He's mobbed in China, but not recognised here

13 November 2012 / 3 years 11 months ago

Source: Asia One/The New PaperLeon Jay Williams has been leading a double life of sorts for the past couple of years.The Singaporean actor is a superstar in China, where he is now based. On the streets there, he is mobbed for pictures and autographs.Indeed, he says that if he goes out alone in China, "things will get pretty crazy".Williams, 36, told The New Paper: "Once, a male fan grabbed the door handle of my car and simply refused to let go, even as the vehicle was picking up speed!"But when he is back home, it's like "waking up from a dream world" or finding himself in a totally different dimension. Here, the suave, dapper dude walks around unnoticed and completely ignored.On the rare occasion when he is recognised in Singapore, it is usually by Taiwanese or Chinese tourists."They exclaim, 'Oh, you're here for holiday too!' And I have to explain nicely that no, this is actually my home," said Williams.He is often mistaken as a Taiwanese after years of work in idol dramas there. Williams - who is of English, German, Japanese and Chinese descent - claimed he is pocketing "aroundS$1.5 million for three months of work" on an upcoming 25-episode drama series, Temptation.This works out to RMB 300,000 (S$60,000) per episode but not quite as much as the top stars make in China. The China Youth Daily reported earlier this year that A-lister television stars usually get RMB 500,000 to RMB 600,000 per episode.In June last year, MTV China reported that the former model and Mister Singapore 2001 winner took home TWD $5 million ($2 million) in six months.Williams, who has had a Taiwanese girlfriend for six years, made history in April 2010, as the first foreign actor to star in a China Central Television (CCTV) primetime romantic drama, Zhang Xiaowu's Springtime."I was really happy about that," he said."CCTV, as everyone knows, is a state-controlled TV station and they have always been extremely strict about using foreigners in their productions."China productions are seldom shown in Singapore and that may be the reason for his anonymity here."Sometimes I feel sad that many Singaporeans have no idea who I am," said Williams, who was home for a few months recovering from a niggling leg injury.He is slated to fly to China today to resume work."I was at South Korea's Busan Film Festival last month to promote my new movie Lemon," he recalled."Director James Cameron (of Avatar and Titanic fame) was in the same room as me, and (Hong Kong actress) Christy Chung was standing on my left. It was an amazing experience...But when I checked Singapore newspapers the next day, there was nothing published about me. I can't help but feel slightly disappointed."Williams was modelling in Thailand, Hong Kong and Taiwan, where he was talent-spotted and cast in the fluffy 2004 Taiwanese idol drama Heaven's Wedding Gown. This was followed by similar roles in Green Forest My Home (2005) and My Lucky Star (2007). Unfortunately, because of his Eurasian looks, he was stereotyped as the "rich businessman".It took a wacky period comedy, Perfect Ten, Beauty Nine (2009), a surprise hit at the Chinese box office, to finally boost his career to another level.A year later, he signed on with Beijing-based artiste management company Huayi Brothers, home to A-list stars such as Stephen Fung, Li Bingbing and Alec Su."I've been very lucky and I'm definitely grateful for all the opportunities that have come my way...Everything still feels kind of surreal," he said."Never would I imagine that I'd be making this kind of money as an actor, it's quite ridiculous."His success also proves his detractors wrong."When I was earning $4,000 to $6,000 a month as a model, there were many people who would question my choice of career," he said."They'd ask me straight in the face rather unkindly, 'So, when are you going to get a real job?'"Humble beginningsWilliams grew up in a humble single parent family. His mum and dad divorced when he was a toddler.Throughout his childhood and teenage years, he and his older brother lived with their mum in a three-room flat in Clementi.He was an average student - he went to Jingshan Primary and Gan Eng Seng Secondary and attained a business administration diploma at a private school."I'm glad I ignored those taunts, because modelling led me to acting and I wouldn't be here if not for it..."Hopefully, my story inspires youngsters chasing their dreams to stick to what they're passionate about."If you work hard enough, one day, your passion won't just be a hobby, it'll actually pay (the bills)."His brother, Mr Lester Williams, 47, who works in the graphic design industry, told TNP that Taiwanese news reports about his celebrity sibling's "four properties" were true."Leon owns two condominium units and a terrace house in Upper Bukit Timah," said Mr Lester Williams."He bought one of the condo units specially for our mum, but she feels sentimental value for our old flat, so she didn't move."Their mum still lives in Clementi, but the actor stays in the condo unit whenever he is in Singapore."Leon had a walk-up apartment at Pasir Panjang, but he recently sold that for investment purposes," his brother said.Williams stressed in our interview that he "wasn't an A-lister yet" and that there are "many other actors like China's Huang Xiaoming who earn a lot more".His rates for Temptation are one-off, he said. Usually, he pockets between RMB 1.5million and RMB 2million for movie projects.And his success hasn't come without sacrifices in his personal life. "When I'm in China, I'm basically living in and out of hotels. It's a little depressing and lonely," he said."My lifestyle hasn't changed much and I'm still Leon to my family members and close friends."But I often have to miss special occasions like birthday celebrations. That is definitely the downside to being an actor."

Join in the talk