Thursday, February 23, 2012

the reason i want to act (part 3)

"we wasted all our free time alone..." - owl city

i had a conversation recently with a friend of mine about who was the more intriguing character, batman or spiderman.  he did have some good points about batman and how the joker was the perfect foil character, engaging in constant psychological warfare that transcended just pure violence, and how batman struggled with redemption and guilt during his superhero career.  while this is all good and dandy, how many people can really relate to that kind of trauma?  spiderman was designed by stan lee to have problems more similar to what ordinary people face.  it felt more like if a normal person were granted super powers, how would they integrate it into their normal lives?  it was more of a reflection of trying to find the type of hero within ourselves, whereas characters like batman have a more inner struggle.

and don't even start with superman, his character might've worked in the all american ages of the post world war ii/cold war era, but nowadays his story just really sucks.

there's a few scenes in my life that stick out in my mind that highlight what i struggled with most growing up, similar to spidey's struggles of rejection, inadequacy, and loneliness.  i remember a time coming back home from school in 5th grade and sharing the revelation to my mother that i "had no friends".  i don't even remember how exactly i felt during that time (and it probably was an exaggeration of some sort, or caused by some event that happened at school), but looking back, i kind of just feel bad for my mom, she put a lot of effort into making me feel accepted, but at the same time she knew intuitively that being overbearing in terms of my social skills could be counterproductive, and sometimes let me learn things on my own.

i didn't have spider powers to help break out of this flux however (though i definitely pretended that i did, many a times), so during my childhood i had a lot of time to myself in my more formative years, creating an environment where my mind was in constant thought and imagination.  i remember instances that are a bit too embarrassing to share where i would immerse myself in pretend situations that really didn't exist, i suppose it was very calvin and hobbes-esque the way i imagined things for myself.  it was partly a coping mechanism, escaping reality, but i think part of me just enjoyed being in that state of mind.

this was the reason i loved watching movies whenever i could.  my favorite movie, the matrix, was just amazing because it combined the elements where you could totally buy into it, yet still retaining a fantastical nature about it.  i watched the movie probably around 100 times, read philosophical articles on it, looked for to no avail for the slick nokia handphone they used, and obsessed until i remembered not only the entire script, but memorized all of the choreographed fight scenes and replicated the dodging bullets maneuver as i could.

i think a part of me always wanted to be an actor because it affords you the opportunity to be someone else or something significant.  but the first time this desire became really visceral was when i was in college, when i saw the movie, Moulin Rouge!.  i remember just watching ewan mcgregor belting out to nicole kidman, and thinking to myself, "that'd be an awesome part to play."  it was the first time i wanted to be in a movie, but not how people think of being in a movie, like being in a movie for the sake of being in a movie, but like being IN the movie, where the characters and the experiences would be marvelously and wonderfully real, where one could be a hero, super or not.

i feel that if i could have that kind of acting experience, day in and day out, i will have "made it" in my mind, no matter what the circumstance.  there's an "acting high" that we talked about at the studio i trained at, and that's the essence of what i think all serious actors want to capture, to really be in the moment of the scene and the story.

Monday, February 13, 2012

the reason i want to act (part 2)

i realize that these entries may start to become more personal, but i guess i have a lot to get off my chest.  hopefully you won't get bored by the details and will find this to be somewhat insightful, as i work through my own psyche for myself.

a lot of people who meet me for the first time probably put me in the category as a softie, someone who gives up if something isn't going well initially, but i consider myself one of the most persevering people i know.

in acting, they say to be prepared to be rejected a multitude of times.  i feel that throughout my life, there has been rarely a time when i wasn't rejected, and just had to find some sort of strength to continue on.

although it hasn't been exactly clear my entire life, i have been groomed to be a performer, where i was continually put in situations where i have been judged for what i could do.  i remember daunting situations throughout my life where i had no idea what to expect, resulting in some victories and some defeats.  among them:

- a math competition for 5th grade koreans in NYC area (knowing none of them who all probably knew each other) that i managed to win after being put in it randomly last minute by my mom
- become an all state orchestra alternate for an instrument i hated playing
- becoming a first time representative of our high school in a national chemistry olympiad where i think i got crushed (another side reason i love the show breaking bad)
- sing on stage for the first time in high school for a competition
- step on stage with the chorus not being a member and not knowing any of the songs as a prank
- skip school to perform with a band at a friend's high school like a rebel without a cause
- be the new leader of a praise team that had lost 5 of its main members the previous year as a first time member by learning how to play guitar, singing, and leading a bunch of first time band members to a congregation that mostly didn't give two shits (and occasionally, i bled on guitars)
- face parents who i had "failed" after getting into 3 of 9 colleges i had applied to (with all of their frenemies' kids getting into choice schools along with a certain sister who slipped through the cracks into harvard)
- getting together a group in college to perform in the greatest asian rock show ever
- managing to get a job as a management consultant somehow out of college after having no internship or real work experience
- have the gumption and the gamble to risk ten grand at the age of 22 in order to play in my first live poker tournament, which ended up being a 14 hour a day, 8 day gauntlet of glory
- enroll in an acting studio with no previous training or knowledge of acting, performing in front of my peers every week

i'd say that these are some events that shaped who i am, developing some of my talent and tenacity for being put into pressure situations.  i was at first a reluctant performer, being forcefully thrust into the spotlight by my parents or other forces, and experiencing some balance of success and failure.  but i think after a while, after gaining confidence of my abilities and strength, i began to relish times to shine.  i had pride in what unique things i had to offer.

