Dancing King. Harry Shum, Jr., known to the world as the lovable Mike Chang on Glee, gets his high-fashion style on in this DA MAN exclusive shoot and interview. By Dino Moriartie
With dozens of cameos and smaller roles over the past eight years, including the hot dance flicks Step Up 2 and Step Up 3D, Harry Shum, Jr. as the quintessential struggling artist trying to make it in Hollywood as an actor and dancer. Now, however, the youthful-looking 29-year-old dancing maestro has definitely ‘made it’ after recently being promoted to series regular for hit TV show Glee’s third season, where he stars as Mike Chang. Here, he tells us all about his journey, his multilingual upbringing, ‘foodgasms’ and his NFL dreams.
DA MAN: First off, congratulations on being promoted to series regular for Season 3 of Glee. How does that feel?
Harry Shum, Jr.: Thank you! It feels great!
DA: Does it open up more opportunities, or does it tie you to Glee strictly?
Harry Shum, Jr.: I look at it as opening up more opportunities because it allows me to showcase talents outside of dancing on the show.
DA: As Glee creator Ryan Murphy recently mentioned, some of the Glee ‘students’ will naturally finish high school; what grade is your character, Mike Chang, in for Season 3?
Harry Shum, Jr.: We will find out in the first episode if Mike is a junior or a senior.
DA: What other things can we expect from Season 3? Any hints as to who will guest star?
Harry Shum, Jr.: There are characters that are going to be dealing with being a senior and the process of dealing with graduation. This season, we are focused on the characters and less about tribute episodes. So far, we’ve shot some great numbers that go really well with the storyline. Wish I could give away more info but I’ve gotten myself in trouble by saying too much before. The season premiere is almost here!
DA: Is it true that you cannot sing, or is that just part of the character you play on Glee?
Harry Shum, Jr.: I’m not a singer, but it’s definitely exaggerated for the character Mike Chang. I’ve been taking vocal lessons, so hopefully that translates into Mike improving as well. Maybe Mike will sing in Season 3?
DA: When did you start proper dancing and what spurred you to do that?
Harry Shum, Jr.: Well, I started ‘proper’ dancing when I moved to Los Angeles, taking dance classes from the pros. I guess I began ‘improper’ dancing back in high school after I was dared to audition for the school dance team. By some kind of miracle, I was selected to the team, but didn’t know why because I wasn’t very good. A joke turned into passion and now it’s a big part of my life.
DA: I remember a particularly high-energy performance of “Valerie” where you and Brittany (Heather) really work it; outside of her, who is your favorite dance partner on the show?
Harry Shum, Jr.: I’ve danced with a lot of people on the show and they are all great, but if I had to choose one, I’d have to say Matt Morrison. We worked on “Make Em’ Laugh” together and it was such a pleasure dancing with him. He has a dance background, so it was fun to experiment and try different moves out. He has no ego and just wants to learn and work hard to make it look the best it can be. Plus, he broke his finger on the first take and didn’t tell anyone he did until the end of the day. I look up to that guy; solid dude.
DA: How many takes did you have to do to get all those moves just right during that “Valerie” performance?
Harry Shum, Jr.: We were pretty confident with the movement and pretty pumped to do it over and over again. We had a real audience when we shot “Valerie,” so we had the energy from the crowd to feed off of. Some of the lifts were pretty difficult, but I loved the song so much that there was always a burst of energy when the track came on.
DA: Who has the most talent of the whole cast?
Harry Shum, Jr.: The whole cast is talented in different ways. It’s all subjective as to who is the most talented.
DA: If you could have one skill that one of the other Glee members has in abundance, what would it be?
Harry Shum, Jr.: Jane Lynch’s way of making every line delivery comedy gold.
DA: So tell us about your background, we understand you were born in Costa Rica, raised in California and have Chinese parents?
Harry Shum, Jr.: I am full Chinese and was born in Costa Rica. It was confusing growing up in a place where you looked completely different from the people that surrounded you. I’d look at old photos of my friends and I would stick out like a sore thumb being the only Asian kid. I think that is why I feel so comfortable being in different environments, because that’s what I’m used to. Spanish was my first language, but my vocabulary shrank when I moved to the U.S. and had to learn Chinese (Cantonese) and English. My parents still speak Spanish fluently
and being yelled at by them in a trilingual home is a funny sight.
