Happy July 4th Weekend!
Can you name an Asian American male Actor? Here is one to consider! Stephen Oyoung! He’s not a household name but has been working really hard the past 10 years in the industry! He’s our MuSeoul of the week!
Can you tell us a little back story about yourself and why and when you got into Acting?
I’m an actor, Wushu expert, stuntman and fight choreographer with ten years experience in the film industry and a lifetime in napping. I’m first generation Chinese-American and I grew up in Cerritos, CA, a diverse city with a huge Asian population and an awesome Auto Square. Right now I’m a recurring villain in the third season of TNT’s The Last Ship, and I can be seen in Independence Day: Resurgence and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story in the fall. I got into acting in my youth like most actors do: For validation.
I fell in love with acting when I was seven years old and misbehaving in music class. One day my teacher had enough. She stopped the music and pulled me out in front of the entire class. I thought I was a dead man. Instead, she gave me a top-secret assignment. Flash forward to the Christmas concert: I walk out in a sombrero, a bright red maraca in each hand, and with the entire school singing Feliz Navidad behind me, I dazzle the crowd with an impromptu dance routine the likes of which Cerritos Elementary has never seen again.
Growing up, I wanted to be the next Bruce Lee, but I never believed I would seriously pursue acting. I didn’t know where to start, I didn’t think I could face the constant rejection, and I feared the lack of stability. So instead I went in to web design. It didn’t take long to realize I functionally illiterate at programming. Then I dabbled in politics, but after interning for my local congressman I concluded that while I loved shaking hands, passing bills, and kissing babies like a politician, I’d much rather play one on TV.
How did your love ones react?
I’m happy to say I didn’t bring dishonor to my family. They were very supportive and still are. I know it’s fashionable to think of Asian parents as being harsh and judgmental, but in my experience a lot of families are very encouraging. In fact they sacrifice a lot. Besides, would Yo-Yo Ma really be so good at the cello if his parents didn’t encourage the ever-loving stuffing out of him? Sure, maybe their encouragement is intense. But you know what else is? Life. That’s what.
My mother has seen every show I’ve ever done. She even calls herself my “momager”. I should probably start paying her commission. My father was the first to teach me martial arts and, seeing my enthusiasm for it, encouraged me to explore action acting. Even my brother got me my first role in a school play he was starring in. I milked a cow. That’s all I remember about that.
How does one really break into Acting?
Talent. Opportunity. Time.
Some people have natural talent. Some develop talent through training. Others have talent that is ahead of their time. Either way you have to bring something to the table. And that something (hold up a mirror now and look into it) is you.
But really, no matter how talented you are, you need the right opportunities. You can’t control when these opportunities present themselves, but you can be prepared for when they do. If you work hard; network with other directors, producers, actors, casting directors and assistants; create your own content; and generally just be a cool person, I believe the right opportunity will find you.
Above all, you need time. Time to develop your talent, which often means making mistakes. Time to allow opportunities to present themselves. And time to prove your worth.
Also, having a SAG card helps.
Since you started in this industry, do you see any difference in casting opportunities or a chance in diversity?
Absolutely. When I started acting in 2005 it was slim pickings.
Now more people of color are being cast in supporting roles in procedurals and films. China is a huge film market, which has led producers to hire more Asians, even if it does seem like it’s only pop stars in the bigger roles. There’s got to be a trickle-down effect eventually.
Now if only we can get more of those lead roles…
Best advice you received and advice to up and coming Actors.
Don’t quit. Just don’t. You feel like quitting? Cool. Feelings are cool. But don’t quit.
Say YES. To everything (within reason). It all adds up to experience.
Also, be nice to EVERYONE. People want to help nice people. I always say, you never know which unassuming little PA on a coffee run is going to be the next Steven Spielberg Chang.
Now go get me some coffee!
I can imagine starting out you couldn’t be picky with the roles you booked. Did you have any past roles that you felt were racist or border line racist?
As an Asian-American man I’m very conscious of the role race plays in casting. I’ve got Racial Radar (that’s trademarked).
