What happens when a French etiquette coach tries to teach a Hong Kong boy some manners? That’s the story behind the web series Mister French Taste. Actor and East Vancouver native Osric Chau sat down with Schema Magazine to talk about his starring role as Leon, his cultural identity, and the increasing diversity of mainstream film and television.
Mister French Taste first season trailer:
How do you identify yourself culturally?
I guess I’m a “one and a half” generation Canadian. I was born in Vancouver, but my mom was born in Malaysia and my dad was born in Hong Kong. I never really grew up with any of my Malaysian heritage; I know some Malaysian food, but I didn’t know that part of my family too well. On my dad’s side, most of his siblings are from China, but almost all of them have been here for about 30 years. I spent most of my life going to Chinese restaurants and eating dim sum, so much of my childhood was very Chinese.
Do you think your cultural identity has changed over the years?
I went to school in French immersion and those classes are quite culturally diverse; you have people from all over the world learning a second language by choice! Throughout French immersion, I considered myself primarily Chinese, but that changed when I went to China and realized how very Canadian I am.
Of course, you can’t tell this from the outside: I look Chinese, and people think I’m Chinese when they talk to me. On the inside, however, I really felt like a Canadian. So I would consider myself Canadian first, and then Chinese. I mean, I can relate to both, but I find myself much more Canadian in terms of my personality, cultural identity, and social values. These are all very Canadian to me.
Osric and Mister French Taste co-star Olivier Malet:
How did you find working with such an international crew on Mister French Taste?
That was my first time shooting anything in Hong Kong! I’ve worked with people from Hong Kong before, but in Hong Kong itself, it’s a little bit different. The crew on Mister French Taste was very efficient, and everyone was constantly in that “go, go, go!” state. So far, however, everything I’ve done has been quite pleasant, and everyone’s been really cool.
Did you bring any personal touches to your role as Leon, a spoiled Hong Kong man-child?
Ha! That role was interesting. I’m not used to being that kind of a character, and I never really did the super baggy clothes when I was younger. I tried it, but I wasn’t good at it, so I stopped. In preparing for this role, I just watched a lot of movies, rap videos, and TV shows. They really helped me get into a certain mindset.
What was the most memorable part of Mister French Taste for you?
The reason I did Mister French Taste was because I wanted to work with Jen [Thym] (producer/writer/director of Mister French Taste). I met her in Hong Kong, and I just got along with her so well. I think the best part about working on Mister French Taste was how involved I got. The whole time I was there, Jen was constantly getting new ideas, and the other actors were always giving me new things to work off of.
The whole process was a lot of give and take, and we were all working well with each other. It was also the first time I really looked into the production side of things. I learned a lot from the set as I watched Jen work and as I helped her prepare. I ended up writing two of the episodes, and it was a lot of fun. The whole thing was super hectic, but I definitely learned the most on this project.
How was it to ‘come out’ to your parents about wanting to be an actor?
Actually, I have my parents to thank! Growing up, my mom, with my dad’s encouragement, wanted me to try as many different things as possible, and that really got me to where I am today. Now that I’ve come so far, my parents are so happy that I’m not wasting my time and that I’m happy. It also helps that I’m making a living doing what I love, and I’m always still learning. My parents are very, very supportive of me, and I couldn’t do this without them. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else, so I don’t want a backup.
When did you decide that acting was what you really wanted to do?
Probably just after high school. During high school, I knew I kind of wanted to get into acting, but to me, it was like winning the lottery. I was saying to myself, “if I get lucky, if I get a job, then I’ll really pursue acting.” It wasn’t until I went to China to work on martial arts that I really got a break in acting, and it kind of came hand-in-hand. I got my first big role in China, and when I came back to Vancouver, I realized that I really wouldn’t be happy with anything else but acting. I tried! I really tried!
Are you referring to your martial arts?
Yeah, for sure. I love the sport, and I had a fantastic coach that really appreciated the beauty of it. It was great to learn about the discipline and lifestyle changes that go with taking up martial arts. In the end, however, I had a knee injury that got me out of it, and when I look at the stunt industry (a big industry for martial artists) and how quickly an injury can lose your livelihood, that was a scary thought for me.
What’s your personal take on being a visibly Asian actor in mainstream Hollywood?
This is a changing industry, along with every other industry in the world. Before, it was very hard for Asian actors because there wasn’t much diversity outside of being “that Asian guy.” I think, however, that’s slowly changing as more studios and the general population realize that Canada and America are two countries that are really enriched by immigration.
We have people of all ethnicities, including Asians, coming in and, slowly, we’re becoming part of the market. In fact, Asians are not just growing as a viewer demographic, but they’re also growing as a force of performers and filmmakers. More and more, I’m seeing Asian guys and girls on set, and it’s still growing.
I think eventually it’ll be more of a normal thing, where we can accept that it doesn’t matter what ethnicity you are. We’re all just people, and we’re all trying to tell stories about people. I mean, you can have roots in that ethnicity, and it certainly adds flavour to the storyline, but I think we’re coming to a time when being an Asian guy doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to be delivering Chinese food, or crunching numbers as an accountant, or any of the other stereotypes. I think we’re moving away from that. This is where I think I’m quite fortunate: I’m coming into this at the moment when I think things are starting to change.
Do you have any upcoming projects or projects that you’re currently working on now?
Right now, I’m in the middle of a Paramount film called Fun Size. It’s a really snappy comedy about a girl who loses her brother during Halloween and the trials she goes through to get him back. It’s being directed by Josh Schwartz (creator and executive producer of The O.C. and Gossip Girl, co-creator of Chuck), and I’m in a lead role alongside Victoria Justice, Johnny Knoxville, Chelsea Handler, Thomas Mann, and Jane Levy. Look out for “Peng,” a quirky, ultra-patriotic kid with a… unique sense of style. The experience so far has been fantastic, and I’m having an incredible time filming in Cleveland.
What kind of advice would you give to aspiring actors or performing artists?
If this is what you want to do, do it. Don’t wait for an opportunity! Don’t wait for someone to ask you to do it! Don’t wait for someone to pay you to do it! Just do it. Document it. Have proof of it. We live in an age of information: Youtube is insane! There are so many channels of distribution that you can use for yourself, so don’t wait for someone else to give it to you. Don’t waste time, ’cause time’s not going to wait for you.
If you want to be an actor, write something for yourself, shoot it, perform it, finish it. Get some friends together who are passionate about doing projects, and get to work! Find a time, get together on a regular basis, and keep practicing. The more you do something, the better you’re going to get at it. As long as you’re interested in what you’re making, people are going to want to watch it. So yeah, just make something. Start small, don’t do a feature film right away, start with a small thing that’s a minute long. Just… start now.
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Beth Hong 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.