Wayne Lai: “I Learned Acting from Life”
Some couples are always inseparable. When Wayne Lai Yiu Cheung arrived for his interview, his wife, Julia, stayed by his side, arranging his clothes, checking for the presence of eyebags, and listening carefully to how he was answering interview questions.
The reporter suspected that in Wayne’s work, he can not escape from his wife’s observance. Wayne said as a proud man, “She likes to stay by my side.” Julia is not a stay-at-home housewife, but rather a manager with good income. Standing next to her husband, she is willing to be a yielding wife.
Wayne married twice. In 1993, he married his first girlfriend, whom he had dated for ten years. Their marriage ended in divorce after one year, when he met Julia, who would become his second wife and thus changing his whole life.
His Early Life Was a Tragedy
“The first half of my life was a tragedy, originating from Chinese people’s docileness and
willingness to settle. From school, to work, to marriage, I did not make my own choices.
In my life, I made two important decisions, one was to become an actor and another was getting a divorce in my first marriage.”
After graduating from high school, Wayne met his first girlfriend at night school. Their dating relationship lasted ten years. “At the time, my mentality was very strange; I only considered whether she could become my mother’s daughter-in-law? Would they have a problem living together? When I was looking for a girlfriend at the time, I did not consider whether she was suitable for me or not, but only whether she will be compatible with my mother.”
“What kind of person was I like back then? Without my own free thought, without courage, and without self-identity, I only sought to satisfy the people around me.”
Since he was young, Wayne was willing to compromise himself to satisfy others. His elder sister selected the high school for him to study at and despite the long commute to school, he continued to study there, since his sister liked the school. During summer vacation, his father found a job for Wayne at one of his friend’s store. Wayne agreed, without any discussion.
“I am a traditional Chinese man, willing to settle. The best thing is that nothing happens and there is world peace.”
After dating his first girlfriend for several years, Wayne realized that they were incompatible. They did not speak the same language and spoke very infrequently to each other. Wayne thought about breaking up, but he was fearful. Each month, Wayne would get his hair cut at his girlfriend’s brother’s hair salon. If they were to break up, he worried, where would he go to get his hair cut then?
“It may sound laughable, but you can imagine how cowardly I was. If a woman dated you for ten years, how can you break up with her? There was a duty to be responsible to her. I was forced to take the next step, which was marriage.”
Meeting Loletta Lee’s Assistant
In 1993, Wayne had already been acting for seven years. He was still a minor actor and getting married at the town hall and holding his wedding banquet, did not attract anyone’s attention. “My marriage life was very ordinary. It seems like it happened, yet didn’t really happen. It seems like it was necessary, yet unecessary at the same time. If you were to add an extra seat at the dining table, it’s okay whether that person was there or not.”
It was not until Wayne’s second wife, Julia’s appearance that changed Wayne’s life. He was filming The Last Conquest with Loletta Lee Lai Chun and Gallen Lo Ka Leung at the time, with Julia as Loletta’s assisant. Loletta had known Julia in high school and had hired her to be her assistant.
Sitting quietly on the side, Julia spoke up for the first time during the interview. She recalled that when she first met Wayne, they were filming a killing scene near the hills. Wayne was chatting with a mainland actress, asking her about her family background, lifestyle, and interests. In Julia’s eyes, she thought Wayne was flirtatious and slick, definitely not a good man.
“In the next scene, the actress got murdered and had a touching dying scene with Wayne. Later I realized that Wayne wanted to get to know the actress better in order to build chemistry for her dying scene. When I heard his explanation, I thought he was a very focused actor and started liking him.”
What does Julia like about Wayne? She said dorkily, “He will be very focused while eating his meals. He is very humorous in his conversations with others. However, when he sits down for a meal, he will look at his rice bowl with deep concentration, which I find very attractive.”
Julia admitted that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Wayne’s appearance was not attractive at all. When Julia first met Wayne, he would always wear khaki pants and an undershirt to work everyday. His image was very old-fashioned, but she did not consider that he was already married.
Julia was not a shy woman and took the initiative to express her feelings for Wayne. When they went swimming in Clear Water Bay with a friend, Julia slipped a love letter inside Wayne’s car, openly declaring her feelings.
Divorce and Accused of Being a Cheating Husband
It was Julia’s love letter that changed the rest of Wayne’s life. “I learned courage from Julia. She took the initiative to pursue the man that she liked. She will take matters into her own hands. These were characteristics that I lacked. In the past, I had no courage and did not pursue anything for myself.”
“When I met Julia, I realized that my first marriage was a mistake. Even if Julia and I did not work out in the end, I had to correct my mistake in marrying my first wife. As a result, my ex-wife and I divorced after only one year of marriage.”
“My ex-wife did not do anything wrong. I was the one who was wrong and it was unfair that she had to suffer from my mistake. The divorce was a painful decision, not only did I hurt my ex-wife, I also had to admit that the first half of my life, I was wrong.”
When Wayne divorced, he was 29 years old. He gave all his savings to his ex-wife and was branded a cheating husband. After the divorce, his mother did not forgive him. “My mother was very unhappy. I would go home when she was not home and leave money on the table. After two years, I finally brought Julia home for dinner.”
Wayne is very grateful towards his ex-wife. “She is an innocent and quiet woman. We discussed our marital problems clearly and I am very grateful that she did not commit any violent acts. From the news, you can see how common it is for divorced couples to suffer tragic ends.”
