American Matthew Knowles reveals how a twist of fate led him to star in 'Asura', China's first $100m film
After his dreams of playing in professional football were thwarted, Matthew Knowles set out on a journey which saw him go to China, become a teacher, a film star and a Mayor.
No Hollywood actor is secured to take over the place of Matthew Knowles in China, who is an all-American boy, a film star and a mayor there. Recently he was in a mythological fantasy 'Asura,' the most expensive Chinese film production to date estimated to cost over 100 million USD, in the role of 'Rawa,' a Chinese equivalent of Hercules. In 2018, Knowles has already starred as ‘Jet’ in the action-thriller 'Bond of Justice' and in the short film 'Poppies,' as Charles Harris.
In an exclusive interview with Meaww, he shares his journey of how a knee injury led him to China and how his dashed dreams led him to accomplish the unfathomed. As of today, he aims to bridge the differences between his home country, the U.S and his second home, China, while completing his Masters in Acting in London.
So I just flew from London to Beijing for the World Premiere of #Asura2018 After I watched the film, the gal sitting next to me saw people congratulating me and said, “I’m so sorry. I must have missed your part when I left for the restroom.” I laughed and asked her what she thought of the the rebel with the battle axe and durian shoulder pads. She exclaimed, “I love Rawa. He is amazing!” and with that she walked off. 😆 I’m still not sure if that is a good or bad thing.... All joking aside, I really enjoyed our film. Asura really is an amazing movie years ahead of anything else in China. In many ways I think it competes with and even surpasses many Hollywood blockbusters and #Marvel films. The VFX and attention to detail are on a level that China has just never seen before. It is a film that I am proud to have been a part of and I will definitely enjoy showing my grandkids someday. I just wonder if they too will not even realize that I am #Rawa , hahaha! Also big shoutout to @sustafash for styling my outfit.
You were born in South Carolina and now you're one of the biggest actors in China. That is indeed fascinating. Did you plan this out or did it all suddenly happen? Please tell us about your journey from being a Carolina native to a star in China?
My story began when I was playing Defensive End for the Clemson Tigers Football team in college. Just before my senior year, I dislocated my kneecap during a practice and my dreams of going to the NFL were dashed. One year and three surgeries later I found myself graduated from college with my dreams of making a professional football team over. It was at that time that I decided that I wanted to go overseas and to give a year back to helping people. I just so happened to have an old football buddy who was in one of the poorest areas of China volunteering teaching English. He told me about the area and before I knew it I ended up there with him teaching English. My initial one year in China turned into two and then I came back a third year to study Chinese. It was during that time that I was approached to work as an actor on some local productions because of my language ability and uniqueness. Two years later I had made a name for myself in Sichuan province and was offered a full scholarship to study acting at Beijing Film Academy where I became the first non-Asian to study acting, all in Chinese. Pretty soon I was booking bigger and bigger roles on Chinese TV and Film.
You are regarded as the “American Face of China.” How do you feel about being one of the few Americans or perhaps, the only American to have made it this big in China? Do you hope your legacy continues and more American actors come to explore the Chinese film industry?
That's a great question. I like what the title represents. I think I have been thrust into a very interesting position between China and the US and I hope to continue to be able to act as someone bridging the two cultures in the future. I think as the Chinese film industry grows larger and larger there is definitely more and more opportunity for many American actors to become involved in the Chinese industry and vice versa.
Asura was one of the most expensive Chinese film productions to date. Please tell us about the making of the film and the intricate details that readers and viewers do not know.
The sets were huge and intricately detailed. They actually made every little piece of each set. For example, the rebel doctor has a lair where he works to forge the weapons that we use. There were literally thousands of scrolls on his shelves and hundreds of glass bottles of all shapes, sizes, and colors holding the chemicals that he used. The cinematography is completely epic. All the shots that could possibly be shot in real life were shot in real time. They only used blue screens for shots that literally had no possible way to shoot without. The VFX is world class and the world that was created is entirely new, incredibly detailed, and completely fascinating.
Given that the film was heavily invested upon, how satisfied were you with the reaction, reviews, and the outcome?
I am very, very proud to have been part of such an amazing project. I can't wait to see how people react when they get a chance to see the film for themselves. Our producers are very passionate about giving the audience what they want.
Will there be a sequel to the film?
There are three films planned currently based on the world of Asura. I think more could definitely be made contingent on the success of the franchise.
Where are you living currently? How do you divide your time between America and China? Tell us about your family in those countries.
