April 29th, 2010. Los Angeles, CA. Smoldering, unpretentious, refreshingly quick-witted and down-to-earth - actress Lynn Chen will be back to grace the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival on May 1st in Quentin Lee's romantic comedy "The People I've Slept With," which has sold out theaters in screenings across the country.
Dig a little deeper below the surface of Lynn's sultry and effortless exterior, and you'll find a prodigiously talented and hardworking musician, writer, journalist and self-proclaimed foodie, all passions that round out her zest and love for acting.
When not working on a set, auditioning or learning a new role, Lynn blogs about her everyday life and food at "The Actors Diet" (www.theactorsdiet.com) and interviews other actors for "The Everything Acting Podcast" (www.everythingactingpodcast.com). And oh, by the way - she writes, performs and sings her own heartfelt songs.
Lynn is perhaps best known for playing the sultry dancer "Vivian Shing" in Sony Pictures Classic's feature film "Saving Face," a role that garnered her the Outstanding Newcomer Award at the 2006 Asian Excellence Awards. She can be seen currently in theaters starring in the comedy "White on Rice," "The People I've Slept With," and on DVD in "Mentor," "X's and O's," "I'm Through With White Girls," and Neil LaBute's "Lakeview Terrace," alongside Samuel L. Jackson. "Why Am I Doing This?" is opening in theaters in Los Angeles on May 14th.
For more information, please visit www.lynnchen.com
Filmmaker Dave Boyle, who worked with you in White on Rice, said "Lynn is amazing....Every scene you see with Lynn is the first take. She doesn't have to be directed." So you're getting ready for a new role. What do you do when you first get a script in hand? What's your secret for getting yourself ready for the camera?
The process really varies from film to film - depending on how much time I have to prepare, whether we're going to have any rehearsals (we usually don't) and what else is going on in my life. In general, the first reading I do, I try to experience the script as the audience member would - without attaching myself to the part, imagining "Will I be able to pull that off," "Oh my God that's a major sex scene," etc... I try to just get a sense of the story and what the writer is trying to say. The second time I start making notes - they're usually tangents and don't make sense to anybody but me. Then I just print out my own scenes and try to forget the rest of the story, because my character wouldn't be aware of any of that stuff, anyway. I go back and forth between doing research about the facts, trying to relate emotionally with the character through my own experiences, and memorizing lines. I also talk with the director to make sure we're on the same page and try to watch my co-star's work so I am familiar with their quirks and mannerisms.
What was it like to be on the set of "White on Rice" and "Lakeview Terrace"?
"White on Rice" was an amazing time for me, because I had already acted in a few other feature films and was a lot more relaxed on set. Most of the cast and crew were from Los Angeles, and we filmed in Salt Lake City, so there was a lot of bonding going on both on/off set.
I worked simultaneously on "White on Rice" and "Lakeview Terrace." The difference between the two was night and day (literally, because "Lakeview Terrace" was all shot in the evenings). My part in "Lakeview Terrace" was small, I wasn't there for very long, the budget was much larger, and there were more famous stars/director involved. But honestly, I was so tired from all the flying and lack of sleep that I was just focused on work and didn't really have time to process how intimidated I was.
Both film experiences were equally fun and professionally fulfilling, despite how different they were.
Describe a typical day of your life a) during pilot season, and b) not during pilot season.
During pilot season: Get up early to eat a healthy, filling, and energizing breakfast. Spend 1 hour on hair/makeup in the morning, drive 1 hour in traffic and spend twenty minutes looking for parking. Go to a pre-read session in the morning at the casting director's office. Eat lunch in the car as I spend another hour in traffic driving cross town, park, and change for the second pre-read. Find out I have a callback for the first audition when I get out of the second pre-read for later that afternoon. Cancel all my afternoon plans and change back into outfit #1. Kill time near the studio where I'll be reading for producers so I don't have to sit in more traffic (coffee, bookstore). Find out from my agent that I don't have a callback for second audition earlier (boo), that I didn't book the other callback I went in on last week (double boo), but I do have another pilot audition for tomorrow (yay) with producers that I don't have to preread for because the casting director already knows me (double yay). Show up at the studio lot, spend 30 minutes trying to park and figure out where the hell the bungalow my callback is in. See 3 huge TV stars whose shows I grew up watching auditioning for the same part and try not to freak out. See a few of my fellow Asian actress pals too and try to be friendly but still stay in the zone. Audition. Sit in the most horrible traffic on the way home. Read the script and print out sides for the next day's audition. Ask my husband to pick up takeout while I wash off all the grime and makeup. Eat greasy food. Memorize, memorize, memorize until lights out at 11pm. Do it all again the next day.
