The Working APA Actor is a bi-monthly interview of Asian Pacific Islander American actors in the entertainment world, whether it be theater, film, television, or commercials. It is an inside look at these actors exploring their passion in their craft and how they balance their personal lives with their work. But more importantly, this column is dedicated to knowing these busy actors a little better as individuals.
Being a writer and interviewer for this column, I take great pleasure in giving the spotlight to the hardworking Asian Pacific American actors out there working on their craft and pursuing their dreams to express themselves. For today’s column, I like to introduce you all to Jon Lee Brody, a very special and unique actor who I have been acquainted with during my first few months here in Los Angeles.
For starters, he stands out with a height of 6’2″, so if you were in a room, you would easily spot him. He is of Korean, Hawaiian, Swedish, German and Cherokee descent and on top of that, he is a proficient violinist and guitar player.
But hear what Jon has to say for himself, after the jump:
Tell us about yourself! What are you most passionate about in this world?
Well, I was born and raised in the suburbs of Chicago. I’m very proud of my Chicago roots and seem to always find a way to bring up the fact that I’m from there. As far as what I’m passionate about, well the obvious is my career. I love cinema. Whether it be me acting or directing or shooting, anything I can do to make a movie happen, then I’ll do it. My first love though was sports. Because when you grow up in Chicago, there’s only one person you want to be like and that isn’t James Dean, it’s Michael Jordan. In my wildest dreams, I was going to be an NBA player. But obviously that didn’t happen, but perhaps I can play an NBA player in a movie. Lastly the biggest passion above everything is my family. You’re nothing without your family. My mother is the most amazing woman I’ll ever know and I’m who I am because of her. No matter what, my family comes first. Hands down.
When did you know for sure you wanted to be an actor? What inspired you to become an actor?
Probably before I even really realized it. When I look back I seemed to always have an urge to perform. Whether it was doing impressions of celebrities or one of my teachers in school. It seemed like I was able to entertain my friends in that capacity.
As far as when I decided to pursue it as a career…Hmm…Well, I had just graduated college and I was in California for a job interview and during my trip I was spotted by a talent scout. I suppose that was the catalyst for everything. I went back to Chicago and decided I needed to harness this creative energy and need to perform and just go for it. I haven’t looked back since.
When you act, how do you get yourself into character? We want to know! 😀
It starts off pretty basic. Of course I have to ask myself, “Who is this character?” I start to get to know this person I’m becoming. And I’ll develop a back story. I’ll think of things like my character’s favorite color, his favorite food, his deep dark secret. Basically I start internally and work my way to the external stuff (how I dress, etc.). But it is VERY important for me to figure out who this person is, where he came from. What position he sleeps in. I do all of this before I start rehearsals or any filming. By the time it’s we’re ready to film, I’m so deep into the character that I can just be in the moment. And from that I can create REAL behavior. It’s a pretty long and tedious process but it’s worth it.
What has been your most memorable experience as an actor?
There’s so many for me because I’m just grateful for being in the industry and feel very privileged to be doing so. But there was a moment this past May, I was filming a movie called King’s Man out in Arizona and Joe Estevez (brother of Martin Sheen) was one of the leads. He came up to me during the time I was there and told me I was a class act and a magnificent actor. That really meant a lot to me because Mr. Estevez has been doing this for so long and I truly respect him as an actor and more so as a person.
But for me it’s the little moments, and it isn’t for anything ‘big.’ I was doing a short film and I found myself taking my character to places i never thought would exist. I truly let myself disappear into my character and brought something even the director couldn’t have anticipated. We gave each other a look after it happened as if to say “Yeah, that’s what I”m talking about!”
When it comes to auditions, what has been your most awkward/fail one you have had so far?
Being told I’m either ‘not Asian enough’ or ‘too white.’ I’m Korean and Swedish. And I’m 6’2. Because of my mixed background, I’m put in a ‘gray area’ for casting directors since they’re not really sure what to do with me, I suppose. It’s through no fault to them…It’s just that I’m kind of a different breed.
Acting requires a tremendous lot of work, both physically and mentally. How do you keep yourself active and level-headed?
Indeed it does! Exercise keeps me level headed to be honest. I have two amazing acting coaches that I’ve worked with, one is Aaron Speiser and the other is Sal Romeo. With them we’d always practice a routine of tasks to do after I’ve finished a day of shooting. That way I can remember at the end of the day I’m still ‘Jon’ and not my character. It’s a pretty important thing to do because it’s very easy to get confused when you’re on a set for so many days and hours.
Edward James Olmos had a pretty famous quote regarding people going to the extremes to get into character. He said “Try acting, it’s much easier!”
Does your Asian community play any determining factor in your decisions as an actor (i.e. taking on roles that may be deemed “stereotypical”)?
I suppose. I’m mixed. My feature are dominantly Asian and I’m very proud of that. I’ve actually been very fortunate to not have to play ‘stereotypical’ Asian roles. In fact like I’ve mentioned earlier sometimes I’m deemed ‘not Asian enough’ for certain roles. My speech and my look throws people off. But my whole approach is to just give it the best I’ve got. The casting director and producers most likely have something in mind before I even walk in the door, my job is to give it my all and convince them I’m their man. I can’t control what people think I should do or what they think of me, but I CAN control my work ethic and the amount of effort I put forth. As long as I’m in this industry that I love so much, i’ll never settle for giving less than 110%.
Who would you love to work with, whether directors, writers, or other actors?
Now THAT is a great question! Wow! Living or dead? There are so many! I’ll start with directors: I’d love to work with Robert Rodriguez…I just love his style and he’s probably the biggest inspiration to me as a filmmaker. He’s a one man band. It would be great to be directed by him, but I know that I’d learn so much by being on one of his sets.
