Online comedy breathes life into career of struggling actress
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.”