Many stage actors have made successful transitions to movies because of their acting chops.
Hong Kong theatre actor Michael Ning did the same and took home the Golden Horse Award for Best Supporting Actor two months ago for his film debut Port Of Call.
But he was primarily cast in the psychological crime drama for reasons entirely different from his acting abilities. Apparently, he looks identical to the real-life brutal murderer he portrays in the film.
Speaking to The Straits Times in a telephone interview from Hong Kong, the 36-year-old says in Cantonese: "When the director first approached me, I turned down the role many times because I've always shied away from the camera. I just don't think I would perform naturally with a camera lens in front of me.
"Then I did some research and found that I looked exactly like the killer."
Director Philip Yung persisted in asking him to join the movie project and Ning, touched by his sincerity, agreed, "on the condition that I got to rehearse before actual shooting began".
"That was an immense luxury for a Hong Kong movie and the fact that the director said okay meant that he was serious in wanting me for the role."
The thriller is based on the real- life murder of 16-year-old social escort Wong Ka Mui by a 24-year- old man surnamed Ting in 2008.
As portrayed in the film, the killer turned himself in and confessed his crime to the police, detailing how he had chopped up her body and flushed the pieces down the toilet, before tossing her head into the sea.
To portray the gruesome murder for the screen, Ning handled plenty of real animal organs.
He recalls: "We shot on location in tiny flats and we filmed the scenes in the middle of summer, so you can imagine how hot it was.
"By noon, the organs would start stinking really bad. I stopped eating meat while I was filming this."
The scenes are so shockingly grisly in the film that he has found them impossible to watch.
He confesses: "I have attended quite a few screenings of the film at various events, but I have never watched it in full. Every time the killing scene comes up, I have to close my eyes."
He found it just as difficult to meet the killer in real life.
"We were told that the killer was open to meeting us. But I didn't want to. I was too scared," he adds.
"But I think it was okay. I interpreted everything from the script and got into the role just using that. Actors are usually quite imaginative."
Besides the Golden Horse win, there is another plus for Ning to have done Port Of Call - he does not fear the film camera so much now.
"Theatre is still a huge part of my life, so there's no way I could give that up altogether. But at least I can say I have tried acting in a movie and I'm a little less wary of the cameras now."
- Port Of Call opens in cinemas tomorrow.