Ram is absolutely one of my most favorite veteran supporting actors (definitely in my Top 5) -- in fact, I'm not ashamed to admit that I adore the guy to pieces! Not only is he one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet, he's also an extremely talented (but very underrated) actor as well as singer. I'm the type who really values 'versatility' when it comes to acting and Ram definitely meets the requirement (actually, he exceeds the requirement...LOL) -- no matter what type of character he plays (be it a 'professional' character such as lawyer, forensics expert, doctor, etc., an ordinary 'everyman' type character, a comedic sidekick,a benevolent father, a ruthless villain, etc.), Ram never fails to deliver the goods.
I've always felt that Ram has inborn acting talent because right from the start, I found his acting to be incredibly convincing. The first series that I saw him in was Files of Justice 2 (which I believe was also his very first TVB series?) where he played the deaf lawyer Chow Siu Chung (Eric) who was eventually paired up with Eugenia Lau's lawyer character Kong Sing Jou (Helen). [Sidenote: I loved Ram's character in the series, so obviously I hated TVB for the way they developed his character so poorly in subsequent installments and eventually killed him off so horribly in FOJ 5....still can't forgive TVB even now!!!]. I was impressed by Ram's acting from the beginning and since then, in all the series that I've watched of his, he has never once disappointed me with his awesome acting. As I said in my earlier review of the series Witness Insecurity, I always enjoy watching Ram in series because he always manages to bring his role to life with his performance, no matter how big or small his role is -- in fact, whenever I happen to be watching a series with him in it, I usually find myself watching most of his scenes in the series, even if I end up skipping the rest of the series because I can't stand the storyline or the rest of the cast (yes, there have definitely been numerous times where I've sat through series I disliked / hated just because of Ram!).
Needless to say, I absolutely enjoyed reading the below interview that a Mainland paper did with Ram and only wish that there was a video version of the interview too (I’m not familiar with this particular paper so if anyone knows if they actually do publish video versions of their interviews somewhere, I would be curious to know.)
Hope you enjoy this interview as much as I did! :-)
YCWB Interview with Ram Tseung: “The entertainment industry suits me, but I’m not suited to the entertainment industry”
Source: Yang Cheng Evening Paper
Article originally published on August 3, 2012
He almost always plays ‘small potato’ characters, but yet he says he is very happy; his path [to fame] always seems to be slower than others, but yet he says he doesn’t regret it….
You might not know his name, but you will definitely recognize his face. Ram Tseung (蔣志光) has appeared in countless TVB series throughout his 20 year acting career – from the effeminate James in the hit sitcom War of the Genders《男親女愛》(2000) to drama fanatic Law Ka Fai in the comedy Life Begins at Forty《花樣中年》(2003) to the likably cute Eunuch Po in 2009’s anniversary series Beyond the Realm of Conscience《宮心計》, to the playful and humorous ‘Little Mr. Kiu’ in the recently aired Witness Insecurity《護花危情》(2012) -- in his 2 decades as a ‘green leaf’ (supporting) actor, he has ‘changed’ many faces. Yet how many people remember that many years ago, Ram had actually started in the entertainment industry as a singer / songwriter who was responsible for bringing us the golden classic (and karaoke favorite), Met As Strangers, Once Acquainted 《相逢何必曾相識》— his famous duet with singer Rita Carpio (韋以珊). [TN: the English translation of the song title is purely my interpretation and NOT the ‘official’ translation by any means.] Even though his career ‘changed’ from music to television, one thing that hasn’t changed for this ‘second-line drama king’ is his philosophy on life – it also has not extinguished the desire in his heart to pursue his ultimate dream.
YC = Yang Cheng Evening Paper
RT = Ram Tseung
Recounting the days of old
In 3 of the series that just finished airing on TVB -- Master of Play 《心戰》, Witness Insecurity 《護花危情》, and Three Kingdoms RPG《 回到三國》—Ram Tseung played his usual ‘green leaf’ roles. For die-hard TVB fans, Ram might be a familiar face, however not everyone might be familiar with his singer / songwriter past or his ‘golden’ classics Met As Strangers, Once Acquainted 《相逢何必曾相識》 and Queen’s Road East《皇后大道東》[his duet with Taiwanese singer/songer Lo Da Yu (羅大佑)].
