In under a year since Schema‘s last interview with the stunning and charismatic Grace Huang, the young actress has made huge strides in her film career. With three movies, a TV show, and Best Actress award under her belt, this Chinese Australian has secured her presence in both the realm of Asian and Western productions. Nine months after talking with her about the short film Bloodtraffick, Huang met with Schema to talk about her love of action roles, the role of Asians in today’s film industry, and a penchant for playing Words With Friends.
What has happened with you and your career since our last interview with you?
Since the last interview with Beth, [I] went to L.A. for the HollyShorts short film festival and surprisingly I took home Best Actress. It was the first time I’ve ever been to a film festival overseas, and I thought, “Okay, there’s not going to be many awards, probably be Best Film, Best Director, and that’s it.” So when they called my name, I definitely was NOT prepared for it. They showed over 140 short films and I took home Best Actress, so it was a huge compliment and encouragement for me as an actor, to win that in LA. Winning that award was pretty much the highlight of 2011, along with filming RZA’s The Man With The Iron Fists with Russell Crowe (fellow Aussie and a total sweetheart by the way) and meeting Quentin Tarantino.
I came back and shot a Hong Kong movie called Cold War, with well-known Asian actors like Andy Lau, Tony Leung Ka-Fai, Aaron Kwok and Charlie Yeung. I play the right-hand man of the deputy commissioner of police, and the story is shot very West Wing and Infernal Affairs (which was then remade into DiCaprio’s Departed).
In addition to movies, you’ve added a TV show to your resume this year. Can you tell me about that?
I also shot a TV show called Strangers6, and it’s interesting because it’s a Korean-Japanese and China-Hong Kong co-production TV show. I play an undercover investigator, and that was very cool because my character gets into very intense and explosive situations. There’s a lot of co-production TV shows on right now and it’s the first time I’ve been in one and I really enjoyed working alongside some great actors (and crew) from the other countries. The show aired in Japan and Korea to great response so now there are plans for shooting Season Two.
What has stood out to you about your career since the last interview?
The first highlight of 2012 was Lost for Words. It’s a romantic drama with me playing the female lead. I play a ballerina from Mainland China opposite American actor Sean Faris—a very handsome and talented actor. It’s a love story about the mix of cultures and two people working out the conflicts in their lives to be together. It was an amazing experience…and it’s also another physical role—Bloodtraffick was action, The Man With The Iron Fists is action…and in Lost for Words I’m a ballerina so I had to train for that.
How did you find training?
It was grueling. I used to dance when I was much younger, but nothing professional. I trained for about two months, before and during filming to learn the dance steps and everything. To be believable as a ballerina I had to train both physically and mentally. I had to dance for five hours a day—I didn’t know I could sweat so much! It was really fun. Now we’ve wrapped, and I can’t wait to see it. I’m trying to keep the body because [it] actually transformed during this process, which is great. I’m keeping that up with hard-core yoga and kickboxing.
How have you found the action genre? What do you like about it?
I love the action genre—I always come out of the cinema wanting to kick ass…I’m a very active person and I had my try at working with wires for the first time in Iron Fists—I absolutely love it, I really do. I kept asking the director, “Oh, anymore wire stuff?” Nobody asks for the wire! I’m a bit crazy in that sense and am a total adrenaline junkie.
It looks like you’ve been drawn to more action since Bloodtraffick.
It seems like the strong character female roles suit me. I’ve been through some struggles in life and I think that has given me a strength that comes through and works well in the roles that I’ve played in Bloodtraffick, Iron Fists and as a determined ballerina in Lost for Words.
Lucy Liu was in The Man With the Iron Fists with you. How was it working with her? What did you learn from her as a woman who’s played some serious kick-ass, female roles?
She’s amazing and just so experienced in front of the camera. She just knows exactly what the camera wants to see out of the genre. Everyone on the cast of Iron Fists was amazing to work with, just walking around the different sets while filming—it’s just one amazing fight scene after the next. It’s visually mind blowing.
You must learn a lot from every film you take on.
You learn from working with different people and on set. Every film set and project is different and you feed off each other’s energy. This past year, I treasured the ability to work with more experienced actors because when they bring their intensity and experience on screen, that influenced my own performance and I totally stepped it up a few notches. I’m excited to continue that and to grow as an actor. I love my job. I’m so lucky to be doing what I love every day and don’t know how to stress [that] enough.
What do you have coming up now?
I can’t really reveal too much because the projects are not at a stage where I can talk about them yet, but I do have a few movies and some TV shows in the pipeline—just more amazing roles, in Asia and in the US. I can tell you the genres: more action, thriller, and more dramas. I’m really excited about the lineup and will share more when I can.
