Armed with the Hollywood Fringe Festival 2017 Fringe Scholarship, actor Paul Yen will world premiere his one-man show SECRET IDENTITY CRISIS June 3, 2017. Paul took some time off from his superheroing to answer a few of our superpowering, probing questions.
Thank you for doing this interview with me, Paul!
If you were to pitch your super one-man show to the networks, what would your three-line pitch of SECRET IDENTITY CRISIS be?
A Vietnamese-American re-establishes three iconic superheroes as Asian-American men to examine the journey of Asians in America throughout history.
What was your process of elimination in picking your three superheroes to feature in SECRET IDENTITY CRISIS?
Batman, Superman, and Spider-Man were my first three choices. Before the superhero craze, these were the three characters I most associated with the word 'Superhero.' My original intention was to develop a separate show for each one, but I eventually combined them all into one show.
Will Fringe audiences get to see you in hero masks and tights?
Elaborate costuming was my hope, but the costs of producing my first show wouldn't let me go as far as I'd like. There will be fun hints of the heroes and some key accessories, but the audience will mainly recognize the heroes through their stories.
You have acting credits going back to 2008. Why, in 2013, did you change your stage name from Paul Nguyen to Paul Yen?
When I joined SAG-AFTRA in 2013, there were quite a few Paul Nguyens on file. I wanted to hang on to my Vietnamese heritage; however, I didn't want to be pigeonholed, since Nguyen is such a common Vietnamese last name. I took out the 'Ngu' from my last name and hung onto the end, because I'm gonna work hard until the end. 'Yen' is ambiguous enough and also happens to be my favorite Vietnamese name.
What was your parents' reaction when you told them you wanted to become an actor?
My mom was supportive in that "worried-mother" kind of way. I think my dad gave me his best effort: "That's great…but how are you gonna pay the bills?" Followed by a laugh. But they've become truly supportive over the years, and one of my favorite moments of all time was when I told my dad about an audition and he gave me a genuine, "Good Luck!" I didn't care how the audition went at that point.
My only Asian movie role model was Bruce Lee. Please tell me you're not too young to know who he was?
I didn't grow up as a big Bruce Lee fan, but I certainly knew who he was and thought he was a badass. He passed away before my time, but I think many generations have been influenced by his legacy. Bruce Lee plays a pivotal role in SECRET IDENTITY CRISIS, and through my research, I've become a firm admirer of his accomplishments, the legend he is and will continue to be.
Who is your Asian role model?
First and foremost, my parents. Then Son Goku (he's Asian), Russell Wong, John Woo, Chow Yun-fat, Tony Leung, Wong Kar-wai, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Faye Wong, Ken Leung, Maggie Cheung, Ang Lee, Justin Lin, John Cho, Akira Kurosawa, Bruce Lee, Jeremy Lin, Keni Stylez, Kenneth Choi, Ashima Shiraishi, Benedict Wong, Constance Wu, Ali Wong... to name a few.
Tell us the most funny 'ha-ha' audition you had.
When I booked my first network co-star. I was required to prepare the role with, and without, an Asian accent. I was determined to wow casting with no accent, but also offer a third option where the character was pretending to have an accent (influenced by Ken Leung in Keeping the Faith). I went in, did no accent, accent, and they stopped me before I got to my third option. I really didn't want to play the role with an accent, so of course, that's exactly what they offered me. I was certainly appreciative of the opportunity, but I tried to downplay the accent to the best of my ability during the shoot.
Tell us the most not-so-funny "I can't believe they said that!" experience you had.
Someone in the business threatened my acting career over a heated debate we were having about the presidential election. I thought, "Are you being serious right now?"
In my formative years in Los Angeles, armed with my S.A.G. card, I was told I didn't look 'Chinese enough' or 'Asian enough.' I did book a commercial as an Eskimo though. What ethnicities have you been cast as?
Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, Nepalis. I strongly believe that in Asian/Western Asian stories, Western Asians should be able to play all Asians. I'd like to tell Vietnamese stories, but I wouldn't want to limit myself to only my ethnicity. If that were the case, I'd only ever play a Vietnamese person from the Vietnam War. Asians are complex. I'd love to play a Special Forces Soldier. A samurai. A Chinese gangster. A member of the 442nd. A space pilot. A porn star. So on and so forth.
What classic role would you like to tackle the 'Asian version' of?
You are an avid motorcycle racing fan. Do you know of any Asian motorcycle racers?
There are many overseas. My favorite Asian motorcycle racer is Noriyuki Haga, aka "Nitro Nori." I instantly gravitated toward him when I first started following World Superbike in the early 2000's. He was the essence of cool.
What is in the immediate future for Paul Yen?
I'd love to tour this show in major cities and on college campuses. If I can inspire one Asian-American, then it will all be worth it. On screen, I'll continue to seek out roles that are complex and that challenge me as an actor and as a human being. I'll also continue researching the 442nd Regimental Combat Team for a project I'm developing. Aside from that? Spend time with friends and family, catch up on my reading, and rock climb!
Thank you again, Paul! I look forward to meeting all your superheroes!
To meet Paul and his superheroes at the Asylum @ Underground Theatre, log onto www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/4564 for available tickets and schedule through June 24, 2017.