Currently starring in Broadway Bounty Hunter at Barrington Stage Company in the Berkshires, Scott Watanabe has had a long career as an actor, including roles in Allegiance and The Phantom of the Opera. In the tradition of 8Asians, we asked him eight questions and he offers some sage advice for those who aspire to the stage.
Tell us a little about yourself, e.g. What’s your background? How did you get into acting?
I was born in 1959 in Los Angeles, California to Japanese American parents from Hawaii. I got involved in acting in junior high school, but spent my high school education in instrumental music. I started university in Hospitality Management while working at Disneyland. Then got involved with the “Drama Club” and “Employee Madrigal Singers” at the park and community theatre in Orange County and found that I enjoyed being back in that world and discovered my singing voice. I gave up business school and went back to school earning a BA in Musical Theatre from California State University, Long Beach.
Following graduation I spent six years with the Los Angeles Music Center Opera, and split my time between the opera season and doing musical theatre and summer stock theatre. I’ve been professionally singing/acting for 30 years, ten of those years in various companies of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera.
After seeing her play Kentucky Off-Broadway, I chatted with Leah Nanako Winkler about being biracial and young in the theater world, things on her reading list, and what’s next (heads up LA!)–and she was delightful even when I failed to properly articulate questions. Also, since both our initials are LW, my questions, words, and contextual notes are just in italics.
What was the inspiration for the play? To what extent is it autobiographical?
A lot of people have been asking about the autobiographical because you know, I’m half Asian—I actually don’t like that term, I’m biracial—my mom’s Japanese and my dad’s white. I think that’s part of the reason people automatically assume that it’s about me because you don’t really see that on stage a lot. You see the author is biracial, you think, oh, that must be about her. I don’t think that happens a lot to every other writer whose white. Not that all other writers are white.
Right, but it’s a different conversation.
Yes. The character of Hiro is actually not me at all. She is a marketing executive who makes a lot more money than me who has a very strong belief system that does not reflect my own. A lot of the people in the play were inspired by circumstances in my real life in the sense that I did grow up partially in Kentucky, in a town called Lexington. I actually was born in Japan though and moved to Indiana mid-childhood and then Kentucky. I lived in Kentucky for a total of about ten years and I was very, very, very active in the Japanese community that they have in Lexington which sounds a little bizarre, but there’s a lot of Japanese people there. I went to Japanese school on Thursdays and Saturdays. I definitely was brought up in both cultures. Hiro is very Americanized and I imagine that she was born and raised in Kentucky and she moves to New York, that’s probably the first place she lives aside from her hometown. Continue reading “8Questions with Playwright Leah Nanako Winkler”
Please see part 1 of my interview with Daniel Henney, of CBS’s Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders, in which Henney discusses his connection with the character he plays, and shares his thoughts on opportunities for Asian American actors.
Now that you’ve had a chance to do both, do you prefer TV or film projects better? Why?
I like both, to be honest with you. When I have time, I like film but the problem is that (film) generally takes you away from your family and home for two to three months at a time. It’s hard. One of things I’ve liked about working on (CMBB) is that you get to shoot in Los Angeles. I get to sleep in my own bed every night, spend time with my friends, take my dog for a walk, and sometimes she gets to come to the set with me, which is great. When I’m on a movie, I’m sort of off the grid for a while which is tough sometimes. God forbid something happens to your family and it’s hard to get home. Sometimes it’s hard to communicate because it’s different time zones. Movies are fun and sometimes there is a romantic element to film, but TV is not a bad gig.
I’ve noticed you’ve been involved in small fashion projects such as your sunglasses line and your tote bag. Are those passion projects of yours? Will you be doing more of those kinds of projects?
I definitely hope so. It’s been something we’ve been playing around with, mostly in Asia. We’re trying to get some traction in China as well as Korea but it’s a delicate market over there. But once it picks up, once you get something that’s great, it generally does quite well. Living in Korea for years and years, I’ve had a lot of ideas come to my mind, (such as) help improve the Asian male fashion sense with denim or footwear. So as my career progresses hopefully I’ll be able to create a bigger platform, have more reach, and do more things.
Many of your fans are eagerly waiting for you to appear in more leading roles. Are you still interested in landing a leading role or are you more looking for interesting and challenging roles?
