Revolving around what could be any upper-middle class Asian family, Grace shows how one man’s indiscretions doom his family to a series of eerie happenings. Present at the press conference were leading man Russell Wong who plays Roy Chan, Pamelyn Chee who plays Roy’s mistress Ya Yi, Constance Song who plays Roy’s wife Angela and George Young who plays Roy’s son-in-law Charles.
Grace features several alumni from last year’s HBO Asia co-production Serangoon Road, including Wong, Chee and Australian director Tony Tilse. With deejay Maddy Barber moderating the proceedings and everyone seated on couches decorated with HBO throw pillows, Wong jokes that it feels like they’re in for family counselling. The Chinese-American Wong, known for films like The Joy Luck Club and Romeo Must Die, leads a cast that includes many Singapore-based artistes in addition to Taiwanese actress Teresa Daley and New Zealand-based actor Yoson An.
Wong’s reputation as the roguish charmer from The Joy Luck Club precedes him, but it seems he has mellowed somewhat. Mostly shy and laid-back, he says “I had a good time working on Serangoon Road. It’s Asian content in English. Sometimes in the States there’s still a little bit of stereotyping going on and trying to fit into the martial arts genre…at my age it’s not working so well. So this works great!”
Young was the enthusiastic jokester of the group, making a crack about how there was “a lot of sexual tension” between him and Wong. “I wanted to give him some watermelons, ‘xī guā!’” Young says, alluding to The Joy Luck Club. “I gave him a couple, not during the scene though.” He adds sincerely, “Russell being mixed Asian-Caucasian as well, kind of similar to me, I see him and I want to learn from him.” Young describes Grace as a “Greek tragedy with an Asian twist”, adding this is perfect for him given that he is half-Greek and half-Chinese. When the cast is asked if they are superstitious, Young says he practices “touching wood” (get your mind outta the gutter) to avoid jinxing anything.
Pamelyn Chee says her character has no qualms ripping Roy’s ideal family apart. “It could just be my real life,” she jokes. Chee was given the script without being told which actor would play Roy, but she guessed Russell Wong and she was right. When asked if the emotional nature of the role made it challenging, Chee responds “I think emotions are overrated. I don’t feel like it’s about being emotional, that’s an easy sell for an actor, I feel like it’s portraying the different levels and layers that the character has and it doesn’t always has to be emotional, it can be scary, it can be wild and there are so many other layers that are under-explored by actors in general.”
Constance Song, who made her television debut in 1998’s The Return of the Condor Heroes, is a familiar face to fans of Chinese-language drama series on Channel 8. Stepping outside her comfort zone to take on an English-language part, she says that she practised with English-speaking friends and that “actually it’s not so bad after a while”. She called the chance to act alongside Russell Wong “unbelievable”, saying “Russell is always making me so nervous. I think it’s just his presence.”
Ever the gentleman, he said of Song “she has a great restaurant,” referring to the actress’ other venture, a tapas bar.
Song admits that she couldn’t help but crack up when Wong had to deliver some dialogue in Mandarin. When Barber asks the actor how his command of the language is, he replies “mó mó hú hú”, meaning “vauge”. Our expert tells us this isn’t even the right term, but far be it from us to play Chinese grammar police.
When asked if the Singaporean cast members would travel to the States to visit Wong, Young quips “yup, I’m crashing at Russell’s place. Russell didn’t know this, but I’m borrowing his car, he’s got a few, I’ll borrow a couple…” Apparently, the cast has gotten close enough to go out for dinner that evening on their own accord.
A journalist asks about the significance of the series’ name. Director Tony Tilse, sitting in the front row, takes over the microphone to answer. “It all came out of the concept of the story,” he says. “Ultimately Grace is about forgiveness, mercy, elegance, all those things. I think the idea of Grace is that it’s all those things, so in a way it’s about, because of the story we chose, we saw grace as about wanting forgiveness, the whole idea behind it so that’s the whole meaning behind it.”
Grace premieres Friday, October 17 at 10 pm (9 pm Thailand/Jakarta) on HBO and HBO HD.
– Jedd Jong