Interview With “The Wandering Earth” Star Mike Sui!
- How did you get your start in the entertainment industry?
My most basic beginnings date back to around early 2006 when I got a gig at a nightclub in Nanjing doing some of my own Chinese rap. I was billed as the “American Rap Prince.” The name wasn’t my idea. It was the club owner’s. Then a few months later I participated in a singing talent search show in China in the summer of 2006, called “My Show.” I got into the Top 100 for the whole country. Although I didn’t do much in the entertainment world over the next three years, my experience with “My Show” kind of lit a fire in me that kept burning somewhere. My day job at the time – teaching English to junior high kids – didn’t deeply satisfy me so I eventually found my way back to acting, with my dad’s help and connections.
2. How do you think your unique upbringing helped you get to where you are today?
Well, what was unique about my upbringing was two things: 1) bouncing between the U.S. and China and never quite fitting in in either place; and 2) becoming bilingual in English and Chinese as well as bicultural. My bicultural background has allowed me to see both the U.S. and China as an outsider and an insider. That’s helped me to see what’s funny, ironic or quirky about both countries and people and helped play a role in my breakout video in 2012, which focused on making fun of various types of people – including an American “good old boy,” a pretentious Chinese English speaker and several more characters. It’s necessary to stand a little bit outside a culture – or at least not totally identify with it – to really understand how people in the culture think and act. Otherwise, you have a certain blind spot. So, I credit my outsider status with giving me a keen eye about human character, foibles and behavior, which is very helpful both to comedy and to acting in general. Also, my bilingualism has made it possible to host programs with both English-speaking and Chinese-speaking guests. So, that’s given me another whole field – hosting – in which to develop. I’ve hosted a lot of live and filmed events – featuring guests like LeBron James, Shaun White, Cristiano Ronaldo, Novak Djokovic and many more. Those opportunities owe a lot to my bilingualism.
3. What was the first major project you worked on?
My real dive into professional acting dates to the summer of 2009 when I got a role as American journalist Edgar Snow in a Chinese TV serial based in 1930s’ Yan’an, China, which was broadcast nationally. A friend of my dad’s hooked me up with that gig, which really got my career rolling, so I’m forever grateful to my dad and that guy. I didn’t get paid much, but I got experience on a professional production, learned how to work with a director and other crew members and got enough momentum to propel me to a small role in a major movie a few months later.
4. What can you tell us about “The Wandering Earth”?
“The Wandering Earth” is China’s first blockbuster sci-fi movie and the first Chinese sci-fi movie to get close to or meet Hollywood standards. It shows that China can compete in this genre internationally. It’s based on a novel by Liu Cixin, China’s top sci-fi author. It tells the story of Earth some decades in the future, as it responds to an existential threat: The sun is expanding and threatens to consume Earth, so Earth’s United Government implements a plan to build thousands of engines to propel Earth out of its current solar orbit and take it to a new solar system in a different galaxy – a journey that will take a hundred human generations. However, about 20 years into the journey Earth is being pulled by the gravity of Jupiter and will crash into the ringed planet unless a solution is found. So, the movie revolves around this threat. Spoiler: Earth is saved, but only after brave and selfless acts, both by a Chinese astronaut and many Earth-based teams inspired by the words of a young Chinese woman.
5. How would you describe your character?
Well, director Frant Gwo said that my character Tim was a symbol of “light” or brightness – hence the bright platinum hair Tim has. From my viewpoint, Tim was allowed to externalize things in a way some other characters weren’t. He was not so constrained – perhaps because he was half-Australian, half-Chinese, or perhaps because he was a bit of a ne’er-do-well to begin with. So, Tim was more rowdy and undisciplined than the others. He was also more obviously scared than the others. But when push came to shove Tim acted bravely by saving the young protagonist Liu Qi. I take that to mean that people have a certain instinct for bravery and doing the right thing – that underneath everything there’s a certain nobility or brightness that can shine through if needed or given a chance. I think the director may have wanted to show that everyone – even the least likely – have something important to contribute to the world, especially in the crunch.
6. How was working on that project different from others you’ve worked on in the past?
First of all, “The Wandering Earth” is the first real sci-fi movie I’ve done. Almost all other movies I’ve done (about 16 or more) have been based in the modern day and been pretty realistic. (I say “pretty realistic” because I’ve also had wacky roles such as being a hot-air balloon pilot who mysteriously appears out of nowhere in the Gobi Desert.) So, “The Wandering Earth” entailed extensive work with green screens. Also, the circumstances of the story required more actorly imagination than usual to make it believable. How do you convey what it’s like being on the surface of a frozen planet at minus 70 degrees Celsius? How do you convey what it’s like facing the imminent destruction of the planet? The production was also different because it was more physically arduous than any other production I’ve worked on. The “spacesuit” (or cold climate suit) we all wore weighed over 50 pounds, when fully decked out. So it made every scene really tiring to film – especially since we were filming in a poorly ventilated sound stage in the summer, albeit at night. So, the filming was quite grueling. Another major difference is that “The Wandering Earth” is the first time a role has been created just for me. I had worked with director Frant Gwo before – on “My Old Classmate” in 2014 – and he wanted to find a spot for me in this movie, since our previous cooperation had been good and we had become friends. So, the character of Tim was created for me. I always try to do my best in a production, but I was even more motivated to do so for this movie since the director had made a spot for me in the film.
7. What is your dream role?
I’m eager to get into action-comedy films. Something like “Deadpool” or a Jackie Chan comedy-action film. I want to have a role where I can be both physically fit and wryly funny. I’m devoted to fitness and also enjoy comedy, so I think it would be a great natural combination.
8. Do you have any other projects you’d like to share with us?
The director of “The Wandering Earth” already has his sights set on a sequel as well as some possible spin-off TV series revolving around the main characters. I hope to be involved in those projects, although there’s no timetable. In the meantime, I’m preparing for a lifestyle “makeover” show in China – where I would help guide and inspire some folks to improve their daily habits – eating, exercise, what have you – so they can be happier and more productive. Plus, somewhere on the calendar is a Chinese stand-up comedy competition, which I will be in.
9. What are your social media handles?
The main platforms I use (and handles) are:
Sina Weibo: Mike隋
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