Working as a Clerk at TVB
In February 1997, Wayne got married with Julia in Las Vegas. “The first reason is that I got married once in Hong Kong already, so I did not want to inconvenience any relatives. Also, getting married in Las Vegas gave us a sense of freedom. We asked Julia’s aunt to be our marriage witness.”
Before the wedding day, Julia already found out that she was pregnant with Wayne’s child. In October of the same year, Wayne’s son, Ching Kiu, was born. “Since marrying Julia and having our son, my personality has changed. At 30, I finally had my own way of thinking. So my life really began at a very late stage.”
Many people commend Wayne for being an excellent actor, but he said that only happened after he turned 30 years old. “In the past, my acting was very predictable. Reciting the memorized lines, standing in position, looking at the lights, the basic skills were there. But my acting was very robotic and did not hold any creativity. After turning 30, I finally understood love and life and finally grasped the naunces of acting, since acting remains inseparable from people’s emotions and love.”
In high school, many students chatted about their idols Adam Cheng Siu Chau and Chow Yun Fat, but Wayne thought, “What’s the point in the discussion? I will become an actor myself one day.” This was Wayne’s instinct.
After graduating from Form 5, Wayne’s first job was working as a scheduling clerk for TVB’s variety programs. During his lunch hour, he would often eat at the same table as Adam Cheng and Chow Yun Fat; he felt this belonged to his own world.
Mistaken as Power Chan by Street Pedestrians
When TVB recruited new applicants for their training acting class, Wayne went back home to look for his most handsome photo to send in with his application. But he did not get any notice for an interview, rather he applied for another smaller scale acting improvement class at TVB. After graduation, the best looking students were assigned opportunities, while the others went through auditions. Lee Tim Sing was the casting director at the time and Wayne was accepted into TVB’s artist department.
“If I were to thank someone in the industry, it would have to be Lee Tim Sing.” Mr. Lee and Wayne have a long history together with many collaborations, with the recent Safe Guards even beating A Life Made Simple in average ratings.
Kathy Chow Hoi Mei entered TVB the same year as Wayne and quickly attained leading lady status. Wayne played many cameos for several years. At that time, his mentality was very simple and he was happy as long as he had acting roles.
After his 5 year contract ended with TVB, Wayne thought about joining Macau’s TV studio (which paid twice the amount in salary), until a friend encouraged him to stay at TVB and continue to play minor parts.
Appearing in public, many people would recognize Wayne, but often unable to recall his real name. Some street pedestrians would call out, “Hey Power Chan!”
Due to the extremely successful, Journey to the West, Wayne’s popularity and recognition shot up. Dicky Cheung Wai Kin continued his success in the China market, while Wayne continued to stay at TVB. “Even till this day, I have never acted in a China series. I do not know any mainland producers. Dicky has his own posse of actors that he works with, so he will not seek me out.”
Improving His Acting in Low Grade Movies
In Journey to the West 2, Benny Chan Ho Man became the new Monkey King, while Wayne continued to act as Pigsy. It was also because of this series which prompted Wayne to leave TVB. “My son was born only for 11 days and I had to go to Yunnan to film Journey to the West 2. Leaving my son for 2 months, each day the make-up artist would ask me why I looked so expressionless?”
Wayne was very unhappy at the time. His wife, Julia, often cried on the phone and asked why he left them when she and their son needed him the most? Wayne felt that TVB was very unyielding and uncaring and vowed to leave TVB after wrapping up filming.
In those years, Wayne appeared in big-budget movies such as Fung Wan, but many were also low grade movies filmed in 3 days time. They were direct-to-video productions. “I acquired many skills in those years. I thought even if the movie is low grade, the actors can not be low quality. Even in the Oscars, the awards are broken down into Best Picture and Best Actor categories.”
Two years later, the movie industry hit a new low. Wayne only had one day of filming work in one month. Since he had to support his family, he returned back to TVB. From his journey, his acting improved vastly and in A Conqueror’s Tale and Safe Guards, his acting gained the recognition of many peers, prompting some to ask him to become their acting “sifu” (teaching instructor).
Wayne said he will not accept any students and he never sought anyone to be his sifu either. His acting instructor has been life itself.
“Life Taught Me How to Act”
In March 2006, Wayne’s mother died in her sleep, with her death quite sudden. “The day earlier, we went to pay respects at our father’s grave. She said that she was not feeling well at the time, so we returned home to rest. On the second day, my elder brother discovered our mother had passed away.”
Receiving his brother’s phone call and returning home, Wayne’s mind was filled with how he will react upon seeing his mother’s still body. If this were a scene in a movie, how would he act it out? Having been an actor for 20 years, Wayne is starting to blend acting with reality and uncertain as to where to draw the boundaries.
Wayne’s father was a firefighter and Wayne has 4 older siblings, with him being the youngest child. His father was a distant image, with his mother impacting him the most.
Seeing his mother’s body in quiet stillness, Wayne felt that a part of him has been lost forever. This kind of scene, he doesn’t know how to play out. Unlike the typical death scene in a series, Wayne did not cry out loudly.
This is how it feels to lose both his parents. Wayne’s mother’s death taught him a lesson in acting. Now he knows how to act if he were to play such a tragic scene in his performing career.
Source: Ming Pao Weekly #1960
Jayne: Another in-depth article from Ming Pao Weekly that I had my eyes on for a long time! The venerable Wayne Lai…not only is he a wonderful actor, he’s a very quotable interviewee as well!