Leading actor Alex Chang, who stars in the new hit TV drama series “Pao,” chats life on the international stage, making movies and his passion for TV comedy.
Thank you for taking time to speak with us today. Congratulations on all your incredible successes. You were born in Great Britain. Can you tell us a little about life as an actor there?
Thank you for having me. You’re very kind. The U.K. is a wonderful place to find success as an actor – I personally feel that the proficiency and sheer standard of professional actor training here in this country is among the best in the world, and the theatre scene is unrivalled. Broadway is Broadway, and it’s an immense scene, but there is a certain charm and magic to the work that is produced on stage in the West End that is different – which is exciting. I also have to mention there are great theatres up and down the country from the Curve Theatre in Leicester, to Bristol Old Vic, so life as an actor is never boring!
I’ve been very busy as an actor in London so naturally the projects coming up in the U.S.A are of a great attraction to me – especially screen work. I’ve been fortunate enough to have been working very consistently which is hard to maintain in this industry, but I have a wonderful support network of representation, friends and allies – and it helps to believe you can truly live this life and have what it takes.
You star in the TV period drama “Pao” is set in post WWII, based on the award-winning novel by Kerry Young. Can you tell us about the story?
I can indeed. It tells the story of Pao, a Chinese immigrant to Jamaica who, after taking over his mentor’s organized crime syndicate and struggling for decades to achieve and maintain a position of status, comes to realize that there are other forms of status that are more important. As Pao comes to a place of redemption for his career-long personal and professional misdemeanors, he starts to realize the balance between his chosen life of inheritance and the life he wants to lead is a rather difficult one to manage.
The narrative also explores themes related to the nature of oppression, family and the relationship between the inner and outer life. It’s set in Jamaica where there was, and still is, a very big Chinese-Jamaican community. It’s exhilarating and, I believe, it’s a show people will watch because of how titanic the story is and because of the fantastic artists and creatives we have on board. There are a variety of tremendous characters that bring the story to life, not least of all, the dynamic relationship between Pao and his brother Xiuquan.
You play Pao’s brother, Xiuquan. Can you explain your character, and any challenges you experienced?
Xiuquan is complex. The type of character that will resonate with an audience because he is frustrating and petulant, but you feel for him and the situation he finds himself in. Unlike his brother, Pao, he never wanted to leave China, least of all to a strange land in Jamaica. Even though there is a strong Chinese community, he doesn’t feel like he belongs, and is unwilling to adapt to the new culture around him. He especially doesn’t want to get caught up in the crime element that Zhang is grooming Pao to take over. That puts the two brothers in conflicting situations with regards to their relationship. Those scenes are electric and an actor’s dream to play.
In terms of challenges it was enjoyably challenging to play out the scenes with Pao and testing the dynamics of the two brothers’ relationship. It can be testing as an actor when emotional memory plays a part in the process, but ultimately, I think we were happy with the results.
Like so many British actors, you started your career on the London stage. Do you approach theatre acting differently to that of Television and Film?
Good question! I never used to, but over the years, I’ve learned that I personally have to. The main difference is that with theatre we have typically, a four-week rehearsal process where we collaboratively work together as cast and creatives to find the answers and performances that we want. Film and television is a different beast as it’s unlikely you get much rehearsal time at all. As an actor, script work and character work is so important to prepare before shooting commences. It also does depend on the director and how much time we have for the shoot turnaround.
There’s a very different presence that you must have on camera that if you did what you did on stage in front of a camera, it will more often than not look a bit silly! The main thing is relaxation – do the work outside the room and trust that it will come out.
As a professional actor, you have to be adaptable and meet the needs and requirements of whoever you’re working with, which in the real world, can seem nervy as there’s no real routine. As an artist, I love that. It breeds spontaneity and excitement whether that be on stage or on set.
In the recent stage production of Roald Dahl’s “The Twits” you starred as the lead Muggle-Wump. Can you tell us about that production and its international tour?
Certainly. Over the last six months, we have toured to a variety of wonderful international venues. The best was certainly Hong Kong at The Lyric Theatre. Such a great theatre and wonderful audience. I think over 6000 audience members came to see us, over the course of the three days. Fantastic numbers.
‘The Twits’ is a book by Roald Dahl adapted for stage by David Wood in which I am playing the lead boy Muggle-Wump in the family of monkeys that get caught by Mr. and Mrs. Twit.
It’s an exciting production, one which has stretched me over the last six months, as a performer, as I’ve had to use all the skills I possess in my actors’ toolkit to the fullest efficiency. We’ve had such a fantastic run, selling out everywhere that we’ve gone. The production is in conjunction with the centenary of Roald Dahl and celebrating 100 years of this great children’s writer. Working with the director (Max Webster) was also a huge draw for me as I’ve been an admirer of his work for a while.
You recently starred in the hit TV comedy “Pete and Whitely.” Can you tell us about the show?
What a hilarious and great show to be part of! It’s pretty much a satirical look at behind-the-counter life in a Chinese Takeaway. I play the lead, Pete Kapow, the sarcastic, impatient, anime-loving takeaway owner and he was a delight to play because of the script and the way he comes across.
Comedy is something I have a huge thing for because I think it’s a real skill to get timing on point and to find the comedy in lines. It’s why I don’t envy stand-up comics, and why I admire their work so much. Performers like Bo Burnham and Kevin Hart are truly hysterical and have great presence on stage.
When you aren’t on stage, making movies or TV shows, what do you enjoy to do to relax?
Well, I like watching theatre! A lot of my friends are in shows most of the time so I try and go to support them when I can. There’s this age-old pretense that supporting another’s career somehow hinders your own. Complete myth. We’re artists and we learn from others because this industry is collaborative and we need each other.
I’m also a musician so I love my guitar, and I very much enjoy my “me” time with music or at the gym. I’m also a big football (soccer) fan and follow the NBA pretty religiously too.
What’s next for you?
Finishing up on “The Twits” at the world famous Rose Theatre in Kingston, which is exciting, and I have a couple movies set for production in the summer. I can’t say anything yet though so stay tuned!