It was not easy. It was terrifying. It didn’t even really hit me until I sold my desktop computer, since it would be too cumbersome to bring to China. I cried myself to sleep that night.
I bought the plane ticket and let my boss know well in advance when I was leaving. I condensed my belongings into two suit cases and a backpack. I got on the plane, got to Beijing, and found an apartment. There was no secret to how I did any of those things.
When I got there, I had no idea what I was doing. I ended up training at an MMA gym where many Chinese actors trained together. But the market for foreign actors is separate than the one for Chinese actors, and they had no idea how to help me. I spent most of my time in my all-cement Soviet-style apartment twiddling my thumbs, asking myself why in god’s name did I leave behind my benefit package, salary, and free five-star dining five days a week.
I was depressed. Lonely. Broke. Bored. But I kept going. I found side gigs which could help keep my head above water financially. I continued asking everyone I could meet for ideas on how to get into the industry. I kept training. It took months before it began to pay off. I started finding out about auditions. My first acting job was dubbing TV shows into English – my favorite experience there was making puking noises in English – which are apparently different than Chinese puking noises.
I met my kung fu master, who gave me a leading role in his documentary TV show working as a foreign devil / punching bag – for no pay. But having that on my resume proved useful enough, and I started landing bit roles, half of which got edited out of the films. My career peaked when I got to work as a stuntman in Jackie Chan’s Dragon Blade. It was a dream come true, and he was way cooler than I expected.
But I want to make one thing clear – in my two years living in China, I probably got paid for less than 60 days worth of acting work. Most of my time was spent going to auditions, cold calling assistant directors, or on networking that led nowhere. It wasn’t glamorous. It wasn’t lucrative. It was way harder and more painful than what I would have experienced staying at Google.
But it was the most rewarding experience of my life.
In summary, here’s what I believe to have been the keys to my success:*
- Decided what I wanted to do
- Took it seriously but didn’t take it seriously
- Made a commitment I was not willing to back out of
- Saved up money and gave myself a deadline
- Just fucking did it
- Didn’t stop until it was done
*The keys that were mostly within my control, anyway. Realistically, being a white American male was probably my biggest asset while in China.