TRUTHFULLY DARING. Canadian actor Hayden Szeto from hit movie “The Age of Seventeen” talks about representing Asian-American talent and his long term career goals
Nowadays, Canadian-born Hayden Szeto is perhaps best known as one of the stars of “Truth or Dare,” a horror movie about a supposedly harmless game of “truth-or-dare” (obviously), that turns deadly when someone—or something—begins to punish those who tell a lie or refuse a dare. Before that, he was already a thriving actor, appearing in, for instance, “The Edge of Seventeen.” Szeto also had his fair share of ads, for anything from Walmart and Adidas to Nike, Coca Cola, Honda and Microsoft. But, of course, there’s much more to the actor than what can be glimpsed from his filmography and TV commercials. This is the story of Hayden Szeto, from his most recent works to his fondest memories and favorite projects.
DAMAN: Hi Hayden! Glad to have you with us for this issue. How are you doing these days?
Hayden Szeto: Just living my life, doing what I love. Can’t complain!
DAMAN: So, your most recent movie, “Truth or Dare,” is currently playing here in Indonesia. What was it like shooting that one?
Hayden Szeto: “Truth or Dare” was so much fun to film! It was a physically demanding role, actually, with everything from from carrying flimsy mattress to constantly sprinting. It’s safe to say that I had a great workout. [Laughs]
DAMAN: Compared to other horror movies, how does “Truth or Dare” stand out?
Hayden Szeto: First and foremost, I think “Truth or Dare” stands out as a movie that knows exactly what it is. It’s meant for fun, but it’s also in the writing where the characters are aware of how far-fetched the idea of a game of ‘Truth or Dare” can be when possessed by a demonic force. Once you prepare yourself for what kind of movie you’re in for, it’s going to be a fun ride.
DAMAN: Can you tell us a bit about your character and your role in this movie?
Hayden Szeto: I play a character named Brad. He is the peacekeeper in the group and also a sweet kid who has yet to come out to his father about his sexuality during the course of the movie.
DAMAN: By the way, are you a fan of horror movies yourself?
Hayden Szeto: I am part of a specific breed of horror-movie-goer. I enjoy watching them with a group of people but I am not the type of fan that would watch them alone!
DAMAN: Looking back, one of your most recognizable appearances was in “The Edge of Seventeen.” How did you end up being cast for this one?
Hayden Szeto: It happened with a traditional audition. However, the stakes were much higher during the time when this opportunity came along. I was two weeks away from my visa expiring and I was ready to go home to Canada to figure things out. “The Edge of Seventeen” came along just at the right time. When I got the job, it helped me get my green card and allowed me to stay in the United States. It was meant to be after all.
DAMAN: In “The Edge of Seventeen” you played together with Hailee Steinfeld and Woody Harrelson. What are some of your fondest memories from working with these two?
Hayden Szeto: The fondest memory working with those two legends was to watch their process on set and watch how they prepared for a scene, how they messed up and, most importantly, how they recovered. It was truly inspiring.
Hailee Steinfeld and I had such a great time improvising our scenes at 5AM in the morning. There were many laughs for sure. As for Woody Harrelson, I remember he gave me the most touching bit of advice for being an actor. He said to me: “You took a well written character into a great character because you trusted your instincts. From now on, you must promise me that no matter how big or small the projects are in the future, you trust your instincts no matter what.” I remember just nodding with tears in my eyes when he said that to me. I’ll never forget it.
“The greatest byproduct of my job is the way it inspires young actors, especially Asian-American actors”
DAMAN: They say that with every role, you learn something as an actor and you might also learn something about yourself. So, what was it that you took with you from your experience on “The Edge of Seventeen”?
Hayden Szeto: Erwin Kim came into my life at the right time. I had just lost my grandmother a couple weeks before I booked the job for “The Edge of Seventeen” and it was very tough for me to cope with it on set and to act charming and funny. I remember being pulled aside by [director] Kelly Fremon Craig and [producer] James L. Brooks sat me down due to my rigidity of my takes one day and I just came clean with them and told them I was unsure of how to cope with the loss of my grandmother and my father’s illness at the time.
James pulled out an iPad and showed me my audition tape and asked me: “Do you remember this guy?” And I remember nodding in tears and I said: “Yes, I do. He’s in here somewhere.” And then he replied: “This is who you are; this is your voice, your mirror.” I wrote that sentence on a Post-it Note and I glance at it every now and then to remind myself of that day. As the shoot went on, I admired Erwin so much more as he took risks even when he was vulnerable. I must say, when Hailee Steinfeld and I shot our last scene as Erwin and Nadine, it was a very bittersweet moment as I had to try to be as strong as Erwin in my own life without his help.
