When I spoke to Celina Jade for this interview, she had just landed in Hong Kong after jumping on the first available flight from Vancouver where she’s been filming Arrow. She had two weeks before she had to film her next scenes for the show and instead of catching up on some rest and relaxation, she decided to get to China as quickly as possible to rehearse for an upcoming musical she’ll be starring in during the short break she’ll have between when season one of Arrow wraps and filming for season two begins. I asked if she would like to reschedule our chat, but she graciously and enthusiastically replied there was no need to reschedule and that she was excited to be talking about her upcoming projects. That right there sums up the impression I got of Ms. Jade while speaking with her.
She comes across as extremely grateful to be achieving success in a career she loves and dedicated to working non-stop to continue doing so. She’s also an absolute hoot (our conversation devolved into laughs several times) and the reverence with which she talks about her father, retired Kung Fu star Roy Horan, and her current cast mates on Arrow makes her incredibly endearing. Without further ado, The Daily Quirk is very pleased to bring you an exclusive interview with the lovely Celina Jade. Read on for the interview…
The Daily Quirk: You have such an interesting background. You father is a famous Kung Fu star Roy Horan originally from Rhone Island, your mother is from China where you were born, you’ve lived there, here in the US, went to school in London. Do you think all those experiences help you taking on different roles as an actress?
Celina Jade: Absolutely, that is completely true and not just my background, but also travelling. One thing I love about travelling, which I do a lot when I have the time or when I’m working in different countries, is hearing people’s stories, where they come from, the experience’s they’ve had. I definitely use all the stories and experiences and draw from them when I play a character.
TDQ: Is it different acting in television and film in US than when you’re performing in Asia?
CJ: Culturally it’s quite different. I do a lot of cinema in Asia and it’s quite different acting in an Asian movie versus acting in a US production because culturally we react to things so differently. For example, when I did my first movie, Legendary Assassin, I played a police woman who falls in love with an assassin (Jacky Wu) who only kills bad people, and he has saved her life many times. She doesn’t know he’s an assassin when she falls in love with him and somewhere in between he’s in the police station and after saving me, and one of my character’s ex-boyfriends who is jealous purposely spills coffee on him. It was a really simple scene so my natural reaction as a half Asian half western person was to go up and put my hand on his shoulder and the director goes “Cut!” I was like, “Oh what did I do wrong is everything ok?” and he goes “That’s way too affectionate. A woman would never put her hand on a man.” And my reaction was “Really? He just got boiling hot coffee spilled all over him.” There was another time that’s funny in the same movie where the assassin is showering in the police station and I was to give a towel to him. So I’m throwing the towel over and the director says shoot a glance at him. So, I shot a glance at him and then the director goes “Cut!” and again I was like “What did I do wrong?” and he says “That’s way too perverted.” I was like “Come on let’s be honest he’s a good looking guy, he has an eight pack, he just saved my life any girl would check him out.” And he goes “Nope. Chinese girls wouldn’t check him out.” It was funny and so different culturally for me. We did that entire film and our characters never kissed even though we fell in love and had a very deep attraction, and there was never even one kiss.
Whereas in a US Production, everything progresses really fast. Between Oliver (Stephan Amell) and I (on Arrow), it’s been about three episodes now and we already have romantic tension and our first kiss, intimate moment, so it’s very different culturally when I’m playing in the US versus an Asian production. It’s a really good experience for me culturally to play both and experience both.
With you father being a Kung Fu expert, did he encourage you to take up martial arts as a child or did you always have the interest?
Slade Wilson (Manu Bennett) and my character Shado spar in episode 19 (of Arrow), and you realize they’re both equal fighters to each other. Slade says to Shado “Where’d you learn how to fight?” And Shado goes “Well, my father wanted a son.” And it’s funny because that is exactly true in my life. My father wanted a son and didn’t get one so he was like well I have a daughter so I’m going to teach her how to fight. So my sister and I play fought with my dad from a very very young age, kind of play attacking us and making us block, and we would try to get back at him, but fail. So it’s something I grew up with. Before I kind of adopted this feminine side of mine, I was very much a tomboy as a kid.
TDQ: You’re also a singer. You won a singing competition and received a record deal at just 14. Can you tell us a little bit about what made you want pursue a music career?
