One’s first impression of 43-year-old Kevin Cheng (鄭嘉穎) may be that he is physically fit, polite, but serious. His professional devotion to his craft and his job can leave others to see him as someone cold, harsh and distant.
But when informed about Kevin’s 20 years of struggle in the industry, it becomes understandable as to why Kevin always keeps a furrowed brow. He has seen more in the last 20 years than the people who are twice his age.
A Teen Idol
Kevin debuted as a singer, an artist under PolyGram, when he was 19 years old. “At that time, PolyGram was a very powerful record label in Hong Kong,” said Kevin. “I felt very lucky. Some of my most favorite stars were with PolyGram at the time, such as Alan Tam (譚詠麟), Hacken Lee (李克勤)…. But I was just a rookie. I was inexperienced.”
Life as a singer was not how Kevin imagined it to be. “It was much more complicated that I had thought! Because I was still a student, I didn’t have any experience in the real world. I had a very simple mindset – I thought a singer only had to record music and release it, but that was not the case at all! I had to go on radio, on TV, and I thought, wow, I had to face so many people every day. I didn’t like it at all. I was an introvert. I didn’t know what I was doing most of the time.”
Marketed as a teen idol, Kevin did not have the liberty to make decisions. During his time as a singer, Kevin felt as if someone had been pushing him to walk in a certain direction and road.
“I continuously had to learn how to be an artist. I didn’t know a lot of things back then. I didn’t know how to speak, how to do interviews, and how to face the Hong Kong media… that was the worst. I absolutely didn’t know how to do interviews. I was scared that I would say something wrong.”
Turned to Acting for Money
Kevin’s career in Taiwan was not much of an improvement from his early idol life in Hong Kong.
“My time in Taiwan had been one of my lowest points in life,” admitted Kevin. “I had a lot of time to reflect on my past then. I thought about why I didn’t grasp onto the opportunities well when I was still with PolyGram. I understood then that opportunities would only be given to those who were ready. I still wanted to release an album [in Taiwan], but my road ahead was blocked. For several years, I waited for the chance to release an album, but it never happened. That was how I got into acting. I needed an income. I had to support my life. I filmed [Taiwanese drama] The Legendary Siblings <絕代雙驕> and I was stuck with [acting] since.”
Kevin’s well-received role as the villain, Jiang Yulan, was what got TVB to notice him again.
“I always wanted to return to Hong Kong. I stayed [in Taiwan] for about five years. I didn’t have much on my resume, and that gave me a headache. I had to hold onto any opportunity that was given to me. TVB was a stronghold. Since I wasn’t signed to any management company in Taiwan, I didn’t have a steady income. Yes, the salary was low, but once you become a managed artist, TVB would cast you in many dramas per year. I had a steady income at least, and I didn’t have to borrow from my mother anymore.”
After years of setbacks and struggles, was Kevin’s mother still very supportive of his entertainment career? Kevin sighed, “She told me that I should leave the industry, many, many times. But like every son, I didn’t listen to her.”Kevin laughed. “When she would tell me to go east, I would always go west. But that is my personality. I didn’t want to give up when I was at the unluckiest time of my life. If one day I really do decide to leave the industry, I can just say that I’m leaving, and not because I was kicked out. I will only leave if I want to.
“I don’t want to leave [the industry] now, though. Acting could be my lifelong career. I truly like acting. But if you’re talking about taking photos and doing interviews, I really don’t like doing them. Honestly.”
With seven years of experience in the industry on his shoulders, Kevin expressed that it was not easy to “demote” himself back to rookie status and start over again in TVB. “But I had no choice. I’ve been a rookie many times. There aren’t many opportunities that will help you start over again.
Relationship with “Bu Bu Jing Xin” Cast
The smash hit time traveling drama, Bu Bu Jing Xin <步步惊心>, was Kevin’s first mainland Chinese drama series. Kevin did not find it very difficult to mix with his costars. Contrary to many Hong Kong actors who had filmed in mainland China, Kevin expressed that he did not receive much of a culture shock.
“The production crew [of Bu Bu Jing Xin] was similar to the crew behind The Legendary Siblings. The director was also Lee Kwok Lap (李國立). Just the cast was different.”
Kevin said that the filming methods in mainland China were not that different from Taiwan or Hong Kong, but the actor gushed that Bu Bu Jing Xin’s filming environment enabled him to form lifelong relationships with his costars.
“When I was shooting The Legendary Siblings, the cast stayed in nearby motels. When I was shooting Bu Bu Jing Xin, the cast had to stay in a house together… it was kind of like living in a school dormitory. The director and the production crew all lived in the same place. Even film editing took place there. In the bottom floor house dormitory, we could play table tennis, badminton, and could even play basketball at a nearby school. [Han Dong 韩栋], [Ye Zuxin 叶祖新], [Cecilia Liu 刘诗诗]… after work, we would knock on each other’s doors to see who would be available for dinner, or to play table tennis or basketball together… I was never this close to a cast before. It was really like returning to school. So we were all very close! We are still very close.”
Kevin revealed that he and his Bu Bu Jing Xin cast still remain in contact. “I just completed a drama with Yuan Hong (袁弘). I would meet Lin Gengxin (林更新) in Shanghai. When I was filming at Hengdian World Studios, Han Dong lived a floor below mine. We’re still very close!”
When it was mentioned that Kevin had gained millions of more fans after portraying the eighth prince in Bu Bu Jing Xin, Kevin laughed, “Actually, Lin Gengxin gained even more fans… but I believe that an actor should not repeat the same role. You will never experience growth, and you will never be able to show your full potential. A good actor would grasp at the chance to portray different roles. That is my target. I want to feel fresh, and I also want the audience to have a fresh image of me at all times.”
Does Kevin still have the same fans that have followed him since he won his first TVB award in 2006? “I do! Some even for 20 years! Actually, the moderator of my Hong Kong fanclub has been following me for 20 years. There are also some that have been following me for more than 20 years, since I was 19 years old.”
Growing up with his loyal fans, have the fans rushed Kevin to find a partner and get married soon? Kevin smiled, “They do! I told them to find a partner soon too! I have some fans who have married, and I even attended to one of their weddings. It has been several years, but now they’re divorced! That is how life is now, so that’s why I must be sure that she is the one before I marry her. Get married, divorce, and get married again… it’s a waste of youth and time.
“My thoughts on this has changed a lot compared to 20 years ago. Back then, I had the time to go out on dates; who knew what the future would hold? But now, it’s different. If we’re not right for each other, then let’s not waste our time.”
This article is written by Addy for JayneStars.com.