Eddie Liu’s take on shattered stereotypes, inspirations, and aspirations

Eddie+Lius+take+on+shattered+stereotypes%2C+inspirations%2C+and+aspirations

William Y., Editor in Chief

While he is constantly reaching new heights in his acting career, Commack alumnus Eddie Liu ‘05 remains as grounded as ever.

“The funny thing is, nothing has really changed for me. I’m still operating in the same mode and driving in the same lanes and following the same wisdom. It’s weird because so much of the exterior has changed but so much of the interior has not,” said Liu.

After graduating, Eddie Liu entered Hofstra University to study communications and pursue a career in public relations. Two weeks prior to his college graduation, Liu had a change of heart and brazenly scrapped these plans in favor of pursuing his true passion: acting.

“I had a bit of a knack for throwing myself into new things. I’ve always had this stubborn quality within myself where, even if it means putting myself through a difficult time, I am going to set out and prove others wrong,” said Liu

Thanks to this “stubborn quality” within himself, Liu has worked his way up from commercials to acting in high profile TV shows such as CBS’s “NCIS: Los Angeles,” HBO’s “Silicon Valley,” and Netflix’s “Never Have I Ever.”  His most recent gig is a starring role CW’s “Kung Fu,” where he plays Henry Yan, a Tai Chi Master, Ancient Chinese History aficionado, and love interest to the series’ protagonist, Nicky Shen, who is played by Olivia Liang. 

In addition to his roles, he discussed the cold hard realities of a burgeoning actor, drew comparisons to auditioning and dating, highlighted the many figures who helped and inspired him throughout his career, and delved into the implications of representation in TV shows and film.”🔳


Courant: Have you always set your sights on a career in acting?

Liu: “For me, it’s one of those crazy things that people dream about and it’s cool when you’re young but as you get older you have all these voices telling you to be serious and pick a real career/job, so it was something I never really entertained. I always planned on pursuing something more conventional.” 

 

So what sparked such a drastic change in your career plans?

“I was 21 when I decided to commit to acting and it was two weeks before graduating from college. There was a chunk of time where I thought I would go into communications or PR, but I looked back and thought “why pursue [a career] I had a small chance of succeeding in, knowing it would make me unhappy [either way], instead of pursuing something I really wanted to do. I didn’t want to be the guy who in five years was gonna get the job that I studied for but was secretly miserable deep down and held a resentment for myself for not following my passions.”

 

Many of these “conventional” jobs are extremely competitive for sure, but I bet working as a Hollywood actor presents its own unique set of challenges, right? 

“I can tell you that the quality of life of a struggling actor can compete head to head with the difficulties of any other field. We have no stability… [or]… security and a lot of us don’t even have health insurance, so we are pursuing this primarily out of a labor of love, [instead of stability], and that’s a terrifying thing. Most of us don’t hit and [those of us that do] have to catch lightning in a pan in order to succeed. If you look at the number of people who are applying and people that are working, the ratio is completely lopsided because there is an oversaturation of talent at any given level. That’s the cold reality of what I do.”

 

I know another aspect to the experience is loads and loads of auditions. Can you tell me about your experiences with them?

“People usually think [auditioning] all about coming in and showing how amazing of an actor [someone is], that’s part of it. But you need to show that you are a real normal person that people can work with for 12 hours on set. If I come in and show everyone what a great and dramatic actor I am and start being a weirdo, people get put on edge. So at the same time like you have to be really good at what you do but you also have to show your humanity. It’s amazing how much correlation there is between auditioning and dating.” 

 

The sexier you are, the more roles you’ll get?

“Well, not exactly. You can’t try too hard, but you also can’t completely show no interest at all. You kind of have to present yourself and be like “Hey! This is me, I’m cool. Take it or leave it. My life goes on with or without you.” That’s attractive, isn’t it! But us actors also have to remember to do that too but it gets hard, especially when you want to be a part of whatever you’re trying out for so badly.”  

 

Switching gears a bit, I’d like to talk about how being an Asian American has affected your overall experience as an actor in Hollywood. Do you feel like your ethnicity boxed you into certain roles?

“I think at the time I was getting into the game, that was prevalent for a lot of people. I know that I read for a lot of parts and auditioned for a lot of roles, whether it was commercials or TV or whatever, that fell into those boxes. But looking at my resume and what roles I’ve played in the past and even now, I can happily say that I was not subjected to that.  By the time I was auditioning, so many people started to have the conversations and knock down those barriers by pounding the pavement and doing that already before me. There are a lot of Asian American actors from the generation before mine that are like 5-10 years older than me who were able to redefine what it means to be an Asian American man in Hollywood. People have asked me what it’s like to break stereotypes but honestly, I cant take all that credit by any means because others were already doing that for me. People were starting to make those cracks so all I needed to do was step in.”

 

How does your current role in the CW show “Kung Fu” move move away from the stereotypes established in the past?

