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Chinese Actresses Qin Lan And Wu Jin Yan Talk About Their Characters In "Legacy"

In this in-depth exclusive interview, learn more about these stars and what it was like working on this family period drama, which reunited three of the leads of "Story of Yanxi Palace"

Revolving around the rivalry between three business heiresses who also happen to be half-siblings, the HBO Chinese-language Asia Original series Legacy features the Yi family and its minted members. The drama is positioned in the distant past during a devastating and turbulent time in China.

Set in 1920s Shanghai, Legacy tackles the story of three sisters with self-serving motives, vying for a massive inheritance from their father. The chronicle’s star-studded cast includes Qin Lan (Yi Zhongling), Han Geng (Tang Fengwu), Wu Jinyan (Yi Zhongyu), and Nie Yuan (Xi Weian).  Other official cast members, meanwhile, include Liu Jun (Mr. Yi Xinghua), Miao Pu (Ms. Huang Yingru), and Zhang Nan (Yi Zongxiu). Actors Qin, Wu, and Nie also starred in the dynasty-set drama, Story of Yanxi Palace.

The period series Legacy premiered on HBO’s standalone streaming service, HBO GO, on June 20, 2022 and was pieced together in 10 parts. To jump-start its airing, the show was made available in back-to-back episodes (Episode 1 and 2), while Episodes 3 to 40 were meant to be divided into a daily two-parter tale on weekdays.

With an era of economic mayhem as a backdrop, the march to glitz, glamor, and business takeover is a familiar trend woven in every wealthy empire in olden China. The ostentatious siblings of the Yi clan scramble for social status, family fortunes, and a life of luxury, all against a looming world war. After their brother—heir to the business—abandoned his claim to their father’s company, the stepsisters, in a race to successorship, take on their childhood traumas, career ambitions, and romantic affairs. 

A brainchild of screenwriter Yu Zheng, who is the same showrunner behind the blockbuster Story of Yanxi Palace, the show is billed as an addition to HBO’s Asian historical dramas. At the helm of producing the Chinese-language content is Lee Siew Tin and executive producer Yang Le. Written by Zhou Mo, the stunning visuals of the story, its compelling characters, and the wardrobe design by Song Xiaotao worn by the cast of characters are worth checking out. Legacy is directed by Wang Wei with artistic direction by Luan Hexin.

In this exclusive, we chatted with Legacy cast members  Qin Lan and Wu Ji Yan about their characters and their favorite memories on the set: 

How did you prepare for your role? Were there any skills or characteristics which you had to pick up?

Qin Lan: "My character Yi Zhongling is a refined, cultured and talented lady of a wealthy, influential family. The scenes where Zhongling ‘showed off her talents’ definitely needed more effort. A scene which left a deeper impression was when Zhongling performed opera. I was worried about not handling that well even though I had specially gone to learn a specific Peking opera role previously. This scene was different as I had to sing a piece in the 1920s style. I sought guidance from the teacher attached to our production and learned from her. Fortunately, there were not too many occasions that required opera singing. I felt that the overall presentation was acceptable. Opera singing was popular back in the day as entertainment and was consistent with the story. I guess during that period, individual opera singing or siblings playing the piano were common home entertainment activities then."  

Wu Jinyan: "Yi Zhongyu is quite different from me; she may look domineering on the surface but is actually very soft and sensitive inside. With a knife-like sharp tongue and a tofu-like soft heart, Yi Zhongyu was just like a little hedgehog. As she grew up in an environment that lacked love, she longed to love, but was also afraid of love, and did not dare to love. As the plot progressed, she gradually grew up and learned to love. When I started playing this role, I seriously read the script over many times, and discussed with the directors and screenwriters to understand Zhongyu better. This was to help me perceive Zhongyu’s reaction to what she faced, and how she would express her joy or sorrow. In terms of skills, I learned to ride a small donkey during shoots, and because I had some rapport with the donkey then, I picked that skill up very quickly. That made me think that I should also learn to ride a horse, and eventually did pick up horse-riding in my spare time. (laughs)"

What kind of drama do you like to watch and why?

Qin Lan: "When it comes to drama, I don’t have preferences. I think the most interesting thing about watching drama is that you can follow different characters to enjoy different experiences. For me, no matter which genre of drama, I’m willing to watch if it has a strong story."

