Zhao Liying ( 赵丽颖; born on 16 October 1987), also known as Zanilia Zhao, is a Chinese actress. She is currently the highest paid Chinese TV actress, earning over 5 million yuan per drama episode.
Zhao is noted for her starring roles in New My Fair Princess (2011), Legend of Lu Zhen (2013), Boss & Me (2014), The Journey of Flower (2015), The Mystic Nine and Noble Aspirations (2016) and Princess Agents (2017).
Zhao was born on 16 October 1987 in Langfang, Hebei. She graduated from Langfang School of Electronic Information Engineering, a secondary professional training school. She shortly obtained a secretary job at a local company in Langfang before she became an actress.
In 2016, it was revealed that she helped paved the big roads in her hometown which usually get flooded due to rain. Zhao was invited to be the spokesperson for her province in September 2016. The same year, Zhao was named the Vice President of Yi Xia Technology.
Beginnings and Recognition
In 2006, Zhao Liying participated in the Yahoo Search Star Game and became the final winner. She then signed with Huayi Brothers as a new talent, and filmed an advertisement with Zhou Xun. In 2007, Zhao made her debut in the family drama Golden Marriage.
In 2009, Zhao took on her first historical drama role in The Firmament of The Pleiades. The series was broadcast on Japanese channel NHK and earned critical acclaim.
Zhao first started to gain recognition from mainland audiences after starring in The Dream of Red Mansions (2010), a television series adaptation based on the novel of the same name by Cao Xueqin.
In 2011, she signed with Hairun Movies and Television Production Co. LTD. The same year, she rose to fame starring as Princess Qing’er in New My Fair Princess.
In 2012, Zhao had her first lead role in Cuo Dian Yuan Yang, where she played double roles. The drama was well received and further boosted her recognition as an actress. In an interview, Zhao stated that Cuo Dian Yuan Yang was a turning point in her career, as she truly learned how to act and fell in love with it.
Zhao’s breakthrough role was in Legend of Lu Zhen. She played the main character named Lu Zhen, a smart and kind girl who worked her way up to become the first female prime minister. The drama aired in May 2013, capturing first-place spot among TV show ratings, and quickly gained one of the highest viewership ratings of the year. Broadcasting rights to the show were also sold to Japan, Malaysia and South Korea, and achieved high ratings in South Korea. For her performance in the drama, Zhao won the Favorite New Artist at the 4th TV Drama Awards, the Most Popular TV Actress at the 4th LeTV Awards and Favorite Actress for the mainland region at the Tudou Young Choice Awards.
In July, she starred in the fantasy drama The Legend of Chasing Fish, which was also a commercial hit. In August, she starred in Palace: Lock Sinensis, the fourth and final installment of the Gong series by Yu Zheng. Opposite to her usual sweet and nice image, Zhao plays a scheming and evil princess in the film. This further accentuated her acting skills.
Zhao further solidified her popularity with two dramas in 2014; Wife’s Secret and Boss & Me, both yielding high ratings. The latter, a romantic comedy series based on Gu Man’s popular novel Shan Shan Comes to Eat was not only popular in mainland China (achieving #1 spot in TV ratings throughout its run), but also garnered a fanbase in countries like Russia, America and Japan. Zhao’s soaring popularity thanks to her various successful acting projects allowed her to be crowned the “Golden Eagle Goddess” of 2014 at the 10th China Golden Eagle TV Art Festival where she performed as the opening act to the ceremony. She also won the Most Popular Actress awards from both iQiYi All-Star Carnival and 5th TV Drama Awards.
The same year, she set up her personal studio under Hairun Media.
Mainstream popularity and Critical acclaim
In June 2015, Zhao starred in the fantasy-wuxia drama The Journey of Flower. She plays the ill-fated but kind orphan Hua Qiangu, who is actually the last descendant of Nuwa. The series was a commercial hit, capturing the first place spot among TV show ratings in the province of Hunan, and online views went on to achieve a total of 18 billion views. The success of the drama brought Zhao’s career to a greater height. At the 6th Macau International Movie Festival, Zhao won Best TV Actress.
The following month, Zhao starred in the romantic comedy series,Best Get Going. The drama series achieved an average ratings of 1.2 on Jiangsu Television and placed first in its ratings slot nationally. She then starred in Nicky Wu’s self-produced fantasy wuxia drama Legend of Zu Mountain alongside William Chan. The drama premiered on the online platform iQiyi in September, and later aired offline on Anhui Television in January 2016.
At the iQiyi All-Star Carnival held on December 5, 2015, Zhao was awarded “Most Popular Actress” alongside The Journey of Flower co-star Wallace Huo who bagged Most Popular Actor. She was also awarded the “Ratings Magnet” and “Special Contribution” awards at the 7th TV Drama Awards held on December 19. In January 2016, Zhao was crowned “Weibo Queen” and “Weibo Goddess” due to her popularity. She also won Most Popular Actress from Tencent Star Award Ceremony.
In April 2016, she was cast alongside Lin Gengxin and Shawn Dou in Princess Agents. She plays Chu Qiao, a lowly slave who transforms to a powerful female general. Broadcasting rights to the drama were bought by Hunan TV even before filming commences in May. The drama is scheduled to be released in the summer of 2017.
In June 2016, Zhao was specially invited to guest-star in The Mystic Nine, as the love interest of the male protagonist Fo Ye (played by her Legend of Zu co-star William Chan). The web drama achieved success, setting a record for the most number of online views garnered in a day and also captured first-place spot among TV show ratings. Zhao won Best Actress at the 3rd Hengdian Wenrong Awards for her role.
She was then cast as one of the two female leads, Bi Yao in the xianxia drama Noble Aspirations, based on the popular novel Zhu Xian written by Xiao Ding. Noble Aspirations premiered on 31 July to great reception, placing first in ratings and receiving positive critics. As of October 2016, the drama surpassed 20 billion views, becoming the third drama to do so after The Journey of Flower and The Legend of Mi Yue. This cemented Zhao’s status as a “ratings queen”.
In her first war drama Rookie Agent Rouge, Zhao plays the hot-blooded and chivalrous female agent Yan Zhi. The drama premiered on JSTV and CCTV simultaneously on September 27.
On October 16, Zhao won the Audience’s Choice for Actress at the 28th China TV Golden Eagle Award for her performance in The Journey of Flower. She was also awarded “Artist of the Year” at the iQiyi All-Star Carnival and “Most Popular TV Actress” at the Tencent Start Awards held in December 2016. VLinkage reported that as of December 2016, Zhao’s combined dramas’ views have reached over 110 billion views, which is the most views by a Chinese actor at the moment.
Breaking into the big screen
In 2016, it was announced that Zhao would star in Eternal Wave along with Aaron Kwok. The movie is about the operation of Communist Party (CPC) undercover agents operating in Shanghai in the 1930s against the Japanese.
The same year, she reunited with Boss & Me co-star Hans Zhang in the romantic comedy The Rise of a Tomboy, playing a tough-nerd-lady who believes love can be calculated through an equation. She also collaborated with Legend of Lu Zhen co-star Kimi Qiao in the youth nostalgia film Days of Our Own, and sung the theme song for the movie, titled “Ten Years”, a rendition of Eason Chan’s single.
Zhao was then cast in the film Duckweed alongside Deng Chao and Eddie Peng. It was also announced that she would star in The Monkey King 3, playing the role of the Women Country’s Ruler.