Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Hawaii 5-0's Brian Yang On the Busy Life of an Actor

Brian Yang is an international man of acting. One week he might be on location as character Charlie Fong for the CBS reboot of Hawaii Five-0 (now in its second season) and the next he’s home in NY or back in the Bay Area working on indie film projects for his production company 408 Films. Oh, and then there are his acting gigs in Hong Kong and mainland China. The man is in the air more than he is on the ground. I want Brian’s frequent flier miles.

Glamorous? Yes. Exhausting? Beyond. I wondered what it was like to lead such a peripatetic, exciting life, and Brian was kind enough to spend an hour on the phone with me from his home in NYC, breaking it down.

JANE COLLINS: What’s it like to work in paradise? Is Hawaii Five-0 filmed mostly on location?

BRIAN YANG: “A typical day on the set starts at about 5am. The island is still asleep and it’s dark. It’s all shot on the island of Oahu. The environment they create for you is very comfortable. The crew, many of whom are locals, are just amazingly giving and kind. As an actor, my job is actually pretty simple. Get to set, be prepared, execute. I'm pretty much in and out. But the crew folk are there from dawn until (often) late at night. I have so much respect for what they do. I just feel totally blessed to be a part of this very successful franchise. My favorite part is to be able to work on a network show set in the greatest state in this country. For me Hawaii is a home away from home.”

JKC: What’s up with your character, Charlie Fong?

BY:I just take it episode to episode. The writers do what they do and each episode is its own little journey. I come in to help the team along when necessary. It's fun. Each time, I get something different. I guess for both the audience, and myself, we're kept on our toes. I was on the Warner Bros. lot not long ago and found out that the Charlie Fong character is actually based on a lab scientist who appeared on the original series!"

Brian plays a forensic scientist who works for the Hawaii police department on the successful CBS TV series Hawaii Five-0. Courtesy of CBS]

JKC: Tell us about your roots. Did you always want to be an actor?

BY: “I was born in Ohio, which makes me a huge Ohio State fan, even though I went to Cal. We moved to the south Bay area (Silicon Valley) when I was about 6 years old. In my family (and culture), acting was not a profession we were encouraged to go into, but in a way, you could attribute my finding this path to my Mom. She put my photo in a Macy’s Back-To-School contest when I was in high school. Somehow I got picked to go around Nor Cal for an ad campaign and from there I was exposed to the world of agents, commercials, and television and, from there, there was no turning back. Thanks, Mom!”

[Brian went to college at the University of California, Berkeley, and graduated with a degree in Biology in 1996. Image Courtesy of CBS.]

JKC: What do you consider to be your greatest challenge as an Asian American actor?

BY: “I think in general the industry is getting better. After I graduated I made my way down to L.A. I thought 'I’m going to give Hollywood a shot.' I remember learning very quickly, many of the Asian American actors would complain about the stereotypical roles and lack of positive portrayals of Asians on screen. I subscribed to that (way of thinking) at the time. So part of the reason I moved to the East coast and decided to stay there was that I didn’t want to be another disgruntled Asian actor.

Long story short, I moved to the East coast and it was a different playground. I found things that were much more interesting, like independent film. I found pockets of theater and advertising (commercials). In New York, the landscape there forces you to think outside of the box. It's hard to be "just an actor." In Hollywood, things have moved forward over the past 10 years, but we're far from being "there", wherever there is. With age, comes patience. I can only choose my own route or path. So I choose to keep my base in NY. But I've also been doing film and commercial work in Asia”. (I ask if he speaks Mandarin.) “I do but I don’t sound fluent. What I’ve found is everything I’ve done in Asia is in English. The world is shrinking and English is the universal language. They have a lot of programming that needs English. They want an Asian face with a western sensibility. I’ve shot commercials in Hong Kong, but mainland China is where a lot of work is happening. It's an interesting time to be in this business right now.”

“I think it is getting better in Hollywood but there are still too few opportunities there. This Saturday I’m heading an event in L.A. for CAPE (Coalition of Asian Pacific Entertainers). It's their 20th anniversary and they are a good marker that proves that Hollywood is moving towards a more colorful landscape. Good things are happening. It’s all very encouraging. But there are still struggles and challenges that we are going to face.”

JKC: What other projects are you working on right now?