for anyone, i think it's good to have a desire to perform at a high level in whatever career they choose.  i think that as i worked at my job, i started to realize that i had no desire to perform well in the career i was in, and found acting and other performance art to be something that i just wanted to do, something that existed in my gut. the events in my life have given me the experience and the hunger to continue to excel.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

the reason i want to act (part 1)

this will be a new series in which i examine why i want to become an actor.  as i'm currently in LA, figuring out whether i will be moving here within the next few months or so, i figured it was a good time to reflect.  the reasons are many and i will try to expound on the most important reasons to me one by one, as a reminder to myself on why i'm doing this and why i should press on when the odds look like they're against me.

it was weird because today, as i was renting a car again to get around town (you really can't get around without one), the dude who was getting my information was like, "so what do you do for a living?" and for the first time without hesitation, i was like, "i'm an actor."  i talked to an up and coming known asian actor as i was here who commented on saying that statement without having anything to back it up feels kind of asinine, but i think shying away from it means that i don't believe in myself.  of course, the feeling of looking silly when saying that comes from viewing so many hoards of people with misguided bravado in this kind of town who overestimate what they're capable of, and don't have a good sense of self awareness.  i think i pride myself in knowing and constantly updating my assessment on my capabilities.

yesterday, i watched jeremy lin play against the utah jazz, scoring 28 points and dishing out 8 assists, with the knicks B team in play.  a great night no doubt, following up his previous night with 25/7/5.  my opinion of him is on the fence, i don't know how far he will actually go, but i do believe that this is the first time that i might have changed on my prior position on the guy.

before his "breakout" games (i put that in quotes because the jury is still out on whether he can consistently provide this kind of output), i was pretty annoyed at all the love jeremy lin was receiving by the asian american community.  it is a superb achievement making the NBA, and not a thing to belittle by any stretch of the imagination.  but the constant lin updates on social media were a bit nauseating, to say the least.  my main point of contention was that people were treating this as if he had "made" it, overemphasizing any little success that he enjoyed.  it was as if they were saying (this is my view, it may not be true for all) although you're warming the bench playing garbage time, this is the extent of what asians can do, you made it.

as i watched highlights of jeremy lin in the past few days, i could not help but think how infectious it was cheering for him despite my cynicism.  he is pushing the frontier of what society thinks of asian americans, and i praise him for his hard work and not giving up mentality, getting it done against stronger and faster guards by just making solid plays and not making stupid mistakes.  i'm no NBA scout, but maybe the reason why we don't see hyperfreak athletic asians in the NBA that can do all those crazy dwyane wade-esque moves is because those asians that have the potential to be those kinds of players never believed in themselves because of the limits society placed on them, and instead honed in on "safe" opportunities, opportunities that society told them they COULD excel in.

in my talk with the other actor, he iterated the same thing about asians in entertainment as well.  he expressed his belief that the reason that there aren't any great asian american actors right now is that maybe the best actor is out being a doctor or something, because he never had the confidence to pursue his dreams.  this is not saying anything against other professions or anything, and each person has their own path, but as an asian american, you can't help but feel that sometimes your choices are limited in terms of what you can achieve, because you don't see anyone like yourself doing the things that you want to do.

it was only in high school when i started to pursue my passion for performing, rawking on geetars and making scenes in public on a regular basis.  usually a quiet kid growing up, i forced myself to change in pursuit of a girl and become many times more expressive.  after that change, i discovered that i had a talent for becoming a character, becoming at times things that i was not, and at other times, having the ability to show people who i was at my core, the rawness underneath.  that i believe is my talent, being as real as possible, cutting away the bullshit.  that is not to say that i am constantly in truthful mode, because of social norms, i'd probably be viewed as insane if i did that (though i'm already viewed as such from some more uptight people).  but it created within me an ability to be a chameleon in a variety of circumstances, being able to take on very many personas depending on who the audience was.

but it took an ass kick out of the corporate world 4 years ago to make me think, "huh, maybe i will try this out."  and maybe it was because i did see some of my contemporaries making strides in the entertainment world that inspired me.  i know that early on in my process, i was inspired by the artist, priscilla ahn, someone who left for LA at the age of 18 instead of being safe, someone with a lot more courage than me.  maybe it was the william hungs of the world and that caricaturized asian on the "2 broke girls" show that convinced me that there needs to be someone who can change how society views asian americans.

before i wanted to become an actor, i DID envision myself as wanting to be one of those people that changed this view of "our kind."  when i grew up, asians were never really in the media as "normal Americans".  we were never represented in the stories of our time, and consequently our culture.  it was part of the reason that i feel like as an asian, we were on the outside and we don't fit into American culture.  it almost felt like since we didn't see ourselves in tv, movies, or anything in mainstream culture, what we felt and what we thought did not matter.  it almost gives reason to the statement that wesley yang makes when he says:

"Here is what I sometimes suspect my face signifies to other Americans: an invisible person, barely distinguishable from a mass of faces that resemble it. A conspicuous person standing apart from the crowd and yet devoid of any individuality. An icon of so much that the culture pretends to honor but that it in fact patronizes and exploits. Not just people “who are good at math” and play the violin, but a mass of stifled, repressed, abused, conformist quasi-robots who simply do not matter, socially or culturally."

when i see other asians in america, he's right, i don't see a human being with human thoughts and human emotions.  i have somewhat bought into this societies view of us, even though i see myself as totally counter to that stereotype.  i want to change this.

i hope to be someday as big an inspiration as jeremy one day.  as he inspires future NBA asian american stars, i hope to be one of many to inspire asians in america to be able to express themselves.