Acting and Chinese History

Acting and Chinese History

Chinese History in Chinese TV

This blog covers some the things I learned about Chinese history through filming in China, and particularly about some of the foreigners who helped shape history there.

Matteo Ricci

HistoryPosted by Ben Thompson Sat, April 13, 2013 10:11:58
Matteo Ricci was an Italian missionary, very important in Chinese history, all my Chinese friends had heard of him. He brought important discoveries in maths and cartography to China.

I played Ricci in a documentary about the history of Beijing. The director had seen "Yuanmingyuan" and called me up out of the blue. It was a very enjoyable project, most of my footage was shot in the huge film city in Hengdian where they have (amongst a lot of other things) a water village and an almost full sized replica of the Forbidden City.

When he first arrived in China, Ricci masqueraded as a Buddhist monk for a time, which required me to have a shaved head. The film company were a bit worried and thought they would make me some kind of artificial bald pate. I told them just to shave my head, it wasn't the first time. A lot of Chinese actors (the male ones!) regularly shave their heads because the period dramas require them to wear false queues. Shaving my head also made it a lot easier to wear the complicated wigs that were needed for Ricci in his later years.

I had two sets of wigs and whiskers. A black set for when he was younger, and a white set for when he was very old. If he was younger but not too young they glued on the black set and touched them up with a silver pen, if he was older but not too old they glued on the white set and touched them up with a black pen. Then they had to be cleaned with alcohol, so it was a bit fussy. They would glue on the black whiskers and wig and then suddenly discover that it wasn't the scene they though it was and the whole lot had to come off and be switched. That happened a few times.

I never managed to get my hands on the boxed set of this documentary, a long 12 episode version was shown on Hong Kong TV and I believe a shorter version was shown in Poland. This clip is from a rough cut that the director gave me.