Photo Credit: Kyle Rea Photography
Bookpleasures.com welcomes as our guest multi-faceted and award-winning entertainer, actor, host, writer, and producer, Lawrence Chau. Lawrence has worked in Canada, Asia and now in the USA.
After graduating from journalism school in Toronto, Canada, Lawrence found his way to Hong Kong with two suitcases and $2000 and managed to make a name for myself in a foreign land. Then he trotted off to Singapore and made an even bigger splash.
Lawrence's first television gig was co-host and writer of Citylife, Hong Kong's top rated prime time English entertainment and lifestyle program in the mid-90s. During this time, Lawrence also acted in theater and appeared in numerous commercials and print ads. From here his career really took off when he was discovered by television executives in Singapore where he was drafted practically by accident as a temporary roving reporter on Showbuzz, the nation's No. 1 English prime time entertainment program.
His encyclopedic knowledge of entertainment, Lawrence’s trademark probing but non-threatening interview style prompted him to become the most sought after showbiz news host by the major movie studios and record labels. Among the celebrities he has interviewed are Tom Hanks, George Clooney, John Travolta, Halle Berry, Hugh Jackman, Johnny Depp, Kevin Costner, Denzel Washington, Julianne Moore, Celine Dion, Jackie Chan, Michelle Yeoh, Vin Diesel, Lucy Liu, Ralph Fiennes, Uma Thurman, Matt Damon, Téa Leoni, Boy George and the late Whitney Houston.
After his huge success in Asia, Lawrence returned to his hometown, Toronto where he landed roles in a number of shows, most notably as the host of the Gemini award-winning paranormal series, Ghostly Encounters. Syndicated internationally, Ghostly has, over the years, been broadcast on a number of networks in the US (Destination America, BIO.); in Canada (OWN, W Network, VIVA); and most recently in Asia (Crime & Investigation TV). Lawrence also landed acting roles in The Border and a starring lead role as The Elusive Mr. Wee for Discovery Channel’s glossy crime re-enactment series, On The Run (which like Ghostly Encounters was also broadcast internationally).
Norm: Good day Lawrence and thanks for participating in our interview. What motivated you to study journalism and how did your education prepare you for the world of hosting?
Lawrence: Thank you, Norm. I thought journalism was a practical springboard to a variety of careers in the media, whether it be on- or off-camera. I admit, I was one of those kids, who grew up glued to Entertainment Tonight during dinnertime, fantasizing that one-day I'd get to host an entertainment news program, too.
When the opportunity to host Citylife in Hong Kong and then Showbuzz in Singapore emerged, I put that journalism training to good use. I was able to produce and script my own stories with the proper leads and quotes; I was able to help oversee and create new segments for the shows I worked on; I knew the importance of research and crafting intelligent questions that would engage my interviewees; and I knew how to "read" my guests, that is, gauge the flow of an interview and modulate according to his or her vibe.
However, I confess, if I could retrace my steps I wouldn't opt for the journalistic route. I would nose dive right into film and acting school. But coming from a conservative Chinese family nestled in Toronto's Chinatown that would have sparked coronaries. As the cliché goes, we were expected to become doctors, engineers or accountants. Journalism was the closest way to assure my parents I was pursuing a "noble" profession -- like Connie Chung.
Norm: What qualities and skills do you believe make a good television host?
Lawrence: Hosting, like acting, is about getting into character, though hosting has more narrow boundaries. You are expected to be likeable, to exude a natural charisma and energy that engages viewers, and, of course, to be able to connect with whomever you're interviewing. Striking that rapport is not always easy. It's more intuitive and instinctual than it is academic.
Academic things entail getting your facts right; quality writing and research; reading a teleprompter or ad-libbing effortlessly; asking well-phrased questions; and being a super organized multi-tasker. You also have to know how to listen and to sniff out a story and pursue it in a tactful way that gets your guest to talk openly about topics, especially if they are of a personal or sensitive nature. There is also an art to making words come alive on air, especially if those words aren't written by you. And be prepared to memorize a lot of script because often times there won't be a teleprompter accompanying you.
Norm: Among your many interviews with various celebrities, were there any that really stood out, and as a follow up, were there any that were embarrassing?
Lawrence: I love articulate celebrities and those that exude a genuineness about them. That list would include Hugh Jackman, Tom Hanks, Celine Dion, Matt Damon, George Clooney, Michelle Yeoh, Ralph Fiennes, Julianne Moore and Téa Leoni.
I never had an embarrassing interview from my end as a host, but The Most Embarrassing Award on the celebrity side would sadly have to go to the late Whitney Houston.
Let me say, I knew Houston had a problem way before Diane Sawyer did. My interview happened via satellite upon the release of Houston's My Love Is Your Love CD in 1998, and BMG Singapore made the mistake of allowing the cameras to roll when they shouldn't have -- with me in the control booth watching all the behind the scenes drama play out.
The BMG executive's face went pale whilst I was trying not to piss my pants at what we were witnessing: Houston with wig askew, head bobbing, eyes desperately trying to focus, bra strap scratching, diva demanding soda pop, diva demanding to go home, assistants pleading with her...it was literally quite shocking.
