My Day as a Chinese Actress

Chinese Restaurant Chair

The Closest I’ll Get to the Iron Throne

Baidu MapsSo for those of you who saw my purposefully vague Instagram/Facebook post, this is the follow up! What had happened was, I was contacted by the head of Culture Yard, our old language school, because his friend was looking for a foreign woman to be in a promotional restaurant documentary, *raise hand here* carpe diem and whatever. So I got the details (role- tourist B, speaking lines-0, pay rmb 900) and headed out very early to the shoot on the other side of town.

I had heard it was a traditional courtyard restaurant and really fancy, but I had no idea of the scale. I found out that the restaurant was essentially a huge, beautiful garden complete with ornate buildings that had once been given to the brother of the emperor as a gift.

Beijing Fancy Restaurant

I was led through the garden to a round building in the back where I was met by another surprise– a two woman hair and makeup team. They had their work cut out for them as they fixed the hair and makeup of a dozen waitresses, who were elaborately costumed in traditional dress, as well as myself and a couple of other actors who were acting as diners in the film.

Old Beijing Dress

I was a little jealous of their costumes

Something that surprised me about the day was how long it took to do anything. I had been told numerous times to arrive no later than 8:00 on the dot, so I ended up arriving around 7:20. I was through with the hair and makeup room by around 8:30, but didn’t actually go on camera till around 11:30 or so. In the meantime, I killed time with the 3 other actors who were with me.

One of them was a fellow American, Mat. I got his contact info the night before the shoot, and it turned out to be one of the guys from Alex’s school– cue the “It’s a Small World” theme song here. The other two were a nice Chinese couple. Mat was a Chinese major in college and has great Chinese, so he chatted up the other actors most of the day. I, still woefully bad at Chinese, listened along where I could, but felt super lost with what people were saying most of the time.


The four of us were in three scenes: one where we pretend to watch a show and just look rapt and overjoyed while staring at a bald guy’s head, an eating scene (my favorite), and then a tea ceremony where again, we are just supposed to look overjoyed and amazed. Maybe it was because I felt so lost, but I actually felt super awkward during the filming. While I was expecting it to be easy—and in a way it was—I walked away with a lot more respect for what real actors do.


Beijing Restaurant

Wish I could see this at night

I ended up getting paid a bit of overtime because the shoot ran overtime (about $180), but then had to run to work and still ended up a little late *womp womp.* It was a crazy experience, but I’m really glad I did it. If nothing else, I feel like I have a great “fun fact” for any ice breaker in the future. So there you have it, if you happen to be watching Chinese TV in the next month or so maybe you’ll catch my amazed (or awkward) face in a commercial.

Beijing Restaurant Selfie


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