Who ever said overnight sensations are not true? In just one night, Koo Ming Wah (古明華) became the biggest talk of the town. His role as the effeminate “So Gay” in the popular television drama, Divas in Distress <巴不得媽媽…> has become one of the year’s most popular characters, and 70,000 viewers are already pegging their votes to support the actor at this year’s TVB Anniversary Awards. Some are even beginning to call Koo as “the next Wayne Lai (黎耀祥).”
But is this really what Koo had in mind? To be the next Wayne Lai?
“I have a family to take care of,” replied Koo. “I think going back to dubbing cartoons is more practical.”
After graduating high school, Koo worked as a mechanic apprentice. Although the salary was low, he did not need to depend on his parents anymore, and had enough money to spend on himself and his family. A year later, his friend recommended him to join an acting school. There, he met Cheung Tat Ming (張達明). The two of them would spend hours performing on various stages, in venues that would house over a few hundred people. Koo said, “Standing on stage can become very exciting and relaxing. I realized acting was the right thing for me.”
Koo wanted to apply to The Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts to further his acting career. When he told his parents that he wanted to return to school, they were shocked. Koo realized that the tuition would become a burden to his family, so he decided to give up on his education plans. The next morning, his mother called him from work, and said, “If you really want to do it, then do it. Life is very short. Mom will support you.”
Koo’s tuition at the Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts was over $8,000 HKD per year, and Koo’s loans from the government exceeded $10,300 HKD. He finally graduated from the college in 1990, and paid out all of his loans and interests.
Some of Koo’s more famous classmates included Sunny Chan (陳錦鴻), Rain Lau (劉玉翠), and Cheung Kam Ching (張錦程). Sunny immediately became a leading television actor after graduation. Rain Lau’s success was even more notable, winning both the Best Supporting Actress and the Best New Performer awards for her role in Queen of Temple Street <廟街皇后> at the Hong Kong Film Awards in 1991. Koo expected himself to gain similar success, and when he was nominated for the Best New Performer award for his role in the Category III film, Sex Racecourse <旺角馬場>, he thought he was a “sure win.”
“At that time, I felt undefeatable. A guy who filmed a Category III film can get nominated. Who can beat me?”
However, it was The Day of Being Dumb’s <阿飛與阿基> Anita Yuen (袁詠儀) who took home the Best New Performer award that year.
Koo sighed, “It turns out that even if you’re undefeatable, others can get even more undefeatable. Our society has too many people. No one is the best.”
Instead of fame and recognition, Koo’s Best New Performer nomination only brought him more filming deals for low-budget Category III films. Uninterested in the offers, Koo decided to join TVB and crash the television industry. After joining the station, Koo was given many opportunities to portray minor supporting characters for the station’s television dramas, but these offers began to slip away. A few years later, Koo’s characters stopped having names, and he merely became a background prop in the scenes.
“When I first joined TVB, I really wanted to put my diploma to use, and thought acting would really become my lifetime career. Even if I didn’t become as successful as my classmates, at least I could have others know that I love acting. But it turned out that no one really cared if I loved acting or not. My friends and family stopped following my dramas. I was beginning to feel even more discouraged. But what of it? This does not mean I should stop the cash flow! But whenever I see celebrities come to work late, not memorizing their scripts, yet still having the ability to scold at others, my will to continue this career grew weaker and weaker. They are celebrities. They can afford to have bad acting, but I am not, so all I could do was try my best at acting. I did not have good qualifications nor status. I did not even have the right to scold at anyone. So in the end, even my own acting got worse.”
However, Koo’s perseverance strengthened after collaborating with Felix Wong (黃日華) in 2010’s Gun Metal Grey <刑警>. “Felix has been acting for over 20 years, yet he still has that same fire and energy today. When I see him, I hated myself for even thinking about giving up.
“Luck. You cannot survive in this industry without luck.”
Best Supporting Actor?
During the broadcast of Divas in Distress, over 70,000 viewers voted on a poll to support Koo to win Best Supporting Actor at this year’s TVB Anniversary Awards. Koo’s hopes in winning, however, are not high.
“Why would they give it to me? Do I even have market value?”
But what about Wayne Lai’s success story? Like Koo, he too was a late bloomer. Like Koo, Wayne too is not tall, handsome, nor young, yet he has become one of TVB’s staple lead actors. “I am not as committed as Wayne Lai. I have given up before, and I have questioned my abilities before. If I am able, other producers would notice me more, but so far, it’s only Poon Ka Tak (潘嘉德)!”
Poon Ka Tak is the producer of Divas in Distress. When casting for the role of “So Gay,” Poon’s first choice was Koo. When Koo was about to give up acting to become a full-time voice actor, Poon encouraged Koo to portray the role, and Koo ultimately decided to push back his voice acting plans.
“I have a family. I need to live! We are not American actors. They can live off the rest of their life with the salary they earned from just one drama, but alas, I am a Hong Kong actor. This is not possible.”
Burdened by the low pay as a TVB actor, Koo decided to join the station’s voice acting team in 2000. Koo’s annual salary immediately tripled.
“The calculations are simple. As an actor, I work about 100 days per year. But as a voice actor, I work 300 days. How can I give this up?
“How many Wayne Lai’s are there in the world? I will not give up my voice acting work, unless the company decides to raise my salary. But is this even possible?”
Maybe Koo could handle two jobs as once? “Yes, I could. Maybe for a month. For two months. But there is a limit to my physicality. I still prefer acting over voice acting, but I need to be practical. I have a family. I need to live.”
This article is written by Addy for JayneStars.com.
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