In an exclusive interview, Flickering Myth sat down with actor Alex Chang to talk his role in PAO and the hit TV comedy Pete & Whitely: The Take Away…
How have your family reacted to your career choice and your successes in the entertainment industry? Was it always your dream to be an actor?
I think the first thing my parents thought was, why – which is an understandable response when first embarking on this particular career path. It can be unsteady work and didn’t exactly breed confidence from my family. Saying that though, as I’ve been working as an actor consistently and in a lot of ways proved to them, and myself, that I can indeed forge a career out of acting, they are my biggest supporters and fans which is lovely.
I was always a lover of music and used that as an outlet for a lot of things but also a bit of “me time” – “sanctuary time” as I call it – which I’m sure a lot of musicians can relate to. But I think there came a point when I was younger which felt like nothing else gave me drive, ambition and fulfillment that acting does. So, it became more of an intrinsic reflection that turned into a reaction which led me down this road to this day.
What and who inspired you to become an actor?
I think the film that made me really want to become an actor was The Godfather. I watch the trilogy every year or so because it’s just that good. Absolute masterclasses in terms of acting from the greats such as Marlon Brando, Robert De Niro, Diane Keaton, John Cazale, Robert Duvall, James Caan and finally Al Pacino. Al Pacino’s incredible work as Michael Corleone convinced me that I wanted to do just that. Some other actors I find utterly inspiring are Denzel Washington, Bryan Cranston, Hugh Laurie, Viola Davis, Benedict Wong and (obviously) Meryl Streep.
I understand you started your career on the London stage. Can you tell us about some of the productions you have starred in?
I can elaborate on a few, sure. I recently just finished an international co-production (between Curve Theatre & the Rose Theatre, Kingston) tour of Roald Dahl’s The Twits. We performed to packed audiences every show, which is so rare on a tour but such was the popularity of the show that we garnered favorable reviews and critical acclaim from all those who came to watch. It’s probably fair to say that the producers were very happy with the work we made. Hong Kong in particular was a delight. Such a wonderful city and we had over 6000 audience members over I think it was 3 days or performances, which was incredibly fulfilling to perform to.
Another production that was a huge hit was Coram Boy at Bristol Old Vic. We performed it at Colston Hall which is a concert hall that seats over 2000 people. It seemed fitting as much of the production hinged on orchestral music and big ballroom scenes.
I should also mention being in Robin Hood that played at Theatre Royal Stratford East – one of the most diverse and exciting theatres in the world, and I say that in earnest. It speaks to everyone. I call it the go-to London theatre that represents the country, as a whole.
Over the last few years, we have seen you lead some notable international & national television commercials. Can you tell us about some of them?
Ah yes. Commercials are wonderful jobs because you often work fast with world-class production teams. It requires a very different mindset and mentality as an actor as the first thing I’m thinking about is how best can I sell the product, and what is the overall feel of the campaign (e.g. is it uplifting with an emphasis on “defy all odds”?) – fitting into that philosophy on set quickly ensures that you can adapt efficiently and do your best work.
The most recent commercial I did was for Orbit chewing gum. We filmed in Madrid, Spain, and I believe the commercial is still running worldwide. Other campaigns I’ve done previously include DECC (Department of Energy & Climate Change), Snickers and Sky Movies.
You star in the hit comedy ‘Pete & Whitely: The Take Away’. Can you tell us about the show and the role you play? How did you prepare yourself as an actor?
What a great time! The show is essentially a satirical look at behind-the-counter life at a run-down Chinese takeaway. I play the lead, Pete Kapow, who is insatiably sarcastic and bad with women, but finds a worth companion in his best friend and coworker, Whitely. Together they keep each other going with pranks and mutual interests such as anime and setting up fake charities. It’s utterly ridiculous but with a bit of heart thrown in there for good measure.
Preparation wise it was relatively simple – which a lot of the time, is a luxury. I grew up in a Chinese takeaway so I know first-hand what it’s like and so drawing on those experiences really helped. The challenge was in the comedy and drawing that out instinctively. I enjoyed that process very much.
You have a prominent role in the new period drama ‘PAO’. Can you tell us a bit about your role and what it was like to work on such a period piece as an actor?
Certainly. It’s set in the mid-19th century in a period where Kingston, Jamaica saw an influx of foreign immigrants, not least of all a newly fledged Chinese community. One of those immigrants is Pao, an unheroic hero fleeing the chaos of his revolutionary homeland with his mother and brother to thrive under the wing of the legendary Zhang, who runs a protection racket in Kingston’s Chinatown. Growing up under the protection of his “Uncle”, Pao becomes his heir. It’s an epic tale of oppression, culture clash, love and family.
I play Xiuquan, Pao’s brother who by all means does not want to be in Jamaica at all because he doesn’t feel that he belongs. He hates the idea of Zhang’s crime syndicate and refuses to conform and adapt to the new life he has failed to embrace. This puts the relationship between Pao and Xiuquan in a tense state and results in heartfelt and intense scenes together.
As a period piece, it was fascinating delving into accents and exposing Chinese language. The backdrop of Kingston, Jamaica is colorful and vibrant which reflects the characters involved in the show. We have such a diverse cast and it’s been a privilege to work and continue working with everybody on the show.
You have worked in all areas of the entertainment business; television, film, commercials and theatre. Do you have a particular favorite? If so can you explain.
Good question. I enjoy all mediums of performance as I think being onstage gives you an electric surge of excitement and a different moment of fulfillment than what TV & film give. With screen work, I find there’s a lot more responsibility to be independent and make clear, bold choices for your character because unlike theatre, there’s not a 4-week rehearsal period! When the choices as an actor you make pay off on-screen, it does feel wonderful. Regardless of what I find is my favorite, the work should always come first. As long as it is received well and I feel I’ve done my best, I’m as close to happy as an actor can be.
Are there any actors or directors you would love to work with in the future? Any actor you’d like to play alongside?
There are honestly so many. I do hope there comes an opportunity to work with directors such as Christopher Nolan and Martin Scorsese at some point. In terms of actors off the top of my head, I would love to act alongside guys such as Charlie Hunnam, Riz Ahmed, Brie Larsen, and/or Gary Oldman. That would be amazing.
Do you get to go to the cinema much? Any films you have enjoyed lately?
I do as it’s part of the job! I recently watched Get Out – I thought it was fantastically made and Daniel Kaluuya was sensational. Representing us Brits well! Though I still think about Moonlight and Lion. I thought those two films were profound and beautifully produced, directed and acted.
Finally, any advice you would give any actor who is trying to break into the entertainment Industry?
Trust yourself! It’s hard, there’ll be mistakes (that’s more than okay) and it can seem like a long road, but trusting yourself is huge. If you don’t believe in and trust yourself, how do you expect others to? Be brilliant, shine bright and we will all see your work soon.
Our thanks to Alex for taking the time to do this interview, as well as Liz Rodriguez from EMR Media for helping us with the interview.