Wu Jinyan: "I don't have a particular preference for any specific genre of drama, but I am willing to try watching all good dramas. And for every drama that I acted in, I follow the broadcast schedule as soon as it airs, and I will watch it with ‘danmu’–the scrolling screen of comments by viewers – to see everyone’s discussions. On one hand, I could find out what viewers thought were interesting and on the other hand, I could gather viewers’ thoughts on my performances."


How would you describe your character in this show? Do you identify with the personality and story of your character?

Qin Lan: "I feel Yi Zhongling is a perfect example of a lady from a wealthy family. Actually, Zhongling is very different from me because I can directly express my thoughts and feelings. In contrast, Zhongling does not know how to express her thoughts, tends to go round in circles and hides her feelings for a long time. If viewers have the chance to watch some behind-the-scenes footage, they will discover I am very different from my character, because I am much livelier day-to-day. Nonetheless, there is a little part of my own characteristics in Yi Zhongling, which I added when creating her image.

"Yi Zhongling is a character of two sides. When I read the script, I felt that she hides her feelings and emotions very deeply. In the eyes of others and her family members, she is most gentle, most tolerant and most magnanimous. However, deep within, she has many struggles, forbearance and dilemmas. I think Yi Zhongling is a character of great depth."

Wu Jinyan: "Yi Zhongyu is a person who looks domineering on the surface but is actually very soft and sensitive inside. With a knife-like sharp tongue and a tofu-like soft heart, Yi Zhongyu is just like a little hedgehog. In an unfortunate childhood, Zhongyu’s father had an affair and a second family; her mother hurt Zhongyu while trying to get back her father’s attention. With such parents, Zhongyu grew up in an environment that lacked love. She longed to love, but was also afraid of love, and did not dare to love. At the start of the series, Zhongyu comes across as being quite fierce and unlikable, but that was a result of how she grew up. Her ferocity is just her self-defense and as the series progressed, she gradually grew up and learned to love. I hope everyone looks forward to that!

"In terms of similarities, Zhongyu and I are both relatively straightforward, we speak directly and do what comes to mind. Overall, however, I would say Zhongyu is extremely different from my personality and experience. For example, Zhongyu behaved like a hedgehog because she did not understand love in the early stages of the series, and would often say what she did not mean. However, I could not appear as cold as Zhongyu; although I always thought of myself as being cool, people around me have found that I am actually a funny girl (laughs). And while Zhongyu was very business-minded, I have not tried doing business at all. (laughs)"


What is the one defining moment of your character? Why do you love that moment?

Qin Lan: "During production, a particular scene left a very deep impression. It was a scene of Yi Zhongling chasing Xi Weian (played by Nie Yuan). In fact, the original script had few details, but after discussing with the director, I thought that scene could mark a progression towards the climax in Yi Zhongling’s feelings towards Xi Weian. Zhongling had always been very dignified. She tied her emotions and feelings up tightly and lived a very tiring life. In that scene, I hoped to portray her as torn, imperfect, and to bring out something in her that touches viewers’ hearts. She had imprisoned her emotions, but in that moment, her emotions ruptured, her feelings towards her husband ruptured, and it was a catharsis of her emotions. Therefore, in that scene where Yi Zhongling rushed out of the department store after Xi Weian, I requested the director to specially set up the scene to reflect a rain-soaked road, as Shanghai is actually a city with much rain. In fact, I was not in good condition during the shoot, and am especially grateful to the director for considering my health. As I had been sick for some time, I was very worried that I could not perform well for that scene, especially as it is a very heavy one between Yi Zhongling and Xi Weian. I was afraid I would not do as well as I would have when I was well. Fortunately, the scene did not disappoint, so it was very memorable."

Wu Jinyan: "I think the most defining scene would be when Zhongyu went to Yingsi to negotiate the retrieval of their deceased father's body. Prior to this, although Zhongyu had gradually learned to love and protect the Yi family, there were no major conflicts and perhaps Zhongyu had yet to show her true ‘sense of family’ strongly. However, after they lost their father, Zhongyu’s ‘filial piety’, sense of responsibility, as well as strength and courage, shone through in that scene. In addition, from that point on, the Yi family was truly united."


Introduce your character. What is your character’s charm?

