In our Movember Issue this month, we met up with HK actor Shawn Yue, who was in town recently for the F1 event, for a Calvin Klein fashion shoot and a 1-to-1 interview. Take out: he's mad cool, and knows it.
Shawn Yue doesn't give a damn what you think. He doesn’t care for the tabloids. He doesn’t care about the accolades. He probably doesn’t care for this write-up. So, what does the 30-year-old actor care about?
It’s easy to say that Yue is aloof. After all, when he enters the room, he doesn’t make eye contact. He's buffered by his entourage, which includes a manager, a personal assistant, stylists and three burly bodyguards. (If the bodyguards were trying to remain incognito behind their shades, they failed given that they looked like diminutive siblings of the Hulk.)
When he wants something, he makes it happen through his assistant or manager. Yue has made ennui into a craft but this is where the fallacy comes in. Yue points out during the interview that he has a hard time expressing himself, especially in front of strangers. He started off as a model. Humble beginnings, I'm sure but this was just a stepping stone to other endeavours, like an acting gig in Taiwan drama series and then, what was to be his "open door" to the film industry, his role in Infernal Affairs II. Acting wasn’t something he had set out to do. If anything, his manager orchestrated Yue’s career. Yue went along for the ride, just drifting along with the flotsam until he wised up and matured. He gets asked a lot if he had any plans to direct but he decided early on that if he wanted to be good at acting, he needed to concentrate on it. He dismisses with a wave any compliments about his ability as an actor. He doesn’t think he’s good enough. He works on his craft, hoping that with enough time, with enough hard work, he’ll have something to show for, especially in an industry as fickle as the movie business.
His last movie was Motorway, which was about a rookie cop (Yue) and his veteran partner (Anthony Wong) taking down a criminal wheelman. Influences from Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive are evident, from the electro-pop soundtrack to car chase scenes. As such as I hate genre films, Yue’s acting stayed afl oat from the detritus of homages. Then, again, Shawn Yue doesn’t give a good damn about what I thought about it.
On Anthony Wong, Yue opines, “He’s a good actor and is like my father. We’ve worked together so many times and each time, I have learned how to be a better actor from him. Seriously, a lot of people are scared of Anthony. Maybe, it’s how fierce he looks but I’m comfortable around him.”
But he’s not comfortable with the Hong Kong press. When he was starting out, he was mad at the gossip printed about him. Let’s face it; the paparazzi are circling vultures, the kind that wait for a celebrity scandal where they swoop down to pick the bones clean. “They [the press] get their facts wrong,” Yue says. “Initially, I was afraid to talk to the press. I had no idea how. But now, it’s better… my relationship with them. I think it’s because I’m more relaxed.”
But as we mentioned before, Shawn Yue doesn’t “give a s**t about what the press writes” about him. “I don’t even read their magazines. I’ve no time for that.” He’s an actor. Not a superstar. He will emphasise this point. He doesn’t like the attention that comes with stardom and though other actors might feel caged by the public’s prying eyes, he doesn’t care. “It’s my life,” says Yue. “I’m a human being who goes about his day like normal. I can walk along the street, grab some food. I’ll just do whatever I want.”
It is that devil-may-care attitude that quickly endears him to his fans. Not because he’s fearless in all that he does but he’s fearless in the face of scrutiny. Take the final credits of Love in the Buff, (a romantic comedy whose dubious font selection for the title makes "Bu" reads as "Butt"), here Yue, dressed in drag, performs a scene-by-scene rendition of Linda Wong’s "Don’t Ask Me Who I Am" music video. He played his role with aplomb. If you think he minds people’s opinions on whether playing drag damages his image, think again. “If you want to be an actor, you have to open your mind,” Yue says. “I think it’s fun.”
He cites favourite directors, like Scorsese and Coppola, but his eyes take on an impish glint when he mentions Christopher Nolan. “The Batman movies that he [Nolan] did,” a smile spreads across his face, “They were amazing".
“Before that, Batman was this flashy hero: ‘look at me, I can save the world.’ But now, he’s darker. More human. He can feel pain.”
(And maybe I’m overreaching here but for a brief moment, I thought he was talking about himself.)
Then, Yue brings up Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris. “I love the script. I love keeping an eye out for the cameos, like Dalí and Hemingway.” For his recent birthday, he took his family and a couple of his friends to Koh Samui, Thailand. He booked the entire resort and just… relaxed. Snorkelling, firing up the barbecue, swimming. He unfurled and decompressed. Despite the tabloids pinning a playboy reputation to his name,Yue wishes he were in a relationship. He’s considering looking for someone outside of the movie industry. He wants to settle down and have a family. Suddenly, you start to empathise with the man who happens to be an actor who happens to be mistaken for a superstar.
But in all probability, Shawn Yue doesn’t care for that either.
See the rest of our photos with Shawn in the Movember Issue of Esquire Singapore, out now at newsstands and digital download. Words by Wayne Cheong.