Ten years ago, aspiring American football player Matthew Knowles had set his sights on making it big in the NFL. Little did he know that a different career would take him to superstardom on the other side of the world.
Following a successful football career in college, the then 21-year-old athlete from South Carolina had a great opportunity to do so. However, an unforeseen knee injury after graduation would change the course of his life forever.
“I was a defensive end for Clemson Tigers but hurt my knee senior year and had three surgeries so NFL was off the table,” he told the Daily Mail.
Knowles then decided to travel and see what the world had in store for him.
Today, he is an accomplished actor in China, known for his roles in numerous Chinese films and TV productions. He is also set to become one of the biggest movie stars in the country after landing a lead role in a $100 million movie production called “Asura”. The film is considered to be China’s highest-budget production in its cinema history.
The Chinese-language film, in which he plays the warrior demigod Rawa, has just wrapped up filming and is currently in post-production. He stars alongside local teen star Wu Lei and actor Tony Leung Ka-fai.
His road to becoming a superstar with millions of fans in the country took some time and a lot of hard work. In fact, when he first moved to China, his mission was to share a part if himself to humanity.
“I decided I’d like to go somewhere in the world, figure out my life but also give a year of my life to help people somehow, somewhere.”
Fresh from graduation, he raised some money and moved to the town of Duyun in Guizhou province, one of the poorest parts of China. There, he became a volunteer English teacher for two years.
“My students would all come from the mountain regions down to this little city for high school,” he narrated. “I taught English at the high school and at weekends and in breaks, we’d hold camps in the mountains for the kids.”
In his second year teaching in China, he also began working as a model. He would only transition into acting much later in 2012 when he moved to the city of Chengdu and met a lot of people in the entertainment industry, including TV executives.
“I told them I had some modeling experience, I had a small part in a movie in Singapore and I can sing Chinese songs,” he said. “So they asked me to come on their show, then I signed with an agent. I was the first ever white guy in their agency and they put me everywhere on TV.”
He did everything on TV including reality shows, dating shows, variety shows, acting in local TV shows and eventually starring in movies.
While he did work hard for his career, learning Mandarin, working on his hosting, singing and acting skills, he admits that his Western features helped him stand out and gave him an advantage.
“The culture of China – especially in the poorer regions – that as a foreigner you are like an instant celebrity because you’re different.”
Yet bigger opportunities would open up in 2014 after Knowles was offered a full government scholarship to study at the Beijing Film Academy. He would later become the first non-Asian/Caucasian at the academy. After receiving training to act in Mandarin, he then received more projects and was cast in bigger roles, recently portraying a lead role as Jet in the upcoming film “Bond: Kizuna” on top of his huge role in “Asura”.
“Asura is an amazing project, the best crew, and the team I’ve ever worked with; Oscar winners everywhere probably the biggest budget film of all time in China,” Knowles said.
“It’s a big, action, fantasy film with lots of big epic fight scenes. A huge budget movie in China would be like $30 or $40 million but this is $100 million. A normal film in China would have like 200 in the crew – this is more like 1800. It’s really huge.”
Knowles is now hoping that Asura’s success can help him break into Hollywood.
“I would love to break into Hollywood and the best case scenario in my mind is that my career continues in China and then hopefully the Hollywood side catches up someday and I have these two careers going in the two biggest markets in the world.”
While many of his friends and family back in Greenville, South Carolina are proud of his current superstar status in China, he shared that there are still some who are confused about it.
“They are proud but it’s weird because they think, ‘How did this happen? How is Matthew a superstar in China? We didn’t even really know where China is.'”
Even so, Matthew Knowles knew he is on to something good.
“I went to see Dabo Swinney, my old football coach at Clemson and he was like, ‘Hey what’s up Chinese superstar Matthew Knowles – we’re so proud of you,’ so that’s cool.”