BY: “I actually also work as a producer. I have a film production company called 408 Films. We are on our 6th project right now. We shot two films in Hong Kong (Fog and SuperCapitalist) and a romantic comedy in L.A called The People I've Slept With. All are indie film projects. We just finished principal photography on Nightdreamblues. It’s about three childhood friends who reunite when they are in their 30’s. Over the course of an evening, they each reveal their secrets. It’s a cathartic journey. It’s sort of like Breakfast Club and The Big Chill with an Asian-American cast. Rex Lee (Entourage, Suburgatory) is in it and we are fortunate to have him. We are hoping it will be released in 2012.

What’s really interesting is that this is a very male piece but we worked with a female director (Nadine Truong, AFI graduate) who put her own spin on it. I’m very passionate about this project and can’t stop Tweeting about it. Right now we’ve put out a call for indie music for the film. Please follow us!”

JKC: What advice do you have for BlogHer’s readers who might be interested in an entertainment career?

BY: “Take it seriously, you have to train. It’s no different from any industry. Go to school for it, start at the bottom. Most of us don’t have a father that works at Fox (studios). You have to make it happen. It’s creating your own roles, in indie film or on YouTube. Write something or shoot something and act in it yourself. I don’t want to make it seem easy, it’s not that easy. You have to have the thickest skin, willing to be rejected 9 times out of 10. But if there is nothing on this planet you’d rather do, jump in with two feet. Every moment should be spent doing something to further your career. And even when you arrive or “get there”, you still have to look at the career like a journey. You’ll have good moments. You always have to keep the fires burning. You have to be kind to everyone you meet because people collaborate on many levels.”

Thanks for the words of wisdom, Brian. We’ll see you on the air (Hawaii Five-0) and look for you in the air, next time we’re at an airport in NY, LA or SF.

Visit Brian's Facebook page.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

All Aboard for Hell on Wheels!

Has anybody had a chance to sample the new AMC original series on Sunday nights, Hell on Wheels? I've watched the first two episodes and I am throwing my cow girl hat into the ring for this show. It's about the push to build a transcontinental railroad after the Civil War. As much as I love the western genre, I never quite "got" Deadwood on HBO. I found the constant and relentless use of the word "cocksucker" in every episode to be both tiresome and distracting. Being basic cable, AMC doesn't have the option to make the language in the series so...colorful. Instead, they've concentrated on showing the Wild West as the utterly filthy place it surely must have been. Filthy as toothpaste and really bad teeth. Filthy as in no Tide detergent or washing machines and pants so dirty you can practically smell them through the TV screen. It's the west as a terribly exciting and odoriferous Hell.

The storyline is fairly straight forward, although with an interesting twist on who we normally root for. The main character (Cullen Bohannon, played by Anson Mount) is a former Confederate soldier and slave owner who's trying to get a job out west. Boo...hiss...right? But he turns out to be the nicest guy ever to all the emancipated slaves working on the railroad and even helps save one of them from the evil RR foreman who hates the black workers so much he calls them by the "N" word. Is that even allowed on TV in a historical context? Cullen reminds me the late great British actor Oliver Reed. He has that same baleful and menacing blue-eyed stare. As a devout Yankee, I normally don't go for southern boys or their silly accents, but he pretty much had me at hello.

Other characters include Elam Ferguson (Common), a smart emancipated slave who is forming a fast friendship with our hero Cullen, and Doc Durant (Colm Meaney) as a corrupt, greedy railroad contractor and Bad Guy #1. He's a bit of a stereotype, although it would have been worse if they had given him a long waxy mustache to twirl. If Doc showed up at one of those Occupy camps today, he would have a hard time making friends.

Female characters are sparse except for Lily Bell (Dominique McElligott), a fetching blond who is trying to survive in the most trying circumstances after her husband is killed in an Indian raid. Sunday's episode featured Lily in a scene so excruciating and graphic, I found it nearly unwatchable. She used a fat dirty needle to stitch up her own gaping chest wound. Whilst we looked on. That's about as hard core pioneer spirit as you're ever going to get on the small screen.

Other interesting characters include a couple of enterprising brothers from Ireland (Sean and Mickey McGinnes). They're trying to make a buck on the frontier by showing silent movies in a tent. God bless them. Keep heading west to Hollywood, boys!

Other than westward, I'm not quite sure where this series is heading yet. But I like what I've seen so far, so I'm along for the ride. What about the rest of you folks out there in TV Blog-land? Has anyone seen it?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Something Uplifting For Your Sunday Evening on gmc!