DA: Were your parents happy about you choosing a career in the arts? If not, are they now?
Harry Shum, Jr.: The only thing my parents wanted for me was to have a good stable career where I would never have to suffer. That is why they brought me to America, so I could have more opportunities to choose from. They’ve always heard negative stories about Hollywood and the entertainment business; while also being an unstable career. I don’t blame them for not wanting me to pursue it, but they have never given me an ultimatum of choosing the school or arts—they were just more comfortable with the idea of me going to college and getting a job in traditional business. Even though I was involved in the arts, I never really knew what I wanted to do in it, so it was always up in the air. They finally gave me their full support after seeing how hard I was working and making a career out of it. It also helped that their friends were telling them that they saw me in magazines and on television. Parents love to brag about their kids, so I’m glad I had something for them to brag about.
DA: Have you ever been to China or anywhere else in Asia?
Harry Shum, Jr.: Yes I have been to Shanghai, Guangzhou, Beijing, Hong Kong and the Philippines; would love to visit all of Asia, including Indonesia.
DA: We heard about some good performances in the UK and Ireland this past June, what do you like most about such trips? And where else will you guys be going in the future?
Harry Shum, Jr.: The thing I love most about doing shows overseas is the people. There is just a different energy that London has than Ireland. Not saying one is better than the other, it’s just different. But it’s awesome to be in a foreign land and still feel the love when they welcome us to their home.
DA: On to career questions … do you consider yourself more of an actor or dancer or something altogether different?
Harry Shum, Jr.: I’m an actor and a dancer. I was an actor before I started dancing but that doesn’t mean I’m one less than the other. I have always viewed dancing as a form of acting, because when a dancer is dancing he should be telling a story through movement. There should be an emotion behind each motion, whether it’s light and happy or heavy and sad. I love all forms of art, so I wouldn’t limit myself to only one title.
DA: When you dream about your future, is it as a superstar actor or dancer?
Harry Shum, Jr.: My dream is to be an actor that constantly challenges himself and has longevity in this business.
DA: I should imagine that dancers, like high level athletes, have a sort of expiry date. Would you say that’s true?
Harry Shum, Jr.: I would say that is true. Nothing lasts forever, which is why you need to make the most of the time you have. But I know a lot of dancers who are 65-plus and still dancing. If you love it, nothing will stop you from doing it.
DA: Who is your favorite dancer of all time?
Harry Shum, Jr.: Gene Kelly.
DA: Who is your favorite actor of all time?
Harry Shum, Jr.: It changes constantly, but the most constant on the list is always Leonardo DiCaprio.
DA: Any advice for bad dancers?
Harry Shum, Jr.: I was a bad dancer at one point and sometimes I still think I am. Keep working hard because you never know which day you might find your groove. Also it’s good to be real with yourself sometimes, because I realize that my dreams of being a pro quarterback for the NFL are pretty much gone. But you can always just dance for fun; just like being able to play football for fun.
DA: What other projects besides Glee do you have in the works over the next year or so?
Harry Shum, Jr.: I just finished shooting an independent film over the summer called White Frog, which I had the pleasure of playing a role unlike ones I’ve played before. I’ve been working on projects I can’t discuss, but hopefully can announce soon.
DA: What motivates you?
Harry Shum, Jr.: People who make the impossible possible. [That] makes me get off my seat and attempt to do the same.
DA: What turns you off?
Harry Shum, Jr.: People with constant negative energy; and an overabundant amount of glitter.
DA: What’s your favorite…
1. Movie of all time?
Harry Shum, Jr.: Singin’ in the Rain.
Harry Shum, Jr.: I love all genres of music, but I have an old soul and my favorite artist would have to be Bobby Darin.
3. Place to eat?
Harry Shum, Jr.: Any restaurant that can give me a food-gasm.
4. Place to party?
Harry Shum, Jr.: Mykonos, Greece. If not there, then my living room.
5. Way to relax?
Harry Shum, Jr.: Watching movies.
Photographs: Mitchell Nguyen McCormack