CJ: Singing and music was a passion of mine from a really young age. I’m obviously mixed, my father is American and my mom’s Chinese and growing up was difficult because mixed races back then were not accepted in Hong Kong. I felt quite lonely and my only outlet was singing and music because it allowed me to feel connected. My dad always says he remembered the first time I performed. I was six years old and there was a carnival in our town and these singers went up on stage to sing and I climbed up on stage and tugged on the girl who was singing’s dress and took her microphone to sing. So it’s been kind of my dream for a long time.
When I was fourteen my modeling agency sent me in for an audition that I thought was for a commercial, but it wasn’t. We met with this big Japanese producer and he said they were doing a nationwide singing competition and I was like “Ok, I’ll have a go at it.” I went in and recorded “Because You Loved Me” by Celine Dion. I sang that and I won. After that, it was really quick. I was sent off to Hawaii to record my first CD, except I didn’t write any of the songs myself. They were all written for me and they kind of turned me into this techno dance chick. Slightly embarrassing, but you know it’s funny and that CD actually sold out in Taiwan and hit number one in the charts. I quite when I was sixteen or seventeen because they wanted me to quit school and I wasn’t willing to forgo my education to be a techno dance queen.
TDQ: You use both of those talents in your career as an actress. Can you tell me a little about how you started acting?
CJ: Well, I went to school and finished my education and I decided I still wanted to sing. I ended up signing to a subsidiary of EMI, but then one day my manager goes “Hey Celina, you can fight right?” and I said yes. Then he asked if I had any acting experience, which I didn’t, but he asked me if I would want to audition anyway for a movie as lead actress. He said “The chances of you getting it are zero because they’re already considering three or four big name Asian actresses, but you can fight so I think you should try it out.” And so I auditioned for that and that was Legendary Assassin, my first movie and I landed lead actress. I remember receiving the phone call from him telling me I got the role and worrying that if I screwed up I would let everyone down. So after that call, I was like ok, I better learn how to act now.
So that’s how I started, but honestly since I started acting I’ve absolutely fallen in love with it. It’s just like music in the sense that it definitely is a wonderful way of expression and experiencing different sides of yourself, as well as connecting with other people. I am very very lucky how it worked out.
TDQ: You recently appear in The Man with the Iron Fists can you tell us a little bit about what it was like working on that film?
CJ: The Man with the Iron Fists was actually a co-production between China film studios as well as Universal Film Studios in America. We shot in Shanghai, which was really cool and we had the most beautiful set. The action choreographer, Corey Yuen, was one of the best worldwide, and they had an incredible crew with American ideas and creativity as well as Chinese expertise in Kung Fu all getting together to shoot this film. It was really cool. I was just really happy to be part of it. It was freezing there. They had to color correct me in post-production; I was so cold that all my skin turned bright red. I remember them laughing going “Celina, you look like a lobster.” They told me not to worry that they would color correct it, and I’m glad they did or people would be wondering if I had some kind of skin disease when they watched the movie.
TDQ: And you also recently wrapped filming on Tomorrow Comes Today, where you played twins. Can you tell us a little about what that was like?
CJ: I’m a Gemini so it’s not too hard for me to play split personalities. I play the bad twin and the innocent twin. I remember when I first got on set the first day I played the innocent twin, and then the second day I came back and played the bad twin. The production manager came up to me on the second day all like who are you, nice to meet you. And I was like, umm we met yesterday. He didn’t even realize I was the same person from the day before. The make up and everything was quite different, but it was still really funny. And I guess that was a good thing, as far as getting the point across about the two different characters. It really is like playing two separate characters.
TDQ: Fans can see you next on The CW Network’s crime fighting drama Arrow, where you’ll be playing Shado, an iconic character from the original comics. What attracted you to the role?
CJ: To be able to play a comic book character in the first place, for me is already super super cool. It’s always been a dream of mine to do that. And what attracted me to that role, is Shado is so strong, she’s obviously a really skilled martial artist, skilled archer. There haven’t been too many roles where the female role is just as strong as the male role, she is almost as good a fighter as Slade is, and it’s really cool to see that kind of female role come out and for me to have the opportunity to play it. And the fact that the writers made her into sort of a sensei, I like to see her a little bit as a Mr. Miyagi from Karate Kid, and her involvement of training Oliver to become Arrow, I mean what better role is there than that?
TDQ: Were you familiar with the character of Shado before the show?
