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Dan Li On Red Eye: Culture, Suspense & Drama

Photo By David Reiss - Styling By Olga Timofejeva - Grooming By Maya Lewis

After several months of filming, ITV and Bad Wolf have announced the unveiling of their latest gripping show, Red Eye which premiers on ITV 1 and ITV X on 21st April 2024. Featuring many plot twists, suspicion and mysterious characters this show is guaranteed to leave you on the edge of your seat asking for more. 

However the joy of the Red Eye does not just end there, as it is also a production which has been praised the representation of more visibility for  British-Asian actors, particularly from Chinese heritage backgrounds, a step in the right direction for a much diverse and multicultural narrative within the TV and Film industries here within the UK. 

In celebration of the show’s release, we had the pleasure of sitting down with actor Dan Li, who plays the role of Toni Zhang as he takes us on board  flight 357 to tell us more!

Welcome to Dan! You have had a productive couple of weeks, with screenings, press and more! What has it been like being able to share teasers of Red Eye with friends and family?

Dan: It was exciting but really nerve wracking as well. On one of the first screenings, the room was filled with press, journalists, execs and all the alumni of TV, so I couldn’t help but sit there and sweat a little bit haha. It is hard to know how these things are going to be received from people who are watching, but when it starts the show hooks you in because it is paced so excitingly. You could hear and see that the audience were really receptive, they were laughing, gasping and it seemed based on the first episode that they watched that it was received really well. 

When working on a show like this, how rewarding did you find it, especially when you compare it to both the start and the end of the process?

Dan: Obviously it’s great to get the job haha! I mean I really wanted this part when I read the script. It was one of those moments where I was saying to myself, I really hope I get it, so fortunately that worked out. The actual process is really exciting when you are filming on the plane and creating those moments. I also love the final edit when you get to see all the hard work put together with all the scenes connected. Then when you see how everything works, it's wicked - that makes me really happy. 

Photo By David Reiss - Styling By Olga Timofejeva - Grooming By Maya Lewis

With quite a phenomenal acting career which expands over 20 years for you, did you think this role taught you anything new?

Dan: I think you learn something new on every job from every different actor and actress you work with to each and every scenario. Just watching different lead actors like Jing and Richard in this is always fresh, it is a different experience each time. To watch great actors and be in the same teams as them, I think that is the only way you get better. 

When you read the script, especially when you focused on Toni Zhang, the character you were playing, what were your initial impressions of him?

Dan: When Caroline the Casting Director sent over the script I remember taking a good look and thinking to myself, ‘oh is this possibly what the journey could be?’. Then when I read more examples of the script, without giving too much away there are a number of interesting, suspicious and mysterious parts.

Did you feel Toni was a natural fit for you, or did it take you a bit of time to break into the role? 

Dan: He is a bit of a strange character Zhang because he is very mysterious. All of the characters are really suspicious so it feels like a bit of an Agatha Christie Murder Mystery but on a plane. All the different characters show different sides to them. There are times they come across as innocent and good, and other times are drawing suspicions to the audience, so you have to work out when you are going to play either of those sides. There is definitely a duality in playing these characters. 

When you were growing up, did you have any favourite murder mysteries you loved to binge?

Dan: Prime Suspect was one of them for sure! It is so hard to pick though because there were just so many, especially on the BBC. I think with Red Eye though, there is just something about an aeroplane which is an enclosed space that makes things so claustrophobic for an audience, and actors as well. The set of the aeroplane was like a real one, in an aircraft hanger in the middle of summer, so as you can imagine it was hot and sweaty like a proper plane. I think that makes all of our performances more tense and pressured. You cannot cheat the sets because you're in the seats, your in the aisles, and in the galleys with the cameras close up to you with no escape so yea it is really intense. 

One of the elements being celebrated about Red Eye is its representation of British Chinese culture. For you to be part of that, how did that make you feel?

Dan: Yea absolutely privileged. I am super proud to be on this show first and foremost. I feel that South East Asian male actors in general are under-represented in British film and TV. I know so many people within the Chinese community who have been up for some of the roles on this shows, so there is a lot of expectation on it. I think it really delivers in the sense that it celebrates Chinese culture but through a modern British story. I think that is what makes it unique. I really hope it sticks and that it doesn’t just flash by where nothing changes, and instead helps to increase the visibility for more Asian talent on screen. 

Photo By David Reiss - Styling By Olga Timofejeva - Grooming By Maya Lewis

In relation to that then, what makes you smile most about your heritage and culture?

Dan: The food, haha! I am very British as well having lived here, so just to be seen as a normal British-Asian in a diverse Britain is what makes me happy and makes me smile. 

Growing up when you saw that lack of representation on the shows you watched on TV was there any part of you that got you thinking to yourself - it’s time to change the narrative?

Dan: I remember growing up that I would just hire loads of films from Blockbuster featuring loads of  famous Asian actors in them because they were my inspiration. The likes of Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee etc but I can’t say there has been many names to look up to here in the UK. It’s funny because  Jing Lusi is the first British-Asian lead in a show like this which is crazy in its own way. I don’t know if you ever watched it but the Chinese Detective was a show that my parents used to watch 30 to 40 years ago where there were attempts to introduce British-Asian representation into the conversation. 

Going back to the filming of Red Eye, when the cameras stopped rolling for a break, what was the atmosphere like on set?

Dan: It was great! I think because it was a really claustrophobic environment it allowed everyone to bond really well. It is almost like Stockholm syndrome haha where you are locked inside. When they start filming they close the huge air doors and you are sealed in, sweating and can’t escape, so I think we just got so used that in this bizarre way. Going back to our point of representation, it was also one of the first times on a job where there were more than other Chinese actors. It did feel odd, but in a good way because I have never felt so comfortable on a set, of course combined with all of the other British cast and crew. I just want to take this opportunity as well to thank ITV, Bad Wolf and Sony TV for producing a show like this and I am excited to see what change shows like Red Eye will bring. 

The show premiers on ITV on 21st April 2024, so as the nation prepares to sit down and watch, what is the best way for them to embrace the experience?

Dan: Just enjoy it, come with an open mind and hopefully the mystery and intrigue of the different characters and storylines will hook you in!

Article By Thushara Chandrasiri

Photography By David Reiss - Styling By Olga Timofejeva - Grooming By Maya Lewis

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