Actress with a spring in her step

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 30 April, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 30 April, 2000, 12:00am

Can you tell us something about your upcoming stage work, Noises Off ? This farce is about a third-class drama group with lousy actors and actresses who have been given limited time to rehearse for a performance. Being at odds with one another, there is absolute chaos on the stage.

My role is that of a 'gossiping bitch' who seems quiet smooth on the surface. She is pleasant and nice in front of people, but loves to speak ill of them once they turn their backs.

Ironically, she is also an actress and plays a well-educated lady, Mrs White, in this drama within a drama.

I saw this play in my first year at the Academy for Performing Arts (APA), when it was staged by a British drama group. Good co-ordination was needed because they performed in a simulated two-storey structure.

Did your role in this comedy present a big challenge? Playing a comic character is very difficult as you have to skilfully manipulate the audience to laugh at your antics and then cry the next moment. You're doomed if there's no response. I was so scared when I got the script. But from experience, I know that everything will turn out smoothly. So I don't worry too much.

I will try to create some verbal and facial expressions and idiosyncratic gestures that sound and look funny. We'll figure it out together through interaction with each other on the stage during rehearsals. We always inspire each other and improvise to get what we want.

I watch Dodo Cheng Yu-ling and Wong Wan-sze a lot. They are terrific comic actresses, with their exaggerated and pretentious manners.

Which stage or movie role do you like most? I'm often asked this question and everyone expects the answer to be I Have a Date With Spring and the role of Butterfly Yiu. Spring certainly has had a great influence on my career and helped polish up my acting skills. But, I still haven't come across a role I like most.

In One of the Lucky Ones , I played a blind girl, Lucy Ching Man-fai, who despite her handicap won a scholarship to study in the United States. I like the film a lot. The story is educational and carries a message. It is very touching as well. I cried when I saw it. It was a difficult role because I had to wear two pairs of contact lenses, so that my sight was completely blurred. I had to take them off every three to four hours.

Do you watch a lot of films in order to get acting tips? I like movies and television and I have learned a lot from the two mediums.

There are many other ways to learn to act. Observation is important to collect information about human behaviour. I watch people in the streets because some of them have certain body movements and gestures. For ex ample, pregnant women never cross their legs.

I also have to do homework for particular roles. For instance, for the blind girl's role, I learned to use Braille from a teacher at a school for the blind. Another role required me to speak the dialect of people in a walled village in Fanling. I went there to find a villager who could teach me the lines. I taped the whole thing and listened to it repeatedly.

This is the good side about being an actress. These experiences enrich your life.

But the downside is that you betray your emotions. If something sad happens in your family, you still have to wear a smile and crack jokes. If you act opposite the person you've just broken up with, you still have to hug and kiss him.

What role would you like to do in the future? That of a wicked woman who does all kinds of 'bad' things. I hope to model it on Bai Guang, a sexy singer-actress of the late 1940s whose most famous song was Waiting for you to come back . I have much respect for her taboo-breaking attitude. She lived with many men and her open lifestyle was disapproved of by society. Therefore, she was considered a bad woman. Another example is Jiang Qing, who worked her way up the Chinese Communist Party ladder by using men and all sorts of dirty tricks.

I think both of them are brilliant. But people say I lack the charisma to take such challenging roles.

On the contrary, I'm more like someone who is traded by men instead of using them. I am good at reading people and I know if someone wants to take advantage of me. But I don't know how to handle it.

Who is the best actor or actress you have worked with? Anthony Wong Chau-sang. I played opposite him only once, in Cyrano De Bergerac , directed by Chung King-fai. I was overwhelmed by his powerful presence on the stage.

Which do you want to focus on, movie or stage acting? The Hong Kong film industry is too commercial. It doesn't want those with good acting skills so my kind is not needed at all. Movie stars only have to have a pretty face, a good figure, and be sexy to be successful.

I was just lucky with Spring . Everyone says I'm not beautiful, I don't have good skin and I am too fat for the screen. I can't fast because I love eating so much. So I just don't fit into showbiz. I get angry when even my boyfriend criticises me for not being sociable as pop artists are supposed to be. And he says that is the reason I don't have a contract now.

I don't force myself to pursue what other people have.

On the other hand, it is important to know that on the stage, I can do much better than any film star. I can act out the whole life of a woman from a teenage girl through to a 60- year-old granny.

Who is your favourite play wright? David Mamet is one of my favourites. His plays carry a profound message, unlike those staged merely for entertainment. His Theatre of the Absurd presents the reality of life. Through his works, you feel the desperation and isolation of human beings caused by a lack of communication. He encourages people to think about society and to search for the meaning of life.

What is your opinion of Hong Kong theatre? I think it's improving. This generation is better educated and the 20 to 30 age group audience is growing.

The APA has been training local actors and actresses. There are a number of small theatrical groups with very good potential, such as Theatre Ensemble and The Actors' Family.

Do you want to develop your singing career? I used to play in a band. And I sing jazz and songs for musicals and TV dramas. Of course I enjoy singing. But again, Hong Kong showbiz doesn't need talented singers, but pretty faces.

Name: Alice Lau Nga-lai Birthday: April 24, 1969 Birthplace: Hong Kong Occupation: Stage/film actress After graduating from the Acad emy for Performing Arts, Alice Lau rose to fame after playing one of the leading roles in the stage musical, I Have a Date with Spring , in 1995. The big screen version of the Raymond To Kwok-wai play was a box-of fice hit, raking in more than $20 million at local cinemas. It won her nominations for best actress and best newcomer at the Hong Kong Film Awards. Lau's singing talent has won her several music awards. Her mother, Selina Hiu Wah, was a well-known pop star in the 1960s. Since leaving the Hong Kong Repertory Theatre in 1994 to become a freelance actress, Lau has played a 'dual role'. She is taking things in her stride as she switches from the big screen to the theatre and vice-versa. She has just started rehearsals for Noises Off , a stage production that is scheduled for release in June.