You’ve had a lot of roles so far in your career, is there anyone you could pick as your favourite or one that stood out to you?
I love them all. Right now I would say my role as Anna the ballerina in Lost for Words because it was my first time working in a lead role opposite an American actor, so that stuck out for me. I wanted to be a ballerina when I was a little girl and this was my chance to get into the head of one and to train physically as one too. That’s why I love what I do, it’s better than being a cat. I get more than nine lives!
How has your appearance affected how you take on Asian characters you might not necessarily identify with?
Appearance-wise I’m very flexible because I can look European Asian (mixed) or traditional pure-bred Asian which is great, so I haven’t had any problems with roles. Physically, I’ve risen to the challenges of roles that needed me to morph into a dancer and martial arts fighter so I also feel quite confident that I can pull anything off.
How do you feel about being an Asian actress in the present film industry?
I think it’s a great time for Asian actors right now because there are a lot of opportunities for us right now in entertainment. Asians are a notable percentage of the population and culture in so many countries and it’s only recently that we’re being represented in popular culture. Asians are only recently being represented more realistically, compared to the old ‘geek’ or ‘waiter’ roles in the ’80 and ’90s.
TV shows like Hawaii 5-O are doing well, Maggie Q is established now in her Nikita role and I see at least one Asian role in almost every mainstream American TV show, which is a good start. I’ve been asked if I mind being typecast as an action actor…but I don’t. Bruce Lee and martial arts is a part of our culture, so why would I want to deny that? Why would I feel offence to be identified with that? I embrace it—I embrace my culture.
In your acting you’ve been getting in touch with mostly your Asian roots, but I’ve read that you have a lot of Australian pride. What is it that you love so much about it? What did you love about growing up there?
I love the whole experience of growing up and living in Australia. Everyone is really friendly, chill, down to earth and low key. I find that [for] Aussies, nothing much fazes us. The education system there is great. Even though we’re geographically very far removed as a country, at my high school we get taught a number of different mandatory subjects so we learn a bit about everything. We get taught German for six months, French for six months, geography and history, music and drama and then cooking and home economics, which is sewing and such, as well as the obvious subjects like math, science and English.
We also learn about cultures in different countries so we can see the world through our studies. We get a bit of everything, so we get a good overall view of the world at that age. And we don’t have a choice, and I think that’s the most important thing. Everything we learn for 6 months and then we can decide whether we want to pick the subjects up as an elective later. If you’re given the choice you only learn about things you’re interested in and you might not know that other things are cool too.
That’s when I developed my love of Earth. Through geography I learned so much about climates, the history and geographical makeup of the countries, all the ecosystems that exist on Earth…so I’m very environmental. We’re pretty well educated in that sense. I think because of that, the majority of Aussies respect the Earth, we’re good to the country, [and] we try to be as environmental as possible.
I also love the Aussie weather, I love the food, the people are also very sporty—it’s a very healthy lifestyle. I think my personality, my sportiness and my love of action goes back to growing up there. I played field hockey, obviously swam and touch football. I think it’s just a healthy, happy environment to grow up in, and that’s why I love it. There’s no other place like home to me.
Last question: What are your top five after-work wind-down activities?
1. I’m addicted to iPhone scrabble—Words With Friends—the one that Alec Baldwin got kicked off the plane for refusing to stop playing. I find it relaxing and therapeutic to play. I was never really into Scrabble before but I have this friend who is a PhD and I always got my ass kicked when I played Scrabble with him—I was determined to improve. I just kept playing and got better within a few weeks. Now we’re pretty much even, I’m happy and addicted.
2. Yoga, swim, jog and kickbox. Yoga is definitely good for the body and mind. I love challenging classes where you walk out being exhausted. I’m addicted to exercise now.
3. I love watching movies [and] watch all genres. I just re-watched Zoolander recently for the 1000th time the other day and it’s still funny. It’s amazing. I love that movie. And I love True Blood! I don’t want to spoil it, but somebody in True Blood is in Zoolander. “Earth to Meekus?” So that makes me love Zoolander even more.
4. I like being a girl and getting facials, spa treatments and massages. It totally relaxes me, especially after working out so hard and with the Hong Kong climate, one needs to be conscientious about having a regular cleansing regime
5.Hanging out with my friends. I love getting together and gossiping, We cook a whole bunch of stuff to eat and chill. My friends are my family in Hong Kong so quality time is very important to me. I also Skype a lot with my family back in Sydney. There’s always some family drama happening, it’s crazy.
For more on Lost For Words, The Man With the Iron Fists (set for release at the end of 2012) and everything else Grace, like her on Facebook.
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