YC: A lot of people don’t know that you actually started in the industry as a singer. Can you tell us a little bit about your experience in this area?
RT: I believe the year was 1979 – at that time, I was doing behind-the-scenes work for movies. I had actually gone through many different positions, with the highest being assistant director. Later, the HK movie industry slumped and it was almost impossible to survive doing independent film – for 6 months, I didn’t have any work, so I decided to switch to doing behind-the-scenes work in music. At that time, I would mostly sing ‘saliva songs’ [TN: songs so common that everyone knew how to sing them] and do imitations of other singers such as Leslie Cheung (張國榮), George Lam (林子祥), etc. – I still remember there was a line in the movie C’est La Vie, Mon Cheri《新不了情》(1993) that went something like this: ‘Ram Tseung merely started in the industry singing saliva songs too!’ [laughs] It wasn’t until 1985, during George Lam’s concert, when I pretended to be a monkey imitating him singing, that people started knowing of me. Not long after that, I signed with record company Polygram [now Universal] and participated in the “Asian Region Pop Song Competition” and later released my first EP album. At that time, Polygram had 3 singers they wanted to promote – Ram Tseung, Hacken Lee (李克勤), and Chris Wong (黄凯芹). The company had the 3 of us release albums at the same time and told us that whoever’s album sells well, they will get the chance to continue releasing albums. The result was that both Chris and Hacken’s albums sold well, but mine didn’t. Later on, I signed with another record company and formed the band ‘Second Generation Wind and Cloud’ with 2 other artists, however the company wanted me to release a solo album, so that’s when I wrote the song Met As Strangers, Once Acquainted.
YC: After that song, your singing career started to take flight, however not long after that, you announced that you would be leaving the music industry. Why?
RT: The main reason was because I discovered that my foundation in music was not strong enough. To be a successful singer, I had to guarantee that each of my albums will sell better than the previous one – the pressure was too great. Plus the music industry at that time was already very different from what it was in the past and so I could already anticipate that a future in singing was not very optimistic. In addition, I was a pretty picky person and didn’t get along too well with others, so I decided to leave the music industry.
YC: Did you struggle with the decision?
RT: No. My thinking at the time was -- rather than continuing to remain in the industry until you dry up, why not just withdraw when there’s still a chance?
YC: After you left the music industry, there was a long period of time where you wouldn’t sing at all on any shows or programs. Was this because in your mind, there was a sort of ‘mental resistance’ to singing?
RT: No, it wasn’t resistance. The HK entertainment industry is very weird – they like to ‘label’ all their artists as either ‘actors’ or ‘singers’. As an artist, if you are able to act and sing well, it’s supposed to mean that you’re a multi-talented person, however in HK, it’s different – if your status isn’t clearly classified into one of those categories, it’s like you’re out of place. My philosophy has always been: either I do the best job or I don’t do it at all – since I wanted to be a good actor, I had to give up on singing. Even now, at this point in my career, I hope for people to remember me as an actor more than as a singer. In the future, if people bring up the name ‘Ram Tseung’ and feel that I was both a good actor and a good singer, of course it would give me even more of a sense of accomplishment.
YC: It wasn’t until Lo Da Yu’s (羅大佑) concert in 2004 that you finally got up on the stage and sang again. Did you feel at that time that you could finally throw out your apprehensions about singing?
RT: No. Actually, I originally didn’t even plan on participating in the concert, but then Patrick Tang (鄧健泓) asked me: ‘Perhaps look at it as an opportunity to go see your old friend again and reminisce with him about the old days?’ I thought: ‘true, that makes sense’, so I decided to go. Nowadays, I still occasionally perform on stage here and there to earn some extra money, but to me, that’s purely a method of earning money. If you ask me, I would still tell you that I am an actor.
After leaving the music industry, Ram Tseung took with him the dream of one day becoming a director and eventually joined TVB, becoming an actor instead. At first, he saw becoming an actor as a ‘stepping stone’ for a different career path and so he took a ‘passing through’ attitude toward acting. What he didn’t expect was that he would go from waiting impatiently for each work day to end to, 20 years later, truly developing a love for acting. Having resigned himself to the fact that he ‘doesn’t have the fate to be male lead’, Ram has found a certain type of joy in playing a variety of different ‘small potato’-type characters.
