Sarah Lian | On Asian Canadians Making Millions

Posted by Beth Hong & filed under People to Watch.

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When was the last time Canada had a television show with an all-Asian cast? Enter Millions, a Toronto-based web series about a group of twenty-somethings who embody the 21st century urban Canadian experience through a lens that doesn’t normally get much play in the mainstream. Sarah Lian from the Millions cast sat down with Schema Magazine to talk about the show, her roots in Malaysia and Vancouver, and navigating a career as a visibly Asian actress in North America.

You’ve had a very interesting life. Can you tell me about where you’ve lived?

I was born in Malaysia, in a small town an hour away where Michelle Yeoh was born called Taiping. Then most of my life was in Vancouver. I went from Grade 3 to college there. But from when I was born to when I came to Vancouver, I lived in California and Hong Kong—I’ve kind of been everywhere!

Sarah Lian archived

Are you a Canadian citizen?

I’m not a Canadian citizen, not yet. Although half of my family has sworn their allegiance to the mighty Maple Leaf. I’m still Malaysian and will decide later on if I’ll be joining them.

So how do you identify yourself, then?

You know it’s so weird, because I feel so Canadian sometimes, but I don’t have the passport to show for it. But at the same time, I also feel so Malaysian. I spent three years there, two months ago I came back to Canada, but for the last three years I was in Malaysia I’d never felt so patriotic and so much love for that country. So I still feel Malaysian because I hold the passport, but I guess the culture and values that I relate to the most is Canadian.

Would you call yourself a Malaysian-Canadian?

I guess I relate more to the Chinese-Canadian culture. I’m right there in the middle.

I still feel Malaysian because I hold the passport, but I guess the culture and values that I relate to the most is Canadian.

+ SCHEMA EXCLUSIVE! A video feature on Sarah and her character Lia on Millions, courtesy of series writer and creator Andrew Chung.

Can you tell me about the show Millions and your role in it?

What an amazing project to be part of—I feel so blessed. Millions is about a group of friends that reignite a pact to be millionaires by the time they hit 30.

So I play Lia, she’s like this playboy’s girlfriend. Even shooting it, working with the team, all the cast members get along so well. We call each other the Millions family. It’s really amazing, because you never know sometimes how well people get along with each other. There’s seven of us in this main cast, and we really do feel like we’re a family, and we all root each other on.

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It’s interesting that Millions has an all visibly Asian cast. What do you think about that?

I haven’t seen anything like this on TV before, especially Canadian television. You don’t have a lot of shows where the younger Asian Canadians can relate to. That’s kind of surprising to me! I’m surprised we haven’t had anything like that so far. Not to knock any of the Asian shows that are out there that I don’t know of, but I think this is a really honest show, and it doesn’t come from a white person writing from the Asian perspective—it’s Asians writing about Asians. We don’t feel like we’re being exploited or anything like that. It’s just a different angle. I’d love to see it on a network, whether it be on a big or small scale. I’d just love to see this on TV. I just think that it’s about time for Asian Canadians to have role models in that sense, or someone they can relate to, that isn’t sexified, or kung fu masters, or dragon ladies, or geeks.

Tell me about some of the characters on Millions.

There’s a couple of our cast members who are b-boys. So there’s a lot of street culture, and there’s dancers too. And the guy that plays my boyfriend, Ben, is absolutely good looking…there’s such a thing as a fine Asian man!

I just think that it’s about time for Asian Canadians to have role models in that sense, or someone they can relate to, that isn’t sexified, or kung fu masters, or dragon ladies, or geeks.

Sarah Lian

In addition to your work in Malaysia you’ve also acted in North America quite a bit. From your personal experience, do you think as a visibly Asian actress, you encounter certain stereotypes from producers or casting directors?

I don’t think automatically. Because once you’re going to casting and they’re looking for that ‘Asian girl,’ – I mean, if I am subjected to judgment or prejudice, then everyone is. I don’t think that I’m ever alone. Sometimes I meet people who may not know as much about the culture, or they don’t quite understand it, but I don’t think I’ve ever gotten stereotyped or anything that obvious. Nothing that’s deliberate at all.

Do you think that opportunities, or types of roles for visibly Asian actresses are expanding?

Definitely. It’s unrealistic to have a cast that’s all white, or all black. If you go to any town, at least one tenth of them have to be pretty much Chinese, or else you don’t believe it. Like how can you live in any city without Asians, or South Asians, or hispanics or blacks? It’s so proportionate to the rest of the world, I think. Whether you’re in Italy, or New York, or Toronto, or whatever, I think there will have to be some sort of visible minority presence.

sarah lian mft.jpg

You were recently involved in Mister French Taste, a Hong Kong-based web series with a very international cast and crew. What’s the most memorable or funny moment you had while shooting?

I think it was the first day of the shoot. The first day was for the last episode and there’s a duel between the co-lead actors. And it’s funny because he brought out all the French food, and the cheese was so smelly. It was hard because they put the cheese at the same place as the wardrobe, hair and makeup stuff! I just remember that it was really fun. I think out of all the episodes, it was the one I enjoyed the most.

It’s unrealistic to have a cast that’s all white, or all black. If you go to any town, at least one tenth of them have to be pretty much Chinese, or else you don’t believe it.

I know you do a lot more beyond acting, but when did you first realize that you really wanted to pursue it?

I’d already done it when I was a lot younger—I think I was like ten or eleven. Only in my last year of university, when all my friends were egging me to do it—I thought, ‘You know what, I’m going to give it an honest shot.’

What advice would you give aspiring actors or actresses?

Don’t be late, don’t be lazy, and don’t be rude. Don’t think that just because you’re in a certain place, you have that sense of entitlement that things should come to you. It’s never been like that for me, and I’ve always had to go out and get things. And always be nice. Maybe that’s a Vancouver thing! You’d be surprised how far that’s gotten me.

Follow Sarah’s blog on her official website SarahLian.com and her tweets @imSarahLian.

Check out Millions at the official site, Youtube and Facebook.

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Beth is a freelance journalist and managing editor of InDepth at Schema Magazine. She likes kimchi, poutine, and everything in between. You can follow her on Twitter @metrolens or check out her site BethHong.com.

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