Video by Wang Haolan
Clad in the same navy blue suit and red tie as what he was wearing in one of the background scenes in “The Wandering Earth II,” David Hillhouse showed up for our interview with an easy grace, in contrast to the angry, apprehensive character he played as the chief commander in the technology center.
Hillhouse, who hails from California, the U.S., came to Shenzhen six years ago. He played three roles as an extra actor in the Chinese sci-fi blockbuster, and thinks that the film is approaching top Hollywood production standards. “It’s very close to anything I would see coming out of Hollywood. It’s probably the best Chinese sci-fi movie I’ve ever seen,” he said.
Since being released Jan. 22, the sci-fi blockbuster has so far grossed 3.93 billion yuan (US$566 million) at the mainland box office, entering the top-10 list of highest grossing films in China, according to box-office tracker maoyan.com. It has also performed well after its release in North America and Europe.
At nearly three hours long, “The Wandering Earth II,” a prequel to Frant Gwo’s “Wandering Earth” in 2019, stars Andy Lau, Wu Jing and Li Xuejian. It tells a story of humanity building enormous engines to propel the earth to a new solar system as the sun is rapidly burning out, while showcasing its spectacular special effects. The movie is currently showing in Shenzhen.
Hillhouse and a crew member of "The Wandering Earth II during the shooting of the film. Courtesy of the interviewee
As both an actor in the movie and an audience member, Hillhouse attributes to the movie’s success more to its storytelling than just its splendid visuals. “This is not just the special effects, but the way the storyline had different stories coming together, very well written and a little complex,” Hillhouse said. “Some people think parts of it are too long. I said that’s because they’re developing different characters and different story lines. And when it comes to the end, you will see how they all come together.” The actor added that he was also impressed by the amount of money being put into this movie, the details and creativity.
Hillhouse as the chief commander of the technology center in the moview. Courtesy of the interviewee
In Hillhouse’s eyes, one of the key ingredients to the movie’s huge success is the professionalism of the director. “I have a lot of respect for Frant Gwo. He is extremely creative, very dedicated and detail oriented. Because in his mind, he is balancing the storyline in the character to the action. He’s got to put everything together,” Hillhouse noted.
Hillhouse told Shenzhen Daily that he enjoyed embodying his main role in the movie as an angry chief commander, who was not his real self. “My character is very angry and a little volatile. The weight of the world was on his shoulders because we were in a countdown whether we’d make it or not. But the actors must be the characters all the time. It’s nice when you play something that’s not your nature or character,” he said.
To better portray the role and put himself in the character’s shoes, Hillhouse chose to take a private moment on the set to fully concentrate. “There were times on the set where I had to excuse myself from the other actors around me because they want to talk in between takes and I don’t want to fall out of that character,” he recalled.
“The Wandering Earth II” also made history for a record number of 20,000 foreign actors in the cast, according to a Global Times article published Feb. 28.
A scene from “The Wandering Earth II” showing actor David Hillhouse’s character as an angry chief commander. Yang Mei
Hillhouse told Shenzhen Daily that the fact that he made friends from different countries during the production makes it a pleasant working experience for him. “I met people from 18 or 20 different countries. It was just a good feeling to make friends from countries all over the world. The movie is about the world coming together, and it shows that China has the capability and capacity to play to the world audience and to pull in foreigners and utilize them within their films,” he said.
Aside from acting, Hillhouse runs an electronics company in Shenzhen. He finds the city a livable city for expats. “Shenzhen is a nice place. There are always good shopping malls, and there’s good quality food every place I’ve been to in Shenzhen,” he said.