Screenwriter/producer Yu Zheng (于正) may not be known for his television dramas’ historical accuracy or airtight storylines, but it is undeniable that he has a knack for launching the careers of budding young actors. Well-known mainland Chinese actors like William Feng (馮紹峰), Chen Xiao (陳曉), and Zhao Liying (趙麗穎) all became household names after starring in Yu Zheng’s productions.
Even established actors reached new heights of popularity after collaborating with Yu Zheng. For example, Yang Mi (楊冪) boasted a substantial acting resume prior to 2011, but her career took off when she starred opposite William Feng in the time-traveling drama, Palace <宫>. Similarly, 38-year-old Lu Yi (陸毅), always a fan favorite, saw his popularity reignite with The Palace <宮鎖沉香> movie and currently airing series, Palace: The Lost Daughter <宮鎖連城>.
What then is Yu Zheng’s secret in deciding who will become the next hot celebrity? How does he decide who has the makings of a star?
1. Must Be Good-Looking
Anyone who has watched one of Yu Zheng’s dramas knows that the cast will be, at the very least, aesthetically pleasing. However, Yu Zheng shared in an interview that his standards for beauty are quite different from the norm.
“In my eyes, there weren’t any handsome men among the old version of F4,” he said. “Even Vic Chou (周渝民) barely counts [as handsome].”
For Yu Zheng, a man’s looks can be judged by his forehead – he dislikes using actors who look handsome only when their forehead is covered up by bangs. As for women, the most important quality is their demeanor.
2. Must Match the Role
Behind all of Yu Zheng’s casting decisions lies this secret: the audience is watching for the story. In his eyes, the popularity of the cast members is not that important, and viewers who become a fan of a particular actor are actually fans of the character portrayed by the actor.
As a result, Yu Zheng tries his best to ensure that his dramas’ characters are tailor-made for the actors portraying them. Unfortunately, his plans do not always work out: the lead female role for Palace II <宮鎖珠簾> was originally meant for Yang Mi but later went to Yuan Shanshan (袁姍姍), whom Yu Zheng felt was not particularly suited for the role.
3. Must Go Through Trial Session
Though it may seem like Yu Zheng plucks newbie actors out of obscurity, all of them have actually spent years playing supporting characters before being entrusted with a lead role. For instance, Yang Mi played a servant girl in Schemes of a Beauty <美人心計> before Yu Zheng granted her a breakout role in Palace. Likewise, Chen Xiao portrayed countless supporting characters before last year’s Female Prime Minister <陸貞傳奇>.
“If you want to play the lead, then you must first act in supporting roles so I can fully understand you,” Yu Zheng explained. By undergoing this trial session, actors not only prove their worth to him, but also gain familiarity among fans, hopefully amassing a loyal fan base in the process.
4. Must Be Pure at Heart or Bloodthirsty for Fame
For Yu Zheng, there are two ways to catch his attention: either be of outstanding moral quality with no thought of fame and profit, or be desperately hungry for fame with no intention of giving up.
“I don’t like complicated actors,” he explained. His ideal actor is one who has a firm grasp of his career goals, and is willing to arrive at work early, leave work late, and not shy away from pain or injury.
5. Must Be Cooperative
If there is one type of actor whom Yu Zheng cannot stand, it is the pretentious actor who claims to have no desire for fame but secretly yearns to be popular. Many times, such actors are uncooperative: they do not memorize their lines, they take breaks without first notifying the crew, and they constantly boast about having collaborated with a big-name celebrity.
For Yu Zheng, willingness to cooperate is key, especially when it comes to discussing salary. “If you want to act [in my dramas], you have to lower your fee,” he said boldly. “I spend too much on the costumes and art, so there’s no way I can pay a large amount [to the actors]…. I need to guarantee the quality of my works. So if you don’t want to act, there are a lot of people lining up and waiting to become popular.”
Though rumors have circulated regarding discord between Yu Zheng and various cast members, the screenwriter revealed that there is only one actress whom he cannot forgive, though he did not specify her name. “I changed her fate,” he said, “but then she wronged me over and over.”
This article is written by Joanna for JayneStars.com.