran actor Deno Cheung: The ‘spoiled young master’ endures with all his might
Saturday, December 29, 2012
Having toiled silently at TVB for 18 years, Deno Cheung (張松枝) is best known for his villain roles, which he started playing back in 1999 when he portrayed the role of a spoiled, rich young master in the series Plain Love II (茶是故鄉濃) – since then, that ‘spoiled young master’ image stuck with him and had become his ‘specialty’ role of sorts over the years. Fortunately for him, audiences seem to like and appreciate Deno’s villain roles – when fans bump into him on the street, they ‘chide’ him for being ‘such a bad person’ [referring to his characters in the series], but yet at the same time, they have smiles on their faces. This little bit of ‘recognition’ can be attributed to the years of hard work and effort that Deno put in to building his career. At one point, Deno reveals his experience of almost going into shock while filming a particularly strenuous scene, yet at the end of the day, he endured it with all his might and successfully completed the filming.
Deno Cheung entered the industry when he was 20 years old. He recalls how he was swimming at a beach in Shek O one day where, coincidentally, a commercial was being filmed – the PA (production assistant) went over to him and asked if he wanted to participate, and just like that, his filming career began. In those first few years, Deno filmed commercials for all sorts of products, including toothpaste, M&Ms, real estate, etc. During the height of the karaoke craze in the early 90s, Deno switched to filming karaoke MVs (music videos) – in 4 short years, he filmed close to a thousand MVs and got the opportunity to work with some of HK’s most popular singers at the time, such as Kelly Chen (陳慧琳), Cass Pang (彭羚), etc. Deno recalls those early years with fondness: “Back then, we filmed 4 days a week and sometimes, we would even travel offsite to various locations.” Asked about his experience filming the MV for music queen Kelly Chen’s hit ‘Care Too Much About You’ (對你太在乎), Deno smiled and praised Kelly’s down-to-earth personality: “I remember how much she loved talking about food! During filming, she would constantly ask what we would be eating for lunch and where we should eat when we got off work!”
No pay raise for 12 years
It turns out that filming MVs was actually only a ‘side job’ for Deno – his ‘real’ job was in mechanics: “My friend had a company that specialized in buying second hand cell phones from Japan, refurbishing them in HK, then selling them in Mainland China -- since I had studied mechanical engineering, I was the one responsible for refurbishing the phones. It wasn’t really a full time job, so I still had time to film MVs on the side.” So with 2 salaries coming in, life must have been worry-free then? With a slight smile, Deno replied: “Worry-free? Of course not -- in fact, the work was quite arduous! Later on, I joined a certain company [TVB] and in a few years, that ‘double income’ was gone.”
In 1994, through a friend who worked behind-the-scenes at TVB, Deno was introduced to the station’s manager of the artists’ department at the time, Hsiao Siu Ming (蕭笑鳴). [TN: 蕭笑鳴 left TVB not too long after Virginia Lok took over the Artists’ Department in 2004; she is the wife of TVB’s production head Tommy Leung (梁家樹) and the mother of TVB actress Toby Leung (梁靖琪)]. After meeting with ‘Ba Jeh’ (Hsiao Siu Ming’s nickname), Deno signed with TVB and with that, started his 18 year ‘relationship’ with the company. Deno expressed that his early years with TVB were the happiest – at one point, he was practically filming non-stop and participated in so many series that he was able to accumulate over 290 ‘shows’ in one year! However, all of that changed in 2000 when, during the filming of the series Gods of Honour (封神榜), TVB held up Deno’s schedule for 7 months, yet only had him film for 3 days – as a result, Deno didn’t have enough ‘shows’ to fulfill his contract and had to rely on his meager salary from previous months to survive. Luckily, the next year, producer Lau Shi Yu (劉仕裕) invited him to participate in the series Country Spirit (酒是故鄉醇), which allowed him to ‘recover’ the lost wages. Deno revealed that for 12 years, he was never given a pay raise, which definitely made life difficult: “Luckily, I consistently had work and was very careful about spending money – at least eating the boxed lunches at TVB helped me save a lot of money on food!”