Qin Lan: "I think Yi Zhongling is a very capable character. Although she may seem gentle, she did a very good job of balancing and protecting each member of the family. First and foremost, Zhongling is the eldest daughter of the Yi family. In addition, her second sister's life experience while growing up made her different. Her youngest sister was innocent and perhaps naïve. Therefore, many of the secrets that her sisters were not aware of, resided in Zhongling's heart. As their eldest sister, she bore the stress. To resolve the issues within the family, the eldest sister needed to become the ‘glue’ to help make peace and ‘synthesize’ a harmonious relationship. Eldest sister Zhongling’s original intention was for the four siblings to be tightly knit and harmonious. She had quietly given a lot to the family, of which contained much of her wisdom. I think Zhongling’s role has great depth, and the duality of her character has a very unique charm."

Wu Jinyan: "Zhongyu is intelligent, has great willingness to grow, loves her family and the country, as well as has the heart, hopes and dreams that every young lady has."


What do you think of the setting and the costumes? Was it difficult to get into character?

Qin Lan: "In Legacy, there were many cheongsam looks, and they were stylistically different to reflect the changing of times through the series, different popular elements, as well as the three sisters' different personalities and dressing styles. Yi Zhongling dressed more traditionally, and rarely wore western style clothing. Perhaps her second and third sisters had more western dressing styles because second sister Zhongyu returned from Singapore, while third sister Zhongxiu studied abroad, so they tended to dress with greater Western influence. Among the three sisters, Zhongling was the more conventional and her style was closer to that of a mother, with design closer to traditional cheongsam. It was not easy to manage Zhongling’s image, I had to carefully stay in shape and upkeep her appearance. Our stylist said at the time that the costumes resembled the clothing worn by her grandmother in the 1920s. As the costumes were put together according to references of that era, they were very traditional and felt special.

"In terms of the sets, they were beyond my expectations. As it was a studio shoot, I had not expected them to be so large. And even though the overall constructions were very large, the sets were very delicately put together. Great attention was put into them, including every detail, down to the paint on the wall which one will notice was painted on very evenly, while the colors and lights matched very well, just like real home décor. One could hardly imagine that these were not real and were built in a studio, so for actors, the sets felt real, and I felt very, very pleasantly surprised. Our crew including twho took care of costumes, make-up and sets, paid great attention and were great help for the cast to integrate well with our characters, and made everyone believe that they were their characters."

Wu Jinyan: "I think the coaches from our crew were very serious and tried their best to study and learn from the era about the costumes, make-up and sets. For example, the cheongsam styles featured in Legacy evolved along with the passage of time in the series. Early in the series, Zhongyu had a number of shortcomings and would grow up gradually. Hence, before taking on the role I worked hard at understanding her, to be able to portray Zhongyu’s sense of growth well."


Could you share some of your favorite moments on set with the cast?

Qin Lan: "The cast and crew of Legacy were like a family. On set, everyone was usually very lively, and communication was natural, direct, and open. Every time the director paused production, everyone relaxed and interacted well together. What was especially memorable was a unique 'dialect speak' in our group. As there were more Northeasterners among us including Han Geng and Zhang Nan, one could often hear Northeastern dialects rattling on set, even Wu Jinyan, a Sichuanese was led wayward too. I think it really helped the production that everyone got along well and were comfortable with each other. I hope everyone can feel the same family-like atmosphere when watching the drama."

Wu Jinyan: "The actors in Legacy are both old friends and new friends, but whether old or new friends, there was great rapport and chemistry on set. We took care of each other outside of work too and got along well. I really enjoyed every day and minute through the months of production which were unforgettable!"


Do you have anything to say to your fans?

Qin Lan: "First and foremost, I am very thankful to everyone for their support. As an actress, I feel fortunate to bring different experiences to viewers through different characters. I have put much heart and soul into Legacy as we expounded on the themes of ‘love’ and ‘family’. I hope viewers can feel the warmth we have tried to convey. I am grateful for every viewer who likes my work and hope to bring more good production to fans going forward."

Wu Jinyan: "Thank you for your continued support, I will continue to work hard. I look forward to everyone enjoying Legacy. At the same time, I hope this series can enable viewers to feel the importance of love to each of us, so we should love ourselves, family, friends and our country each day."

Viewers can catch the episodes of Legacy with two new episodes dropping on weekdays, on-demand on HBO GO, and available via SKY subscription for as low as P99 a month.

Lead photo courtesy of HBO Asia