It’s more fun to do interesting, challenging. I don’t get a lot of those because I’m seen as more as a leading guy, especially in Asia. So even here in the States it’s been more of that lately, it’s been more of a leading guy kind of thing. I do gravitate towards trying things. I just had a role come in to me, I don’t know if I’m going to do it. It’s playing some sort of robot in a post-apocalyptic world. How cool would that be? I’m trying stuff like that out. So hopefully I get to do some of that stuff in the future, like I’m not complaining where I’m at, I’m very happy where I’m at right now. Continue reading “8Questions: Daniel Henney of ‘Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders’ (Part 2)”
Daniel Henney says he works hard and doesn’t complain, and I absolutely believe him. Take, for example, his projects since the start of the year (I cannot begin to guess how many miles Daniel Henney’s racked up on his frequent flier accounts!). Since the start of the year, he was spotted in New York City during Fashion Week to see the Coach 2016 Collection, and he’s all over Korea with his spread for Cosmopolitan Korea and Harper’s Bazaar Korea and ads for Hamilton watches (Henney is the 2016 ambassador), plus new ads for Wide Angle (a golf line). He’s also a spokesperson for the educational language company Malpool. It has been a busy first two months of 2016 for Henney!
Henney’s longtime fans know that he’s been in the modeling and acting game for a while. Most known for his roles in Korean dramas, Henney broke into television in 2005 as Dr. Henry Kim in My Lovely Sam Soon. In 2009, Americans were first introduced him in his role as Agent Zero, starring alongside Hugh Jackman, in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. In total, Henney’s acting and modeling career has spanned over a decade and includes nine full-length films, eight television shows, over 25 sponsorships/commercials/advertisements, and countless modeling projects. Soon, Henney will be adding another American television show to his portfolio, in his new role as Matt Simmons in Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders (CMBB), set to premiere on March 16th on CBS.
Henney took a moment out of his busy day to talk to me about CMBB and other fun things.
Congrats on your work on CMBB! How is CMBB different than CM? What can newcomers and fans of CM look forward to?
I had the opportunity to talk with Katie Rose Clarke before the Allegiance opening night. In the new musical about the experience of a family during the WWII Japanese American internment, Clarke plays Hannah, an Army nurse who falls for Sammy Kimura (Telly Leung), an interned Japanese American citizen.
I saw the show the first weekend that it was in previews – and I really enjoyed it a lot. What first got you interested in the project?
The show has been around since 2009 in development. It [initially] wasn’t on my radar because, as far as I knew, the show was cast, so when I heard it was coming to Broadway, I assumed there wasn’t a role for me. Then I got an audition for it, and as I read through the script, I was in awe of the subject matter, which I knew so little about, and by the idea of being a part of a story that has never been told, a part of history that so few people have much knowledge about. [At that time], I could not read enough about that era in our nation’s history because I, embarrassingly, didn’t know anything about it. So the whole idea of the show resonated with me. Continue reading “8Questions: An Interview with Katie Rose Clarke of ‘Allegiance’”
As a reader of 8Asians, you’re probably aware of the Broadway musical Allegiance, currently running at the Longacre Theatre in New York City. Featuring the talent of George Takei, Lea Salonga and Telly Leung, Allegiance opened on November 8th to positive critical acclaim. A show about the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, the musical is already making waves with original songs such as “Gaman,” “What Makes A Man” and Salonga’s uplifting and inspirational performance of “Higher.”
One part of Allegiance that captures an authentically American spirit of rebelliousness is the song “Paradise,” an energetic ensemble performance led by Michael K. Lee as the resolute draft resister Frankie Suzuki. A boisterous big band buster seething with saucy snark and swing, “Paradise” expresses the cynical sentiments of the Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee as they protested the government’s efforts to enlist them while their families remained incarcerated.
I know the show has changed considerably since San Diego, with a few changes since previews began on October 6th. Can you share with us some of the changes?
The show has evolved a great deal since San Diego– You know, the show has evolved a great deal since first preview! Haha… all done with the express purpose of streamlining the story. On Broadway alone, we’ve added a new opening number, “Wishes on the Wind,” a new community/baseball scene, a new victory swing, and a new finale, “Still a Chance.” Seriously. And I’m not letting the cat out of the bag here, because I think anyone who was able to see our first shows and have been lucky enough to see it after opening have been privy to these changes. And they’re all so great.
Since the San Diego production, I think all of the characters have really been given dimension. Kei (Salonga) is stronger, Sammy (Telly Leung) more resolute with his convictions. My character Frankie has also been given more form, focus, and determination. Also, in San Diego– I didn’t sing my proposal to Kei!
Your character, Frankie Suzuki, was a rather rebellious character compared with Sammy. Knowing what you know about the incarceration, which side do you think you would have taken (Sammy, Frankie, maybe even Mike Masaoka)?
You want me to fight as an American? Then treat me as an American.
