Local actor Christopher Lee has been talking a lot to his unborn baby about all kinds of things and at every opportunity.
Before attending the recent Star Awards held here with his actress wife Fann Wong, he told his child: "It's going to be noisy inside, don't be scared. Just cover your ears."
Practising his swing at a Taipei golf range in between filming a drama earlier this year, he made a video call to Fann in Singapore. "I was hoping my baby would be able to see me playing golf," says Lee, 42, who also reads children's tales such as Grandma Moon and The Rabbit And The Porcupine to the child.
"As long as it's not too late when I reach home, I will make it a point to talk to the baby or just put my hand on Fann's tummy and stroke it. I believe my baby can hear me," says the Malaysian-born actor in Mandarin.
It is not hard to understand why the seasoned actor is glowing with joy. The dapper Lee is at a good place in life with a child on the way, having tried to start a family since he married Fann in 2009, and an acting career that has found new life since he signed in 2011 with Taiwanese management agency Catwalk. The agency is home to big-name Taiwanese talents such as model-actresses Chiling Lin and Sonia Sui and actor Ethan Ruan.
Returning to Singapore, where he got his break in the local TV station's Star Search in 1995, he takes a lead role in the home-grown movie Filial Party. In it, he plays security guard Ah Beng, whose relationship with his dad is acrimonious. Ironically, he joins a reality show to find the most filial child. It opens tomorrow.
It is clear the topic of his latest movie - filial piety - strikes a chord in him. Throughout this interview with Life!, he emphasises the importance of family.
In real life, he will be inculcating the value of filial piety to his child by example. "Now that I'm going to be a father, my wife and I have agreed that we should go back to Malacca often to see my mother," says Lee, whose 70-year-old mother lives in Malacca. His father died in 2009 of heart problems before he got married.
He has tried to convince his mother to move to Singapore to live with him, Fann and her parents in their Orchard Road condominium, but to no avail.
While many couples prefer to live on their own, Lee says having the extended family live with him and Fann is "livelier". "We like having people around and we still have our privacy once we close the door to our room," says Lee, who has an older sister and two younger brothers.
He is now filming MediaCorp Channel 8 drama Against The Tide. Once he is done with that next month, he is taking leave till September to care for his baby, who is due to be born in August.
It looks like Singapore's golden couple will have no qualms rolling up their sleeves to get dirty with diaper-changing and may end up fighting each other for the privilege.
Lee says with a laugh: "I've told Fann to go ahead to film dramas and movies, so I can have my time with the baby. And she has said the same to me.
"I want to change the diapers and bathe my baby. This is a part of my life that I don't want to miss. We've hired a nanny and I'll be learning from her how to take care of the baby."
The ideal work-life balance he has in mind for himself is to take on local productions so he can be by his child's side during the initial growing years. But the jet-setting daddy will not be giving up on his overseas ambitions. He intends to take his tot to the filming set for visits.
"If I'm filming, Fann will take the kid to the set. And vice versa. We want our child to know what we do for a living. If our child expresses interest in joining show business, I will give my child the freedom to decide," said Lee, who is contemplating offers to star in local and China productions from October after his self-declared paternity leave.
While he acknowledges that it will be ideal to have two children so the kids have company, he will let nature take its course.
Between him and Fann, 43, he claims he will be the strict parent, although no one close to him, including his wife, believes him. "Everyone says I will be the one to spoil the child. I guess we will have to wait and see after the baby is born."
Besides, how could anyone be convinced of his self-professed disciplinarian tendencies when he also claims to believe in fostering an open, communicative relationship with his child in future, a different dynamic from the traditional hierarchical relationship shared with his dad?
"My father and I loved each other, but we never sat down to talk much. I want my child to be my friend. If he or she has a love story to tell, I want my child to feel comfortable enough to share it with me."
The couple will soon find out the gender of their child. But whether they have a son or a daughter, there are more important traits Lee hopes he and his wife will pass on to their offspring than their good looks. "I hope the kid takes after Fann's caring side. What attracted me to her was her good relationship with her family and how she showers them with care."
Another trait his child would be blessed to inherit would be his lack of vanity.
Lee was attracted to, rather than repulsed by, his role in Filial Party because Ah Beng is, well, an Ah Beng (Hokkien slang for uncouth man). In the movie, he is seen spewing Hokkien vulgarities and fits in perfectly with the beer- drinking crowd at the coffee shop.
"Ah Beng is a boorish security guard and that's a refreshing change for me. Lately, I've been portraying suave characters dressed in smart suits. It gives me some breathing space to recharge myself as an actor," says Lee in reference to his recent leading-man roles in Taiwanese productions A Good Wife (2013) and Notice From A Bachelorette, which is set to air in Taiwan in October.
In the infidelity drama A Good Wife, he plays a workaholic husband who neglects his wife (played by sexy Taiwanese actress Tian Xin).
In Notice From A Bachelorette, the drama adaptation of the novel of the same name, he plays a rich businessman wooing a woman (played by Sui) who places an advertisement seeking love.
Neither is Lee upset about his casting in another new project, The Condor Heroes, in which he plays an older, supporting role: In the upcoming China remake of the classic wuxia novel Return Of The Condor Heroes, he portrays eccentric martial arts pugilist Huang Yaoshi - a far cry from the youthful leading hero Yang Guo he played in the local TV drama adaptation of the same story in 1998.
He is unperturbed by the "downgrade". "Show business has evolved. People aren't bothered if you take on older, 'uncle' or daddy roles. There are plenty of middle-aged actors who exude charm, such as Simon Yam and Tony Leung Chiu Wai. Not that I'm saying I'm charming," he adds with a laugh.
Embracing the deepening crow's feet around his eyes and his impending progress into fatherhood, Lee says: "Now I tell those single people around me to get married and have a kid. It's something positive... It's beneficial for me as an actor. You will know the feeling only when you experience it yourself."
Filial Party opens in cinemas tomorrow.
High-profile projects in Taiwan and China
In this Taiwanese telemovie, Lee plays a man trying to salvage his marriage after his wife (Taiwanese actress Ruby Lin) loses her memory following a car accident.
Striking gold with his first Taiwanese production after he signed on to Catwalk in 2011, he was nominated for Best Actor in a Mini-Series/TV Movie at the 2012 Golden Bell Awards, the equivalent of the Emmy Awards.
The award eventually went to veteran Taiwanese actor Chen Chu Sheng, but Lee said: "Just getting nominated felt like I accomplished a mission."
A Good Wife (2013)
In this Taiwanese drama, Lee plays a workaholic husband who neglects his wife (played by Taiwanese sex bomb Tian Xin), who eventually has an affair.
The riveting plot and the leads' consummate acting earned rave reviews from Taiwanese viewers and the drama was the ratings champion for its timeslot towards the end of its run in the territory.
Already the envy of his friends for starring opposite the sultry Tian Xin, Lee can now boast of earning her admiration too. In an interview last year, the 38-year-old star said of him: "He is the epitome of the mature man. He's really nice, good-looking, has a nice body. He's the perfect guy."
Wang Pai (Trump Card, 2014)
Spanning the 1930s to 1950s, this China film revolves around the tumultuous lives of revolutionaries.
Lee takes on the supporting role of special agent Song Yuqiu, who is in charge of forcing his captives to talk by whatever means necessary.
He stands in an all-star cast alongside top Taiwanese model-actress Chiling Lin, Hong Kong veteran actor Tony Leung Ka Fai and Chinese actress Vivian Wu.