YC: After withdrawing from the music industry, why did you choose to join TVB?
RT: Because I wanted to continue cultivating my creativity. I felt that this industry was closer to my dream – I always tell people that my ultimate goal is in movies, so I decided to give up my singing career to pursue acting. Thinking back on this path now, I feel that I made the right decision.
YC: For someone like you who didn’t graduate from the Acting Classes, did your acting get criticized a lot in the beginning?
RT: I consider myself lucky in that all the roles I’ve gotten have been ones that I’m able to handle. However I will admit that in the beginning, I didn’t apply 100% dedication to acting because what I really liked most was behind-the-scenes work. But, there’s a saying in our industry that gets circulated quite often: ‘Never think about just acting for a few years and then leaving, because as soon as you say this, you won’t be able to leave for a number of years.’ It described my situation perfectly – I thought I would just be ‘passing through’, but in the blink of an eye, I’ve already been acting for 20 years.
YC: How did you ‘endure’ these past 20 years?
RT: In the beginning, I was truly just waiting for each work day to end. Then when I started filming A Kindred Spirit 《真情》, I got to know Louise Lee (李司棋) . She treated the filming studio like her own home, often bringing pillows , newspapers, magazines, etc. almost every day. I asked her why she did that -- she told me that filming series is a long-term job and if we constantly thought if it as temporary and just waited to get off work everyday, it would definitely be a painful experience for us. It was like a light suddenly went on: I came to realize that there’s no point in constantly looking at the clock and wondering when the day will be over – instead, just enjoy the moment and the work at hand. A few years later, I was filming a series with Patrick Tam (譚耀文) and all of a sudden, I told him that I’ve come to love acting. After so many years of thinking that my work is dull and dry, to all of a sudden have feelings for it, definitely very interesting – from that moment on, my attitude toward work changed completely.
YC: Having played so many characters throughout the years, which one is your favorite?
RT: Looking back at it now, I feel that every character I played is very interesting and ‘cute’. For example, the character of James in War of the Genders, Sheung Jing Man in Safeguards《鐵血保鏢》, Leung Cham in A Fistful of Stances《鐵馬尋橋》. Even in Files of Justice《壹號皇庭》and A Kindred Spirit, my characters may not have stood out much, but the experiences were happy ones.
YC: Do you have a special fondness for these types of ‘small potato’ characters?
RT: Primarily because the producers believe in me and feel that I’m able to portray these types of characters well. I already don’t have the looks, so if I can’t even play these types of ‘small potato’ characters well, then it would definitely be impossible to survive [in the industry]. That’s why I feel that I need to firmly grasp the path of being a ‘character actor’! (Laughs)
YC: To be able to portray these types of characters well is not easy. Do you have a particular method to it?
RT: Normally, I would find myself a ‘reference’ that I could base the character off of. For example, in Witness Insecurity, I modeled the character of ‘Little Mr Kiu’ after Eric Tsang (曾志偉) and would think about him when playing the character. However, costume dramas are actually harder to find a ‘reference’ – for example, the character of Eunuch Po in Beyond the Realm of Conscience. I feel that Eunuch Po’s ‘partner’ in the series [the character played by Michelle Yim (米雪)] is a woman with a naturally more masculine personality, so Eunuch Po has to be more ‘feminine’ in order to reach a good balance that complements each other. Therefore, I discussed this at length with producer Siu Ching Jie [Miu Siu Ching (梅小青)] and as a result, we have this unique character.
YC: The roles you’ve had in the past few years have been quite well-received by audiences. Ever thought about getting an award?
RT: Never thought about it and feel that there is no need. Of course, I wouldn’t oppose it if it were to happen, but I feel that it’s better to be more practical in life – I would rather the company give me a pay raise! (Laughs)
YC: After so many years as a supporting actor, have you thought about doing lead roles?
RT: I feel that anyone can have the chance to be male lead. If a particular script were to have the ‘small potato’ character be the focal point of a series, I would perhaps have a chance. But in a commercialized society such as ours, there are many things that need to be taken into consideration. In HK, the ‘definition’ of a male lead is usually someone who is tall and handsome, young and suave. Mainland series on the other hand generally give middle-aged and even older actors more chance for development, but HK series generally don’t.
