I got to play John Leighton Stuart in 2008 in a play called “Beijing in Flames”. Later I watched the whole thing, it was one of the best TV plays I have ever seen, with some wonderful actors and some moments of unforgettable intensity. The leading man is Liu Peiqi – one of the best of the Chinese actors. He plays a rickshaw puller and the whole plot of the drama revolves around a group of rickshaw pullers in Beiping during the civil war period who are pig in the middle beween the KMT, Communists and Japanese, and who are just trying to keep their heads down and have a quiet life. Centering the drama around a bunch of fools like this feels very Shakespearian to me.
Although I didn’t have many scenes, the lines were very hard to learn. I had a long soliloquy in Chinese, but also there was quite a lengthy speech that was marked to be delivered in Japanese. I don’t speak a word of Japanese, so I found a Japanese girl who wanted to practice her English and we met for coffee and translated this speech into Japanese and she recorded it on my cellphone. I worked and worked at memorising it, every day I would do at least an hour on it, until I had it down pat and could reel it off with confidence.
The day came when I got the notice to go and film the scene. I decided to meet the Japanese girl again and polish up my lines. We met in the same coffee bar. The moment we sat down I blithely reeled off the speech which, as I thought, I had learned from the recording. She looked blank. “What language are you speaking?”. “Japanese”, I said. “That’s not Japanese”, she said.
This was a problem, what could I do? I had only two days to get the speech right and this girl obviously didn’t want to help me. Then inspiration struck. True, I didn’t know Japanese, but the director probably didn’t know Japanese either.
So I stuck to my guns and delivered the speech. It was far too long and my delivery was far too wooden. But the director seemed happy.
This is the Chinese soliloquy, which went a little better I think.