“The Men Who Would Be Mao” is a series of portraits of Chinese actors who are specialized to act the statesman Mao Tse-Tung. They are often acting in films. Mainly come from China Hunan area, usually from the city of Changsha. The author of this series is an Italian photographer Tommaso Bonaventura, who worked on this project during 2007.
Voicer interview with Tommaso Bonaventura：
创 作该项目纯属偶然。我有一位作家朋友Ivan Franceschini ，他告诉我，有一天，他在一间网吧遇到了一个长相和毛主席极其相似的人。于是他和这个人交谈起来，而这个人曾在很多不同的电视剧和电影中扮演过毛泽东，我 突然间意识到这是个多棒的故事。后来我们同那位演员取得了联系，也认识了另外一些经常扮演毛泽东的演员。我们在韶山的一间戏院遇到了好几位出演爱国主义戏 剧的演员，希望能够为他们拍照。实际上，在韶山和长沙，每个人都非常好，也很乐意合作。
Voicer interview with Tommaso Bonaventura:
Could you give us a brief introduction of yourself and tell us how did you start this project?
Born in 1969 I’ve been a professional photographer for 20 years now. Since 2006 i’ve been visiting often China working for several italian or international magazines. Since the first time I came in China I keep coming back! Everytime there is a new story to tell and every time I like to come back….
How did you find these Mao doubles? Have you counted the number of Mao doubles in Changsha? How many of them were photographed by you? Were they willing to be photographed without persuasion?
The Mao project started by chance. A writer, good friend of mine, Ivan Franceschini ( that’s his name) told me that one day he met a guy really very similar to President Mao in an itenrnet bar …he started to talk to this man and discovered that he is an actor who plays the role of Mao in different tv series or movies. When my friend told me this story I immediately imagined that was a great story! So we got in touch with him and then after with other actors playing the role of Mao. We reached a theatre in Shaoshan were some actors play patriotic dramas and asked them if we could photograph them: in shaoshan and changsha everybody was really very kind and willing to cooperate.
Are they typecast actors( actors who only play the role of one certain people) Is mimic Mao Zedong their full-time job or parttime hobby?
Yes, they are Typecat actors: they specialized in the role of Mao and study a lot the way Mao used to talk, to walk, to move. As far as I could understand they are actors full time: some of them used to have other jobs before but now they are full time actors, playing only mao.
How did the impersonation of Mao effect the Mao doubles’ own life?
Some of them ( especially one of the guys) say that they dream about mao. For some of them discovering to be similar to Mao changed their life…now they have a job which they love, they are richer than before and they feel to be very much respected. Some of them are stopped by people in the middle of the streets and everyone is asking questions, it is very warm and nice but at the same time can be tiring!
It is said that some people would rather do plastic surgery in order to look like Mao. Is it for real. What do you think the reason is?
I don’t know about surgery: i don’t think these actors went through surgery..but my opinion is that it is already very hard to be yourself…trying to be someone else can be really very hard!!
As a westerner, what do you think of the cultural phenomenon that people devote to mimic national leaders?
As a westerner i love this mimic culture: i find it very interesting because i love the idea that a myth like Mao becomes again a living man…