Fei Ren Talks Character and Craft in The Romeo Section + “Seeds of War” Preview

[Warning: General spoilers ahead.]

On tomorrow’s new The Romeo Section, Wolfgang gets a couple of unsettling visitors, Rufus takes action from Fergie’s news about his place in the informant universe while putting out fires in the aftermath of Shorts’s assault, Norman keeps chipping away at Sonya, Sproule and Al haggle over Lily, and Mei Mei throws herself into her movie.

It’s another episode that marks Haddock’s fantastic loyalty to Canadian talent. Two of my longtime favorite ladies, Gillian Barber (The X-FilesMemento Mori” will break you) and Chilton Crane (seriously, pick something), guest star. Amanda Tapping directs, following helming last week’s The Romeo Section production flat mate, Van Helsing.

Newcomer Fei Ren gets her breakout role this season, toggling dual characters as Mei Mei in the present and 19th century Fan Fan in the movie within a movie. She was thrilled to have the opportunity to do both.

Early in Season 1, Ren attended a meet and greet with Chris Haddock and the show’s casting team that was intended to help them get a bead on the Asian talent in Vancouver while Haddock was fleshing out his characters. “They have such diverse ethnic roles, which is very rare for TV productions. Their ethnic roles have some substance and aren’t just there to meet a quota … or to be a pretty vase,” she says.

“My agent at the time told me to dress sexy and to impress and I didn’t want to be typecast. I wore a leather jacket and boots. I was presentable, but I wanted to be regarded as tough and serious. For a month, I didn’t hear anything back.”

“They gave me a role for an audition for a [trophy wife] type character and I thought, ‘my modeling career is haunting me.’ After that audition, Chris changed it into a more lawyer kind of role [and] I went through a chemistry read [but] was too young for that role.”

“I didn’t have anything to do with the production other than shooting their poster. [Then] three months later, they sent me the script of this character, Mei Mei. She’s a movie star and she’s sexy but she has a drive and she’s intelligent and she wants to run her own business. That was much more interesting for me to play with.”

“When I’m dealing with Tony, because I have power over him, I’m bossier and straight to the point. With Rufus, it’s complicated because he’s my husband’s right hand side, but he’s lower ranking and seems kind of interested in me. And there are all of those layers. And he’s the one I rely on with the money from the heroin. My attitude with him is different than when I’m dealing with Tony.”

Ren loved diving into the film within in a film, and said the sets and costumes were tremendously helpful in switching tones. “The set is so beautiful. When I first walked in, and was in costume, I felt my whole body language change,” she recalls. “Fan Fan has more emotional range [than Mei Mei]. There’s a love story intertwined with betrayal and deep desire and secrets.”

“The language was written so differently, without abbreviations, formally structured, and more period than contemporary. That’s another challenge. I feel like I’m doing a period piece and [I want] to make it natural and relatable to the modern world. It’s such a great learning experience.”

“[Fan Fan is] going through so many emotional arcs. When we were blocking [the final scenes of the season], I was already in tears. I’ve been living with the character for three or four months and I’ve been training really hard and I chose my roles in [my acting] class so they could complement Mei Mei and bring out more ownership of my craft.”

Although we saw Mei Mei using drugs with Wing last season, Ren says that won’t factor into this season, as Mei Mei is more about power, and the clarity required to make the right moves. “I don’t think it’s a smart idea for her to get into full-time drug using. She’s playing with very powerful men and she needs to stay conscious and savvy. She can play dumb, but she cannot really be dumb,” she explains.

“I think she’s very serious about her craft and her business. She has a strong desire to be financially independent from all the obligations she has. We will see old history hunting her and new allies she has to make to break from some of her abusive relationships in her past.”

“She’s married to a very dangerous man and she knows it won’t last long and that the moment she becomes older and is no longer fresh to him, he’ll move on. She needs to find her own path. She wants to break into the North American market so she can be [her own person].

Another perk of the role is that Ren got to use her native language. “I love the Mandarin improv-ing. Chris was generous enough to trust me to [do that],” she says. “It’s short, but powerful, and allowed Mei Mei to put Tony in his place in Mandarin. I got to teach everyone in the makeup trailer how to swear in Chinese.”

The Romeo Section airs Wednesdays at 9:00/9:30 NT on CBC. Here’s a sneak peek of “Seeds of War.”


Photos and Video Courtesy of CBC.

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