Malaysian actor Lawrence Ong is not one to shy away from a challenge, whether it is to pick up the Taiwanese Hokkien dialect to play a construction worker, or strip off to play a love scene.
Born and bred in Kota Baru, Kelantan, Ong’s multi-lingual and multi-cultural background has accorded him a fluency in both English and Mandarin, which allows him to take on diverse projects whether in theatre, film, TV or online.
For the past few years, the versatile actor has been working on a wide-ranging selection of commercial and independent projects with regional directors from Taiwan, Hong Kong, China and Japan.
“I think art films can hone an actor’s craft, especially nowadays, when it’s important to be a well-rounded actor,” says Ong, 43, who looks forward to doing a project on his homeground.
1. You have been working on such a diverse range of acting projects in the Asian region. Can you tell us about your latest works?
For the second instalment of Days We Stared At The Sun, I play an Asian American venture capitalist. The first instalment garnered a lot of awards in 2010, so expectations are high this time round.
PTS means a lot to me as my very first TV project, a made-for-TV feature film titled Upstream, also premiered on PTS earlier this year.
For Chinese film Desire/Cell/Angel/Temptation, I play the lead antagonist, a hitman in a crime syndicate. It is specially produced for China’s huge Internet and mobile industry, and has reached nearly five million paid viewerships in China’s main cities alone.
It wasn’t at all easy to break into China’s market, let alone play a lead character. I landed the role after rounds of auditions, intense discussions and most importantly, a recommendation by the film’s screenwriter Dania Gu – to whom I’m very thankful.
I’m part of the ensemble in Taipei Notes, directed by Japanese award-winning director/playwright Oriza Hirata. I’m honoured to be the only South-East Asian actor in this Taiwanese-Japanese collaboration.
I have also just started auditioning for productions in United States and Britain, and am exploring the possibility of doing a project in New York as well as in Kuala Lumpur. It still depresses me the fact that I have never acted professionally in my own country!
2. What do you like best about acting? Do you have any preference for stage or screen, and why?
I love acting for both stage and screen. I started in theatre – it’s where I built and honed my craft. Screen acting, however, tests my other techniques and challenges me as an actor differently. Acting is definitely a very introspective and spiritual journey for me.
While I came from a theatre background, I’m also drawn to independent and art films because of the endless creativity.
3. Can you tell us about some of your most challenging roles or scenes?
We are about to premiere The Thing Behind, a short film about a sex addict.
It is one of my most challenging roles yet. I did a lot of research including conducting interviews with US-based Sex Addicts Anonymous. It was a tough role to play because it’s an extremely complex character.
In addition, as an actor, my role is to serve my character and tell his story truthfully without being judgmental.
I also learnt that it isn’t at all easy to film sex or nude scenes, even for men, especially when you are the only naked person on set surrounded by fully-clothed crew members.
You’re naked but you’re still trying to stay in the moment, focusing on the emotional and psychological state of the character.
4. With multiple projects from different countries, it looks like you probably live out of your suitcase. Where is your current base and why did you choose it?
I’m currently based in Taipei. However, the Hong Kong government has recently offered me a special talent visa so I’ll be moving there this year.
I hope I’ll get to do more English and Cantonese projects. It’s a gateway to mainland China and yet not too far from Taiwan. I’ll be slightly closer to South-East Asia, too. It will be a new chapter.
5. When you conducted an acting workshop at New Era University College in Kajang, Selangor what were the students mostly interested in?
They were college students completing a diploma in acting/directing. They were mostly interested in learning “acting” in general. But I found that, generally, acting training in Malaysia is still quite broad-based.
So, I shared with them very specific acting techniques, preparations for actors to transform into various roles, the importance of concentration.
These are techniques I acquired over the years in both Taiwan and New York. And I certainly saw tremendous potential and talent in these young actors.