Hong Chau has paid her dues in the industry, finally landing in a position that offers her some power.
How did your parents feel?
Actress Hong Chau, who is collecting kudos for Amazon Prime's Homecoming, says she is often asked that question during interviews.
Her parents fled Vietnam in 1979, bringing her to New Orleans as a baby. Perhaps the question arises, she muses, because she portrayed a Vietnamese refugee in her breakout role, in the 2017 film Downsizing.
"For whatever reason, that gets asked more often of Asian actors," Chau says. "But if you surveyed a wide swath of people in the arts, a majority would say their parents did not encourage them to pursue this career path."
Indeed, like many young performers, Chau faced a rocky road.
After college, she was an unpaid PA on many short films; she also interned with a documentary filmmaker, with an optometrist who had a public access show, and in a casting office, where pitching stacks of headshots into the trash as directed made her wince. For years, she rarely left Los Angeles, for fear of missing an audition.
But scoring a part in Annie Baker's play John, which opened off- Broadway in 2015 to strong reviews, marked a turning point in her career. "Her play gave me the opportunity to practice discipline and focus," Chau says, "to completely flounder in the safe confines of a rehearsal room."
Now that she's "moving up on the call sheet," directors have started asking her to weigh in on casting questions — such as whether the boy playing her son in the 2019 film Driveways should also be of Vietnamese heritage. The answer was no.
"That's when I think searching for 'authenticity' is not productive," she says. "He could have been Korean, or Indonesian, or half black or half Chinese. I wasn't going to put a limiter on some wonderful kid because their parents weren't born in the same ZIP Code as me."
These days, Chau is in demand. She played a small but juicy role in HBO's Big Little Lies and was the mysterious billionaire Lady Trieu in HBO's Watchmen.
Audrey Temple, her reserved character on Homecoming, becomes more complex (and more sinister) in season two. Which is not to say Chau didn't appreciate Temple's subtlety in the first season.
"There's a lot of hoorah for 'strong female characters,'" she says. "But there are so many Temples in the real world.
"As we're having this cultural conversation about power, I think a lot of people will relate to Temple, especially those who feel like they're at the bottom, or at least not yet where they want to be. People who have the desire to do big things."
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 7, 2020