We started rehearsals with the lead actors in conjunction with the drum training. On a hot and muggy day, following an afternoon shower, I took Jaycee to the rooftop of our production office to start working on some improvisations to develop his tough yet vulnerable street-smart persona. From this vantage point, we could see across the street in Johnnie To’s office that the curtains were drawn and the room was well illuminated, which meant he was filming a scene in his office at that very same moment!
I use rehearsals also to explore and build relationships among the actors. For The Drummer I designed a set of rehearsals and improvisations for each actor. My goal was for the actors to use the rehearsals to connect with each other as their characters in the film.
At the center of the story, aside from the journey of the main character, Sid transforming from a reckless youth to a fine young man, is a tumultuous father-and-son relationship. In the film, as the father, Kwan, (played by Tony Leung Ka Fai) and son, Sid, (played by Jaycee Chan) must have an off-screen life and history, I designed a series of exercises to deepen their relationship that once established and the actors get a feel for it, talk would not be necessary.
Jaycee and Tony rehearsing on the rooftop of the JC Group offices
Tony, who’s good friends with Jaycee’s real-life father, Jackie Chan, has known Jaycee ever since he was a little boy. The two even appeared together in Twin’s Effect II, but did not get to act opposite each other in a significant way. Therefore, to help them create a different relationship and get into their respective roles in The Drummer, I began their rehearsals with some fun exercises. Neither Tony nor Jaycee had ever gone through this kind of rehearsal process so they didn’t know what was in store for them. The first exercise was called “Eye tunnel,” in which the two actors had to look into each other’s eyes and never look away. They had to constantly keep moving while maintaining full eye contact. It is one of the simplest yet most effective ways for two actors to establish a connection.
Tony took to it very seriously. Looking into someone’s eyes can be many things: a challenge, a plea, a tender and honest moment, etc., etc, but Tony just looked without any emotions. It was fascinating; he knew his only task was to lock eyes with Jaycee and that was what he did. Jaycee, however, was nervous at first and broke concentration a couple of times, but would recover and got back on track quickly. When I said, “Walk towards him.” Both thinking I was talking to them, would take a step forward, and come crashing into each other’s personal space. It kept them on their toes. At the end of the very long exercise, Jaycee jumped up and down, feeling like an actor who had made a genuine connection with another actor, which was a special but unsettling feeling.
"The family" - Tony, Jaycee and Josie rehearse with the director on set
After this exercise I had Tony and Jaycee improvise a scene in character. In the film, Sid's mother only lives in Sid’s memory, yet her absence from his life is a sore spot between the father and son. The son essentially holds a grudge against his father for driving his mother out of their lives.
In this improvisation, with the actors in character, I asked Tony to come into Jaycee’s room and tell him his mother has died from cancer all alone in a foreign country. Not even knowing that his father had knowledge of his mother’s whereabouts, Jaycee became shocked and hurt. He questioned his father unrelentingly about her. He had lost his last chance of seeing her. "Why didn't you tell me you knew where she was? She was sick, why didn't you do something to help her?" Jaycee, as Sid, flew into a rage. "What could I have done? She had cancer." Tony, as Kwan, kept up his tough guy stance. Without me specifying to Jaycee where Sid’s rebellion against his father had stemmed from, he instinctively felt it during the improvisations. The two actors had to face off in a painful and heartfelt confrontation and subsequently, sensed their rapport deepen through the experience.