Thankfully I haven’t had any overtly racist roles. But when I worked at Pirates Dinner Adventure I was cast as the Yellow Pirate. Each pirate had a different skill and Yellow was the swordsman, so it was just a coincidence. But I always heard the jokes. Still, it was the training and the friends there that got me into the stunt business in the first place, so I’m grateful they hired me.
Sometimes being cast as the Asian Bad Guy can be problematic. I worry if am I just perpetuating the hate. Or am I helping by being the most badass bad guy I can be? I have to believe I’m helping. And if not, hopefully someday I’ll get paid an exorbitant amount of money for selling out…
Did you have any survival jobs as you pursued your acting career?
Does working at Disneyland count? Luckily all my survival jobs have been in entertainment so far. My first gig was at Pirates Dinner Adventure, where as I said, I played the Yellow Pirate. Drunk people ate chicken for two hours while we fought with swords and sang show tunes. As you can see I put my college degree to good use. Then I got a job at Disneyland acting in one of their shows. That paid the bills while I began breaking nto stunts. As a stuntman and fight choreographer I trained Denzel Washington for The Equalizer, worked with Keanu Reeves, Jason Statham, Adam Driver, Gerard Butler, and Benicio Del Toro (mostly getting killed by them on screen). You’re probably wondering why I consider a career as a professional stuntman a “survival job”. Mostly because during that time I was punched in the face, temporarily paralyzed, run over by a horse, and blown up. Twice.
Lately there has been a lot of media regarding Oscars so white, White Washing, Starring John Cho etc.. I feel like the story is a broken record and nothing is actually being done about it. With someone in your position what do you think really needs to be done?
We need more diversity behind the scenes. In the writers’ rooms. In casting offices. On the directors’ chairs. Inside producers’ meetings. From crew all the way up to financiers.
The fastest way to catalyze change is to compel those in positions of power to tell our stories. And the best way to do that is blackmail. Just kidding. But we should hold them hostage to our talent (see what I did there). We need get in front of them, show them that we have experience, and that we are capable. And we need to keep diligently putting ourselves out there for the few opportunities that do exist both in front of and behind the camera. Part of that now means having a strong social media presence, which I think is happening now. We’ve been told the nail that sticks out gets hammered. I like to say: the underrepresented ethnic group with the most vocal twitter presence gets the roles. And we have to be diligent even if it’s slow going. Sometimes it seems like we’re playing a game of racial wack-a-mole where we tackle one controversy only to be presented with another, but I think that’s just the nature of progress.
Finally – and I feel this is crucial: we need to support other Asian-American actors and not feed into this cliché that there’s a lack of talent in the Asian community or that Asian actors and Asian stories just aren’t interesting or “mainstream” enough on screen. Really? You’re telling me we can’t be more interesting than the Bachelor?
Trick question! Only the Bachelorette can be more interesting!
Where do you see yourself in the next few years?
My career has advanced incrementally through the years. See exhibit A:
Age 22 – Got on screen.
Age 25 – Got on screen. Died.
Age 27 – Got on screen. Spoke Chinese. Died.
Age 30 – Got on screen. Spoke Chinese. Didn’t die.
Age 31 –Got on screen. Spoke English. Died.
Age 32 – Got on screen. Spoke English. Didn’t die.
In summary: In the next few years, I hope to speak more and die less.
What do you want your legacy to be?
When I shed this mortal coil, and take my rightful place in the Beehive as Beyonce’s celestial handmaiden, I hope to be remembered as a loving father, a faithful husband, a pillar of the community, and that one Asian guy who was in every movie.
Thank you so much for sharing your story and experience with us. Is there anything you would like to add?
Thanks for having me. It’s content creators like this site that are pushing the needle forward, and so I’m really grateful that you let me share a few thoughts with you and your readers.
This is the point where most actors would start rattling off their social media links. But I feel that’s narcissistic and does a disservice to what a true artist should be about. Actors with substance would not be concerned with the trifles of social media. So thanks for reading, and if you enjoyed this then you can check out more at my Twitter: @mightystevejo and on Facebook @stephenoyoung and of course Instagram @steveoyoung_ and my pager number is….