Shanghai 1920 – behind the scenes with Eric Michael Zee

I was very lucky to catch up recently with actor Eric Michael Zee – Eric’s work includes Independence Day, Fist of Legend and also Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.

His first film role was as Francis in Shanghai 1920, I’m very grateful he was happy to share a few memories of being on set at the time and also some pictures he took. (Thank you Eric for riffling through your photo albums!).

Also very interesting to note that Eric’s grandmother was the famous actress, Nancy Chang, based in Shanghai. As a young actor in Shanghai 1920 he found such a source of pride with continuing the family acting legacy, he kindly sent me some pictures of her for this blog piece.

Vikki: Was acting always a burning ambition for you?

Eric: Yes, ever since I was in 1st grade and got cast in the 5th grade play.  My classmates were so envious when I got to leave class to go do the play with the big kids.

Vikki: What actors/films inspired you?

Eric: Paul Newman and Robert Redford and their buddy flicks (Sting, Butch Cassidy).

Vikki: You played Francis in the movie Shanghai 1920, how did you prepare for the part?

Eric: I just imagined what life would be like for a gay boy toy in the 20’s.   

The Mighty Dragon review of Shanghai 1920 is here

Vikki.      I would have loved to see a sequel to this film, I felt there was more for Dawson and Billy as they fled on the train – do you agree?

Eric: To be honest, the only time I saw the film was at the premiere.  So I don’t really remember it.  I think because I was disappointed so much of my part was cut out.

Vikki: Do you have any special memories from the set you’d like to share?

Eric: My grandmother was a famous actress in Shanghai, so I remember feeling proud the first day on set that I was truly following in her footsteps.

Vikki:  What did you learn from John Lone and Adrian Pasdar in terms of acting from this movie?

Eric: I only had one scene with John (which was cut).  And it was very brief.  I remember just being intimidated and not wanting to screw up.  We never really talked.  I didn’t have any scenes with Adrian.

Vikki: From filming in China in 1991 – have you been back to film there and noticed any changes? If not, what were the key differences to working in China as opposed to the US.

Eric: I have not been back for work since I left in ’91.  They didn’t follow SAG rules at all back then, and sadly I heard they still don’t.  So not only do actors not get trailers, you’re lucky if you get a chair of any kind.  

Vikki: From your TV work (Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman) to your film work (Independence Day), do you have a preference?

Eric: I still enjoy stage the most.  Nothing like the immediate response from an audience.

Vikki: Would you say social media is a help or hindrance to actors/filmmakers?

Eric: I say it’s been a hindrance.  Actors worry more about the number of followers, rather than doing good work.

Vikki:   I will be conducting more theatre interviews soon, should all actors have stage experience?

I definitely think so.

Thank you Eric for your time and wishing you all the best with your upcoming projects.


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