CJ: When I first got the audition, I didn’t know Shado’s character from the comic books so I had to do some research. The more I read about her, the more I knew this way going to be awesome. And I cannot believe I got it especially because I auditioned from Hong Kong. I was super happy. Ever since I got the role it’s been go go go and my character’s role has been expanding so I’m really happy and I’m really grateful. I just love how the writers are portraying her. I think they’re doing such a great job.
TDQ: Is the version of Shado you’ll be playing a lot like her comic book counterpart?
CJ: There are definitely a lot of similarities. At the same time, I kind of put my own interpretation into the character. Because we are on the island, I like to this that Shado’s character hasn’t completely formed yet. A lot of the things that happened in the comic books haven’t happened to her in the series. They might happen to her later on, but now she’s basically still forming her character. For example, in the comic books she’s very tough and hard on the outside, and it’s because of her experiences in the past and her father having died. On the island (in the show), her father is still alive so she’s changing basically and for me she hasn’t become the “Shado” yet from the comic books.
At the same time, she’s still a very skilled martial artist, a skilled archer, the romantic tension between her and Arrow is there, the partnership, and then it’s different in the sense that she’s not Japanese anymore, she’s Chinese and as the story progresses we’re not sure that it’s going to be completely like the comic book. There are some very bizarre things that happen in the comic book. I get messages from fans saying “Do you know Shado raped Oliver in the comic books?” When I first read that, I was like “What?!?” So I don’t think I’ll ever have to play that, and it’s different because the producers and writers have kind of taken their own creative liberties to do what’s best for tv. It’s going to be really interesting to see how he character evolves with time.
TDQ: Can you tell us a little about what’s it’s been like working on the show?
CJ: It’s been really fun. I’ve been really lucky to have never worked on a production where it was unfriendly or mean, and it’s the same for Arrow. Everybody is so nice on set. Stephen (Amell) is a really guy. He’s extremely caring, he cares for the crew, and he cares for the actors. He’s really kind of the glue in terms of when I go in to shoot something. He knows exactly what happened in the past, he has an idea of where the characters are going. He’s become a bit of a mentor for me. I’ve learned so much from him, he’s super nice.
Manu (Bennett) is really sweet. He looks tough and he plays Crixus in Spartacus, but he’s such a sweet person, he’s friendly, he hugs everybody when he comes in and it’s funny he does all these pushups before every scene and every time I see him do that I start thinking to myself, “Should I be doing pushups too?” I’m learning a lot from them. They’re really nice to work with.
Byron Mann I’ve worked with before. He plays my father. He’s a really nice guy. It was so cool to come onto the set for the first day and say “Yo Byron, what’s up Daddy?” And straight away he got into character. We were in makeup and they were putting the tattoo on me so I’m not wearing too many clothes and he goes “Put on some clothes it’s cold.” I’m like “Yes, dad.”
They’re all really nice and the directors have been so great. They tell me what they think, and how they think I can improve my character. I’ve really learned so much on this show. It’s like a big family and I’m really grateful to be working with some of the best.
TDQ: Can you give us any hints at what will happen with your character going into the season finale?
CJ: Definitely! Coming up you’re going to see Shado training Oliver, which is really cool. Obviously her training style is very different from Slade’s, which is tough love. You also see her private interaction with Oliver, which is a bit different than when Slade’s around, there’s romantic tension there. And as the season approaches the finale, all hells going to break loose. Reading the last two episodes there’s surprises and it’s intense and it’s full of twists and turns. It’s going to be good. All I can say is Arrow season one is going to go out with a bang.
TDQ: Do you have any other upcoming projects in the works?
CJ: Right after I finish shooting season one of Arrow, I’ll be flying to Hong Kong to play the lead in a stage musical (Good Morning Hong Kong). It’s my first musical ever and I’m playing opposite West End actors and I’m really excited. For me this is a really cool project, not only am I working with award winning directors and great actors, but this is Hong Kong’s first musical and it’s based on the 1997 handover (of Hong Kong to China from the British) which is a really crucial time in our history. It’s going to be a challenge, but I’m super excited to take it on. As soon as I’m done with that, I’m going to be shooting Arrow again.
The Daily Quirk would like to thank a hopefully no longer jet-lagged Celina Jade for taking the time to talk with us! You can catch her on The CW Network’s Arrow, follow her on Twitter, and find out more about her on her website.