It’s a tough question. I was a social psychology major at Stanford, and one of the things I learned is that social circumstance dictates social behavior. If I were a young man in 1940s, wrongly imprisoned for my ethnicity, I think I would have done everything in my power to prove people wrong. I know when I was in high school, I did everything possible to fit in and be just like everyone else. My family was the only Asian family where I grew up in upstate New York. When the stakes are that high, I think the exuberance/naïveté of youth would have propelled me to fight and join the 442nd Regiment. But after graduating from college, studying Asian American history, knowing about the civil rights era now– in a post-Vietnam War era– I think I would have done what Frankie did: You want me to fight as an American? Then treat me as an American.
I admit it, I’m a popaholic and I’m proud. Not sure what that is? It’s a person who loves watching videos of pimples, cysts, blackheads. The bigger, the better. For a long
long long time, I never told anyone. I mean, once in a while, it slipped out. I’d show my wife a video that I liked. Her disgusted face was enough to reinforce that I shouldn’t share my love/fascination with anyone else. My wife is legally obligated to love me. Everyone else, not so much.
Anyway, that’s why I was so excited when I saw this article about Dr. Sandra Lee on BuzzFeed. I realized I wasn’t alone. There are people out there like me — and not just a few, but a lot! And the more I read about Dr. Lee, the more I admired her. She’s helping people and creating hours of entertainment. I thought it was time to introduce the world of poaholic’s and Dr. Lee to 8Asians.
I had a chance to sit down with Dr. Lee and ask her a few questions:
1. Tell us a little about yourself. e.g. Where did you grow up? What is your profession? And the most Asian of questions, what university did you go to and what degree(s) did you get?
My dad and mom came to America (Queens, NY) via Singapore and Malaysia the year before I was born, so that my dad could complete his dermatology residency in New York (yes, my dad is a dermatologist too (now retired)). I’m Chinese, but my dad’s from Singapore and my mother from Malaysia.
I was born in Flushing NY, but we all moved to Southern California when I was about 5.
I was fortunate enough to meet Ken Fong of the Ken Fong Project this year during the V3con digital media conference in Los Angeles on June 20-21, 2014. Ken was part of the panel titled “Secrets Online: Topics that are Taboo in Real Life”, where the panelists tackled the issue of writing about things one would not normally talk about in general conversation. Ken passed along an interesting piece of advice, to beware, that if you’re willing to talk about a taboo topic online, you may become the go to person and spokesperson for that issue.
Ken Fong is a moderate Baptist pastor and subject of the documentary “The Ken Fong Project”. The documentary covers his journey as he reconciles his beliefs with the way gays and lesbians are being treated by his community. He has compared the way gays and lesbians are treated with the way Jesus was treated by the hyper-religious Jews in biblical times.
Additional information about the documentary is relayed in the video below:
The initial round of funding for the documentary was completed through Indiegogo, but the documentary team will be looking for additional funding in the near future to help with costs of completing the film.
Ken was gracious enough to agree to an 8Questions interview on 8Asians, and the result is after the jump.
Some might call it cliche because it’s a little Joy Luck Club meets Mulan. An Asian mother teaching her Asian daughter to do origami. But maybe it sounds “cliche” because it seems familiar… I read a bit and it sounds like I could have written the story about making paper cranes with my own mother:
My mother taught me to make paper cranes when I was young. We sat at the kitchen table and took regular, white copy paper, folded the paper over in a triangle so it made a perfect square and creased the bottom so that we could carefully tear it off and discard it. After that it was “fold here, open here, bend here, fold again…” Before long, a perfect paper crane materialized in front of us. For the longest time, this picture of my mother and me connecting over such a simple but almost magical object has stayed with me. I can hear her voice, as she tells me, almost wistfully, “if you make a thousand of these little creatures and put them in a box, you can make a wish that will come true…”
I sat down with Joy Chen, a Los Angeles based author, weeks ago for a story I am working on, which is about Chinese “leftover women,” a Chinese social phenomenon stigmatizing educated, urban and single women over age 27.
Japanese actress Rinko Kikuchi successfully crossed over into the American market with The Brothers Bloom and even snagged an Academy Award nomination for her role in Babel. Things hit a little closer to home with her character in the Kaiju-centric Pacific Rim. She plays Mako in a post-apocalyptic world where huge Godzilla-like monsters emerge from the sea and badass soldiers like herself have to pilot huge Jaegers (robots, not the drink) alongside hotties like Charlie Hunnam.
The movie is loud, huge in scale, and it is exploding at the seams with robotic and monster action – it has all the makings of a definitive summer blockbuster.
We had the chance to chat with Rinko about her role in the movie and what it was like battling all those gigantic monsters.