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.


Lisa said...

Really insightful interview with a terrific new TV face! Fascinating info about the Asian film industry, too. Brian has everything you need to become a breakthrough face -- and being on a hit TV show is a good part of the plan! Thanks for bringing us this (nearly) exclusive look at a rising star!

Jane said...

I really hope there is a venue for watching Brian's indie picture, "NightDreamBlues". It looks really fascinating and it would be great to see him in a larger role (along with Rex Lee, who I adore from "Entourage".)