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!
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.
+ 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.
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!