Gregory Rivers was studying in Sydney to become a doctor, but he quit his studies and bought a one way ticket to Hong Kong to pursue a career in the performing arts. Having lived in Hong Kong for nearly thirty years, Gregory (who is more commonly known in Hong Kong by his Chinese name, Ho Kwok-Wing) has appeared on Hong Kong television screens, cinemas and stages — speaking entirely in Cantonese.
Born in Gympie, Queensland and raised in the Blue Mountains, Gregory Rivers knew very little about Chinese culture.
When he moved to Sydney to study medicine at UNSW, it was a surprise that his new group of friends at university were international students from Hong Kong. Gregory says: “we just clicked”.
In second year, Gregory moved to UNSW campus residential college, International House, which had a rule that at least half of the residents were international students.
Living in International House exposed Gregory to a significant part of Chinese culture: Cantonese pop, or Cantopop, music.
Gregory’s love for Cantopop meant that he even got a job driving Cantopop superstars, Alan Tam and Leslie Cheung, when they visited Sydney.
As Gregory’s interest in Chinese culture grew, his interest in studying medicine decreased. Whilst repeating courses that he’d failed, Gregory called it quits on his medical degree and decided to pursue a dream of becoming a singer in Hong Kong.
With $1000 Australian dollars in his pocket, Gregory bought a one way ticket to Hong Kong in 1987. Landing in Hong Kong immediately felt like arriving home.
He was planning to become a singer but fate took another turn and he ended up being a drama series actor on television station, TVB. “Most of the roles were either the police superintendent, the priest, the missionary, the international corporation supervisor, the occasional boss or doctor.”
In 2008, after twenty years as a recognisable face on Hong Kong television screens, he decided to leave TVB because the roles available to him felt limited.
“You only get the characters where the scriptwriters really think they have to be Caucasian...It started to feel that it was limiting in the last five years — especially after the handover [in 1997]. The English policeman was going back to England, the Caucasian police roles were becoming fewer and fewer.”
Gregory had a limited number of acting opportunities after he quit TVB but he was back in the limelight when awarded ‘Most Popular Male Vocalist’ and ‘Best Song’ at the TV Most award show in January 2016. TV Most is the online video platform of 100 Most, a satirical magazine in Hong Kong.
Since then, work has been “non stop” — including a stage performance of Chinese tale Journey to the West, a Cantonese Opera, multiple movies and television series, commercials and the Cantonese dubbing of Robinson Crusoe movie The Wild Life.
For Gregory, the award and the subsequent opportunities were significant acknowledgements from Hong Kong.
Being a Caucasian actor in Hong Kong is a rare position but the experience of being an Australian actor working overseas puts Gregory in good company. Australian television actor, Simon Baker, and actresses, Anna Torv and Poppy Montgomery would be on his invite list for a barbeque in Australia — “it would be really cool to meet up with them and discuss what we’ve been through.”
Gregory is firmly settled in Hong Kong and doesn't see himself as an expat. But there is one thing he misses about Australia.