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IFFAM Actress in Focus: Yao Chen Talks Performing, Producing and Public Pressure

Macao’s Actress in Focus is a woman who has trained as a boxer, likes British actors, especially Benedict Cumberbatch and Jeremy Irons, and is now setting out her stall as a producer.

Yao Chen has built a career over 20 years thanks to TV shows including “My Own Swordsman,” and films including “If You Are The One 2,” Firestorm” and “Chronicles of the Ghostly Tribe.” She has three more in this year’s IFFAM: “Caught in the Web” from 2012; last year’s “Journey To The West: The Demons Strike Back”; and the current ‘Lost, Found.” On Monday she will be in conversation, on stage with producer Nansun Shi.

First, she gives Variety an insight into the high pressures of Chinese celebrity, her role as one of the world’s most followed bloggers, and where she wants to take her career next.

Why accept the IFFAM position as Actress in Focus?
“I have been to Macau before to promote other films, but not as part of the festival. Last year (my husband and I) established a production company called Bad Rabbit Pictures. We hope to discover what film makers in other countries are thinking and doing. If actors limit themselves to only our own circles we cannot learn.

“My first profession is as an actress. But I started the company because I want to make the films that I am interested in.”

Please describe you film career in just a few sentences – is it what you imagined? what is your understanding of success?
“Everyone has dreams, but not everyone has the opportunity to achieve them When I was young, I was very interested in the characters I saw in films and on TV. So now, as a grown up I can be the actress that I want. In that way I am both lucky and successful.

“I have been an actress for over two decades now. I have experienced overnight celebrity. And also a plunge to the bottom in a single night. Apart from fame, my dream has never changed. There have been times that I have doubted myself, wanted to give up my dream. Sometimes I think that I am not performing to my full potential.

“But I have found that success is largely just an accident, and that failure is the more common outcome. Now that I have learned to be a friend of failure, I am actually more confident and am more comfortable with my performances.”

There seems to be pressure from government, commercial requirements, financial scrutiny, fan expectations, and obsession with box office. What is it like to be a celebrity in China these days?

“We said no political questions. (40 second pause). It is so difficult to answer. I have never been a celebrity abroad, so I have no reference. I was born and grew up in China. All my observations are Chinese.

“Now we are living in the Internet age. We can watch foreign films and see other people’s lifestyles. Everyone has their own problems and pressures. We are no exception.

“I am lucky to be in the working in the arts field. Arts is its own universe. And art can provide protection for our hearts.”

Much has been written about the scale of your social media following, your charitable work and your role as a KOL. What do you do with this power? What are its limits?

“Social media products are a tool for me to record my own life. I’ve used microblogging for 10 years. They are my authentic, growing stories, and different experiences. At times I’ve been naïve, confused, and lost.

“Now microblogging has changed. It is no longer focused on a particular group of people. The 80 million figure is just an accumulated number. Among these, there are people who like me very much, and others who don’t. I now realize that number can bring great influence, but also great pressure.”

You are a producer now. Do you also have ambitions in Hollywood?
“My father told me long ago that, even though I am a celebrity, I should remember where I came from.

“These days that are many Hollywood films seeking cooperation opportunities in the Chinese mainland. And many Chinese actors who have joined this kind of film. I won’t refuse this kind of opportunity, but really my ideal is to make films that show our oriental culture and values. I want to be part of projects that are very local, but which have universal appeal.”

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