Norm: What kind of research do you do and do you do it yourself before interviewing someone?
Lawrence: Generally, I do all my own research. That can come by way of a press kit from the publicity arm of a movie, television or record company, or via a celebrity publicist. However, I also rely on speaking with credible sources, combing the Internet, reading magazines, newspapers and books, especially biographies and autobiographies. I was that entertainment fanatic at the television station who had Billboard's Top 5000 Songs of the Rock Era or Leonard Maltin's movie guide books. Trust me, I know my showbiz trivia.
Norm: What was it like to host Ghostly Encounters?
Lawrence: That was an awesome gig because, aside from entertainment, the paranormal is a subject I also love. I can honestly say I've pinned down two dream jobs. The crew was amazing, the re-enactments were great, the stories, especially from the Canadian Maritime provinces were bone chilling. In many ways, we were the precursor to a lot of other paranormal programs like Celebrity Ghost Stories and My Haunted House. Plus, I have to give credit to the producers for casting me -- an Asian male -- because let's face it, how many Asian male entertainment hosts are there on the small screen in North America? What is up with that?
Norm: How did you get involved in acting and where did you learn acting?
Lawrence: Good question. The perception is that I am a host, who's become an actor, but the truth is I was an actor, who was good at hosting because of my journalism background, so the television stations in Asia positioned me in that direction -- and audiences gravitated to me in that "role" like bees to honey.
The same thing happened when I returned home to Canada. But I was always acting concurrently with hosting, only the scale was lopsided. Looking back, I'd say my first acting gig occurred by fluke when a friend egged me to audition for a play in Hong Kong called Stop! Press.
This was around the mid-90s. I ended up landing the lead role and the play wound up being the most successful production of the Hong Kong Fringe Festival at the time. Despite amassing numerous credits and breaking barriers in Asia and Canada, Los Angeles is about starting fresh and honing my craft as an actor Hollywood-style. As such, I've engrossed myself by studying at various acting studios headed by renown figures as Anthony Meindl, Margie Haber, Lesly Kahn and Ivana Chubbuck, to name a few. I also studied improv at the famed Second City. My greatest growth in acting, however, came by way of private coaching with Christina Zorich. She broke it down and all of a sudden the lights started flickering, the bells started ringing, and the puzzles started falling into place.
Norm: what character was the toughest for you to change into?
Lawrence: My most recent role in Farm 1, which sheds light on the dark world of child trafficking. The short film is helmed by the Emmy-winning production team, Hoplite Entertainment here in LA. I played against type. It was a dark, disturbing role involving sensitive subject matter, and it required a lot of arduous physicality, too.
I honestly had nightmares before and after filming. I questioned myself if it was a role I wanted to tackle as I was concerned about my image. However, as many prominent actors say: "If it scares you, do it. It'll make you a better actor." So, I did. In this artistic medium, you have to take risks and push boundaries -- mentally, physically, emotionally. Farm 1 is currently in post-production and should be ready for screening at festivals later this year.
Norm: In which area would you like to improve as an actor?
Lawrence: In every area, lol. They say an actor never stops learning, and thus, the craft is constantly improving. I'd love to delve further into knee-slapping comedy and gritty drama. I feel like I've but only skimmed the surface despite my years in the business and emerging wrinkles.
Norm: What sort of acting roles do you hope you are performing in the future?
Lawrence: I'm one of those versatile actors that will tackle any medium. I'm fearless that way. Though I've hosted a paranormal show, I have yet to act in a horror flick. That would be fun. However, I am most drawn to controversial stories that resonate with some sort of social significance and message...racism, sexism, civil rights, social injustice...dark topics that enlighten our consciousness.
Norm: Along with being an actor and host, you’re also a writer. What are some of your writing accomplishments?
Lawrence: Aside from writing for broadcast television, I've also contributed numerous entertainment articles for various publications in Canada and Asia, and have penned two popular weekly newspaper columns: Who's Hot for Metro Toronto and Streats Singapore.
Norm: Which of all of your various careers proved to be the most challenging and why? As a follow up, which one is your favorite?
Lawrence: In answer to both: Acting. Not only is the craft of acting challenging in itself, but landing that big break -- that big juicy role that will allow you to prove yourself in this tough industry -- is what every actor craves. And if my cravings for coconut cake and French fries are anything to go by, you know I'm still hungry.
Norm: Where can our readers find out more about you and your work?
Norm: What is next for Lawrence Chau?
Lawrence: I just appeared on General Hospital (no, not as doctor, but as an I.T. specialist). I'm getting ready to shoot a big commercial off the coast of Mexico for a week. And I'm in talks with other creative peeps to develop a variety of independent projects. Plus, I'll be pounding the pavement auditioning, competing with thousands for one role, living the life of an actor in Hollywood. When the grey hairs take over, I can see myself penning biographies and scripts.\
Norm: As this interview comes to an end, what question do you wish that someone would ask about your life, but nobody has?
Lawrence: What drives you? A. Fear. Fear that I won't live up to my greatest potential. Fear that time will run out. Fear of failure.
Norm: Thanks once again and good luck with all of your future endeavors.
Lawrence: Thank you! A pleasure being featured in bookpleasures.com.