Stage and film actor Gardner Tse Kwan-ho rose to prominence in the 90s by playing the lead role in “The Mad Phoenix”, which deals with the life of the eccentric Cantonese opera playwright Kong Yu-kau.
Initially performing in a stage play which was subsequently turned into an acclaimed feature film, Tse had come to be associated with the colorful character of Kong, who lived between 1909 and 1984 and was better known by his pen name Nam Hoi Sup Sam Long.
Tse has no regrets about the fact that his identity in the public mind is mainly as the person who portrayed Kong.
“I am not afraid of being set as him. In fact, I am very grateful for having played such a memorable character. I am also grateful for the people who have offered me this opportunity,” says Tse, who is now 52 years in age.
Tse had a relatively smooth career in acting.
After graduating from the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts in 1989, he joined the Hong Kong Repertory Theatre (HKREP) as a full-time actor.
In 1993, when he turned 30, Tse became the youngest principal actor ever at HKREP. In 1997, he joined Spring-Time Stage Productions as an instructor and actor.
It was during that time that Tse starred as Kong in “The Mad Phoenix”, for which he won the best actor award at the 34th Golden Horse Awards.
Before he got onto the road to fame and fortune, Tse failed once in gaining entry to the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts. It was only during his second attempt that he succeeded, helping him pursue an acting career.
Had he failed in the second attempt, Tse might have settled for a life as a nurse in the United Christian Hospital.
Tse had worked as a nurse briefly in youth before deciding to take up work on the stage.
He says now that daily life experiences are important to him for acting.
“After all, an actor is still an ordinary person. Everything originates from everyday life,” he says.
Despite being a celebrity, Tse manages to keep his feet on the ground and retain a common touch.
For instance, when asked about how much a fishball serving would cost, Tse can easily provide some figures.
“My favorite is Siu Mai and now it costs HK$8 per serving. HK$13 for the combo; I ordered that yesterday at 7-eleven.”
On the screen, Tse often appears as a gentleman, clad immaculately in classy, tailored suits. In real life, would he go out for a stroll in his slippers?
“Slippers? Not often really, as it’s not very comfortable to do so,” laughed Tse.
In the latest TV drama, “Cruel Romance”, which is going to air on Hong Kong’s LeTV platform this August, Tse plays the owner of a business enterprise in Shanghai during the early years of the Chinese Republic.
“It’s not easy to be a Shanghainese, especially acting as a rich man,” he says.
To prepare for the role, Tse had to learn a few things from Shanghainese gentlemen of the old generation.
“They are really the true nobles, who love wearing suits and playing baseball. Even now they insist on living a particular kind of lifestyle. In order to get into my role, I had tea and long chats with those gentlemen. And I also had to read a lot.”
Tse said he didn’t find it easy to portray an aura of aristocracy.
“For an extremely rich man, money means nothing… What he chases after are power and the ability to control. But once he achieves those, he starts to get lost, not knowing what to do next.”
Love is the true weakness of the rich protagonist being played by Tse in his latest TV drama, but the feelings lie buried within.
“Because of money, he is surrounded by beautiful ladies. However, that is not love… He only realizes that he has fallen in love when he throws himself into a sea of fire to save a person.”
As for real life, Tse is very loyal in his relationship.
He met his wife when he was working as a shop assistant in a stationery shop back during his teen years.
“Relationship is not acting. It takes time to cultivate,” says Tse, who married his childhood sweetheart in 1996. The couple was blessed with a baby girl in 2001.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on July 21.
Translation by Darlie Yiu
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