Malaysian actor Christopher Lee learns Taiwanese dialect for iron welder role in Workers


Malaysian actor Christopher Lee's portrayal of a taxi driver in 2010 Singaporean film Kidnapper helped him land a role in Taiwanese drama Workers. Photo: handout

Having won many hearts playing romantic heroes in Singaporean dramas for the most part of his career, Malaysian actor Christopher Lee now aims to tickle your funny bones with his portrayal of a blue collar worker in HBO Asia Original series Workers.

Workers is a six-episode series based on a best-selling novel of the same name and stars Lee as a happy-go-lucky iron welder named Ming-Qi, who is regarded as a daydreamer due to his penchant for coming up with get-rich-quick schemes.

In a recent video conference from Singapore, the actor revealed that he landed the role after the producer Lin Yu-Ling had recalled in her dream Lee’s portrayal of a taxi driver in the Kelvin Tong-directed Singapore film Kidnapper (2010).

However, he was initially hesitant to take on the project as he was not too familiar with the Taiwanese Hokkien dialect.

But his agency had other ideas, and sent him the production notes of Workers along with information about the book it was based on.

Lee learnt Taiwanese dialect to play an iron welder in Workers. Photo: handoutLee learnt Taiwanese dialect to play an iron welder in Workers. Photo: handout

Lee was so captivated by the tale that he was determined to give it a shot.

In fact, he was so committed to the role that he spent two months shaping the character by working with a dialect coach and putting on a reasonable amount of weight.

After all, he reasoned that it was only six episodes, so it should be manageable.

“But when the script arrived, I started to regret my decision. The character is quite talkative, so I had many, many lines of dialogue, ” said Lee, 48, ruefully.

“My dialect is Teochew, but all my childhood friends spoke Hokkien. So I have no problem understanding and speaking Hokkien. But Taiwanese Hokkien is actually quite different, ” said the actor.

Physically, Lee also endeavoured to make Ming-Qi a more likeable, rotund character by packing on some pounds. “I feel that being a bit plump and chubby helps to make the character more endearing to audiences so they will be more forgiving of all his crazy schemes and dreams.”

Lee packs on some pounds for his role in Taiwanese drama Workers. Photo: handoutLee packs on some pounds for his role in Taiwanese drama Workers. Photo: handout

No stranger to hard work, Lee admitted that Ming-Qi actually reminded him a lot of his younger days, so he was able to draw from his own personal experience of having worked in a factory for six years before making his showbiz debut.

“I was raised in a small kampung in Melaka, and I didn’t come from a well-to-do family. Many of us started working at a very young age. We did mostly odd jobs or manual labour.”

According to Lee, the similarities do not end there. “I’m also a happy-go-lucky kind of person. When I’m faced with setbacks or when I’m feeling down, I get over my emotions very quickly and move on.

“The other similarity is that I’m also a very simple person. I don’t yearn for a luxurious life, and I enjoy a simple life with my family. I am also always on the lookout for new opportunities, especially for work which I enjoy doing.”

And that innate positivity is what he likes best about Ming-Qi, despite having the odds stacked against him.

“He seems crazy and quite cheeky, but he’s actually a hard-working person. However, people around him don’t seem to understand him, and even dismiss his dreams as daydreams.

“I like that he is enthusiastic and optimistic. He doesn’t show his sadness and he probably keeps his sorrows to himself.

In today’s society, it’s rare to meet people with his characteristics. With advancements in technology, we are far from simple, hence his simplistic nature is very precious, ” said Lee.

With Singapore’s Covid-19 circuit breaker extended to June 1, Lee said he cherishes the time spent at home with his wife, Singaporean actress Fann Wong, and their five-year-old son, Zed.

“My son is very happy because it’s rare for both my wife and I to be at home with him every single day. He never asks to go out and he also understands that we can’t go out during this period of time.

“Even though we are unable to enjoy outdoor activities as much as we used to, we still have a lot of fun at home.

“And most importantly, we’re distancing ourselves to prevent the spread of the virus, ” stressed Lee, who says he will not be taking on new projects any time soon.

As a family man, one thing Lee enjoys doing now is preparing meals for his loved ones. “I have been cooking more than usual. At least one dish a day.

“My wife has told me that I shouldn’t be going out from now on, so that I can continue cooking for the family.”

Workers premieres on May 10 at 9pm on HBO Go.

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