Not during pilot season: Lounge in bed until 9am, journaling and reading blogs/facebook. Take my dog for an hour long walk listening to NPR podcasts. Make breakfast, blog for "The Actors Diet." Answer emails, make plans. Clean the house. Run some errands. Meet a friend for coffee or a walk. Watch food shows that I've DVR'd on TV. Take a long bath. Make dinner. Eat with my husband while catching up on "Lost" or "30 Rock" or a movie from Netflix. Read before bed.
Saving Face, which came out in 2003, was an Asian American romantic comedy produced by Will Smith and starring yourself alongside Joan Chen and Michelle Krusiec. In spite of the fact that the movie has been played up so much for the fact that the two leading characters are Asian American lesbian lovers, Wil and Vivian, what makes the film special is that it doesn't give into stereotypes - the characters emerge as fully dimensional people with a complex relationship, connected to their past, their families, cultural communities, and their careers. Was this director Alice Wu's original intention, or did you and the other cast members also influence the way the movie's characters played ultimately played out?
To be quite honest, I had no idea what I was doing when I was cast in "Saving Face." It was my very first feature film, my very first leading role, a very arduous casting process, and I was just petrified I was going to show up on set and be fired when they realized how green I was. But I wanted that part so badly I fully imagined what it would be like to play "Vivian" the best I knew how, given the resources that I had with the script. I believe that the reason Alice chose the actors she did was because she felt that they embodied an essence that she was looking for with each of the roles. So although I was consciously just trying to hit my marks and not look freezing cold, I guess subconsciously I already personified "Vivian" to her - whatever "Vivian" meant.
Is it possible to have a film career and live in NYC these days? What has your experience been like living and working in Queens versus Los Angeles?
It most definitely is possible to live anywhere and have a film career! Did you know that Luis Guzman lives in Vermont?! New York is great, because the industry exists there (as opposed to Vermont) and there are still many productions for local hire, but the sheer amount of opportunities in Los Angeles makes it a better place for an actor to find work. That said, Los Angeles is all about show business, and that can feel suffocating sometimes - I liked being able to escape and blend into a world that wasn't ALL about the industry when I lived in Queens. I wish I could say that I'm at the stage where I didn't have to live in either city, like Luis Guzman, and people just called and offered me roles or I could just put myself on tape for auditions with a good chance of being hired without having to be seen in person. But that's just not where I'm at in my career at this point.
What goes through your head when you think back to your acting debut as a child, in a production of South Pacific in New York City?
It was just fun for me then. I wasn't aware of the competition, the rejection, the critics, or what other people thought of my performance. It wasn't about moving my career forward, it was just about doing what I loved to do, without fear or expectations.
Any advice to actors and actresses just starting out? What would you describe as some of your biggest challenges that you had to overcome during the course of your journey?
There are a thousand different routes you can take in your journey to become an actor. When you're first starting out, everyone likes to give advice because we're all storytellers with big egos. It's a good idea to listen and try things out, but ultimately, it's your career and you are the one who has to deal with it day in and day out.
I think the ongoing challenge is the roller coaster nature of this industry - the constant rejection/criticism, projects falling through, coming close to big things...all juxtaposed with ego stroking, exciting opportunities, glamorous events, work... It helps to know that nobody is immune to it - everyone, even the most successful stars - have good years and bad ones.
Where can we find out more about your writing? And where can we read some of the scripts you've written?
