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Happy with his heritage
Publication Date : 01-10-2012
Among the sea of Chinese faces in new romance drama Gf*Bf - which means girlfriend-boyfriend - Taiwanese-British actor Rhydian Vaughan stands out because he looks so foreign.
Yet in the rites-of-passage movie, his character is made out to be a heart-on-sleeve Taiwanese boy, someone who regularly cries out how much he loves the region and being Taiwanese.
The apparent irony of casting such a foreign-looking actor in the role is intentional, says director Yang Ya-che with a chuckle.
Speaking over the telephone from Taiwan, the 41-year-old film-maker tells Life!: "I chose him for the part because it would drive home my point about identity and nationalism. In Taiwan, a lot of people for a long time segregated themselves according to their place of origin, as in whether they were native Taiwanese or immigrants.
"So for someone like Rhydian to look so foreign, but to say that he loves being Taiwanese, drives home the point that anyone can be called Taiwanese, as long as he has the passion for the place and the feeling of connection to it."
The movie, which is currently showing in cinemas, is about a complex love triangle that unfolds over three decades, from the 1980s when Taiwan was under martial law, right to the present day. It also stars Kwai Lun-mei and Joseph Chang, both 28.
In a separate telephone interview, Vaughan, 24, says the offer of the role did not surprise him at all. For one thing, he had played another character who was also "very Taiwanese" - the son of a powerful triad leader - in the 2010 hit gangster drama Monga.
"My Monga character, Dragon, is just one of those local Taiwanese who have never been out of the place. And for Gf*Bf, I had to learn the Taiwanese dialect and I practised every day to get the tone right," he says.
"I actually find it quite unsurprising that I would be cast in these roles. It means that audiences are used to seeing new things, and like my mixed-blood status, it's just the consequence of a marriage of cultures. People are getting used to the fact that being Taiwanese does not necessarily mean looking only a certain way."
The son of a British violinist father and a Taiwanese artist mother, he says: "During my teenage years, I was very confused about who I am and where I am from, and I would just let people around me decide for me. But now I realise that I am both a mix of East and West, and I feel like that is actually a huge privilege.
"There are certain things I like about Asian culture and things I don't like, and the same goes for Western culture. I'm just glad to be a bit of both."
Vaughan grew up in Taipei but went to England to study at East 15 Acting School, a drama school. He graduated last year.
Other than Monga, which propelled him to fame, Vaughan has also appeared in the movie Winds Of September (2008), where he played a playful popular student, and TV idol drama Love Recipe (2011), where he played a charming chef.
It is his latest turn in Gf*Bf, where he plays a goofy and ambitious guy, that he feels he has matured the most as an actor.
"I never have any regrets in any work I do, but with this one, I think I really gave all that I had.
"No matter what opinions people have of me or my performance, I just take it all in. Positive or negative, their comments help me figure out how I can improve."
His performance in the film has generally been well-reviewed by critics, despite being overshadowed by those of his co-stars Kwai and Chang.
Still, with more experience, the bachelor could very well soon be ranked among the crop of A-list young Taiwanese male stars, who all have enough pull to headline big films on their own. This new generation of stars include Mark Chao, 28, Eddie Peng, 30, and Ethan Juan, 29.
Despite what looks like fierce competition among the hunks, Vaughan says he has not felt any of it. "I have not struggled with getting work, if that's what you mean," he says in a refreshingly straightforward manner when asked about it.
"I actually think it's a really good thing that there are so many of these actors, because it means that there is demand for them. The Taiwanese film industry is booming, so it's just nice that it can accommodate all of us. It's like we're one big team uniting to help make Taiwanese films even better."