As the late Karl Lagerfeld once said, "What I like about photographs is that they capture a moment that's gone forever, impossible to reproduce."
This is also the main reason why actor Qi Yuwu, who turns 45 this November, agreed to this magazine shoot.
"I felt it's a good opportunity to document what life during the pandemic is like-what I look like, how I spend my days, what goes through my mind and so on," he says. "It has been a difficult (nearly) two years for everyone, but it's also an important time that I want etched in my mind."
Qi, who has spent time working in China, Malaysia and Singapore over the past two years, recently won Best Actor at the 2021 Star Awards for his work in the Mediacorp-produced Chinese time travel drama series A Quest to Heal.
He was also a finalist for the Best Actor category at this year's New York Festivals TV and Film Awards. On the day of our shoot, the Guangzhou-born Qi walks into the studio looking like a lean, bronzed demigod, the result of many hours running and exercising under the sun.
"I've learned to find joy amidst hard times," he shares, "and also realised how adaptable human beings are in ever-changing situations. There's only so much one could do indoors, with all the restrictions over the past year. I took to running outdoors and sunbathing on my balcony."
Pointing to the freckles on his cheeks and toned arms, Qi adds: "I don't think I've ever been this tanned, so today's photos will also serve as a memento of my days during the pandemic." He requests for the makeup artist to not conceal his sunspots, "because this is what I look like now and I want to keep it real."
Known for his reticent character, Qi has spent more than 20 years in showbiz. "I broke into acting wanting to prove myself, which was very normal for a rookie starting out in a foreign country," says the actor, who started his career here as a 23-year-old unknown after winning the China round of Mediacorp's Star Search in 1999.
"It was my first time leaving home and I had to make it worth my while." Ironically, this great desire to succeed eventually put him at a disadvantage. "I was too caught up in becoming a 'good' actor.
I became burdened with the thought of wanting to make things work and lost focus. I didn't realise how stressed I'd become, but it showed on camera-I was overthinking and not letting go. I couldn't fully immerse myself in my characters and my acting became stiff," he laments.
What the ocean taught him
The turning point came when Qi was filming Singapore-Australian production Bait 3D in Gold Coast, Australia, about 10 years ago.
"We had the weekends off and, living in an apartment overlooking the beach, I spent lots of time staring at the [Pacific] Ocean, which gave me a sense of calm and clarity," he recalls.
"It was then that I realised I had missed out on the true meaning of being a good actor. Thereafter, I decided to just enjoy the moment and go with the flow."
After reassessing his approach towards acting, he found it easier and much more enjoyable taking on new roles and projects. "It's like being in a relationship," he elaborates.
"Sometimes, if you go into a relationship focusing only on what you want out of it, for example, marriage, you may end up not enjoying the process of being in love. For me, it's the same when it comes to acting. Rather than focusing too much on the end result I want to achieve in front of the camera, I learned to let things develop organically and it worked."
Are there any characters that he longs to portray, but has not had the chance to? "A producer once asked me the same question," Qi reveals, "and I told him I didn't have the slightest idea. He was shocked at my answer, saying that it's something every actor should think about."
"But to me, the excitement for an actor comes from not knowing what character you're going to play next. I'm open to all possibilities that feel right and I don't feel the need to set this sort of 'target' for myself."
"Rather than pursuing a particular type of character, I'm more interested in [the characters'] backstories, what makes them the way they are. It could be a role as mundane as a teacher or an ordinary office worker; what matters more to me is what the character is built upon."
The loving family man
Qi has been married to fellow actress Joanne Peh, with whom he has two children, since 2014.
Of his other half, he says: "Our characters couldn't be more different, but we also get along very well because of the similar values we have, such as when it comes to family and the upbringing of children."
The power couple has no fixed parenting style — "Every child is different," Qi states, "and as parents, we're also trying to discover ourselves as well as our children's characters with each passing day." But is known to be very private about their six-year-old daughter and four-year-old son.
"The common ground that Joanne and I share when it comes to parenting," he discloses, "is that we try to keep things as normal as possible and to be like any other parent, without letting our kids be affected by what we do for a living."
This is also why they have never revealed their children's faces on social media. "When they're old enough to decide the kind of lifestyle they want, they're free to choose whether or not they want to join us in the limelight," he says.
When asked what he wants to do most once Covid-19 restrictions in Singapore are lifted, he answers without second thought: "To visit my family in Guangzhou. I haven't been able to return home for the past two years and I miss them terribly. In life, there are many things that aren't within our control, just like everything that has happened during the pandemic. It's frustrating, but it always helps to stay hopeful and positive."
In the meantime, Qi has something else to look forward to for now: A Quest to Heal recently landed a Best Telenovela nomination at the International Emmy Awards and the results will be unveiled later this month. Watch this space.
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This article was first published in Harpers Bazaar Singapore.