Well, the scripts I've written are mostly first-drafts, so nobody is going to be reading those for a while. I write mainly for therapy, for myself. Unlike with acting, I don't really feel the need for an audience's approval to feel like I'm being creative, which is nice. But I would like to bridge that gap sometime in the future, there doesn't seem to be time for it lately!
I had the opportunity to write a comic book story for "Secret Identities," an anthology of Asian-American Superheroes that is available in stores and online now. That was a really interesting and different process for me - going back and forth with the editors, revising the story, watching it develop...and it was exciting to do my first book signing too!
The only piece closest to the kind of writing I usually that exists "in public" is a guest post I wrote for director Mike Kang, when he was promoting his movie "The Motel." He asked his friends to write stories about puberty, and mine was about my experience at band camp.
Together with your longtime friend and fellow actress Christy Meyers, you blog about everything you eat (and sometimes what you wear!) on The Actor's Diet (www.theactorsdiet.com). The site celebrates your healthy food obsessions and is populated with delicious recipes and mouthwatering photographs of the meals and snacks that both of you are constantly trying out. Do you have a favorite quickie recipe of all time to share, for those of us with lives on the go?
This is a fast and delicious vegan dish - Peanut Butter noodles:
- Cook noodles (I like using soba but you can use spaghetti or any other shape you like) and add some chopped hearty green (like bok choy or kale or chard) in the last 5 minutes of cooking time.
- Drain the pasta/greens, reserving about a ¼ cup of the cooking liquid.
- In a separate bowl, combine 1 heaping TB peanut butter (or whatever nut butter you like) with 2 TB Tamari/Soy Sauce and 2 TB Rice Wine Vinegar (or lemon juice).
- Whisk in the pasta water until it's smooth and creamy - this is enough sauce for about two servings, double/triple it for however many people you're feeding.
- Toss it all together - sauce, noodles, veggies - and (optional) garnish with chopped nuts, scallions, or my favorite hot sauce, Sriracha.
Care to share something about the music and books in your life?
In college, I was always discovering new music and going to concerts. I'm sad to say that that's not the case anymore; for some reason I'm no longer as interested in paying money to stand for hours, stay up late, and see a live show. I love going to The Hollywood Bowl and The Greek Theatre, though, because being outdoors is still appealing. My husband is much better about discovering bands and introducing me to them, and pushing me to go see live performances.
The "newest" artists I'm "into" (if you can call it that) are Metric, Rilo Kiley and Regina Spektor, but for the most part I'm still listening to the same stuff I loved when I was in school - bands like The Pixies, The Beatles, Pink Floyd, The Smiths; female artists from my women's studies days - Liz Phair, Ani di Franco, Tori Amos; early 90's hip hop - De La Soul, Tribe Called Quest; and classical music I used to play - Mozart/Beethoven piano sonatas and operas I used to perform in with my mother. Nostalgic stuff. And to be honest, I'm mostly listening to NPR shows and podcasts in the car and during my free time, rarely music. We have a pretty impressive jazz and 80's record collection that we'll put on when we have company - it's just background music. I never sit in front of the stereo analyzing an album like I used to.
With books, I don't read as much as I would like to, either. My favorite authors are Haruki Murakami, Tom Perrotta, Curtis Sittenfeld, and I'm currently reading A.M. Holmes' "This Book Will Save Your Life" which I'm really enjoying. But I'm also stuck in my childhood when it comes to reading - I often go to the library and borrow old Beverly Cleary/Judy Blume books.
"The People I've Slept With" will be playing at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival on May 1.
"Why Am I Doing This" is opening in L.A. theaters May 14-20.
Starting June 1st, 2010, "White on Rice" will be available to over 50 million US homes via Pay Per View / VOD. If you have Cable, with access to "Movies On Demand" or "Pay Per View," chances are you'll be able to watch White on Rice in the comfort of your living room, in standard format as well as in HD. Even if your cable provider has not programmed White on Rice, you can still download it from iTunes or Amazon VOD to view on your home computer on the same day.