“Currently, I’m playing a grad student that is a Tai Chi master and if anything, my ethnicity was necessary for the role because the showrunner wanted an authentic Chinese cast. And so while the character does do Kung Fu in a show called Kung Fu, it’s not a stereotype anymore because we are reclaiming the portrayal of Asians. [These characters] are no longer here to just fulfill a stereotype and leave the scene, [they] are now fully fleshed out three dimensional characters with rich background and deep relationships with each other. When you get past the typical tropes and give [characters] a rich backstory, that’s when you break stereotypes.”

 

Speaking of reclaiming roles, I looked into the history of the show “Kung Fu” and don’t you think it’s crazy that the original version of the show in the 70’s starred a white actor, who also ended up playing Bill from “Kill Bill,” as a Shaolin monk?

“Yeah and that’s a layered and nuanced situation as well. Even I, as an Asian American actor, understand that that was not a direct attack against Asian people. At the time, it was a discussion of business and marketing and they wanted Bruce Lee and he got really close but they ultimately decided that the show wouldn’t succeed with him in the role. Would I have made the same decision if I were calling the shots? I sure hope not. But by looking back at the circumstances at the time, I can begin to understand. While they did what was best for the show back then, we have to learn from that and that is how we move forward.” 

 

I feel like the thing with all these false portrayals and racial appropriation in Hollywood is that they’re all a product of the times and a direct reflection of what society was like back then.

“Yeah it most certainly can. While you take the L on having a Caucasian actor playing a Chinese role, the silver lining was that the show was able to showcase all of the prominent Asian actors in the states. They were able to come in as recurring and guest star roles. It’s one of those things where you have to take the good with the bad. We all talk about the bad and we have to simply acknowledge it, learn from it and build off of that.” 

 

Earlier, you mentioned that there were Asian Americans males who helped pave the way for a new generation of Asian actors including yourself. Are there any particular stars that inspired you?

“I had this conversation with an acting buddy of mine, Reggie Lee. He is half Chinese and half Filipino and the roles he plays are oftentimes not bound by his own ethnicity, and that’s what I aspired to do as well. It’s been guys like him who have been chipping away at those barriers so that I can just poke through the wall.”

 

Also, I don’t think we can have a discussion about influential Asian Actors within the entertainment industry without mentioning the great Bruce Lee.

“Everyone knows about what Bruce Lee did for us, almost to the point that it’s a barrier in itself to be measured up only to him. And similar to what you see in business and corporations, anytime you see something that works, we try to duplicate and mass produce that formula of success. So Bruce Lee was such an icon and figure in so many ways that even decades later, we’re still trying to reproduce that juice. Then someone comes along like Jackie Chan, who kicks the way through the same genre, but does it so uniquely in his own way, in a time where everyone wanted to be like Bruce. His willingness to go in his own direction is very inspiring to me.”

 

Working in an industry like Hollywood, I’m sure you’ve had some crazy encounters with celebrities. Can you share some of those experiences?

“I’ve come across a couple of them at work or back when I was catering at events and it’s just cool to see these people being people. You hear all these stories on the internet about the divas and devos and the more eccentric people in big ol’ Hollywood but most of them are quite nice normal people and I feel like that sort of gets lost through the noise when you hear about them in the media.”

 

You also recently worked on that Netflix show “Never Have I Ever,” which was created by Mindy Kaling. Were you ever able to work with her?  

“My first day of work on ‘Never Have I Ever,’ I met Mindy Kaling. I had this pinch me kind of moment because it felt so surreal. We were standing in a huddle to figure out this scene and we were putting our heads together and trying to figure out the tone and style and drama of the scene, which [involved] my character’s girlfriend breaking up with me and how he was able to navigate that sad experience. But I was looked around in the huddle and was like ‘holy crap, I’m next to Mindy Kaling and these amazing people’ but I had to screw my head in straight and be like “no, I’m at work right now, I too have to contribute to this huddle just like everyone else.”

 

And going back to your experiences on Kung Fu, were there any encounters with your actors that stood out working on that show?

“I’ve also worked with Ty Ma and Kheng (Hua Tan), who are both such legends… in the industry, so it’s really cool to hear their stories and wisdom. I think one of the cool things about meeting people like them is you get to hear about what they’ve learned from past experiences. If they have the time to impart that on you, you listen.”

 

What’s the best piece of advice or wisdom that you’ve received working in the industry?

“That’s tough! I really can’t point to one single piece, because I’ve received advice on so many different topics over the years. If anything, it would probably be “absorb like a sponge”.. and it was Bruce Lee who had said ‘absorb what you can, use what is useful, and discard whatever doesn’t work for you.”

 

In recent years, there has been rumblings of an Asian renaissance in the entertainment industry, with many Asian-lead films, such as Minari, Crazy Rich Asians and Parasite receiving commercial success and critical acclaim. Do you have anything to comment about this phenomenon?

“I think it’s a sign that people have wanted to incorporate inclusion and diversity for a while now. It’s not a trend/parlor trick. If you talk about box office numbers, films with diverse casts make the most money. If that doesn’t motivate a studio to hire a more diverse cast, I don’t know what to tell you. But the reason for why people do it should be that [they] care about people and including voices. I can’t make all the suits who make the decisions legitimately care about representation but hopefully the dollar sign will speak to them. I just saw a great quote yesterday…. to paraphrase, it was something to the effect of ‘if you aim for justice and equity you will reach diversity but if you aim for diversity, you will reach tokenism’.”