It gives me great pleasure to pass along, on behalf of one of my former bosses, news of some perfect family programming tonight on gmc.  gmc used to be called "Gospel Music Channel" when it started in 2004, but a re-branding in early 2010 broadened the scope somewhat but didn't change the channel's mission to provide uplifting entertainment for its broad and loyal fan base.  There's still lots of music on gmc, but also a nice selection of family-friendly and immensely-watchable-for-anyone series such as Early Edition, Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman, Doc, and Sue Thomas FBEye (about which Judith wrote a terrific post a while back when she interviewed series producer Joan Considine; definitely check it out!).

Tonight gmc proudly presents the very recent feature film The 5th Quarter, the dramatic true story of a Georgia family whose terrible personal loss ultimately brought their family back together and also inspired countless others in their community and beyond.  It's a story that nobody wants to live out for themselves, but watching it we can thankfully glean the message without having to feel the pain, or at least only a tiny sliver of it. 

We can all relate to the anguish of losing a family member -- there must be nothing like a sudden death to roil the senses -- but what comes after is the thing that everybody has to experience for themselves.  What the Abbate family did was go forward in several different ways, and you'll see how they did it in this thoughtful film.  The cast is impressive -- Aidan Quinn, Andie MacDowell, Ryan Merriman -- and though it did have a theatrical release, The 5th Quarter will probably feel best on TV.  It's in the great tradition of timeless TV movies such as Brian's Song and the acclaimed series Friday Night Lights; The 5th Quarter should find a very appreciative audience tonight. 

You've probably already figured out that football plays a part in the movie, and it's an element that helps The 5th Quarter reach out even further in its appeal. 

For more information on the movie, you should visit the official website of The 5th Quarter.  You can learn more about the Abbate family at their Luke Abbate 5th Quarter Foundation site, where you can also find out and help with the continuing good works going on in his name.  You should also get acquainted with gmc at their channel website; there's a lot going on there.

The 5th Quarter premieres on gmc tonight at 7pm with an encore at 9pm, following a nice selection of football-oriented movies such as Rudy beginning at 2pm.

P.S.:  You might enjoy watching the official theatrical trailer for The 5th Quarter, which is a bit longer than the new gmc promo.

You also might enjoy the song "Live and Breathe" from The 5th Quarter, sung by Stacy Earle who also stars in the movie.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

More on Our Favorite Physicist, the Fascinating Dr. Brian Greene!

We're going to keep talking about physics and Dr. Brian Greene until everybody is watching his new NOVA 4-part series The Fabric of the Cosmos, airing in November every Wednesday (and other times) on PBS!  In addition to our long article the other day (click here), we have just been alerted to a wonderful video that comes to us specially and highly recommended!  We wanted to be sure to share it with everyone as further proof that Dr. Brian Greene and everything he does is fascinating, appealing, and you don't want to miss it!

Release your Inner Egghead with Dr. Brian Greene and The Fabric of the Cosmos, on PBS!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

R.I.P. Andy Rooney, 1919 - 2011

The passing of Andy Rooney was perhaps not unexpected after his retirement from 60 Minutes just over a month ago, but it's still a shock.  Dean wrote a wonderful tribute to him here on The Flaming Nose at that time, with many great clips and a sincere appreciation and understanding of Rooney's immense contributions to TV journalism, humor, and truth-telling most of all.  Please go back and check out Dean's remarkable post by clicking on this sentence.

You will also want to read some of the many well-written and comprehensive obituaries that are showing up as the news spreads of Rooney's passing.  As a writer he had a long-lived and varied career, and managed to become a genuine household name when he began appearing on 60 Minutes back in 1978.  His usually cranky, frequently hilarious, and sometimes controversial takes on modern society and popular culture put him into great historical company; Rooney would fit right into a line-up alongside comic commentators like Mark Twain, Will Rogers, H.L. Mencken and Robert Benchley from the fairly distant past.  All combined a gift for gab with a keen mind and a wry take on modern life that hit a nerve with viewers and readers.  Andy Rooney certainly did that, too.

CBS News and 60 Minutes covered his life and death here, The New York Times featured this obituary today, The Huffington Post reported his passing in this article, CNN published this obituary, show business trade paper The Hollywood Reporter posted this article today, and you also might want to check out his entry on Wikipedia.  

Too many passings of too many good men with long television histories lately...

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Explore "The Fabric of the Cosmos" with NOVA on PBS Tonight!

