Here comes Sun Li

By Wei Xi Source:Global Times Published: 2013-10-20 19:18:01

Sun Li Photo: Courtesy of Beijing Hairun Performing Arts Agent Company

Sun Li  Photo: Courtesy of Beijing Hairun Performing Arts Agent Company

With a smart pixie cut, defined features and an effervescent smile, actress Sun Li always gives out a positive and energetic feeling.

Known as "yi jie" (first-rank actress) in TV dramas, the Shanghai-born Sun attracts many fans in both the Chinese mainland and Taiwan. Now, particularly in light of being nominated for an International Emmy as best actress for her role as a Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) imperial concubine in The Legend of Zhen Huan, Sun seems poised to build a name on the world stage as well.

Yet, while many domestic actors are seeking out opportunities for international recognition, Sun said, "It does not matter a lot to me whether I go international or not. I care more about doing good work."

Behind the scenes 

Hardly the calculating and cruel-hearted woman she becomes in The Legend of Zhen Huan, Sun in real life is more like the girl she portrays in the early episodes of the drama: cheerful, easygoing and "a little lazy," as she describes herself.

In an e-mail Sun wrote to the Global Times, she said that after her name became well-known, she experienced a number of things that she would have never dreamed of, and every day comes with new surprises. "But the life I want is peaceful, very peaceful, and relaxing, very relaxing."

Compared with other popular performers, Sun isn't the most prolific actress. In her 10 years of acting, she has had major roles in less than 20 TV dramas and six movies.

Having too much on her plate at a time gives her a headache, she told the Global Times.

"[At that time] I would rather give up," she wrote.

She stated that she believes you have to treat yourself first, and only then will the world treat you nicely. "Sometimes, I feel I do spoil myself," she said.

The reason behind her relatively short CV, Sun explained, is that she wants to work only on productions she enjoys and collaborate with people she likes, which she says can ensure the quality of a project.

Popular as she is, Sun stands as one of the few actresses who lives with little gossip or negative news surrounding her.

In her latest work, Hot Mom (2013), Sun acts as a mom who, after an unplanned pregnancy, faces a number of adjustments to her life and work. At the age of 31, Sun herself is the mother of a 2-year-old son.

While many people question whether it is the right path for Sun to start a family when her career is in a golden time, she wrote she balances career, family and the needs of herself out equally.

"When we grow up, [facing] an enlarging social circle and having more and more roles, the responsibility on us becomes heavier. But because of this, we mature," Sun told the Global Times. "I am still learning how to find the right balance."

Dancer turned actress

Though Sun is more well-known for The Legend of Zhen Huan at the moment, it was Yu Guanyin (jade goddess of mercy), a 2003 TV drama, that changed her destiny.

Yu Guanyin marked Sun's acting debut. Before that, she had never considered being an actress.

Born in 1982, Sun grew up learning dance since the age of 5 and enrolled in a military art troupe in Shanghai at 15. Winning numerous awards for dance, Sun was living out her childhood dream of being a dancer.

Even today, Sun still yearns to return to dance.

"I haven't danced on stage for [many] years. I have a strong desire to do that. Every time I think about it, my bones itch," Sun wrote. She revealed to the Global Times that she once asked a friend, who directs a dance troupe, whether she could get changed and dance one more time on the stage.

Yet, having a "big head" (one of her childhood nicknames), she faced setbacks in dance. And after she retired from the troupe, Sun lost her direction.

Sun still feels gratitude for Ding Hei, director of Yu Guanyin.

"Not only because he provided me with [the role of] An Xin, but what's more, he believed in me, a person who never received any formal acting lessons. ... It benefited me all my life," Sun wrote.

Learning while acting, Sun's An Xin received overwhelmingly positive feedback from audiences.

Director of The Legend of Zhen Huan, Zheng Xiaolong was impressed with Sun, too. "[As an actress she] performs with her whole heart and she has a sharp intellect," Zheng told the Global Times in a phone interview.

Despite not receiving an education in acting, Sun has a very disciplined approach to her roles. Every time she gets a new project, she prepares her body through diet and exercise two weeks prior and then locks herself in a room reciting lines, seldom participating in social activities.

"When The Legend of Zhen Huan was shooting, I recited lines even when I was washing my feet," Sun explained. She sums up her work ethic by saying, "If [I] do something, [I] do it wholeheartedly."

Looking back, Sun thinks all her experiences, smooth or not, have helped her.

"An actor must experience different lives," Sun wrote. "The life in the army galvanizes the will and builds a strong character. Dance, though different from acting, is part of the art as well."

Unplanned future 

Despite the positive press for Yu Guanyin and The Legend of Zhen Huan, some of Sun's work in TV dramas and movies, such as Mural (2011) and Hot Mom did raise some criticism. But she seems to pay little attention to that.

"[A TV drama or movie] is a group work. It does not only depend on one person's effort," she answered.

Now with a decade of acting under her belt, Sun says the biggest lesson for her was gaining an eye for good projects. Despite having few technical acting skills, Sun uses her "amateur" status to her advantage. "[My acting] depends more on [my] feelings," she explained.

Sun is not a person who likes to write down a clear plan for future.

What she does know is that acting is one of her strongest passions.

"[And] I am open to all kinds of roles," she wrote. 

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