China’s Tin­sel­town in­sider

Betty Zhou, dubbed “China’s pret­ti­est bilin­gual bas­ket­ball host” by NBA fans, is rel­ish­ing her new job of get­ting up close and per­sonal with some of Hol­ly­wood’s big­gest stars

China Daily (Canada) - - SHANGHAI - In Shang­hai aly­win@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Re­al­iz­ing that she was the last to ar­rive at a din­ner event for the cast and crew of The Man with the Iron Fists, Betty Zhou quickly ducked into the last avail­able seat and set­tled down among some of Hol­ly­wood’s big­gest stars, in­clud­ing Amer­i­can Chi­nese ac­tress Lucy Liu and Academy Award win­ner Rus­sell Crowe.

The func­tion was a big deal for Zhou, whose sup­port­ing role in the movie as a pros­ti­tute-cumas­sas­sin marked her de­but in a ma­jor Hol­ly­wood film. Her first ap­pear­ance in an Amer­i­can pro­duc­tion was in the 2008 tele­vi­sion film Kung Fu Killer, a some­what for­get­table B-grade ac­tion flick fea­tur­ing the late David Car­ra­dine as a monk on the hunt for the killers of his Grand­mas­ter.

Brief in­tro­duc­tions and greet­ings were ex­changed, and the talk­a­tive ac­tress soon found her­self ex­chang­ing friendly ban­ter and jokes with ev­ery­one around her. She was hardly a rec­og­niz­able fig­ure in the glitzy Hol­ly­wood scene but Zhou has the un­canny abil­ity to con­nect with oth­ers, in­clud­ing her star-stud­ded posse, cour­tesy of an ir­re­sistible en­thu­si­asm that makes the pint-sized Jiangsu na­tive seem larger than life.

About 30 min­utes into din­ner, Zhou de­cided that she would ask the per­son sit­ting next to her about his role in the film, and it was then that she re­al­ized why no­body wanted to take the seat she was on.

The man was film di­rec­tor Quentin Tarantino.

For­tu­nately, Zhou was spared the em­bar­rass­ment — she didn’t get to ask the di­rec­tor of the movie she’d be star­ring in, “So, what ex­actly do you do?”

That might have re­sulted in a very awk­ward end to the evening. Or her ca­reer, for that mat­ter.

“Just as I was about to ask the ques­tion, this woman walks into the room and goes ‘Quentin!’ be­fore she pro­ceeds to shake his hand. I didn’t talk for five min­utes af­ter that,” chuck­led Zhou. “While the in­ci­dent left me a lit­tle scared and ner­vous, it also made me re­al­ize that sin­cer­ity is the most im­por­tant qual­ity to have. Just be­ing your­self is the best way to com­mu­ni­cate with peo­ple.”

Zhou’s knowl­edge of Hol­ly­wood has im­proved by leaps and bounds since that in­ci­dent. As the host of Talk­ing to Hol­ly­wood with Betty Zhou, she has rubbed shoul­ders with the likes of Arnold Sch­warzeneg­ger, Tom Cruise, Adam San­dler and Zoe Sal­dana. Cre­ated by a host of big names such as Para­mount Pic­tures, Uni­ver­sal Pic­tures, Sony Pic­tures En­ter­tain­ment and Walt Dis­ney Stu­dios, the show gives Chi­nese au­di­ences an ex­clu­sive and in­ti­mate look into the world’s largest en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try. It also rep­re­sents an at­tempt by the Amer­i­cans to tap the rapidly grow­ing Chi­nese mar­ket.

The show’s un­mis­tak­able fun fac­tor lies in Zhou’s in­ter­ac­tions with the stars. In the episode where she had to in­ter­view Tom Cruise for Mis­sion: Im­pos­si­ble Rogue Na­tion, Zhou was strapped into the pas­sen­ger seat of a BMW as the ac­tor per­formed a slew of tyre-burn­ing stunts and high-speed ma­noeu­vres. As Para­mount Pic­tures Vice Chair­man Rob Moore re­vealed, the stunts were never part of the script — it was ac­tu­ally Cruise’s idea to in­ject some ac­tion into the seg­ment. Zhou, who was sport­ing enough to oblige, had the honor of be­com­ing the very first jour­nal­ist to sit in a car driven by the ac­tion su­per­star.

Pick­ing Zhou to front the show was a no-brainer to the Amer­i­cans. Rec­og­nized as “China’s pret­ti­est bilin­gual bas­ket­ball host”, Zhou had carved a solid rep­u­ta­tion for her­self in the sport­ing in­fo­tain­ment sphere by host­ing NBA cov­er­age in China. Some of the bas­ket­ball stars Zhou has in­ter­viewed in­clude Dwight Howard, Derrick Rose and Tai­wan hot­shot Jeremy Lin.

Moore said that it was Zhou’s in­fec­tious per­son­al­ity and her abil­ity to draw out the funny side of these stars that con­vinced the man­age­ment to have her be­come Hol­ly­wood’s bridge to the Chi­nese mar­ket.

“I en­joy a good chem­istry with those I in­ter­view be­cause I be­lieve in be­ing my­self at all times. I love to talk to peo­ple and make stupid jokes,” she quipped. “I don’t feel too in­tim­i­dated with big stars be­cause I’m al­ways fo­cused dur­ing the in­ter­views. It’s only af­ter film­ing when I go back to the ho­tel that I re­al­ize I just played a video game with Arnold Sch­warzeneg­ger and danced with Me­gan Fox!”

