Almost famous

By Sally Benson (China Daily)
Updated: 2008-06-02 16:57

A veteran New York theater teacher stands next to a young man on a TV production set in Beijing while texting his friends on his cell phone.

Acting in a Chinese TV show is the most amazing experience for Australian Sally Benson. File photo Fifty-eight-year-old Glen Sparer studied film direction at New York University and learned the Stanford Meisner approach to the Stanislavski Method.

Beside Sparer is 20-year-old Sergio Almeida, who has never acted before. He remembers his favorite movie The Bourne Identity and pretends to be Matt Damon.

Both men reflect the diversity of experience among foreigners, who are gracing the big and small screens of China.

University campuses and weekend expat hot spots are now the hunting grounds for casting agents and talent scouts looking for those "must-have" Western faces for their productions.

Over the past 10 years, waiguoren, or foreigners, have gone from playing extras and bit-part characters to starring in major supporting roles. And, demand for foreign faces is rising.

CCTV1's Lost in Los Angeles is a 30-part mini-series filmed mostly in Beijing. The story is about Chinese twins - a boy and girl - born in America and adopted by US parents. Their real Chinese father goes to Los Angeles to find them. And of course there are twists and turns associated with any soap. The daughter and star of the series, Angela, is lured into a drug ring, gets pregnant, is hit by a car, then finds out she is adopted, and wears green and purple streaks in her hair.

Thirty-year-old American Daygan Sobotka scored a major role, playing the villain who tricks the lead actress into a nasty drug deal.

Sobotka's only acting experience before coming to China was in high school and college theater productions. But in 2005, after he arrived in Beijing, he learnt the popular Chinese comedy "cross talk" routine and attracted publicity.

The Chinese-speaking expat's cross talk fame opened many doors.

"A big thing here is that we are unique," he says. "It's likely someone will say, 'hey we need a white person and you're one of the 50 they have to choose from. So, they will take you."

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