CRAZY TALENTED. Melbourne-born actor Chris Pang ups his game with “Crazy Rich Asians” and producing his first film
Looking at Chris Pang’s past roles, it’s easy to think of him as an action star. There’s 2010’s action-adventure war drama “Tomorrow, When the War Began,” then there’s “Fist of the Dragon” and “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny” as well as a recurring role in Netflix’ “Marco Polo.” This year, however, sees Pang appearing in the highly anticipated movie adaptation of “Crazy Rich Asians”—which is definitely not an action flick. And he’s also working on both sides of the camera for a movie to be released next year. We’ll definitely hear and see more of this rising star as the months roll along.
DAMAN: Hi Chris; it’s great to have you with us. How are you doing?
Chris Pang: Thanks for having me! If I have to be honest I’m exhausted. In the best possible way. I’ve spent the last month juggling my time between producing my first film, which is all shot in the Philippines, and the “Crazy Rich Asians” press tour and premiere in the U.S. Let me just say if you plan to do that back and forth, and you aren’t 21 with insane energy, your body will hate you.
DAMAN: “Crazy Rich Asians” has started running in theatres worldwide. How excited are you about this movie?
Chris Pang: The “Crazy Rich Asians” world premiere was simply the most unforgettable night of my life. We closed down Hollywood Boulevard in L.A. and our red carpet rolled past the Oscars venue, right up to the Chinese Theatre, which is historically where tentpole films have opened. It is a life goal for any actor to have a film open there and I was lucky enough to start the evening with another life goal: pulling up in a Lamborghini. But as much as this film release means to me personally, I’m so excited to see how this film can affect the landscape of mainstream western media to include more diversity.
DAMAN: What was the most memorable part of working on “Crazy Rich Asians” for you?
Chris Pang: It was really crazy how much fun we all had filming. On set we hung out all day and then once we wrapped filming it was karaoke. I’ve never genuinely wanted to see a group of people more and we’ve really bonded like family now. There’s a WhatsApp group that to this day still needs to be silenced at night if I want to sleep properly.
DAMAN: You’re mostly known for your appearances in action-heavy movies and TV shows. What was it that first drew you to this romantic-comedy?
Chris Pang: It was the success of the book. That there was a story out there exploring Asian culture in modern society and is at the same time a New York Times best seller, not to mention a butt load of fun, meant there was an opportunity for the film adaption to be something spectacular. With the cultural impact the book has already had, I was very excited at the possibilities of an international world released film.
DAMAN: 5. Will we see you in more non action roles in the future?
Chris Pang: You’re honestly giving me too much credit here. I think you think I’m much more successful than I am. I would take anything. [Laughs] But if you’re asking what kind of roles I prefer to play then you’ll absolutely see me on more dramatic roles in the future. I love martial arts, but I’m an actor who trained martial arts and not the other way around.
DAMAN: Speaking of the future, can you tell us a little about your upcoming film “Empty By Design”?
Chris Pang: “Empty By Design” is the reason I’m back in Manila. It’s my first attempt at producing a film and so far every step forward amazes me. It’s a character drama exploring the loneliness you can experience growing apart from your own culture, regardless of whether you’re at home or overseas. We have Rhian Ramos and Osric Chau playing the lead and it’s written and directed by Andrea Walter. I’ve never been more stressed out and had more responsibility in my life. On the first day of filming we threw someone off a third story building! It’s been a very rewarding experience all round though.
DAMAN: Have you learned much about filmmaking standing on the other side of the lens?
Chris Pang: Absolutely. As an actor you feel somewhat helpless and you’re a spectator on the sidelines watching a game unfold before you play by play. Sometimes you understand why things happen and sometimes you don’t. As a producer, however, you call the shots and you’re the coach. You’re collaborating with all departments to make the best decisions and I have learned so much being on the other side about why things happen on set. We went through every producer’s nightmare on this shoot where an actor dropped out of the project the weekend before filming and we had to make a choice to either scramble to find someone or postpone the project. There’s a lot of risk-reward assessment that goes on but fortunately this time we got lucky and we filled the role with someone perfect. I have to say though, it was scary. I still have nightmares.
DAMAN: When you’re considering potential projects, what to you usually look for? What usually grabs your interest?
Chris Pang: Again if I had the ability to choose and if I wasn’t just going to take whatever comes at me because I’m a poor desperate actor, then I would be looking at the script and who was involved in the project. It’s always a gamble and you’ll never going to know how a film will turn out until it’s done but I’d like to surround myself with people I want to work with regardless. But seriously, failing that, just lots of money!
DAMAN: Career-wise, which was it that really put you on the map?
Chris Pang: I think I’ve been very fortunate to be a part of some great projects. “Tomorrow When the War Began,” for example, was my first big film and it’s a beloved Australian novel adaption so I got a leg up there. I wouldn’t say that I’m on the map yet, but maybe after “Crazy Rich Asians” comes out? I already see my Instagram followers climbing steadily. I mean, what could be more important than that? Forget winning an Oscar, just please one day let me be an Instagram influencer.
DAMAN: If we may touch on a rather more serious – and perhaps sensitive – topic, we’ve often heard – including from your fellow actor’s we’ve interviewed before – about the lack of representation for Asian talent in Hollywood and especially how prevalent it is still today. What is your take on this issue?
Chris Pang: Lack of representation is damaging. If your image or preference is not validated in society, then you are alone and it is hard not to feel lesser. This is exactly how I felt growing up in Australia: I didn’t see myself in characters on TV, in cinemas, in magazines, on billboards. Being a minority is not a choice and no one should be punished for something outside of their control. But the landscape is changing and diversity and representation of minorities are hot topics right now so hopefully we will continue to see a change for the better.
DAMAN: So, the industry is moving in the right direction?
Chris Pang: It’s moving in the right direction. Progress is never going to be fast enough for the people wanting change, but it will, eventually. I mean, later in the timeline, we’re all just going to be some kind of brown color, so at least we’ll all be racially represented. Ha! But until that happens, we have films like “Crazy Rich Asians” to contribute to the conversation.
DAMAN: On a lighter note, besides acting, what else are you passionate about and what do you do in your chill and relaxing time?
Chris Pang: I’m a huge petrol head. I love cars and motorbikes and that’s where all my money is going when I make it later. I do like drawing in my spare time, too, although I haven’t gotten the pencils out in a while. Back in high school I wanted to be a comic book illustrator and I drew one issue of a comic. It’s horrible and I hope it never gets dug up. I think I’m a much better actor. [Laughs]
DAMAN: Last Question: Do you have a favorite quote, saying or phrase that perfectly sums up where you are today?
Chris Pang: Is there a quote about jetlag? Or feeling half asleep? Oh, I know: “Wake me up when September ends.” I know it’s not the meaning of the song, but just do that because between “Crazy Rich Asians” releasing and producing “Empty By Design,” the next couple of months are going to be a dream.
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