Interview: Alan Chow on his acting & representation of the LGBT & Asian-American communities in film

Catch Alan on our February issue cover!:

Interview by Lexee Shapiro, Photos by Yising Kao

How do you feel knowing that you represented and gave a voice to the Asian population on one of primetime television’s most popular shows, Grey’s Anatomy?

How do I feel? Oh my gosh! It feels really, really great. I think it’s really important, first of all, to have representation, to have diversity, because growing up, it allowed me to think bigger. So, I worked for a production company that was all about creating productions that were involving people of color and LGBT representation. We all would talk about how we learned about other cultures that we never had real experiences with through TV. So for example, I had some friends that were Hispanic, but the first time that I ever learned about a Quinceañera was from the George Lopez show, and if the TV shows were to inaccurately portray something like that, then I would think it would be like that, like how it is on TV, because it would be the only time that I would ever see it. So, I think representation is really important. I’m so happy to be an Asian face on TV, and the role wasn’t written specifically for an Asian guy. It was just like, all ethnicities. It’s called color-blind casting. Sometimes it doesn’t have a name and just says it is for all ethnicities, like whoever does the role the best does it. That’s what I loved about the role: it wasn’t about race.

What do you think needs to change in the entertainment industry, specifically with regards to gay representation and stereotypes around LGBT youth?

I think that for a while, I didn’t think it was that important for the leads themselves to be non-straight, white men. For a while, I thought their faces are still there, and that’s good because it’s diverse and everyone is being represented, but, because of the way that stories are told, if the protagonist is always a straight, white male, the supporting characters always end up being stereotyped because there is not enough room to tell their stories. I do think that the thing that needs to change is that the people who are safeguarding the stories, like executives and producers, need to realize that the idea that the straight, white male will appeal to the most amount of people is not correct. Human stories are human stories. Everyone is gonna watch people from all different backgrounds. That idea needs to change. I think that’s the biggest issue right now. In terms of LGBT representation, I think it’s frustrating that if a lead character is LGBT, then it turns into a gay story, when we want it to just be a human story. A show that portrayed the community well is How to Get Away with Murder. Viola Davis’ character is bisexual, she’s had a girlfriend, but the show is not making it out to be a show about gay rights or this is only a gay story. Her character just happens to be bi, and Viola Davis is an incredible actress. Shonda Rhimes’ shows do that very well.

What is your dream role?

My dream role would be something that I created for myself, because I also want to write and produce my own stories. I’m currently writing a story called “Average Asian” and it’s about this guy that goes to a super high-tech Bay Area high school. He has no academic talent whatsoever, he’s the worst student in school, but he’s a really good performer and rapper. He has to beat out the top student in the school in order to win a scholarship to college. So, that role that I’m writing is my dream role. I wanted to incorporate a lot of different types of humor, it would be a comedy.

Lastly, do you have any advice that you would like to give our readers that might be aspiring actors?

Yeah, I think that first and foremost, know why you are doing what you are doing, because if it is for fame or any of those other reasons, it’s really not the right path. At the end of the day, how you affect society is more important than all of that fake stuff. Have a goal in mind for how you want to change society. That’s really important because it will help you to never

give up. Always remember to have fun because I know a lot of actors who are really struggling, they stopped having fun, and that is not the point of it. A lot of people lose themselves in the industry, so remember why you started doing it.