On­line com­edy breathes life into ca­reer of strug­gling ac­tress

China Daily (Canada) - - NEWS CAPSULE - ByWANG KAIHAO wangkai­hao@chi­nadaily.com.cn

For Chi­nese ac­tress Zhang Tian’ai, 2016 has been a turn­ing point.

A year ago, Zhang was con­sid­er­ing quit­ting the en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try after a string of fail­ures.

How­ever, her sched­ule now only al­lows her to do an in­ter­view dur­ing lunch just be­fore set­ting off for the air­port.

Her ca­reer has seen a Cin­derella-like trans­for­ma­tion thanks to her role in a 36-episode on­line com­edy, Go Princess Go, made by on­line video com­pany LeTV that pre­miered in De­cem­ber.

“My life was re­shaped after I ac­cepted that what I was do­ing was wrong and opted to try some­thing dif­fer­ent,” the 26-year-old says.

Go Princess Go is about a play­boy’s trans­gen­der time travel to be­come a princess and­later the em­press dowa­ger through con­spir­a­cies in im­pe­rial harems.

Each episode is 30 min­utes.

The se­ries at­tracted more than 2.6 bil­lion clicks within six weeks of its pre­miere, and one episode was clicked on 200 mil­lion times.

“To­day’s TV screens are full of cute girls who pre­fer to be fair ladies,” says Zhang.

“And, there are many hero­ines. But, few Chi­nese ac­tresses dare to en­dan­ger their im­ages and try roles like this.”

Zhang says she was tak­ing a risk when she took the role.

“After read­ing the script, most peo­ple would hes­i­tate be­cause the story is very un­ortho­dox,” says Zhang.

“But I could un­der­stand its logic im­me­di­ately. It got my imag­i­na­tion all fired up.”

So, per­haps, her suc­cess not ac­ci­den­tal.

“I had done my re­search on howon­line dra­mas dif­fer from those on TV,” she says.

“Also, dur­ing shoot­ing, it’s bet­ter to con­sider how ne­ti­zens will re­act.

“Inon­line se­ries, ac­tors have to over­power the au­di­ence. When ne­ti­zens feel they are en­coun­ter­ing a strong aura, is their com­ments are less nega­tive.”

In China’s cy­berspace, where strong lan­guage is of­ten used by peo­ple, Zhang’s strat­egy of tak­ing up the un­con­ven­tional role seems to be work­ing.

Go Princess Go is not the first time Zhang has acted in an on­line drama.

In 2014’s Geeks, pro­duced by Ten­cent.com, Zhang plays a des­per­ate job hunter, which she says echoed her life ex­pe­ri­ence at the time.

She once took her re­sume around the coun­try seek­ing au­di­tions. Back then, an op­ti­mistic Zhang con­sid­ered it an “ex­pe­ri­ence” rather than a prob­lem.

Nev­er­the­less, the truth was that she got no roles de­spite send­ing out 50 re­sumes.

Zhang played a Ja­panese doc­tor in a World War II-themed TV drama se­ries, The Le­gendry Sniper (2014). Though the role was crit­i­cally ac­claimed and won her the best sup­port­ing ac­tress prize, the Wen­hong Award, from Heng­dian World Stu­dios, China’s largest TV and film pro­duc­tion hub lo­cated in East China’s Zhe­jiang prov­ince, Zhang strug­gled to get ma­jor roles un­til Go Princess Go came along.

“Be­ing good is the big­gest ad­ver­sary of be­ing bet­ter,” says Zhang.

“Per­haps, roles like the one in Go Princess Go only ap­pear once in a life­time. So, I won’t de­lib­er­ately try sim­i­lar roles to sur­pass it, but com­edy will cer­tainly bemy type.”

Mean­while, be­fore the au­di­ence could en­joy an­other Zhang-style­com­edy, I Be­longed to You, a ro­man­tic film star­ring A-list ac­tor Deng Chao, was pre­miered on Sept 29.

It is the first film with Zhang as the lead­ing ac­tress.

The film, based on a work by nov­el­ist Zhang Ji­a­jia, has earned more than 800 mil­lion yuan ($118 mil­lion) at the box of­fice.

“I was like her (Zhang’s role in I Be­longed to You) when I was younger — in­no­cent, fac­ing peo­ple with­out a mask,” says Zhang.

“But as I have gained more fans and a rep­u­ta­tion, I’ve been pro­tected by some masks.

“But I had bet­ter not be like the princess who al­ways lives in cam­ou­flage. I don’t ex­pect to be the smartest per­son in the world, but I want to re­main a sin­cere one.”

Zhang also says that the big­gest ad­van­tage of be­com­ing fa­mous is that she has gained more con­fi­dence.

“I used to choose only roles based on my life ex­pe­ri­ences,” she says.

“But, Go Princess Go has shown me that I can push bound­aries by go­ing be­yond my ex­pe­ri­ences. That’s why I ad­mire Amer­i­can ac­tress Jen­nifer Lawrence. She shows a ma­tu­rity on screen that goes far be­yond her 26 years.”

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