YC: Do you follow any Mainland series?
RT: I usually watch the historical series, such as Three Kingdoms 《三国》or Water Margin 《水浒传》. Whether it’s the scope or content, these types of series are usually quite spectacular – as an actor, it’s rare to get the opportunity to participate in these types of productions. If there’s ever the chance to collaborate with such ‘masters’ of acting in a series, it would definitely be a huge honor!
Towards His Dreams….
Despite having experienced many ups and downs in his long television career, Ram Tseung’s ‘movie dream’ has never faded. Whenever he has some leisure time, Ram would work on creating scripts, however up to this point, he has not found anyone to ‘share’ his creative ideas with. When it comes to creativity, Ram is very much a perfectionist, sometimes to the point of being ‘stubbornly persistent’ – it’s no wonder then, that he would ‘downplay’ his own ability by saying: “the entertainment industry suits me, but I’m not suited to the entertainment industry.”
YC: In the fickle world of the entertainment industry, being persistent in your ‘movie dream’ is not easy, right?
RT: TVB doesn’t have fixed monthly salaries and to be honest, my pay is not very high, but luckily my workload has been quite consistent so the money I make is enough to live off of. I’m not a materialistic person, so to have what I do now, I’m already very grateful. My family has also been very supportive of my decisions – they pretty much never watch TV, but whenever I’m in a series, they would always tune in to watch my performance. For me, this is already enough.
YC: Earlier, Ricky Wong (王维基) [CTI chairman] poached quite a few people. Ever thought about leaving to another station?
RT: I’m not that kind of person. At TVB, there’s a more stable environment and steady income, so I don’t feel it’s necessary to worry too much about the other stuff. I’ve been with the company many years, so of course I’ve already established a certain bond with them. [Rather than going to a different company], I actually hope to have the opportunity to film series in the Mainland.
YC: How about your ‘movie dream’? Still something you’d like to pursue?
RT: All these years, my ultimate goal is still to become a movie director one day. I’ve actually been working on a script all this time too, however my creative thought is pretty much the same as most of the ordinary HK scriptwriters – usually the beginning part of the script is awesome, but then 45 minutes into it, I feel helpless and hesitant…haha! If there’s money, then we can shoot a few more big action scenes, then wait for the story to end…if there’s no money, very hard to continue the story….(Laughs).
YC: If the script comes to fruition, would you seek out investors for it?
RT: Looking for investors is a huge lesson in itself. Many times, after you find an investor, you will discover that most of the script doesn’t belong to you anymore. (Laughs) I once read a report that talked about how production costs for Mainland films as well as actors’ fees continue to increase more and more, however the quality of the films get worse and worse. There’s a joke about it…someone once asked me: ‘Ram, if you could film a movie right now, how much money would you need?’ I replied: ‘2 to 3 million is enough’ to which the other person replied: ‘If you wanted 20 to 30 million, then it might be a possibility.’ The reason behind this type of thinking is that most ordinary people feel if you only invest 2 to 3 million into a movie, it must be bad quality -- but in reality, all that money really isn’t necessary. When you have a good script, you have to find someone who understands how to appreciate the art of a film to invest in it – if the investor is just an ordinary businessman who is more concerned about box office sales and return on investment than about the film itself, that’s not the result I want. Even if I’m not able to find an investor for a long time, I won’t feel it’s a pity because throughout the creative process, I’m happy and satisfied.
YC: But when a dream is ‘too perfect’, oftentimes it’s very hard to achieve.
RT: In this industry, perhaps not everyone is able to realize their dreams, but those who have the talent and ability will definitely be able to survive. Not everyone will move with the tide – some people are like cornerstones, strong foundational support who may not necessarily attain great status and wealth.
YC: But those who ‘move with the tide’ seem to have quicker results. You’ve never regretted it [taking the slower path]?
RT: I truly have not regretted it. I always say that the entertainment industry is suited to me, but people like me are not suited to the industry. The entertainment industry is suited to me because the creative space in the industry is really brilliant – being able to combine music and video images as one is truly a beautiful thing and makes this world [entertainment industry] so rewarding. But at the same time, this same ‘beautiful’ world is filled with fighting and vying for one’s own interests – that’s why I say that someone like me is not suited to exist in this type of world.