Filming action scenes in extremely hot weather almost sent him into shock
As the saying goes: ‘One minute on stage takes ten years of practice/hard work (台上一分鐘，台下十年功) – this has definitely been true in Deno Cheung’s case. Deno expressed that from the moment he joined TVB and filmed his first series, he was already ‘learning’ from the many experienced artists he collaborated with – one of those artists was actor Michael Tao (陶大宇): “Back when I participated in Detective Investigation Files 2 (刑事偵緝檔案II), I got the chance to work closely with Michael practically every day. Every time we had scenes to film together, I would practice by looking through the script and try to memorize all his lines, then imagine myself filming the scene in his position – when it came time to actually film the scene, I would observe the way Michael did it and see if there were any similarities with the way I practiced it – this was my way of learning. After that, I started doing the same thing with every series and slowly, it helped me learn a lot about acting – more importantly though, it also helped me develop a good memory. I remember back when I filmed Eternal Happiness (再生緣), I had a scene with Raymond Lam (林峯) where my character had 5 pages of dialogue – we did that scene in one take! Another time, when filming a scene for Country Spirit with Paul Chun (秦沛), my character had 3 full pages of dialogue for that particular segment. At first, I thought that since I was somewhat of a ‘newcomer’ at the time, Paul Gor wouldn’t pay much attention to me, but then, as I was practicing that particular scene with the director, Paul Gor heard me reciting those 3 pages of dialogue practically in one breath – when he noticed me practicing that scene, he immediately told the people around me to keep the noise level down so that I could concentrate. Seeing him do this truly made me feel very happy in my heart!”
In one of his last series with TVB, 2012’s Three Kingdoms RPG (回到三國), Deno played the historical character of Zhao Zi Long (趙子龍) – his performance was very well-received by audiences. Deno expressed that even though he already knew going into it that the character wouldn’t have much screen time, it was still important for him to do the best job he possibly could with it: “The action choreographer told me that at the end of the day, I’m the one in front of the audiences and so how much effort I put in to doing the action scenes, the audiences will definitely notice. The 2 days that we spent filming those scenes were very grueling and arduous. Coincidentally, that was also the time when the extras [temporary workers] went on strike – originally I was told that there would be 50 extras filming the scenes, however when I arrived, I found out that there were no extras at all due to the strike. Therefore, the production team had to call around last minute and eventually were able to find 10 students from the acting classes and 5 stuntmen to serve as extras – since we would have to re-use the same people as extras in the other scenes, we couldn’t have the cameras focus on them too much, so the cameras ended up being focused more on me and showing them fighting in the background with their backs toward me. This meant that I would actually have to be the one ‘fighting’ the entire time – throughout the filming, I felt like I had ‘died’ 4 times because we were filming outside under extremely hot weather with heavy costumes and armor. In between some of the fighting sequences, I would have to rest for 5 to 10 minutes to catch my breath and drink water – it was so strenuous that I almost went into a state of shock! I ended up drinking 8 bottles of water just filming those scenes alone!” Looking back now, Deno expressed that even though the filming was exhausting, the memory of that collaboration was a happy one, as he was able to work together with the production team to overcome the difficulties and finish the scenes.
In many of the series he participated in, Deno often played similar characters: the spoiled young master, the chap who betrays his triad boss, and other similar ‘villain’ characters – towards this, Deno laughed and stated: “Sure I would like to play other types of characters such as comical ones for example, but it rarely happened. Actually, come to think of it, producer Poon Ka Tak (潘嘉德) helped me a lot in the beginning, as he was the one who initially gave me the ‘good guy’ roles to play, such as the ones in Rural Hero (離島特警), Untraceable Evidence (鑑證實錄), The Awakening Story (婚前昏後), etc., but later on, even he started asking me to do villain roles too…haha! In terms of the ‘spoiled young master’ character, producer Lau Shi Yu (劉仕裕) was actually the first one to have me play this type of role back during Plain Love II (茶是故鄉濃) – from that time on, I continued playing that role.” Even though Deno did play a lot of typecasted roles, at least his performances were well-received by audiences – in fact, a netizen recently suggested that Deno should get together with other ‘known villains’ [artists who regularly play villain characters in series] such as Timothy Cheng (鄭子誠), Ricky Wong Chung Tong (王俊棠), Wong Man Piu (黃文標), and Cheng Kar Sheng (鄭家生) to film a ‘battle of the villains’ series: “Hey, if you send the idea to HKTV (CTI), there’s a huge possibility it might happen, as there is a lot of flexibility with their series – it could be 5 episodes, 10 episodes, even more! Since there’s 5 of us, we could do a 5 episode series and it would only take 1 week to air!”
Source: HK Channel
Translated by: llwy12 @ AsianFanatics
Labels: Deno Cheung 張松枝