Putting longstanding rumours to rest, Hong Kong actor Steven Ma insists that there is no bad blood with his former talent management agency TVB.
"Conspiracy theories," says the 46-year-old in Mandarin when asked about speculation that he quit TVB in 2011 because he had been unhappy about always being sidelined at awards ceremonies.
He has been nominated for Best Actor at the TVB Anniversary Awards six times for dramas such as Sweetness In The Salt (2009), but has never won.
He says: "TVB will always be my alma mater, my home town. If we ever had any disputes before, they would all be in the past. Now, we're definitely very good friends."
In fact, he made a comeback at the station earlier this year, playing the male lead of Emperor Xuanzong in its palace drama Deep In The Realm Of Conscience.
He clarifies that he left because he wanted time to venture into other projects, particularly in theatre.
BOOK IT / XU ZHI MO THE PLAY
WHERE: Kallang Theatre, 1A Stadium Walk
WHEN: July 20 and 21, 8pm
ADMISSION: $58 to $148 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg)
For example, Xu Zhi Mo The Play, a theatre production that he is bringing to Singapore after a successful run in Hong Kong and China. It will be staged at Kallang Theatre on July 20 and 21.
Besides penning the script and directing the play, he is also the star of the show. He takes on the titular role of Xu Zhimo, a Chinese poet who was known for his writings as well as his colourful love life.
Xu, who died at the age of 34 in 1931 from a plane crash, had an arranged loveless marriage; a passionate but short-lived affair; and finally, a marriage to Lu Xiaoman, who was previously the wife of a friend.
Ma, who is single, says: "I have been a fan of Xu's works for years, but it is his personal life that fascinates me.
"He has so many great loves and yet was never truly happy because of the expectations of feudal society. I see him as a bit of a tragic figure and that intrigued me to put this play together."
1 You have not won the TVB Anniversary Award for Best Actor. How do you feel about awards in general?
It's nice to be nominated, but I am really okay about it if I lose. I am not affected at all.
I see award nominations as good recognition of one's work. I would love to be nominated for Best New Director in theatre, if possible.
2 What is it about theatre that appeals to you?
It is the chance to get close to the audience and see their response first-hand. That will never be the same as performing in front of a camera for the television or movie screen.
I think this is why so many big movie stars find themselves turning to the stage all the time - actors such as Carina Lau and Tony Leung Ka Fai.
3 Is it harder to earn a living in theatre, compared with being a television star?
I would have given up on theatre a long time ago if I were in it for the money. Because I'm in charge of many things for my stage play, I also care about how many tickets are sold and that stresses me out greatly.
Every morning after I have my breakfast, I wait for the ticket sales report to come in. That's not to know if I will make any profits, but to know if people are interested in my work.
4 You are a fan of Xu Zhimo. Do you identify with him in any way?
No, I'm not lucky enough to have three great love affairs in my life.
When it comes to romantic relationships, I think it's good to keep things simple and just understand each other.
I wouldn't be able to have the dramatic love affairs that he had.
5 Are you working on another play currently?
I am, although I cannot reveal too many details about it at the moment. I have already finished writing the script for it.
I would love to write a stage play about Chinese philosopher Tang Chun-i (a key proponent of New Confucianism) because he is one of my biggest idols.
His writings are amazing. Unfortunately, his personal life is not as exciting, so it'll be hard to make a play out of it.
6 How often do you write?
I write almost every day, but most of what I write cannot be shown to the public. Sometimes, it's my thoughts about certain people or about certain government policies or current affairs and not all of those opinions are positive ones.
I write them down on my phone, so you will have to take my phone if you want to see them.
7 Where do you write?
I cannot write at home. I cannot concentrate. So I often take my laptop to neighbourhood cafes in Hong Kong and just park myself there the whole day.
People recognise me, but they rarely come up to talk to me because I look too serious and focused when I'm writing.
8 How would you like to be remembered?
As someone who has contributed to society in some way. I think life is not about what I've taken away with me when I die, but about what I leave behind.
Hopefully, I leave behind some performances and writings that people can enjoy for a long time to come.