KUALA LUMPUR, May 4 — Before Malaysian actor Christopher Lee found fame in Singapore and East Asia, the 48-year-old emerged from humble beginnings, taking on manual labour and odd jobs.
For his latest role as an ironworker in HBO Asia’s latest original series Workers, the experience of being a factory worker helped him prepare for the role of Ming Qi.
“I like this role because it reminded me a lot of my younger days — I was a factory worker for about six years before entering the entertainment industry,” Lee said during a video interview with journalists to promote the series.
“I was familiar with things like public holidays, allowance and working overtime.”
He often took on night shifts which would explain his preference for nighttime.
Raised in a small kampung in Melaka, Lee’s family wasn’t well to do and many in the village, including himself, entered the workforce at a young age.
Proud of his working-class upbringing, the actor described his parents, childhood friends, their parents and the people around him as down-to-earth and happy-go-lucky.
This sense of familiarity was captured in Workers, instantly attracting Lee.
“I've worked in a warehouse, I’ve sold meat and I was also a waiter.
“These different experiences helped me to relate well with my character,” said Lee who is based in Singapore.
In 1995, the tide turned for the actor when he won first runner-up in the Singaporean talent search programme Star Search.
“The reason I took part in Star Search was also simply because of the cash prize.
“And that was how I got into the entertainment industry, by accident,” he said.
He went on to star in multiple TV series collecting accolades along the way including a Golden Bell award for Best Leading Actor in 2013.
“I was a worker myself, so back when I was young, the things I wanted are no different to what the workers in the show want, such as winning the lottery, striking it rich and earning more from working overtime,” he said.
Workers follows the lives of workers in a construction site in Taiwan who daydream about being rich.
They resort to countless outrageous get-rich-quick schemes only to make fools out of themselves.
Lee hopes audiences have a better understanding of the working-class through the series’ positive and light-hearted tone.
“In fact, this series can be a representation of the working class, something workers from different regions can relate to.
“When I took up this role, I felt that I had a mission to help represent all workers in every aspect, including their emotions, lifestyle and dreams,” Lee said.
In South-east Asia where construction sites are a common sight, it appears Lee’s mission would be more relevant now than ever amid the coronavirus pandemic where employment precariousness is on the rise across the globe.
For Lee, life under circuit breaker means he gets to spend more time with his wife, Singaporean actress Fann Wong, and their five-year-old son Zed.
“My son is very happy because it's rare for my wife and I to be at home with him every single day, to spend every minute and every second with him.
“He never asks to go out and he understands that we can’t go out during this period of time,” Lee said, adding that social distancing is crucial to prevent the spread of the virus.
The Fall in Love at First Kiss actor has also been cooking up a storm in his kitchen.
“I have been cooking more than usual, at least one dish a day,” he said.
Though the family of three aren’t able to enjoy outdoor activities as much as before, they still have a lot of fun at home.
“My wife told me that I shouldn’t be going out from now on so that I can cook more for the family,” Lee said with a laugh.
Workers premieres on HBO GO on May 10 at 9pm with two back-to-back episodes followed by one new episode at the same time weekly.
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(content provided by People)