​Actor Van de Grac's Journey to Chinese Screens

By Kirby John Carney, August 15, 2023

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Legendary actor Al Pacino once said, "Acting is a study of human behavior. It's examining, and it's explorative." The sentiment is echoed by Spanish actor Van de Grac who has made a name for himself by undertaking intense roles in various Chinese films and television shows.

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Van de Grac in Karl Marx (unreleased). Image via Van de Grac

We see an artist's house as we are invited into de Grac's home and offered green tea. His bookshelves are filled with philosophy books on Taoism, Buddhism, and Confucianism. "I am very passionate about the Eastern style of thinking. I believe it is an absolute must to understand Chinese culture to live here properly."

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Crossing the Yalu River garnered 1.2 billion views, smashing records on CCTV1. Image via Van de Grac

When working with directors and actors from different countries, there can be a big language and cultural barrier, but less so for de Grac. "Sometimes you work with people who want to get everything finished as soon as possible, and you can make something decent with those people, but sometimes you come across a director who understands the actor's role and the preparation that is required to build a character, and that's where the magic happens."

Van de Grac has been living here and working as an actor since 2017. His story is a long one. He studied the performing arts and sculpture in Barcelona. Then he became a founder and performer of 'Mutant Art,' a sort of experimental theater that used to tour Europe, living on the road and traveling from town to town. "I love rock and roll; I love the adventure. When we need to shoot in various locations, I like to ask how far. How many hours on the road? Six hours? Wow, amazing. I love it, man. I really love it."

He tells us of a recent commercial he filmed in Xinjiang, which had a similar sense of travel and where he was very impressed by the director's artistic vision. "Some people are in it for the fame and the money, and they are not my people. My role as an actor is to grow and mature and essentially understand human nature in depth, at its core."

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Van de Grac takes a break from shooting in Xinjiang. Image via Van de Grac

He took a long break from acting to help his father's business, allowing him to travel all over Asia. Deciding to get back into acting in 2016, he took a year to re-work his technique so he could perform better on camera as opposed to theater as he had before. This paid off big-time, as he has worked on 10 films, nine TV shows, and over 200 commercials. Notably, his role as General Charles Turner Joy in the highly successful TV series Crossing the Yalu River has garnered him considerable accolades as the show achieved record viewership on CCTV. De Grac has also become recognizable in the villainous role of "O'Connor" in the film Ocean Rescue, which hit theaters earlier this year in May.

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Van de Grac acted alongside Qu Jingjing in Ocean Rescue (2023). Image via Van de Grac

We ask him if he ever gave tips to or asked for help from Chinese actors. "It's rude to give out advice without it being asked of you, but you definitely try and empathize with other actors and work together to make something." Digging a little deeper, we get two actors' names that he recalls appreciating the privilege of working with. "A veteran actor like Wu Gang (吴刚), who commanded a massive presence; you learn so much just being around him. If you play football and work alongside Messi, you will improve your game massively." Another actor he mentions is Wang Kai (王凯), who is young, handsome, and extremely professional on set.

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Van de Grac alongside Producer and Director of Karl Marx (unreleased). Image via Van de Grac

We look through his acting book and see that it's extensive. We stop and ask about the scene where he is being held by a harness. He explains, "They asked me if I wanted a stunt double for this scene because it could be a bit dangerous, but I said no, no, you show that the equipment is safe, and then I'll do it." The 52-year-old actor is full of passion and excitement to dive into his roles and appreciate the opportunity he has landed in China. "How can I not be grateful for the roles I've had?" he tells us in Spanish. "The industry has been very good to me; my whole life of performing on the road back in my youth and traveling around Asia has led me to the movies and TV shows I have had the opportunity to perform in."

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Van de Grac performing stunts on the set of Ocean Rescue. Image via Van de Grac

Van de Grac has an inquisitive aura about him. The actor is very curious about the equipment we have brought to record the interview; he has DVD box sets of classic TV shows which he tells us he enjoys rewatching for the acting technique as much as the shows themselves.

On the wall is a map of China with the names of all the provinces. "I regret not improving my Chinese more. There are so many interesting things about Chinese culture that I enjoy reading about. Their philosophy that the mind, body, and spirit are connected and how this applies to medicine fascinate me." Perhaps this curiosity has led him to immerse himself in such intense characters; he seems to think so. "The interest you have in people can only help you grow to become a better actor, and that's how I approach it."


[Cover image via Van de Grac]

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