Godfrey Gao no mere mortal

Model-actor Godfrey Gao is much, much more than just a pretty face.

THERE is no denying that Godfrey Gao’s physical presence is larger than life.

As he rises to his feet to greet the media, the 195-cm tall Taiwanese-Canadian easily towers over the rest of us mere mortals.

But even with that astounding height, Gao would have been another pretty poster boy with a typical model-actor portfolio if not for the fact that he is now the face of a prestigious global skincare brand.

As the ambassador of SK-II Men, Gao was in Singapore recently for promotional events related to the brand.

“Good grooming was always part of my career because I knew the difference it made to my line of work,” said the 27-year-old star. “But after my experience with SK-II Men, I found that my skin achieved a level of vibrancy and clarity that I had never seen before.

“The product has not only transformed my skin, it has also given me a new confidence at work, and in my social and personal life,” enthused Gao, who is fluent in English and Mandarin. He’s obviously committed to skincare by walking the talk with SK-II, even calling it his must-have travel companion.

With his SK-II appointment, Gao joins an international roster of A-list ambassadors which include Malaysian actress Lee Sinje, Australian actress Cate Blanchett, Singaporean model Sheila Sim and China-born actress Carina Lau.

Since Gao started using the product, he now automatically advises friends to take care of their mien whenever he sees that they have skin problems.

“My male friends do tease me about being the face of a skincare product, but I tell them, ‘Look at where I am now,’” he jested.

As far as his own grooming habits are concerned, Gao said, “I am pretty fast. In 10 to 15 minutes, I can be out of the door, with a hat of course. But if I do my hair, it will probably take me about 20 minutes.”

It was an activity-packed day for Gao in Singapore; he was visibly tired (though of course, still dashing) when he met media members in an all-too-brief group interview session. It was an equally hectic schedule for the Malaysian press, as we were herded to three different locations in the Lion City within the span of a few hours.

As we scrutinised his skin up-close (verdict: clear!) and demeanour (unassuming and articulate), Gao seemed almost abashed by all the attention.

It’s refreshing that he remains such a down-to-earth lad despite being a household name in Taiwan.

Popularly known in the Chinese-speaking world as Gao Yi Xiang and affectionately known as “G” to his closest friends, Gao rose to stardom through his roles in Taiwanese TV serials Momo Love (2009) and Volleyball Lover (2010). His earlier dramas were The Kid From Heaven (2006), Love Queen (2006) and Bull Fighting (2007).

Gao became even more high-profile after modelling in Louis Vuitton’s Spring/Summer 2011 ready-to-wear campaign; he was the first ever Asian male to front a French luxury brand’s campaign.

He has also been a celebrity guest for DKNY’s Spring 2010 fashion show, as well as the grand opening for the Louis Vuitton Island Maison in Singapore. In addition, Gao has graced many top fashion and men’s magazines. A testament of his growing popularity is evident whenever he travels to the tabloid-loving city of Hong Kong where dozens of paparazzi tail him like a flock of birds.

It’s not easy being anointed the current boy wonder of the fickle fashion world, but Gao wears the title well (on his broad shoulders).

Malaysian connection

Gao, whose starsign is Virgo (and blood type is O) was born in Canada on Sept 22, 1984. He was raised by a Taiwanese father and a Malaysian mother of Penang origin.

“My mum is Peranakan from Georgetown. My dad is Shanghai-nese but he grew up in Taiwan,” he explained in an e-mail interview after the Singapore sojourn.

Gao added that his mother was a former beauty queen (Miss Tourism Malaysia) while his father was a tour guide from Taiwan.

“He met my mum when he toured Malaysia. He fell in love the first time he laid eyes on my mum!”

Gao’s humble beginnings in life can be traced back to his days in Vancouver where he graduated from Argyle Secondary School.

Then, at Capilano University (in Canada), his forays into the world of sports ranged from basketball and volleyball to taekwando. Occasionally, he indulged in his love for playing the drums or deejaying.

He modelled in fashion shows such as Mantique, Torino and Ecko with early screen acting credits in Canadian productions such as Stargate SG-1 and Still Life. He then decided to base his career in Taiwan where his good looks were immediately embraced by the industry. The rest, as they say, is history.

In spite of his international success, Gao is obviously still proud of his Malaysian “link”. During the Louis Vuitton campaign shoot – which was held in Cameron Highlands in 2011 – he expressed his happiness to the crew that he was back on home turf. And he intends to visit Malaysia again soon, “because of my craving for the food!”

In regard to his upbringing in Penang, Gao said, “My fondest memory growing up in Penang was eating all the local food like char koay teow, char hor fan, chendol, bubur cha cha, bah kut teh, laksa, apom ... the list goes on!

“I just love the food in Penang. Gurney Drive is where we stay every time we go back because we have an apartment there. And I remember my brother and I will go fishing there with our uncle!”

Apart from food, Gao’s great passion is undoubtedly basketball; he even said that he’d have become a professional basketball player had he not entered showbiz.

Naturally, I couldn’t resist asking his opinion about Jeremy Lin, the 23-year-old Asian-American basketball sensation.

(In February, Lin enjoyed a winning streak. He was promoted to the starting line-up of the New York Knicks, which later generated a global following known as “Linsanity”. Lin is one of the few Asian Americans in NBA history, and the first American of Chinese or Taiwanese descent to play in the league.)

“He is a great player and role model for the Asian community,” enthused Gao of Lin. “And he became a superstar during his stretch of explosive performances back in February. I witnessed the game and that night was the loudest that New York fans have ever cheered in the history of Madison Square Garden. That alone was just a special game to be a part of and I’m glad he’s doing well! I hope to see him grow in the NBA as an all-round star! Go Linsane!”

Go, go, Gao

So, what’s next for Gao?

His star is only going to get brighter as he has been cast as 800-year-old warlock Magnus Bane in the feature adaptation of The Mortal Instruments: City Of Bones (co-starring Lily Collins of Mirror Mirror). Cassandra Clare, author of the best-selling series of young adult fantasy novels, made the announcement via a tweet. The film, to be directed by Harald Zwart (The Karate Kid), starts shooting next month in Toronto.

Gao is currently in Shanghai shooting 101 Proposals opposite Lin Chiling (top model turned actress) and Huang Bo; the film is scheduled for release on Valentines’ Day 2013. He also stars in Chinese TV series S.O.P Queen which reportedly scored large primetime ratings.

As a thespian, what would be Gao’s dream role?

“I want to be a superhero! Like Superman, Batman or Spiderman.”

With the way things are going for him, Gao’s career trajectory – superhero role or not – will definitely be a super one.

Related Story: New benchmark

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