If you watched the 2010 Taiwanese hit, Monga, and were tickled by how an ‘ang mo pai’ fella could portray a ‘Hokkien beng’ as well as the next dyed-in-the-wool roughneck, you were not alone. Scores of Monga fans were similarly bemused. It was this role as Dragon, a teenage gangster and son of a powerful triad leader in Taipei’s hooligan heartland that endeared British-Taiwanese actor, Rhydian Vaughan to a legion of groupies, both home and abroad.
In person, the 25-year-old, who’s of Welsh and Chinese extraction, and who bears a passing resemblance to Tom Cruise depending on the angle from which he’s being photographed, is exactly what would you expect: charming, if a little cheeky. What wouldn’t you expect is how he maintains indifference to his newfound fame, and seemingly to wealth and materialism. It’s the result of an artistic upbringing, courtesy of his violinist father and performance artist mother.
“When I was younger, I couldn’t understand why my parents were doing they were doing. Back then, Taiwan was an economically booming society. Being in such a pressure-cooker environment, they could still find time to live and enjoy the little things in life. For a long time, I was confused. It took me a while to understand that they didn’t care about the material world, and that the lifestyle they were leading was actually correct,” Vaughan explains. It was also this upbringing that influenced his decision to pursue acting. “I picked up some tricks in performing and acting by observing my parents and their friends,” he says. Like most of his thespian contemporaries, he took the tried-and-tested route into showbiz by way of modelling and acting in TV commercials. It was thanks to a modelling stint that he landed an audition of Monga. Filming disrupted his studies, but he quickly got back up on the horse afterwards, and graduated from the East 15 Acting School in Essex, UK. “Fame was not able to supercede my thirst for knowledge,” he maintains.
Besides Monga, Vaughan has appeared in the film, Winds of September (2008), where he played a popular (but impish) student, and TV idol drama Love Recipe (2011), where he played a charming chef. His most recent outing was 2012’s Gf*Bf, in which he is depicted a carefree revolutionary student involved in a complex love triangle student involved in a complex love triangle with Taiwanese starlet, Kwan Lun Mei and up-and-coming Joseph Chang.
With the stars aligned in his favour, we predict it will only be a matter of time before Vaughan is ranked alongside A-list headliners such as Eddie Peng, Ethan Ruan and Mark Chao, if he isn’t already.
MEN’S FOLIO: You have a really interesting name, Rhydian. Does it mean anything?
RHYDIAN VAUGHAN: I’m part-Welsh and part-Chinese. Rhydian means ‘flowing water’ in Welsh, and it represents my Western heritage. I have a very connection with my name; I always associate it with the outdoors.
You were born in France, have British nationality, grew up in Taipei and studied in England. With such a cosmopolitan background, which culture – East or West – do you prefer/identify more with?
I grew up in Taiwan and I have relatives in Wales. But for a long time, I yearned to live in the West as the grass is always greener on the other side. But I feel that I’m starting to balance out; neither side is stronger and both sides have become part of me. I now feel that it’s a huge privilege to be a mix of both East and West.
Do you think your mixed heritage gives you an edge in Taiwan’s film industry?
I’m not the first mixed-race Taiwanese actor to appear on the scene, and people are generally accepting of mixed cultures these days. I can only say that audiences like to see new things and they like my mixed-blood status.
You have played several roles that are ‘typically Taiwanese (the son of a powerful triad leader in Monga, and a patriotic Taiwanese boyfriend in Gf*Bf). Are you a typical Taiwanese boy at heart? How so?
Yes, definitely! I’m very laid back, a bit naïve and overly honest at times!
Do you draw on real-life experiences to play these roles?
Yes, I have to. To me, if I don’t experience the life of the character, I won’t understand it at all. More experienced actors can dive into the characters much faster than younger actors. I have a very deep respect for Chinese actors such as Ge You, directors Jiang Wen and Lou Ye, and novelists like Mo Yan. These are people who have thrived despite what was thrust upon them, and became who they are today. Their stories warm my heart.
Your co-stars Ethan Juan and Mark Chao rode on the success of Monga, and have become A-listers in their own right, but you decided to complete your studies instead. If you could go back and change this decision, would you?
No, I wanted to pursue my education more than anything else, and I did not have any regrets because it gave me a solid training in acting. Learning is one of my big hobbies and what I was learning in school at that time excited me. The knowledge I have received was more important than anything else.
Filming Monga took place in the actual Monga neighbourhood. What was it like filming there, and what was the most memorable thing about the experience?
Apart from the wonderful costumes, it was the experience of working with the two directors, ‘Doze’ Niu Chen-Zer and Yang Yazhe, who both understand the neighbourhood quite well, and have strong emotional ties to it. When I was working with them, it was really easy to dive into the world they were in, and into the story they wanted to tell. Their direction helped me a lot. I grew up in Taipei, so I have seen such people around me. I stole characteristics from those people, an
d created a character from there.
Your movie, Gf*Bf is about three friends caught in a love triangle. Ever experienced anything like that in real life?
No, I haven’t experienced anything like that. To me, love carries different meanings at different stages in life. As a teenager, you experiment with love, have a bit of fun, and don’t have any regrets. When you are in university, you develop new ideas of love. And when you become a parent, you love their children unconditionally. The one thing in common throughout the different stages is desire without which, people will not want ton make love and create life.
Describe your fashion sense.
I go for comfort above all else. I like good materials, good organic cotton, natural dyes… anything that is good for the planet because I am from Planet Earth [laughs]!
Your most outrageous outfit and is there anything you would not wear?
When I was in university, most of my clothes weren’t mine, either they were given to me or I picked them up from the streets, so they already had their own stories to tell. I’ve not yet encountered anything I will not absolutely wear.
Any plans to expand into the Western market?
A very good friend of mine is a director in Britain and I participated in his film last year. I definitely want to expand my horizon because I was trained in Britain.
This article appeared in the April 2013 issue with Rhydian Vaughan gracing the cover.