Q&A: Annie Liu
Actress Annie Liu On-lai is returning to the stage to play the Malaysian wife of a businessman in a historical drama. Liu stars alongside award-winning actor Liu Kai-chi in Amity Drama Club's Martyrs on an Uphill Road. It is about revolutionaries in Hong Kong trying to bring down the Qing dynasty. The play, with English subtitles, is being staged to mark the 100th anniversary of the 1911 Xinhai revolution in Guangzhou.
Liu gave up acting in 1986, when she got married, and left Hong Kong to live in Australia before returning in 2000. In recent years, she has been working as a volunteer for various charities.
What convinced you to take the role in Martyrs?
Having the chance to work with Liu Kai-chi was the most appealing factor. A few years ago I was in a play and wanted him to come to rehearsals and offer advice, as I hadn't been on the stage for a while. But he was busy. I admire his acting and we are good friends. We've known each other for decades.
When I learned more about the play, I realised it was a production worth supporting. This year is the 100th anniversary of the Xinhai revolution. The story is about the movement before the revolution and the patriotism of the Hong Kong people. I turned down a couple of offers - a television drama series and another theatre drama - because I wanted to do this play.
Are you familiar with the Xinhai revolution?
Not really. I'm not very good at history and have a bad memory. I can't even remember what I ate last week. However, because of this drama, I asked a friend of mine, who is a Chinese-language and history teacher, to tell me the background and history of the revolution. People from Amity also told me a lot about it. It was a significant campaign to overthrow the Qing government.
How did you prepare for your role?
After I received the script, I had to go to Australia for three weeks. As I play a Malaysian, I'm supposed to speak in accented Cantonese. So, during those three weeks, I managed to find three Malaysians to help me with my accent. Malaysia is quite big, people in different areas have different accents. So I asked the three of them to recite my lines, and I tried to pick up the accents.
In the play there is a scene where shark's fin soup is eaten. The producer said you were initially reluctant to do this scene.
Yes. We are encouraged not to eat shark's fin soup these days because it's very cruel to sharks. In that scene, I have to talk about eating shark's fin soup quite a few times. I didn't feel comfortable with it, so I asked the director and the producer whether we could replace the shark's fin soup with other dishes.
However, after a serious meeting, they decided to keep the scene because shark's fin soup was what affluent families would eat during that era. It's a symbol of their wealth, and nothing else could replace it. I accepted their reasoning and that, as an actress, I have to change my mindset when playing a role.
Is acting in stage dramas more challenging than television work?
The stage was where I started my career. In the summer after I graduated from Form Five, I took a drama course organised by a community centre in North Point. Raymond Wong Bak-ming was the instructor, Clifton Ko Chi-sum and Lung Tin-sang were my classmates.
I did a couple of years of theatre before enrolling in the TVB artist training programme. I didn't do any stage dramas during my 10-year stint in TVB. During the eight years I spent in Australia in the 90s, I was involved in three theatre dramas, all comedies, with several friends.
Have you moved back to Hong Kong for good now?
Yes. I moved back to Hong Kong in 2000, so it's already been 11 years. I go back to Australia twice a year because my two daughters are there. Actually, we came back together in 2000. But a few years later, my elder daughter wanted to go back to Australia and my younger daughter followed later. They are not used to living in Hong Kong. They prefer life in Australia and want to be independent. My elder daughter is working there now, and my younger daughter is still studying at university. I'm living in Hong Kong alone.
Are you going to be more active on stage and on screen?
Not really. In fact, I now spend most of my time doing community work. I occasionally do stage dramas and television drama series, as they are things that I really enjoy. Before I gave up my business, I was a workaholic, working seven days a week. After that, I started to tell people that I was available to do volunteer work.
Now, I take up a lot of jobs playing host at events for charities and NGOs, I'm also the chairwoman of Will in Action. We promote organ donation as well as life and death education.
Martyrs on an Uphill Road (in Cantonese, with English subtitles). May 8 and May 10, 2.30pm; May 7 to May 10, 7.30pm, Kwai Tsing Theatre. Tickets HK$1,000 (VIP), HK$250, HK$150 and HK$100 from Urbtix outlets. Bookings: 27349009