Hollywood actor Peter Shinkoda is on the cusp of his big breakout role playing the character Dai in the hugely anticipated Steven Spielberg-created TV series, “Falling Skies” about an epic alien invasion.
Photographs: Mitchell Nguyen McCormack
Peter Shinkoda nearly became an engineer, until he followed his heart to Hollywood
You may have seen him in John Woo’s Paycheck or I,Robot, where he played the character Chin; or his roles in WAR and The Hole, but one thing is for sure in 2011: You are going to be seeing a lot more of Peter Shinkoda. He has worked with the likes of Will Smith, Ben Affleck, Jason Statham and Jet Li over the years, but his big breakout is coming in the form of Falling Skies, where he is one of the main characters alongside Noah Wyle. Peter was born and raised in Montreal, Canada and went to both the University of Western Ontario and UCLA. He opted to focus on acting instead of engineering or film editing and now all the years of small parts and struggles are paying off for him.
DA MAN: You’ve studied civil engineering in the past at a respected university. What made you veer away from that and into the movie/television industry?
Peter Shinkoda: When I was at university studying, I was fooling myself. In my heart I wished only to have a career in the movie industry—in any capacity—acting being the first choice.
DA MAN: How does it feel to be a part the first-ever TV series headed by the legendary filmmaker Steven Spielberg?
Peter Shinkoda: Honored and blessed. We’ve finished shooting the first season and I’m still in shock.
DA MAN: You have been in a lot of stuff over the past decade, what would you consider your breakout role?
Peter Shinkoda: Hopefully this one as Dai in Falling Skies!
DA MAN: Any crazy stories about working as a waiter or other ‘struggling actor’ anecdotes?
Peter Shinkoda: I’m trying to forget the struggle every day. It’s too soon for that question (chuckles)!
DA MAN: What’s it like working with Spielberg?
Peter Shinkoda: Steven didn’t direct any of the episodes of Falling Skies, but he hatched the story and premise of the show. On one of his visits to the set of the pilot, he did sit behind the monitors for most of the day. I remember him concocting a scene that wasn’t scripted for which he did give me direction. It turns out to be a very touching moment at the end of the pilot. His insight into storytelling is unrivaled. He can see details within the details.
DA MAN: You’ve worked alongside some of Hollywood’s biggest names, including Will Smith and now Noah Wyle in Falling Skies, but have remained somewhat under the radar. Is that okay with you or are you really striving to move up the ladder.
Peter Shinkoda: I’d ideally like to maintain leading-man status but I have no qualms about contributing to any good story even if I were a day player.
DA MAN: Tell us about Dai, the character you play in Falling Skies.
Peter Shinkoda: Dai is a well-trained and effective resistance fighter of the 2nd Massachussets unit (one of the outfits formed in the fight against the invading alien forces). He is a Vietnamese-American who becomes the loyal confidante to Noah Wyle’s character, Tom. He is focused, but compassionate and is (according to Bob Rodat, writer of the pilot) based on the silent samurai character from Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai and James Coburn in The Magnificent Seven.
DA MAN: How do you prepare yourself to get into character?
Peter Shinkoda: Before shooting as Dai, I immersed myself in the writings of Sun Tzu, hung with military-types, lost a bunch of weight and then pretty much went to work. I believe that Dai is an extension of what I’d be like if aliens did invade.
DA MAN: Is there any particular role you’ve always sought after?
Peter Shinkoda: I always dreamed of portraying an American soldier in the 442nd Infantry of World War II.
DA MAN: What long-term goals do you have for your acting career?
Peter Shinkoda: I want to keep on working with and collaborating with the best in the industry.
DA MAN: You’ve worked in film editing before. Do you see yourself doing anything like that again? Directing maybe?
Peter Shinkoda: I’ve fantasized about directing, but I also recognize that it takes talent that borders on genius to orchestrate the shooting of a good film. Maybe in the future, but I’m certainly unprepared right now.
DA MAN: Any other career interests aside from acting?
Peter Shinkoda: I’ve written a couple of scripts.
DA MAN: How did you get along with the rest of the Falling Skies cast?
Peter Shinkoda: We have a rather large ensemble cast and it happens to be the best bunch of people ever! Everybody in the cast and crew, I adore. We hung out a lot while shooting in Toronto. We hang out in L.A. now.
DA MAN: Who would you have at your dream dinner party (living or dead)?
Peter Shinkoda: Possibly Kim Jong-il, so I can ask him, ‘Why?’
DA MAN: What has been your proudest moment so far?
Peter Shinkoda: Being cast as a lead in a Spielberg show proved to my family and close friends that I wasn’t deranged all these years. They were concerned for me.
DA MAN: If you had one wish regarding your showbiz career, what would it be?
Peter Shinkoda: I’d like to think that by the end of my career the perception of Asian men will have changed somewhat for the better.
DA MAN: Do you ever feel typecast?
Peter Shinkoda: I think Asian men in Western film/TV are typecast typically, but in Asia they definitely aren’t. But things are changing.
DA MAN: How do you deal with that?
Peter Shinkoda: There’s not much I can do short term, but long term, hopefully, my ongoing body of work will create opportunities to play a more diverse range of characters.
DA MAN: What is the most difficult part of making a TV show? A film?
Peter Shinkoda: Definitely working within the constraints of time and budget in TV. In film, there’s a lot of waiting around.
DA MAN: What is the best part of showbiz?
Peter Shinkoda: Waking up and eagerly going to set to earn a paycheck!
DA MAN: Do you have any guilty pleasures?
Peter Shinkoda: I am a fan of that Justin Bieber kid.
DA MAN: What gets you most excited and happy?
Peter Shinkoda: Hearing true stories of human triumph and sacrifice.
DA MAN: What bothers you?
Peter Shinkoda: Racism.
DA MAN: What is your dream role/character?
Peter Shinkoda: It might just be embodied in my Dai character.
DA MAN: Who is your muse?
Peter Shinkoda: I find inspiration in many things: musicians, artists, entrepreneurs, social leaders, colleagues; but mostly my Mom, she is a samurai.
DA MAN: Which famous person, living or dead, do you respect/admire the most?
Peter Shinkoda: I admire the way Paul Newman operated in his life. I met him once at Warner Brothers Studios. He was a gentleman, a class act.
DA MAN: Who is the sexiest cast-mate you’ve ever worked with?
Peter Shinkoda: Jessica Alba, maybe? Definitely the female cast of Falling Skies!
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To see the full feature with full-size images, get the DA MAN April/May 2011 issue here.
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