Episode 13: Pranks Among Actors

Here is an interesting short story about Zach’s funny encounters with his co-actors in China


You can read the transcript below.

It was the summer of 2013 when I was cast in my first sitcom in China. It was a crew of over 200, and a cast of at least 40. Having originally auditioned for the lead, I discovered quickly during the interview that I was not the fit for this role. they were looking for someone to play a war hardened soldier. At the time I was 187 cm (6’2) and only 70kg (155lbs). Statue esq I was not. But delighted was I when I received a call about a week later asking for permission to right a character into the script for me. A Huge honor for even the most seasoned of actors.

The undertaking was large. As we were filming with one of the largest directors in China, GuanHu, they required all members of the main cast to live on location for the following four months and to be available every day for shooting. Which is common for a main cast in China. What was uncommon however is we were to be filming in a remote village far off the beaten path in HuBei. In a town with a population of roughly 8000. Which for China, is minuscule. 

With only one other native speaker on set and only two other people who could speak English. I found the process to be isolating, however incredibly rewarding, not only for me as an individual, but for me as an actor. It was also invaluable to my acquisition of mandarin.

In my time there I discovered that Chinese and American actors are more similar than different. They studied Stanislavsky, I studied Stanislavsky. They read Shakespeare, I read Shakespeare. They love pranks, I love pranks.

The latter was not as obvious, but came up as naturally as the others did in conversation.

Having heard that politeness and giving face are incredibly important to the Chinese, I was incredibly gracious and thankful when I was offered a bit of ‘Chinese beef jerky’ by my fellow actor. Confused at its texture and smell I tried my best to smile as I popped it into my mouth and began chewing. What secreted from this snack could only be described as sticky, bitter, yet somehow minty. 

‘How interesting this flavor.’ I say trying not to gag.

‘Do you like it.’ My friend asked with a smirk.

‘I love it.’ Remembering my lessons on ‘giving face’ in Chinese culture 101.

Against the better judgement of my gag reflex I swallowed. 

Wide eyed my coworker stares at me. And before I ask why it happened.

I became light headed, ashen, covered in sweat, and try as I might I couldn’t hold back the vomit. Not a small amount of puke when a shot of rice liquor went down wrong. But a gut wrenching, stomach emptying projectile rocket of bile.

My coworkers and friends come rushing over to see what’s wrong. ‘What’s wrong with him?’ Shouted the director.

‘He swallowed some chewing tobacco.’ My friend choked out through Howells of laughter.

‘Why on earth would he do that?!?’ Says the director.

‘I told him it was jerky.’ My friend says wiping away tears of laughter.

I shakily raise an ashen yet greenish thumb in his direction to show I appreciated the joke.

After this it was war.

A few week later, my friend decided to take advantage of having an American on set, and decided to learn some English between shoots. For the most part I was a great teacher. Until one day he asked me to translate ‘xinku.’ Xinku’ for those who don’t speak mandarin is more of a concept, it would translate to something along the lines of, ‘I appreciate your hard work.’ So I translated that sentence.

‘That’s so long! Do you have anything shorter?’

‘No, we don’t, this is a very Chinese concept.’ I explain.

‘There has to be a word. Maybe your chinese isn’t good enough.’ He pointedly joke.

I don’t know why. Maybe it was because we had been filming until almost 4 in the morning, maybe I remembered the beef jerky. But I told my very dear friend that in American English we have an expression that roughly translates we say, ‘You have a nice asshole.’ 
Satisfied he looks me in the eye and says, you have a nice asshole.

Delighted with his new found vocabulary he would gleefully say over the following weeks to everyone on set ‘you have a very nice asshole.’ My proudest moment was when I was filming with my Canadian friend and he leaned in very closely and quietly whispered this line to him. You have a nice asshole. Although mortified at first My Canadian friend was also very proud of me after explaining the joke.

This continued for almost a solid month, until one day we were filming a crowd scene with several westerners, and after the scene he shouted at the top of his lungs, ‘Everyone has a nice asshole.’ 
Though I have never laughed so hard in my life I decided it was time to let him in on the joke. Embarrassed and infuriated, he later admitted to me that he deserved it for the jerky and now it is a running joke between the both of us.

Before I continue with the following story it is important to know two things.
1. Mandarin is a tonal language. A misplaced inflection can change the meaning of two words entirely.
2. In 2013 my grasp of tones, left much to be desired.

It was mid afternoon when we were to film one of the most important scenes in the series. The bombing of a major city by Japanese troops. There were about 40 extra people on set who were hired to place all of the pyrotechnics necessary for the scene. We had one shot to film this scene perfectly, so naturally we had ran the blocking to the point we could do it in our sleep.

I hear the director say, ‘places, we are about to film.’

‘Wait, are we filming or rehearsing?’ I ask.

Remember when I said two words can sound incredibly similar.

Shipai rehearsal, shipai actual filming.

To this day I still have problems. So I treat every take as if we are filming.

Filming or rehearsing I ask
Rehearsing, my friend says to me.
No we are filming, another member of the cast says.
‘Rehearsing’ my friend says in a more serious tone.
‘No, the director said we are filming. Zach we are filming.’ Says the other cast member
‘No he miss heard zach, I swear we are just rehearsing.’ My friend reassured me

1. 2. 3. ACTION shouts the director.

8 senquinistic blasts erupt one after the other around us shooting dirt and fire over 40 feet into the air.

Confused, unprepared, and terrified I grab a costar of mine who happened to be an 8 year old child and run as fast as I can to get us away from danger. Running on instincts alone it is a miracle I ran in the right direction not to ruin the take.

After the smoke had settled and the ringing in my ears had faded into the laughter of everyone on set I began yelling at my friend. The director red faced with laughter comes out of the tent applauding, saying my friend who tricked me deserved a bonus, because he got the most real reaction of any of us out of me.

Furious at being the butt of the joke, and running high on adrenaline I glare at my friend, who just looks at me and gleefully says, ‘you have a nice asshole.’

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