I am currently living in London where I will finish my studies in the MA Acting program at RADA in September. I will then move back to LA. For the past few years, I have only returned to China to film projects. When I am not filming there, I will be in LA or London. My entire family still lives in the US. Most of them are in South Carolina where I grew up, but I also have family in Alabama and Kansas. I am about as southern as it comes, but I grew up in the city of Greenville as a child, so I always considered myself a city boy. After the 6 or 7 years I spent in China, I also consider China my second home. Sometimes when I fly into Beijing I get that feeling in my heart that I have arrived home. Although my family still lives in the south, I have many friends everywhere from where I have lived including China, Singapore, Philippines, London, and Los Angeles.
Out of all the roles that you have played and portrayed, which one is your best and why?
I love the role of Rawa in Asura. It is a dream role for me to play a demigod equivalent to Hercules. I love epic stories and epic characters and Rawa is a perfect fit for me.
Do you ever think of coming to Hollywood or perhaps bring together the Chinese and American film together? What do you think that will be like?
Yes, I moved to LA in 2014. I have started to develop a few projects stateside and am very excited to see what the next couple of years bring about. As far as bringing Chinese and American films together, I think you will definitely see more and more co-productions in the next few years and I would love to continue to be a part.
What do you think Hollywood can learn from the Chinese film industry and vice-versa?
The size of the film market in China will soon surpass that of the market in the US. The more Hollywood understands the market in China, the better their films will do there. It has been particularly hard for US-China co-productions to be successful on both sides of the ocean. Whoever can figure out the type of film that both Eastern and Western audiences love will be able to make a killing.
The Sino-American relationships have been quite complex. Do these issues penetrate in the Chinese film industry as well? Has there been any significant difference in the industry to when Barack Obama was the president to now Donald Trump's presidency?
I have not seen any significant differences, to be honest, but time will tell. Most of the differences, and there are many, are probably attributed to the transition and changes within the Chinese political system. Issues such as taxes and corruption have come to the forefront of the Chinese film industry recently.
You are fluent in Mandarin Chinese, please tell us about your journey in learning the language and how long did it take you to perfect it?
When I arrived in Guizhou in 2009, I spoke no Mandarin. I soon realized that no one there spoke English and if I wanted to make friends or eat, I needed to learn the language. I studied daily with a 1 on 1 tutor and all of my free time was spent memorizing flashcards and testing out my Mandarin with local friends. My first two years I would just randomly walk into any shop in the city and begin talking to the shop owner. They were always very friendly and would never want to let me leave. Some of my early friendships and language partners were a local tea shop owner and his wife. I would sip tea with the two of them and we would struggle to communicate. I later enrolled in full-time language study in both Guizhou and later Chengdu. My 5th year I enrolled in Beijing Film Academy and studied acting in Mandarin surrounded by Chinese students. I tell people it took me two years to become conversational in Chinese and four years to become fluent.
You were made the mayor of Guizhou. I read that, it was this place that started your fascination for the country. Please tell us about how and when were you elected as the mayor and what makes Guizhou close to your heart?
I was recently contacted by Wanda Group who told me that they wanted to appoint me as a rotating mayor of Danzhai Wanda Village in the mountains of Guizhou Province in southwest China. Guizhou is where I began my journey in China almost 10 years ago, so it was amazing to be back and appointed mayor of a town less than an hour from where I lived my first two years in China. I truly have a connection with Guizhou. It is where I first started to feel that a piece of my heart belonged to China.
We would like to know what projects are you currently working on and your future projects that you would like to share with us.
Check out Asura when it is rereleased early 2019. Check out Bond of Justice soon. Come check out our devised show 'Afterlives: An Investigation' at RADA, September 4th-8th in London. And keep your eyes peeled for more exciting news soon!
'Crazy Rich Asians' is believed to be a milestone in how Asian Americans have been perceived in America. Do you relate to being an American Asian in China? What are your thoughts on that and do you think a movie similar to it is necessary for Asia?
I think 'Crazy Rich Asians' is a milestone project for Hollywood and I get why it is such a huge deal. I do think I relate on a certain level because I have lived as a minority in China, and living in the minority is always going to bring about specific challenges. I think films that break down any sort of stereotypes are always welcome. We need to do whatever we can do to break down the division and create unity among people. One thing I have learned from living all over the world is that people are all the same. We are incredibly different, but at the same time, we are exactly the same. We all have the same needs. We use different words to describe them. We look different. But in the end, everything that we are all striving for is the same. People use different words for it. Love, truth, beauty, happiness are just a few.