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Downsizing's Break-Out Star, Hong Chau, talks about her inspiring nominated role - Gypset Magazine

Downsizing’s Break-Out Star, Hong Chau, talks about her inspiring nominated role

Downsizing, an imagined world in which scientist discovered how to shrink humans to five inches tall as a solution to overpopulation, is a funny yet heartwarming social satire that will leave audiences inspired. After seeing the screening of Downsizing earlier this month (check out our Dec 3 Instagram post), we raved that Downsizing is one of the holiday season’s must-see movie. This Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor film touched on important current issues in a way that was entertaining, intelligent and meaningful.

In Downsizing Paul Safranek (Matt Damon) and Audrey Safranek (Kristin Wiigs) decide to get ‘downsize’ to five inches tall as a financial alternative that promises a more economically stable and abundant life. Unfortunately, Audrey is unable to go through with the procedure and Paul finds himself stuck in his new life in a lavish resort community, but feeling empty and unfulfilled. Paul’s fate changes when he meets a Vietnamese dissident who had been incarcerated for protesting and shrunk by the government against her will, Ngoc Lan Tran, a big hearted, spitfire, and selfless cleaning woman with a prosthetic leg. Hong Chau, the talented actress who plays Ngoc Lan Tran, steals every scene she is in and truly stands out among a stellar cast that includes a hilariously witty Christoph Waltz, charming funnyman Neil Patrick Harris, Jason Sudeikis, Margo Martindale, and Niecy Nash to name a few. Ngoc’s witty yet firm attitude, along with her broken English and prosthetic leg made for big laughs, but with her strong and caring nature, Hong Chau strives to break broad stereotypes. “My challenge with this character was that in comedies characters tend to get heighten, so my character had to be a little larger than life, yet feel real and be grounded.” This is why it is not surprising that just last week Hong Chau received her first, and very well deserved, Golden Globes nomination for Best Supporting Actress nomination for her role as Ngoc Lan Tran in Downsizing.


This was Chau’s second film appearance, although she has several critically acclaimed shows under her belt like HBO’s Treme and Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vices, as well as A to Z, and Big Little Lies. The actress, who whose own parents fled Vietnam on a boat in 1979, was born and grew up in a Vietnamese refugee community in New Orleans.
This Gold Globe nomination a validation for audiences’ members of color who rarely get to see a strong Asian immigrant woman, featured prominently in films. “When I first read the script, I was blown away by all of the insightful observations about race and class” states the actress. “It was a story that humanizes refugees and immigrants in a way that I have never seen before. My character, Ngoc …, was a revelation to me because she is someone that we all feel that we know, but just not in this way.” At a press conference earlier this month Hong Chau, proud Asian American actress who embraces her immigrant roots, shared with Gypset that she hopes people don’t see a stereotype but that they get beyond that and see the kind yet strong person Ngoc is.

Ngoc Lan Tran’s heavy accent and broken English has been a topic of criticism and scrutiny. How do you feel about these comments about your character?
It’s unfortunate that there are people that have a problem with my character, who is multifaceted, complex and well written, because she has an accent. When I look at my parents I do not see a stereotype. I see a human being, a full person.
I am not quite sure why people are so flabbergasted to see a person with an accent in a movie. We are surrounded by people with accents. We are a nation of immigrants! In the city of Los Angeles, like in any major city, we have people who work in kitchens, who do all the labor that a lot of people do not want to do. So, this movie shows the machinery, the apparatus, the value system that allows for that inequality and I don’t think that showing it is problematic.
My parents and the Vietnamese refugee community that I grew up in in New Orleans was an inspiration, but at the end of the day the character is mine. She is mine! People don’t put certain limitations on other actors. When British or Australian actors come over and perform an American character we laud them and talk about how great it is that they were able to do this other accent that is not their own. However, Americans have different relationships with different accents. The way we view Spanish speaker from Spain is different than we view a person from Mexico because of that different relationship with these people. So, with the Vietnamese accent there is also another relationship, because we tend to have occupations where we are servicing people in some manner. And that brings ups the race and class issue as well inequality and discrimination. That’s a lot to unpack and it’s not just an accent being problematic.
Really, I wasn’t too focused too much on the accent, but was just trying to be a person. I did not try to base my character off an existing character or one specific Vietnamese individual that I have encountered in my life. That is part of being an actor, its creating something. And that is what I what I was talking about when I said earlier when I said she is mine. You know, Gary Oleman is playing Winston Churchill in the Darkest Hour. He as an artist has the ability to make creative choices and to create a character and no one questions him if that was an authentic portrayal of Churchill. For me, because of certain conversations we are having at large as a nation there are certain limitations that are put on me as an Asian actor. From everything we are talking about this is basically what I hear back, ‘oh yeah, you can play music, but you can only play it at this volume, between the hours of 6:00 -8:00 p.m., on the forth Thursday of every month. That is what I am hearing.

Jim Taylor stated that they had choice and were consciously
s deliberate in wanting to write a script that was reflective of the world today, in its unfairness, inequality and with its problem, instead of writing it in a way that portrayed a more ideal and equal world. How you feel about this?

Something that I responded to very strongly in the story is that we are showing inequality. The people of color who were in the apartment complex where my character lived in Alundra, and what some people may think as my side of the story, were not there to prop-up the white character and show him in this great positive light. If anything, we were showing that he is a part of the problem, because he is not paying attention. And I do not see anything wrong with that.

The social and political satire in this movie is realistic, adequate, and very refreshing. Plus, it’s combined with writing that was hilarious and on point. Ngoc is strong, witty, and she is just full of these funny one liners. Was that intentional, improvised, accidental, or rehearsed?
Actually, most of them were in the script and that is what I loved. I could not believe that they (filmmakers and writers) came up with this character, because I think a lot of us are struggling with how to tell these important stories about real people. Most of the time when people think about a refugees or immigrants story, they immediately think that its going to be depressing. That is something we need to think about when we are trying to tell stories about these difficult issues that a lot of people feel uncomfortable with. One way of doing it, is to humanize them. And part of being a human is laughing, and showing their senses of humor. You know, immigrants and people of color, we laugh.
When I first read the script, I didn’t see it written stereotypically. Hopefully, if I did my job right, she (Ngoc) should not come across as a stereotype. I think its okay to laugh if someone you love does something peculiar. My parents make me laugh and cry more than anyone. And I love my character and feel that the writers love her, so hopefully the audience will also love her too and if they are laughing its out of deep affection and not none of the other things people are saying.

As our conversation with this inspiring and actress comes to an end she shares with us: “The question that I would ask back to people (critics of white male dominance in film) is, as we are working to get more women and people of color behind the camera to tell their stories, white man are not all the sudden going to step aside and stop making movies, so… how would you like to have them incorporate women and people of color to the stories that they are telling, how would you like to see that done. I felt that this was a great, wonderful and tremendous work on the part of these two white male writers (Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor), who are not women, who are not Asian, but who still made Ngoc witty, strong and inspirational. I loved this character.

In Theaters Dec 22, 2017

Author: Diana Molina

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