 

Tokenism?

“It would be like checking the boxes for one [female], one Asian, one gay and one black person and [saying] that this is sufficient enough for diverse storytelling. That is how you get things like stereotypes because people will be like ‘ok, I had one Asian person say a line. Is that enough for you people?’ No it’s not, because we have to keep more seats open at the table.”

 

And this is the kind of practice that leads to things like stereotypes, right?

“Of course! Over time, if the Asian guy is only the sidekick or only the delivery boy or a masked ninja, and that’s the only way we represent Asian guys, how do you think that’s going to affect the psychology of the audiences over time? They will only think that that person is as valuable as a side character. But if we enrich the character with a full background and a full character arc, and deep meaningful relationships with those around them, we are now letting them know that everyone’s story matters. It allows us to treat people in the real world with humanity, dignity and respect. Sometimes, [films and shows] can be [more than] just entertainment. It [can] penetrate deep into the root of how we function as a society and how we treat people, and that matters.”

 

Did you hear about the Asian massage parlor shootings in Atlanta?

“Yeah, [the cast of Kung Fu and I] had to do a whole press conference the day after it happened.”

 

Apparently one of the rationales that the shooter’s defense came up with for his murders was that it was a result of his sex addition. If that were the case, I think that he might’ve had a warped perception of Asian women as a result of their hypersexualized portrayal in the media. Just thinking about it made me realize just how important it is for people to be represented in a proper way. People will start getting the wrong impression of others and this can result in all sorts of atrocities like the one that was committed back in March. 

“You are so spot on. You can’t look at that one incident without looking at the history of what the US government has done systematically to Asian people in this country all the way through how Hollywood has depicted it. You can look at the laws that were passed to keep Asians from obtaining certain kinds of jobs, which is why there are so many laundromats and dry cleaners and nail salons. Many of these people came with professional degrees from overseas, but were not allowed to practice their fields in this country so they were relegated to dry cleaning and laundromat businesses. A side effect of this is the emasculation of Asian men because [traditionally], all you see is Asian men cooking your food, doing your laundry and owning your nail shops. You don’t see them in traditionally masculine roles or jobs. So imagine what that does over time to the perception of Asians over time. You can also look at the imperialism of the west in the Far East and the way Vietnamese women were treated there [during the Vietnam War], especially by our own military. So there was a compounding effect to all of that. Fast forward to March, when one guy, with a bunch of his guns, drives through three different towns specifically to Asian parlors/businesses when he could have easily driven to any other black owned or white owned businesses. You can’t ignore the factors that go into it and that’s [something] that the news cycle of your media doesn’t have enough time to get into, so it’s our responsibility to speak up and point that out.” 

 

The only way to shatter these stereotypes is through the entertainment industry because it’s you guys that are creating these movies and shows to show everyone that there’s more to an Asian person than just some stereotypes, and that’s why I feel like what you’re doing is so powerful.

“Oh course. While I get to have such a fun time in my job doing what I do, especially with my coworkers and cast, we take our responsibility seriously. We don’t take the effect that this could have, especially on young people watching the show lightly. We know that messages within our show can have a ripple effect and there is definitely a responsibility that comes with that.”

 

What kinds of projects would you like to pursue down the line?

“One of my favorite shows in the last couple of years was Ted Lasso, and what I love about a show like that is that it’s about human connection on a small scale, even though the premise of it is very large. It’s about an English team in the Premier League which, to some people, may seem like the largest stages imaginable but ultimately, it’s about intimate human connections and how one person stays optimistic through the toughest of circumstances and changes people’s hearts and minds. Watching the show is like getting a warm hug. I love things that carry humor and heart. I’m also a fan of Taika Waititi. I love his style because it doesn’t take itself too seriously but when it does, the message is clear.”  

 

Yeah, take a movie like ‘Jojo Rabbit,’ for example, which is not only directed by him, but also features Waiti, who is a Jewish-Polynesian man, as Adolf Hitler of all people. It’s this massive satire about the blind fanaticism that people were consumed by under the Nazi regime and towards the end it shifts its focus to the trumph of the human spirit over these injustices.

“Absolutely! He is still able to humanize some of these people, even though they serve one of the most horrible entities in human history and that’s what storytelling is all about, it’s about bringing out the humanity in anyone. And if you can do that In a movie like Jojo Rabbit, you’ve succeeded for sure.” 

 

To wrap things up, what drives you to continue to pursue acting?

“I know that our medium is a tool for so much good and I want to bring out the potential in that by changing people’s minds and showing that while these characters may look different from you, they have just as much humanity and heart as you do. I’m not the type of person to say ‘we’re all of the human race’ because doing so overlooks so much. That to me is the same as saying ‘I don’t see color’. We are of different colors and we are of different backgrounds. Let’s celebrate them.”🔳