A Walking Contradiction
Till the age of eighteen, I had no idea what the future would hold for me. At that time, I was fascinated by my father’s acting career. I thought I would be among his loyal audience for life.
When the Cultural Revolution was over and art colleges started enrolling students, I suddenly seemed to know what I wanted to do. When I was taking the entrance exam to an art college, the examiner asked me to act for him, so I covered up a girl’s eyes while standing behind her. I forgot to remove my hands, because I was so nervous. Then the girl had to improvise the scene, changing my role from her lover to a rogue.
My personality can be summed up in two words: shy and timid. I was very different from my father. He had a fiery temper and performed boldly before an audience of thousands. Not me. I would step back from being the focus of attention. For example, if there were ten people attending an event, I would instinctively sit in the rear. I was so nervous that I would easily break into cold sweats. As I approached the entrance to the theater, I would be very apprehensive, as if there was a machine gun awaiting me inside.
As I grew older, clearly, I could not continue being so intimidated by such situations. So, I pretended relaxed, imagining myself acting in a film. I feigned total self- confidence. My ruse
was not convincing. Somebody said, “Everybody can tell you are nervous because your forehead is all sweaty. Plus, you don’t talk in a normal voice.” So, I admitted to myself, I was helplessly insecure. I stopped playing the tough guy, and in doing so, I finally gained some peace of mind.
I grew up around the Beijing Film Studio and had plenty of opportunities to come across famous Chinese actors, such as Yu Yang, Zhao Ziyue, and Zhang Ping. My neighbors were all famous actors in China. Sometimes after finishing watching a movie they were in, I would see them riding their bicycles, their baskets filled with fresh Chinese cabbage, as if they had just come off the screen.
If I could go back in time, I would return to the period in my life when I was working to become famous. I liked the title of one of Li Ao’s books, UpandDown
theHill . I feel those words best describe my life. When a person strives to become successful, everything is an uphill battle. Everything is unknown. You don't know where you are going, or how far you can go, and the road is always going up. In classic love stories of the world, life is always without a predictable ending, like Romeo and Juliet, Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtai, just to name a few.
Life is full of surprises. After acting in Farewell My Concubine, I didn’t win any awards. I didn’t get noticed for my work. But after ToLive wrapped, I received widespread acclaim. And everything after that was smooth sailing.
Besides occasionally you need to play dead, being an actor also means you are “risking your life.” I got chronic fatigue syndrome from the heavy work load. It became my habit to lie in bed imagining how to play my next role. And I often suddenly woke up at night, my mind churning with ideas, unable go back to sleep.
In the 1990s, people did not take seriously those high-ranking figures, and wanted to see real people. Despite my fame, I see myself as an ordinary person. At that time, the Chinese were starved for humor. Nobody was in the mood for a lecture. And I was one of those people. I enjoyed the relaxing, uplifting, and the ordinary. No one wanted to pretend to elevate anyone’s consciousness. Everyone was equal. The economy was doing well. Historic ideas were challenged. Everyone suddenly realized that it was not only the people who looked good or talked well, that were important, everyone was important. If Ge You could be on the screen, who else couldn’t be?
Compared to some idols, I feel very comfortable. I am not afraid of being old, fending off the paparazzi, or having to attention whore for publicity. First, I don’t want to be the opposite of the common people. Second, I don’t need to be on the top of the popularity list. Third, if the price of fame is too high, how tiring it would be to live!
What I enjoy most is being alone. I do not get all brain cramped reading a few paragraphs from a book, as do some of my friends. I could read at least a dozen chapters a day. But there are so many daily interruptions, making it difficult for me to finish an entire book in a sitting.
People know I don’t like flying. The reason is, I feel more peaceful on a train. When I go on a train, nothing disturbs me. I go where nobody can find me, where I can stay for a long time. I sit there, thinking like an old monk, relieved of all burdens, enjoying a life that only belongs to me.
But I also enjoy having a drink with friends, chatting freely, without thinking of anything else. I like to listen. I could listen forever if my friends didn’ t stop talking. They love to have me along because I am a good listener. Most often I just listen to my friends and, I seldom do any of the talking myself.
I am a walking contradiction. I like to be quiet and alone at times, but also enjoy the company of people. Does that make me a hypocrite?
(From HappyReading . Translation: Huilan)
Ge You in ToLive 电影《活着》剧照