Tell us a bit about your background and where you grew up.
I grew up in Toronto, Canada. It was very a humble upbringing with traditional working class parents. Think chopsticks, textbooks, comics, ball hockey in parking lots, football in alley ways, and lots of TV, music and movies. I was a studious, hardworking kid, a jokester; shy, but also outgoing, the one that got A’s and also got elected into the high school student council, and practically ran it. I know, you hate me already. Then came journalism school. Boy, did I stick out like a sore thumb. I was but one of four Asians in my program. Despite winning a scholarship, I was riveted with anxiety. Everyone wanted to be a hard news journalist; I wanted to be on Entertainment Tonight. Heck, I even harbored secret dreams of acting. What a doofus.
Was there a particular moment in your life when you realised that you wanted to make a career in the entertainment industry?
When I saw Dead Poets Society I knew I was deluding myself by taking to the pen and not the stage. At the same time, I also dreamt of hosting an entertainment news show. The curse of being a Gemini: you don’t have one dream, you have two! I used to watch all these veejays and showbiz reporters in North America and there wasn’t one Asian fella. “Screw it,” I said, and took off to Asia with two suitcases and $2000 to land my big break. Took a while, but it happened. First in Hong Kong with a show called Citylife, then big time in Singapore with Showbuzz. Showbuzz allowed me to travel the world to interview the biggest stars: George Clooney, Tom Hanks, Hugh Jackman, John Travolta, Denzel Washington, Halle Berry, Kevin Costner, Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, Celine Dion, Julianne Moore, Matt Damon, Johnny Depp, Ralph Fiennes, Vin Diesel, Michelle Yeoh, Jackie Chan — the list goes on and on. I was handpicked to emcee Tom Cruise’s press conference, had dinner with Boy George and Culture Club, and got booty-pinched and kissed by one of the Spice Girls. It was surreal. And I got to act in a bunch of TV shows, too. I also hosted Hollywood Squares Singapore and a number of live specials like Miss Singapore Universe (yes, Steve Harvey, I crowned the correct winner). After ten solid years in Asia, I managed to circle back to Toronto to do the same. Again, it took a while, but I landed Ghostly Encounters and acted in a number of TV shows. And now, the big move to LA. Here I am starting fresh all over again — but with crows feet and a few grey hairs. I’m sorry, that was a long-winded answer. I’m a Gemini. I talk for two people. Feel free to edit.
What were some of your early jobs?
Oh boy…I started working at 13 scooping ice cream at a booth at the summer carnival. I sold Christmas trees one winter (brutal). I also worked for my dad helping him clean and close the restaurant into the wee hours of the morning during the summer. I worked at eateries and a fancy knick-knack retail shop. I also waited and bussed tables at my brother’s cafe. I was a customer service rep in the circulation department at a newspaper. And I worked the graveyard shift in the health records department at a hospital. All alone. Filing and pulling medical charts all night. From 8pm to 4am. I had a radio to keep me company. Not fun.
Who are some people in the industry that have helped you along the way?
In Hong Kong, I got talent scouted by Flora Chan, one of the hosts of Citylife. She used to see me emcee press conferences for a prestigious public relations agency I worked at. I was visiting a friend at the national TV station in Singapore when her boss, Sonny Lim in current affairs approached me and asked me what I did. We chatted. He dug my vibe and referred me to one of the vice presidents in entertainment. I rang her, Loong May Lin. She asked me to come in for an audition, and said, “I’ll be in touch.” I thought, “Yeah, heard that before.” Three months later the phone rang and three months after that I was leaving my lucrative job in PR and saying goodbye to my co-hosts on Citylife in Hong Kong. In Canada, I owe my big break to producers Brian Dennis and Phyllis Platt, who risked casting an Asian dude for Ghostly Encounters. Word has it I may have been the first (or definitely one of the few) Asian male faces to host a national (now international) entertainment program. In Los Angeles, I owe a big thanks to one of my early managers, Charlie Wright who always believed in me; my commercial agent Hugh Leon and his team at Coast To Coast; and my current manager, Matt Prater at Dedicated Talent Management, who’s been getting me some great auditions and gigs.
You have recently acted in a variety of short films, including Dive and Farm 1. What has that been like and how does short film differ from a feature length film (in terms of responsibilities, timings, budget etc)?
I haven’t starred in a full length feature film in a large capacity yet, but with short films you are operating on a lean, mean budget (even though the quality may be of a high standard). You have to nail your part in as few takes as possible to save time because time equals money; and there’s a lot of exercising the friendship card (crew members coming on board for reduced pay, actors bringing their own wardrobe, assistants multi-taksing, etc). There aren’t any fancy trailers with our names on them, that’s for sure, and there isn’t a lot of prep time. You also have more creative freedom with shorts. There isn’t the pressure of studio suits breathing down your neck requesting changes to the script and cast. If a movie is a train and a major TV show (which I have been on) is a subway, then a short film is a light rapid transit car. Fast and compact — with a less fancy Kraft table.
Why do you think people admire entertainers like yourself?
Er, that’s an awkward question because I’m not into me at all. Sure, I strike a pose for the camera when duty calls, but honestly, if Chris Hemsworth or Chris Evans were to walk into the room, I’d probably scream, “Holy crap, Thor and Captain America are here,” and go all comic book geeky on them. I think in general, there’s an intrigue and allure with people on screen. That’s the magic of entertainment. You’re creating fantasy, and through that fantasy, you are often able to touch people’s lives, so maybe that’s the connection.
Your IMDB page says you are currently working on two projects. Would you be able to tell us a bit more about them.
Farm 1 is one that you mentioned. It’s a short film that dares to delve into the dark world of child trafficking. I play against type. People will be surprised. For Glory’s Sake is another short about an attorney (me) who uncovers the truth about an alleged doping scandal involving a female athlete and her coach.