Nice guy with a swagger
Raymond Lam is one of Hong Kong’s most celebrated actors and performers. But such is his down-to-earth style, his onscreen persona is easily stripped away when we chat, revealing a surprisingly unpretentious side, writes Artemis Lam.
After nearly two decades in the business, Raymond Lam’s dedication to his craft cannot be faulted. He is continuously injecting new elements into the roles he plays or the songs he sings. Indeed, his versatile acting has greatly enlivened the TV drama characters he portrays by adding “chok” – a popular term in Hong Kong, meaning to forcefully make oneself look more handsome. Lam even celebrated this appellation with the award-winning song Chok, from this sixth album LF in 2011. Although, the song may be a few years old now, King of Chok’s fans still love his swagger.
“Those who know me well wonder how come the term ‘chok’ could ever be applied to me; they all think I’m dorky,” Lam laughs. “I played a role in a drama series and the character was a young guy who likes playing cool, and it became a talking point. It impressed many people and today they still remember the role. That is gratifying.”
His friends are probably right about his dorky demeanour says, Lam. He describes himself pretty much the same way. “I am kind of nerdy and sometimes silly. I’m usually calm, but when I’m with those who understand me, I could be moody.” He pauses, “I think I possess different characteristics, just like someone with split personality; that’s why I can combine myself with my roles in a harmonious way.”
This versatility is well proven. After his graduation from the TVB artists training class in the late 1990s, Lam appeared as walk-on in numerous TV dramas and a host for TVB8, where he conducted a remarkable interview with his idol – the perennial Leslie Cheung. “I wished I had a chance to perform with him on the same stage, he is a genuine superstar.”
Since his first lead role in Eternal Happiness in 2002 – after gaining fame and critical success from his portrayal of the ruthless Ying Ching in A Step into the Past (2001) – Lam has taken up countless roles in TV series and films, from genius Zhuge Liang in historical fiction dramas, to the handsome yet tragic lover Xu Xian in The Sorcerer and the White Snake. In 2003, Lam won the TVB Anniversary Award for Most Improved Male Artiste for his performance in Survivor’s Law – the first award of many.
Out of the many TV dramas featuring Lam, his latest with TVB, The Line Walker – in which he plays an undercover police officer – has definitely been welcomed by his many fans. But, unfortunately this may be a one-off, as Lam plans to work in the Mainland for the next 12 months or so.
“I’m greedy. I want to try different roles, work with different actors and crew,” he says. And I’m not ‘attached’ to any previous roles, so want to keep progressing. I have worked for more than a decade in Hong Kong, but have had only few experiences acting in the Mainland. It is a new challenge and also excellent learning opportunity for me. I am looking forward to interpreting new roles, adapting to different production techniques and working with professionals from different regions.”
Over the last year, Lam has spent more time on his music and is happy to do so. “In the coming year, I will focus more on acting. The shooting of a new drama series in the Mainland will begin at the end of this year. I am considering different scripts and will decide which are suitable.”
He did eventually pick one, Rule The World, a movie adapted from historical fiction involving loads of time travel. He stars as Hong Taiji, a powerful emperor during the Ching Dynasty.
“I have read the book and I just love the story and the character. I’m very fond of studying and researching the roles I play. When starring as a historical figure or a character from a novel, I have to bring out the essence of it and match the audience’s expectation of the character. If I am able to arouse the audience, it means it is a successful presentation and that’s the greatest satisfaction for me.”
When it comes to music, the enjoyment becomes more personal. Music is crucial to his life. As a teenager, he travelled to Shanghai by himself to learn from opera singers. Later he majored in architecture and minored in music at university.
“As a singer on stage, I am immediately overwhelmed by seeing so many people coming just for me. The instant interaction gives me an adrenaline rush and I might dare to do something unexpected, something inspirational and refreshing at that particular moment,” he says.
“Creation takes inspiration; it also takes time and experiences. I won’t rush to release a new album. I would gather my ideas, feelings and opinions from others – let all these combine and slowly filter. I will finally have the music I like, and that would be the best time to release the songs.
“Hopefully I can squeeze time for performing and music in the coming year. I am thinking about touring in China. So far, I haven’t really toured in the Mainland. Maybe I can work out something like a wrap of my previous concerts to share different ideas and music with my fans there.
“Music has always been a big interest of mine, but I never really thought about being a performer when I was a kid. I think I am very lucky to have the opportunity to turn my passion into a career.”
While Lam might not be able to predict what kind of life he would be leading if he had not been an artist, he thinks a lot of his time would have been spent travelling.
“There are many places I want to visit, the world is so big! One of my favourite places is Europe, with so many different countries, historical backgrounds, cultures and practices. Shopping is definitely not on the agenda. When I visit a place, I would like to visit the local residents’ houses, chat with them to learn about their culture and daily life, check out their recipes and cook at their places. I would also enjoy some outdoor activities, maybe climbing or canoeing. This is my idea of genuine travel; to see more and experience more.”
Interestingly, Lam says that Hengdian, Zhejiang – the city is home to a famous movie studio where many ancient China-themed movies and TV shows are made – is not on his travel list.
“Hengdian is a well-equipped place with vast movie sets and filming there is efficient. But we have to stay there for months to finish a drama series. Everyday life there is about working, eating and sleeping; the pattern repeats day after day. Though the good side is that we are all highly focusing on the film-making, it feels like we are isolated with the whole team being trapped on a desert island,” he laughs.
Note: If I were asked to describe Raymond Lam with three adjectives, they would be articulate, approachable and sweet. When we did the interview, the time was not right for him to disclose details about his new film. A week after, he called from Beijing in person to update us about his plans – a true down-to-earth professional.