Other directors I’d love to work with are Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Clint Eastwood. Mr. Eastwood is known to never do more than 2 takes. I think that’s amazing and fascinating. Mr. Scorsese and Mr. Spielberg. I mean what more can i say?
I do also love Roger Corman, and he’s responsible for many of the great talents in Hollywood. Just to pick his brain would be amazing. One of which is James Cameron. Now working with Mr. Cameron would be a dream come true. I admire any filmmaker who will do whatever it takes to get it right. He doesn’t compromise and you have to respect that.
I’ve love to work with writers like Aaron Sorkin, Stephen Gaghan. Those would have to be my top 2.
Actors. Wow, this is a tough one. In a perfect world I would have been able to work with Marlon Brandon and James Dean. Gosh, Bruce Lee is another. Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson. I could go on and on. I would have loved to have work with River Phoenix. He’s probably one of my all time favorites. My biggest hero is Brandon Lee. A lot of my work is dedicated to him in some way shape or form. I love guys like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sly Stallone and Bruce Willis. I really miss the ‘old school’ action movies.
Then there’s guys like Jack Nicholson, Leo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Robert Downey Jr., Brad Pitt..and then there’s the women. I’d love to work with Angelina Jolie, Meryl Streep, and Sandra Bullock.
Let your imagination run free. If you could create your own story you want to put on screen or on stage, what would it be about?
I’d like to bring back the 80’s and 90’s style action movies. Good guys going after bad guys. Big bad dudes saving the day. I love buddy cop movies. 48 hours and Lethal Weapon are two of my favorites. Heck, Tango & Cash and Showdown in Little Tokyo even! Maybe a buddy cop movie with Leo DiCaprio. Yeah, that would be cool! and Betty White can be my love interest. Yes, you read that right! Actually. I would love to play Brandon Lee if they ever made a biopic about him. I really think that is a role that i could take on and do justice.
Where do you see yourself in the future in terms of what you would like to accomplish?
In short: I just want to make good movies. Plain and simple. I really don’t need the glamor or fame. What’s more important to me is earning the respect of my peers. There are so many hardworking and amazingly talented artists in this industry and many have paid their dues. I want to pay mine too and earn their respect through my work.
And of course, I wouldn’t mind winning and Academy Award, whether it be for acting, writing or directing. Eventually I’d love to direct films. I have directed numerous shorts and recently won an award for one I directed. But directing a feature is a different ballgame. Hopefully I’ll get there down the line, maybe when I’m just not suitable for in front of the camera anymore! Hahaha!
Promote yourself! What new projects are you working on right now that you want people to know or keep an eye out for?
Right now I’m training for my upcoming movie The Hurricane Kid. It’s an IMAX 3D Mixed Martial Arts movie. I’m playing the lead role of Ryu (aka the Hurricane Kid). It’s basically Rocky with mixed martial arts. Jesse V. Johnson is directing. I just got offered a leading role in the movie Under the Shadow. It’s a World War II piece about The Flying Tigers (the first US volunteer Air Force). I’m really excited to play a fighter pilot! I’m going to be going to military basic training and taking flying lessons!
In the fall of 2011 we will be shooting the feature film Reborn. Reborn is a film that I wrote and it’s a project very close to my heart. I’m very excited to finally make it a reality.
Lots of stuff to come. But my biggest focus is The Hurricane Kid. I’m training up to 4 times a day. I’m doing my weights and cardio with Gregg Miele (he’s trained Jay Z, Mary J Blige, Reggie Bush) and my martial arts over at XMA. Mike Chat (XMA founder) has been really awesome and supportive of me and I feel a big improvement already. Mr. Chat and his team are a great group of individuals and I’m very blessed to have them in my corner.
What advice would you like to give to aspiring actors?
Make sure you love the work that you do. Now that sounds pretty basic. But what I mean is REALLY love the industry. When I started out, I was taking every job I could get (within reason). My biggest chunk of advice is to do extra work. Extra work will be a good test to whether you really want to be in this business. My first job was on The Dark Knight. I was really just happy to be on a big film set. I was actually fortunate enough to be bumped up to featured extra and have a little bit of face time in the movie!
But a lot of movie making is waiting. There’s the old saying “hurry up and wait.” You have to push through the scenes so quick and then you’re waiting hours and hours for the next task. and that is when you’re a LEADING or SPEAKING role. That is multiplied exponentially when you’re an extra. It teaches you patience. and its a great opportunity for you to observe established actors and filmmakers.
Lastly, don’t give up. You’re going to hear the word ‘no’ more times than yes. In fact 9 out of 10 times you’ll probably be rejected. Learn to love it. Take the rejection in stride and then prove to the people that said ‘no’ to you that they made a mistake. And when you do hear yes that one time, enjoy it. No matter how big or small the role is, enjoy it. You have to enjoy the little victories along the way. You can’t just say “I’m going to win the Oscar” and then have tunnel vision only set on that. Ferris Bueller once said “Life moves pretty fast, if you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
If you don’t stop and enjoy the little victories, you’ll feel empty when you reach that mountaintop. Live in the moment, don’t forget about the future, but enjoy what’s in front of you.
BONUS QUESTIONS #1: What was your favorite TV show you watched when you were a child?
I loved cartoons. Ninja Turtles, The Real Ghostbusters. I loved Lois and Clark and wish they would bring it back!! Man there’s so many. I loved Quantum Leap and Hang Time on NBC. Saved by the Bell. The TGIF lineup is legendary. Family Matters, Step By Step, Boy Meets World and my favorite Full House! I’m proud to say I’m quite the aficionado at Full House trivia.