Actor Peter Yu, 51, has had a tumultuous past and one which he has discussed openly with the media.
He had a 10-year marriage to television host Quan Yifeng that ended in a high profile divorce in 2008. After which, he fell into depression and got hooked on gambling; racking up a debt of more than $100,000.
However, things have been looking up for him since his comeback in a drama series three years ago.
Now, he’s the lead of A Land Imagined – an award-winning local indie darling that snagged the highest honours (Golden Leopard) at the Locarno International Film Festival, as well as Best Film at the Silver Screen Awards.
Yet, his ex-wife and 19-year-old daughter Eleanor Lee (she took the surname of her godfather, celebrity hairstylist Addy Lee) aren’t reaching out with congratulations and pats on the back because they have decided to part ways amicably.
“We met once a few years ago, gave each other our blessings, and decided not to keep in contact,” Peter revealed to AsiaOne in an interview as part of the press tour to promote the film.
In fact, he has not even been following Eleanor’s burgeoning career in China as an actress, artist and singer.
He still keeps them in his prayers though, he added.
Despite this development, Peter isn’t letting it hold him down and is “enjoying (his) life” with his new family. He married sales merchandiser Brenda Leow in 2011 and is the proud father of two sons – Israel and Christian – aged two and six respectively.
Speaking on fatherhood, Peter said: “I enjoy my life now and I enjoy watching my sons grow up. In the past, I didn’t know how to be a good husband and father but now, I’m a different person and I see life differently.”
What then, is the key to being a good father?
For Peter, it stems from his faith. A devout Christian, Peter explained that his religion changed him for the better, gave him a deeper understanding of life and allowed him to manage his priorities more effectively.
“In life, it’s all about relationships. Whether it’s your wife, sons, or friends, relationships come first,” he admitted.
Throughout the interview, Peter was calm, composed and radiated a zen-like vibe akin to one who has seen much and possesses wisdom far beyond his years.
This is a far cry from Lok, the jaded police investigator that he plays onscreen, who suffers from insomnia and at times, comes across scattered, restless, and seemingly lives in a world of his own.
That realisation wasn’t lost on Peter who pointed out their contrasting personalities, though he had a different take on it.
“Lok is a totally different character from me. Lok is very moody and lonely but I’m very cheerful and I like to laugh and joke around. Lok also cannot sleep but I love to sleep and I don’t have enough time to sleep,” he said with a chuckle.
While it was a challenge to play such a character, Peter said that he accepted the opportunity to star in the feature film because he likes to challenge himself and wanted to try it out.
As someone who loves to sleep though, did he intentionally avoid sleeping to better inhabit the role of someone who suffers from insomnia?
“There were a lot of overnight shoots and it was so tiring and I didn’t have enough sleep so it was really suitable for the character,” he replied without missing a beat.
He quipped: “I didn’t even need makeup for the eye bags.”
In addition to being the first feature film for Peter, A Land Imagined also marks the first time the actor is baring his butt for the camera.
Nude scenes are certainly unconventional and could even come across risque, but Peter explained that he had a discussion with director Yeo Siew Hua on his intentions and the scene “made sense to (him)” after.
The scene was meant to humanise Lok by having him partake in a behaviour that Peter believes almost everyone, regardless of age, must have done so at one point
Secondly, the stripping of his boxer shorts was also meant to be a metaphor for the weary police investigator letting go of his emotional baggage as a way to decompress.
Peter added: “I believe that this has happened to most people where they find themselves alone at home, and they want to do something funny, and decide to take off their clothes and walk around naked.
“What we’re trying to do is to bring a slice of reality to the screen. To me, it makes sense.”
Ultimately though, Peter hopes that viewers will not place too much emphasis on that scene.
“I always tell people to please focus on the movie instead,” he said in mock exasperation.
Regardless, Peter felt that it was an exciting experience to be able to participate in such a large-scale project. Moving forward, he has no idea what the future holds for his career but he hopes to act in more films.
One thing is for sure though, Peter has been bitten again by the acting bug and he can be next seen in a supporting role in a Channel 5 series that will be an adaptation of Dick Lee’s musical Fried Rice Paradise.
Filming will begin in March in Kuala Lumpur and the show is slated to air on Channel 5 and Toggle in July.
And yes, the dialogue will be in English, which could prove to be tricky for the actor who has only ever played Mandarin-speaking roles.
Yet, he is not fazed by it.
“Thankfully, I play a character that is always drunk so he has fewer lines,” he laughed.
A Land Imagined opens in cinemas on Thursday (Jan 21).
A version of this article first appeared in Asiaone.
(Photos: Asiaone, MM2 Entertainment, Akanga Film Asia, The New Paper, The Straits Times)
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