He has starred in more than 50 soap operas, eight films and has his own TV show. But there is one big difference between Cao Cao, as his fans know him, and other screen stars in China: He is American.
In little less than eight years, Jonathan Kos-Read has managed to combine faultless Chinese with what he admits are average acting skills and moderate good looks to become possibly the most famous foreigner in China since Dashan.
"If I were in Los Angeles, I'd be waiting tables," said Kos-Read, 33, of Seattle. "I'm not the best actor in the world, and I'm not the best looking man either. In LA, there are a thousand guys like me. But over here, I fill a niche."
Kos-Read moved to Beijing in 1997 after majoring in acting, then film, then molecular biology at New York University. "Chinese was just to fulfill a language requirement and impress girls," he said.
For the first two years, he did odd jobs as he tried to improve his Chinese, interning at CNN and teaching English.
It was not until he spotted an advertisement for a foreign actor in one of the city's expatriate magazines that his acting career got under way. The director signed him up, paying him 3,000 yuan (US$375) for 30 days' work on a small-budget film.
"From that first film, I made enough contacts to continue acting," he said. "Since then, I've never done anything else. There was this role that needed filling, of the foreign guy in the soap opera or film, and I ended up being a good fit. I had the acting experience, the language and the looks that the Chinese associate with a 'regular American guy'."
TV and film have taken Kos-Read across China, shooting scenes everywhere from the deserts of the Xinjiang Autonomous Region to the jungles of the China-Myanmar border.
He has played the role of a ruthless spy, a World War II pilot, a Mafia boss and has even shot a love scene with Niu Li, whom he calls one of the country's most beautiful stars.
But it was not until he was given his own weekly show, Here Comes Cao Cao, telecast every Sunday evening as part of BTV1's Sunday Magazine program, that Kos-Read really found fame.
"Since I started the show, I get recognized everywhere," he said. "I am stopped in the streets and asked to sign autographs. It's weird, but I do like the whole fame thing. Everyone likes you, and everyone's nice to you.
"When I was an 18-year-old, dreaming of becoming famous, I didn't expect it to be like this. I'm known throughout China, but unrecognizable in the US, and my fans are all 65-year-old retired grandmas.
"But hey, you've got to start somewhere."
In little less than eight years, American Jonathan Kos-Read has managed to combine faultless Chinese with what he admits are average acting skills and moderate good looks to become possibly the most famous foreigner in China since Dashan. [File Photo: caocao.net]
(CRI.com January 12, 2007)