When she was younger, Zhou had dreamt of be­com­ing a jour­nal­ist, even a war cor­re­spon­dent who could ven­ture into con­flict zones. She later de­cided that she would be­come an ac­tress and went on to study per­form­ing arts at Shang­hai Nor­mal Univer­sity’s Xie Jin Film & Tele­vi­sion Art Col­lege.

But Zhou’s foray into the en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try started even be­fore she had grad­u­ated from col­lege in 2007. An over­seas pro­duc­tion com­pany had tal­ent-spot­ted Zhou and sub­se­quently signed her on to star in a tele­vi­sion se­ries called Ad­ven­ture Girls. As the ti­tle sug­gests, the travel pro­gram fea­tured Zhou and another co-host in search of ad­ven­ture in coun­tries such as Thai­land, Malaysia and the Philip­pines, tak­ing part in out­door ac­tiv­i­ties such as bungee jump­ing, div­ing and rock climb­ing.

Zhou later got to know some in­dus­try peo­ple from Sin­ga­pore and was of­fered an act­ing ca­reer in the small is­land na­tion. She de­cided to re­lo­cated to Sin­ga­pore for a few years to hone her craft, and the move paid off as she man­aged to gain a con­sid­er­able amount of ex­po­sure there, fea­tur­ing in nu­mer­ous mag­a­zines and tele­vi­sion shows. Dur­ing her time there, Zhou had the honor of be­com­ing the only ac­tress from China to star in a lead­ing role in an English lan­guage pro­duc­tion.

“I re­ally like Sin­ga­pore. It’s like my sec­ond home,” said Zhou. “I fell in love with a Sin­ga­porean and the coun­try too.”

A few years later, Zhou got to meet renowned Chi­nese R&B singer David Tao, who of­fered her a job back in China. Fol­low­ing this, Zhou was pre­sented with the op­por­tu­nity to front NBA cov­er­age in her bas­ket­ball­coun­try, and de­spite

Betty Zhou, know­ing noth­ing about the sport, she gamely took up the chal­lenge, putting due dili­gence into re­search­ing the sport in or­der to be­come a cred­i­ble host.

Zhou said that she has now ac­com­plished both her am­bi­tions, hav­ing acted in a Hol­ly­wood film and “com­ing full cir­cle” in be­com­ing an en­ter­tain­ment re­porter and host. She also took time to count her bless­ings, say­ing that she is grate­ful for be­ing able to learn from her in­ter­vie­wees and travel the world. As part of her work pro­mot­ing the world pre­miere of the latest in­stall­ment of the Mis­sion: Im­pos­si­ble fran­chise, Zhou got to travel to San Fran­cisco, Vi­enna and Van­cou­ver.

Be­sides host­ing, Zhou is also help­ing to co-pro­duce Talk­ing to Hol­ly­wood be­cause of her fa­mil­iar­ity with the na­ture of the Chi­nese au­di­ence. Be­ing the only Chi­nese on the crew, her in­put as to what au­di­ences like nat­u­rally bears a lot of weight, but she’s hardly fazed by the pres­sure. In fact, she could prob­a­bly pat her­self on the back for a job well done — the first episode of the show, which aired on May 29 on CCTV 6 in China, gar­nered more than 1 mil­lion view­ers.

“This is the first time I’m a host and pro­ducer for a show so each episode is my baby. I love all of them,” she said. “So far all the com­ments I’ve got­ten on Weibo (China’s Twit­ter-like ser­vice) are pos­i­tive. The fans love the show and how ex­clu­sive the con­tent is. I’ve had some­one say that he doesn’t think I’m very pretty but he likes how I in­ter­act with the stars.”

De­spite her rapid rise to fame, Zhou is sur­pris­ingly grounded. If any­thing, she has demon­strated that she’s more of an im­mac­u­late media pro­fes­sional than celebrity diva.

When her makeup artist in­sisted on a touch-up be­fore the cam­eras started rolling for this in­ter­view, she replied: “Not too sexy, please.” When the cam­era­men ges­tured their dis­plea­sure at some­one in the back of the room who was cre­at­ing a din dur­ing the record­ing, she coolly said: “It’s okay. I’ll do this take again.”

When asked if she thinks she can be con­sid­ered China’s “next big thing”, she waves her hands and laughs it off. De­spite hav­ing joined the gilded ranks of Chi­nese ac­tresses like Gong Li, Zhang Ziyi and Fan Bing­bing who have starred in a Hol­ly­wood movie, Zhou doesn’t view her­self as a su­per­star in the mak­ing.

“I am not the next big thing, but I hope this show can be,” she said.

I’ve had some­one say that he doesn’t think I’m very pretty but he likes how I in­ter­act with the stars.”

host and co-pro­ducer of Talk­ing to Hol­ly­wood

PHOTOS PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

The Jiangsu na­tive's claim to fame in China was when she hosted NBA cov­er­age on tele­vi­sion.

Betty Zhou speaks to Hol­ly­wood ac­tor Tom Cruise (left) dur­ing a pro­mo­tional event for Mis­sion:Im­pos­si­bleRogueNa­tion, and at­tends an event with Para­mount Pic­tures Vice Chair­man Rob Moore.

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