Fresh on the acting scene and with a nomination for Best New Performer at the 2018 Hong Kong Film Awards, Hanna Chan is certainly making waves in the local film industry. With her quiet demeanour and unique look, she stars in the Wilson Yip- directed movie Paradox as the 16-year-old daughter of a Hong Kong policeman (played by Louis Koo). She’s impregnated by her boyfriend, much to her father’s chagrin – and he then forces her to have an abortion. The grief-stricken girl travels to Thailand in an attempt to clear her head, only to be kidnapped – and it’s ultimately up to the father to try and save her. It’s undoubtedly a breakout role for Chan, not only for showcasing her acting abilities, but also for building her confidence and self-esteem. Our shoot unveils Chan as she tears back the layers of her public persona to expose the different faces she wears and to reveal what goes through her mind when she’s in character.
Congratulations on your recent nomination at the 2018 Hong Kong Film Awards. Can you tell us a little bit about how you got the role?
During the year of my graduation, there was a casting call for this movie, Paradox. I remember very clearly that I was on a holiday trip across Europe; I was in Sweden when I got the call from the director. He had seen my photos through my modelling agency. I did the audition through FaceTime and I ended up getting the role! To be honest, I wasn’t quite sure why he had an interest in me, because I had no acting experience. It wasn’t even what I was studying in school. But once I saw the movie come to fruition on the screen, I instantly fell in love with acting.
How do you get into character? Once you’re in that place, do you ever go overboard and bring that character home with you?
Absolutely. It’s not easy for me to separate myself from my character. But luckily, at this point, I haven’t had to film several movies simultaneously. If I had to do that, I might develop multiple personality disorder. Even when the filming is complete, I still feel like that person is there with me. But it’s really up to you whether or not you want to dwell on it or move on – just like when you’re having a bad day, it’s easy to get sucked into a vicious cycle of depression. At that point, I tell myself to stop thinking about the character. But it’s inevitable that a piece of them will always be inside of you, because you have experienced so much together.
So what were you doing before you became an actress?
I should start from three years ago, when I was still in university studying advertising design. A photographer friend, Miss Bean, scouted me to be in a photo shoot. Before that point, I had no intention of modelling or being in front of a camera at all. I was always more interested in creating, design and art; I’ve been drawing, photographing and filming from a young age – on an amateur level, of course. But on the shoot, I enjoyed myself, so I got signed to a modelling agency and started getting some work here and there.
Have you changed since you got into acting?
This feels so right – at this moment I can’t imagine myself doing anything else. It sounds existential, but if I didn’t act, the person you’re speaking to might not be here. Acting has raised a lot of challenges that have surprised me. I was so surprised with myself because I couldn’t believe I was able to push myself so far out of my comfort zone. If you had asked me three years ago if I would be the person I am now, I would have thought it impossible.
And have your views on the world changed?
The processes of filming and watching it on a screen have brought such clarity to who I was, especially my weaknesses. For me, acting is kind of a magical process that forces you to really grow up and see things from a perspective you’ve never considered before, because when you read the script, you’re peering through a window into another person’s life – fiction or not. You suddenly realise that there are many more ways to look at the world than just your own. As an actress, your method of researching for a role is to examine everything around you under a microscope, and ask yourself why things are and how others feel. You never know what role you might have to play in the future, so I tend to observe all that I can.
What kind of weaknesses do you mean?
Before I acted, I was a timid and insecure person – well, I still am. I’m always second- guessing myself or selling my abilities short. I was always reminding myself that I’m not a particularly capable person, nor am I important. But now, I find safety in being an actress, because you’re allowed to be a different person and nobody will pass judgment onto a fictional character, nor say what that character is doing is “wrong”. Once I get into the character, I become her and she becomes me, and suddenly I am no longer insecure or afraid. I feel like I’m in control of everything and that makes me feel a great deal of safety. In the movies, how you act is kind of expected – it’s scripted. If you get kidnapped, you’re going to react the way the director tells you. But in real life, it’s not that simple. Every word or action needs to be thought out in great length because, unlike the movies, there is no redo or second take in life. I often find the reality within a script to be even more real than life, if that makes any sense. I say that because when you’re acting, you put all of yourself out there.
How has your relationship with your family and friends changed now that you’re in the public eye?
I think my relationship with my family hasn’t changed too much; however, I think my relationship with friends has become more deep and rooted. Because my work requires me to place myself in the shoes of multiple people, I’ve found that by doing so, the range of my emotions and knowledge has expanded greatly. With that said, I find that I’m able to have conversations with my friends on a different level and we talk about feelings that I wouldn’t have considered previously. I think another reason for this is because I used to be a very shy and reserved person, and being in front of the camera has forced me to open up a lot and become gutsier. I think it’s so important to be direct with your feelings and your message, because what is the point in playing mind games? I would prefer to know what the other person is thinking without having to fumble around in the dark, grasping for answers that are a bunch of maybes.
Over the course of just three years, you went from being an advertising design student to modelling, and now you’re acting in movies. It’s been a rapid succession of events for you. What’s the next stage in your evolution?
Actually, I’ve always wanted to be in the film industry, even before I started acting – but I was more interested in being on the other side of the camera. I’m keen about artistic direction, scriptwriting or even directing.I really love everything about film and it would be such a great accomplishment for me to be able to create one from scratch. But that’s something far, far away for me. For now, I’m entirely focusing on my acting career – and I’m very grateful to have this opportunity, because it allows me to see things from the other side. I’m learning that each director has their own specific way of working a set, and it’s these small differences that set each apart from the other.
Photography / Karl Lam
Styling / Kieran Ho
Hair / Will Yu
Make-Up / Hana Ho
Clothing / Black Comme des Garçons, from I.T
This feature originally appeared in the June 2018 print issue of #legend