DAMAN: Erwin Kim is often described being very complex: A “charming-yet-awkward guy” with a lot of quirks, a lot of money, minus the parents. How do you put yourself in the shoes—and head—of a character like that?
Hayden Szeto: The character of Erwin is based on a couple of friends that I grew up with in Vancouver. I grew up with many Asian-Canadian friends that had an uncanny similarity with Erwin’s upbringing. Many Asian kids, especially Chinese kids growing up in Vancouver, have parents that are in Asia while they are in Canada for school. And more often than not, they have to raise themselves. Through my Erwin-like friends, I saw the awkwardness of being lonely and how they dealt with it with their sense of humor.
DAMAN: How did starring in “The Edge of Seventeen” affect your career?
Hayden Szeto: “The Edge of Seventeen” gave me everything. It has allowed me to fully support myself in what I love to do; it has given me a career and it has reminded me to stay humble and grateful.
DAMAN: Back to the present, we’ve also learned that you are currently set to appear in “Summer Night.” How would you personally describe this title?
Hayden Szeto: I had so much fun filming that project. It’s a movie in the same vain as “Dazed and Confused” and is a day-in-a-life story about a group of musicians in Chico, California, and how they all fall in and out of love. I play a character named Caleb, who is the lead bass player in the band, Rain and Rivers.
DAMAN: What would you say has been the most memorable aspect of working on “Summer Night”?
Hayden Szeto: I was so thrilled I’ve got a chance to play as a musician and to learn the bass guitar. I think everybody wants to be a rock star and I really got to play one!
DAMAN: Besides “Truth or Dare” and “Summer Night,” what else are you working on right now?
Hayden Szeto: I have a TV show coming out on AMC called “Lodge 49.” It will be launched in August and Paul Giamatti is the executive producer of the show.
DAMAN: Have you always wanted to be an actor? When was it that you realized that this is what you wanted to do for a living?
Hayden Szeto: My father and grandfather were painters. So, naturally my dad wanted to groom me to become a painter like him. I discovered I was wired differently when I knew I couldn’t sit at a desk for an extended period of time. Instead, I would sit and watch hours and hours of movies and would dream about being in them. I remember spending all my part-time job money on DVDs and watching them in my room because I was too afraid to take acting classes due to being such an introvert. It took me a long time to tell my parents what I wanted to do with my life and thank goodness they were and continue to be as supportive as they are.
DAMAN: What are your current long-term career goals?
Hayden Szeto: The greatest byproduct of my job is the way it inspires young actors, especially Asian-American actors. Growing up, I never had many people that looked like me to look up to in American films besides Bruce Lee and that struck fear into my heart and possibly kept me afraid of pursuing it as a career. I hope that young Asian-American kids now can grow up watching more content on TV and the big screen with people that look like them and in turn inspire themselves to pursue the craft. I know that pursuing a career in the arts is not the top choice for most Asian-American parents and most other parents as well, but I hope the more representation they see causes a paradigm shift.
DAMAN: In the world of acting, who do you look up to?
Hayden Szeto: Robin Williams has always been one of my biggest influences, especially his versatility. His ability to be vulnerable, funny and dramatic was astounding. Tom Cruise movies have always been a big influence on me as well since I was a kid; I really admire his commitment to his craft and work ethic.
DAMAN: Among all the films and TV shows you’ve been in, which are your absolute favourites? Or, perhaps, what are the highlights of your career?
Hayden Szeto: I’d have to say “The Edge of Seventeen,” like I said before. Highlights for sure include walking the Toronto International Film Festival red carpet for the first time and watching “The Edge of Seventeen” with a crowd for the first time.
DAMAN: Outside of acting, what are your biggest interests at the moment?
Hayden Szeto: I enjoy keeping fit and also playing video games. I am currently playing “Uncharted 4” and “World of Warcraft.”
DAMAN: Today, how important is having an active social media presence for an actor like yourself?
Hayden Szeto: There is no doubt that social media is a great tool for any actor to interact with their fans and to keep people up to date with everything going on with their careers. I use Instagram mostly just for my own memories and to share with the fans.
DAMAN: Last but not least, what’s the smallest decision you made that had the biggest impact on your life?
Hayden Szeto: When I was struggling as an actor, I was understandably bitter with my predicament in life and I placed a lot of blame externally to the Hollywood system, the universe and everyone else but myself. The day I decided to take responsibility for myself was the day I liberated myself and I stopped being a victim. Understanding that I have control over my own destiny and, though I can’t control where I started in life, I definitely had control over where I’m going. This was when everything in my life started clicking for me and great things started happening.
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