Ted Duran told us about his journey through acting and involvement with US and China film co-productions and more about his acting experiences around the world. I was most impressed by his fighting techniques seen in his films, but what is also interesting is that he is one of only a handful of classically trained British actors (Went to RCSSD) who appears in some major films speaking fluent Chinese in a very natural way. In contrast to many foreign actors who go to China to play villains in Chinese films, it seems the roles Ted has landed over the years have been very "China-friendly", embodying characters who understand Chinese culture and speak the native tongue.

Born into the entertainment world

Sabina: Ted, can you tell us about your acting beginnings?

Ted: I was basically born into the entertainment world as my parents were both active actors themselves, my father more film and TV, and my mother has a deep passion for the theatre. On that note, they actually met in full costume dress on the set of "Prince Regent" for the BBC! So, I started very early, they pawned me out through their agencies and I did some child roles in various things like "Casualty," BBC's "Inspector Poirot," Mums theatre plays and various ads. My mother was also adamant that I go to a Steiner school, where there is more of a focus on the creative arts. We began drama at age six and underwent a long curriculum of drama, performing many plays at our own school and also toured other Steiner schools in the UK, Holland, Germany, and even in Iceland!

Following school, I became more focused on martial arts and consequently decided to move to China to study further in a Shaolin temple. Following my "Integration" into life in China, I felt I had grasped enough Chinese and martial training and experience to get out there and start acting again, but this time in China.

Chinese film industry

Sabina: How did you become involved working within the Chinese film industry?

Ted: Really through my love for martial arts, acting, and filmmaking. After three years of being in China I had already met many people, through training, odd jobs, but ultimately it all began after I competed in the Hong Kong Kung Fu Competition in 2007.

I came back to Beijing with some prizes from the competition, and had recently landed a job in film production with Vertex Worldwide, a production company responsible for the China shooting of "Around the World in 80 Days" (Steve Coogan & Jackie Chan). We had begun work on "The Forbidden Kingdom" (Jackie Chan & Jet Li). At first, I was an assistant producer and involved with logistics and cross-communication between China and the producers in the US. When our tasks were finished I became the casting assistant to Hollywood Casting Director Poping Au Yeung. This was a great experience as I learned about the audition process from the production side in reading sessions and auditions with various well-known actors.

Back to the point, through a contact, I had met in an affiliated company I heard the news that I was wanted for an audition for a new TV Drama series about the Life of Bruce Lee. I went for it, got the part and within three days I was in Bruce Lee's ancestral home of Guangdong training with the stunt team. The Fight Director was Jack Ma (Ma Zhong Xuan) who directed many of the fights and features in "Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon." He also taught lead actor Chow Yun Fat Chinese Jian/Straight Sword technique, seen effortlessly performed in the film. He has an incredible presence but was also very fun to be around on the shoot. On my first day when I turned up in the morning for training he was waiting for me upside down, propped up by the wall doing a "thumb-stand", like a headstand but with all the weight going into the thumb of one hand rested on the ground.

Big acting projects to date

Sabina: What are your best projects to date so far?

Ted: It depends on what is meant by best, some projects may be better for my career financially or be good exposure, whereas other projects that perhaps don't have the burden of large investment and specific target markets will have more space for creative freedom, experimentation, and ultimately you can really develop your craft as an actor and learn more about other areas of the production process. Therefore, I will give two answers to your question! In 2010 I took a role playing a Russian communist party delegate in "Beginning of the Great Revival".

This epic historical drama film tells the story of Chairman Mao (played by Liu Ye) and the forming of the communist party in China in 1921.

The film stars Chow Yun Fat and was made by China Film Group and released on the 90th anniversary of the CPC in 2011. During a time of political unrest in China my character, Nikolsky covertly navigates his way to a crucial communist party meeting in Shanghai with Chairman Mao and others, a meeting that initiated communism in China. He is therefore regarded as a foreign hero in Chinese history. The film, by China Film Group, featured over 20 of China's most famous actors at the time. It was released during the 90th anniversary of the CPC in 2011.

In the spirit of the Shakespeare 300 celebrations in London last year I took on two consecutive Shakespeare productions as actor and fight choreographer.

The plays were "The Tempest" and "Romeo and Juliet" (I played King Alonso and Benvolio respectively). Both projects gave me the chance to do something I have never done before, choreograph fight scenes for dramatic theatre. Naturally, the action in "Tempest" is not so frequent, but "Romeo and Juliet" was the perfect project to try something I'd always wanted to try, Kung fu vs Medieval! The Montague side was battling using Asian style martial arts and weapons and the Capulets were dueling with medieval swords, boxing, and fencing. We were a new theatre group, but some of us had worked together or knew each other previously. Both projects were incredibly intense and we were working on a bare minimum budget, but with a lot of effort and commitment from the group, we made it work!

With everybody covering for each other and overseeing multiple tasks we learned so much and continue to collaborate and meet as a group.

Special skills

Sabina: You play the role of "Blair", one of the main characters in the TV series "The Legend of Bruce Lee." What kind of special skills did you need for this role?

Ted: Number one: Chinese. When we shot the series I was five years into life in China, my Chinese was pretty decent by then and it was crucial to follow directions and understand what the director or other members of the crew are talking about off camera. There were translators around but often their English wasn't actually that good! Other things they looked for were obviously acting training and experience, stage combat, Kung Fu and boxing proficiency, and last but not least, the look of the character; a clean cut, wealthy 25-year-old colonial Brit born in Hong Kong.

Sabina: Do you still work in the Chinese film industry? If so what recent projects have you been involved with?

Ted: Yes, the most recent project I did was a China - Australia co-production feature for Lightstream pictures in which I play Paul, a gangster. I currently have no idea what the name of the film is in English! The Chinese title of the film directly translates as "The Longest shot". My favourite moment while shooting a film isn't usually my death, but I do have a very honourable one in an exploding dumpling restaurant, saving the kingpin in the process. The film is a 1920's gangster film set in Shanghai. Bizarrely they actually went to Melbourne to shoot many parts of it because of the similarity in stone architecture and road designs to Shanghai in the 20's.

The actual sites in Shanghai were far too busy and also modernized to be considered as an option, so shots of Melbourne have been edited with digital effects to create some of the period scenes in the film. I believe its slated for release in Cinema's fall 2017