Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Modern Hollywood

Versatility is an asset any good aspiring actor knows the importance of. Pigeon-holing your craft into any one aspect of performance limits your potential career opportunities right from the get go. An actor that can tackle a variety of different jobs, intimate performance, stunt and martial arts work, and voice acting, for instance, is more valuable than a performer that only knows how to wear one, single proverbial 'mask'.

Matt Yang King is one actor forging an impressive career for himself in Hollywood. Take a look at Matt's IMDB page, and it's clear he knows how to push his talent into many different aspects of performance. From television roles in shows like 24, Numbers, Frasier, The West Wing, CSI, Strong Medicine, Friends and ER, to his long list of voice work in video games like Dragon Age, Warcraft III, Uncharted, Infamous, The Saboteur and Alpha Protocol, as well as work on animated series such as GI Joe, Family Guy and Naruto, it's clear that Matt knows how to make his talents work, anywhere he needs.

Matt was kind enough to answer some questions for me about his craft, and Hollywood at large. Here's what he had to say...

Me: What made you decide to pursue acting?

Matt: I was a concert violinist at a very early age. Then I got into 45 minutes from Broadway when I was in 8th grade and I realized I loved performance not violin. I never looked back.

Which of you jobs/performances are you most proud of?

My role in the pilot Washington Field. My role as Caliban in the Tempest. My work on GI Joe the animated series.

What garners the most geek respect/admiration; your voice work on G.I. Joe or as Illidan?

GI Joe.

What's your attitude to the current acting scene in Hollywood?

It's rough. I wouldn't do it unless I loved it. It requires that you spend a great deal of time expending effort being a business person on a day to day basis, followed by 30 second bursts of being an artist. Rinse and repeat. The juxtaposition of the amount of time necessary practicing your craft and practicing your business is disproportional.

Which kind of role has more appeal to you personally; a complex characterization or a more physical, action role?

Complex characterization at this minute in time. Although I think that one is the same as the other. When I am truly doing my best performances, I am "in my body." So whether I am fully grounded in a character that is driven by complex thought or complex body movement is largely irrelevant as long as I am grounded.

Did you find it hard to find your success as an actor? Did you ever see yourself as a 'struggling actor'?

Yes, still do. It's all just another rung on the ladder. Someone is ahead of you and someone is behind you. The only way to stop worrying about it is to stop climbing.

How do you perceive Hollywood's general attitude towards Asian actors? Has it improved or worsened over the past decade?

I believe that Hollywood's perception has improved, if at a glacial pace. And largely the improvements have been variations on a theme. Asian women are now allowed to be love interests, but they are still subservient or exotic depending. Asian men are no longer the help, they are the best friend. Bruce Lee opened the door to allowing us to be perceived as ass-kickers and that has stayed open but all in all Asian men are largely shafted. Name the last time you saw a major Asian American actor kiss a girl or (gasp) have sex with a girl in a film or TV. It's non-existent. Jackie Chan is an action star twice the size of Schwarzenegger and he might as well be a Ken doll as far as Hollywood is concerned. It will take an Asian Sidney Poitier to do it, and hopefully one will come along soon. The Asian American community does not help either since it delineates itself (rightly) into Japanese, Korean, Chinese, etc. However when they take umbrage against a Chinese woman playing a Japanese woman and yet do not come out to support when As-Ams produce good film it creates an atmosphere that is non-conducive to changing Hollywood's opinion. Hollywood after all only really cares about one color... green.

Which comic book/video game character would you love to play on film? Do you have any particular 'dream role'?

There are no good Asian American superheroes. See my last rant. However, I always wanted to be Spiderman, but that's neither here nor there. I don't think that Peter Parker should be Peter Park. I would love to play a role as a "Knight" in a TV series adaptation of the comic "Checkmate." That would be oodles of fun. My dream role is to play Cyrano de Bergerac.

Is there a performance medium you haven't tried yet that you'd like to?

No. I just would like more opportunity to really show my stuff on film. I'm pretty covered in TV and now animation, but film was one of the reasons why I came to LA.

Which on screen performance, not of your own, do you most admire?

Recently, the King's Speech blew me away. But I actually tend to LOVE the little performances rather than the big ones on Film now that I am an "insider." I think that big actors can let one scene go whereas the small actors have to reveal a whole character in a tiny scene in order to support the film. Stephen Tobolowsky (sp?) is brilliant at this. Chris Cooper was one of my fav's forever. I'm really glad he's getting the response he's getting. I do have one favorite, but really I'm a devotee of film performances in general. So here's what I'd give as a primer.

Still performances;
Derek Jacobi in the I, Claudius TV miniseries
Kevin Spacey in Glengarry Glen Ross
Meryl Streep in Sophie's Choice
Don Cheadle in Hotel Rwanda

Moving performances;
Toshiro Mifune in Seven Samurai
Chaplin in The Great Dictator
Daniel day Lewis in My Left Foot

Overall for me Peter Sellars in anything.

You can find Matt on the Geekson podcast, or at his website.

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