It's our contention here at The Flaming Nose that PBS doesn't get enough credit anymore for all the great programming they continue to provide for viewers.  The niche (or not-so-niche) cable networks get all the coverage, all the buzz, and most of the time for doing the same kind of projects to what PBS has been offering throughout its whole history.  Cooking shows -- they invented and perfected the genre -- brilliant nature shows, fascinating science productions, terrific adult name it, PBS did it first and they haven't stopped.  They sometimes just seem to be flying under the radar these days, and it's a shame.

We love PBS and we want to shout it out that their always-excellent weekly science series NOVA gives us a terrific November four-parter beginning tonight.  The quartet of episodes of The Fabric of the Cosmos will take us into the mesmerizing world of modern physics, and it promises to be quite a journey.  Based on the book of the same name by popular physicist (and those words don't go together very often!) Brian Greene -- author of The Hidden Reality and The Elegant Universe, and one of the head cheerleaders for the mysterious String Theory in physics -- The Fabric of the Cosmos is truly a show that only PBS would broadcast.  It's important, it's intelligent, it's demanding; much as I love Science Channel, Smithsonian, Nat Geo and a few others filled with documentaries, this kind of real science is in short supply on TV.  Despite several cable networks with programming mission statements that might include some science, we're more likely to find programs about Bigfoot, or travel documentaries, or extreme fishing shows, or rocket-building competitions.  It's not that we don't like those things, it's just that they're not quite science.

But The Fabric of the Cosmos is.  Even if physics isn't your thing, it can't be bad for you to just watch and try to absorb the concepts.  You're not going to find a more amiable host for your journey anywhere.  Brian Greene has an impish demeanor that is the polar opposite of intimidating, as you can see when he was interviewed by David Letterman about six years ago.  Be sure to listen for Greene's goofy giggle around 6:45 into the segment; it's adorable!

And what other real scientist could stand up to a heckling from The Big Bang Theory's Sheldon (Emmy Award-winner Jim Parsons) during a guest appearance on that top sitcom? 

Not only is Brian Greene a best-selling author and a professor (read his full bio here), he's also a tireless advocate of science in general, whether as the co-founder with his journalist-wife Tracy of New York's annual World Science Festival, or a speaker at the TED conference.  (For a taste of his public speaking prowess, click to watch his nearly hour-and-twenty-minute appearance at the Museum of Science in Boston -- you will love it, and you also will like his radio interview from Canada's CBC radio series Current.) 

We'll share this cogent short video with him speaking to the importance of science as the basis of rational thought and decision-making; boy, is this ever relevant, as we careen into superstition and denial on a regular basis...

The Fabric of the Cosmos begins tonight with "What is Space?" and continues over the next four weeks with "The Illusion of Time," "Quantum Leap," and finally "Universe or Multiverse?".  Here are several overviews of the series and then a promo for tonight's installment.

We urge you to partake of this amazing opportunity to learn, be amazed and intellectually entertained by television, with NOVA and The Fabric of the Cosmos beginning tonight, in NOVA's new Wednesday 9pm slot .  Check out the PBS website for more information and be sure to check your local PBS outlet for specific programming times. 

Gil Cates - Rest in Peace

This is the second time in a week I have walked my way over to the site to write a tribute piece. This time I memorialize a man I had the extreme good fortune to have worked with over the years. Gilbert Cates, producer of 14 Academy Awards telecasts died suddenly yesterday at UCLA. Gil had been a professor at the University for many years, but he was also a prolific producer and director.

He honed and mastered his art and craft in films, television and live theater. He was elected to serve two terms as President of the Directors Guild of America. He famously chose Billy Crystal to host the Academy Awards. Crystal's second turn as Oscar host in 1991 was so memorable it won Gil Cates an Emmy. He also was wise enough to choose Steve Martin, Chris Rock and Jon Stewart as Oscar hosts over the course of his lengthy helm with the broadcast for the Academy Awards. He produced several Ford's Theater presentations for ABC. I managed to attend a few of these specials and at times you just stopped and watched Gil at work. No drama was ever attached to anything he did, even though he was a masterful creator of drama.

I had the pleasure to work with Gil Cates over the course of my career at the ABC Television Network. I never saw him stressed out. He was an exercise in humility and calm. He possessed a wonderful sense of humor and a strong sense of fairness. You just liked him.

I enjoyed a couple of lunches with him over the years and he was one of those people you hated to break away from. He didn't have a pretentious bone in his body. Gil wasn't capable of shafting someone. A trait in the business of show that has harmed many.

Thank you Gil Cates for providing us with some of the best Oscar broadcasts in the long history of the Motion Picture Academy, but more importantly, thank you for teaching me a few things along the way in life. All good things were learned from Gil Cates.