Interview With Actor Curtis Lum

By Ruth on September 16, 2017 in Interview, movie, television
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When I am asked how I “discover” certain actors and industry professionals, the best response I can give is that it sometimes happens almost by “accident.” Of course, as a woman of faith, I don’t put credence in that philosophy; God has ordained every step I take, and I will firmly stand on that conviction until the day I die. Therefore, in the case of Curtis Lum, my best recollection is that his updates appeared in one of my social media feeds, and once I realized how many of his works I recognized, I jumped at the chance to request an interview with him to which he quickly responded in the affirmative. And I do believe the hand of God destined this meeting, and if you read this interview, you may tend to agree.

Photo by Derek Atchison

RH: Curtis, it’s so nice to chat with you today.

CL: My pleasure, Ruth, thank you for reaching out.

You have been in so many things I’ve seen and recognize, so I’m glad I happened to notice you. You’ve been in a lot of projects in Vancouver and even some Hallmark stuff. While I enjoy contacting the leads, my preferred focus seems to be the supporting cast. 

That’s really cool that you do that.

I also notice you and Jaime Callica are friends. 

Jaime and I have both made a name for ourselves here in Vancouver by being hosts and party guys before getting into acting. Ten years ago, I started one of the most popular music/party nights, and to this day, it is still one of the longest-running nights in Vancouver history. It was through that I met a lot of people like Jaime.

So how did you make the decision to become an actor?

I’ve been very fortunate in that all the jobs that I took after high school inevitably led me to acting. I always joke about this, but it’s very much true that I got it from my from my dad. I actually grew up in the restaurant business, so I’m like a third generation restaurateur. I have a little cafe restaurant as a matter of fact. I grew up working at my dad’s restaurant, and he always told me that every time we opened the door to a customer, it’s like a performance. As soon as the doors open, the lights are on and you gotta perform for all the customers that come in. They don’t care about you or how bad of a day you’ve had or all your struggles. They just want to be entertained, and they want to get food. That really resonated with me. While working there, I met a bunch of different actors. My mom was friends with the Vancouver actor Blu Mankuma, and he told me that I should be an actor. Entertaining has always been in my blood. When I was growing up, I thought I was going to be a pop star because I loved to sing and dance. I loved entertaining people and acting felt like it was inevitable for me. I figured I was already doing this anyway. I felt like I was putting on a show every night so I might as well get paid real money for it.

What kind of training have you had for acting?

While I haven’t taken any university courses or practicums, I have trained with a few different schools. Mainly, it’s been local studios. I would say my mentor and main acting teacher is Deb Podowski. I walked into her studio about eight years ago, and she’s stuck with me ever since. To this day she has been my rock as far as helping me out and getting me where I need to go.

I have only ever heard good things about Deb. I’ve chatted with many of her students. I certainly appreciate your story. I know some people take a university course of study and go that path, and some go the way you’re doing it. I don’t think there’s one right path to get there. Everyone has their own unique path.

That’s what I actually like about the business. There really is no right or wrong way to get there. We’re really fortunate that one of our abilities is to turn all of our own life experiences into these stories and characters. We get to tell these stories and relive these exciting situations. For me, the school of life has always been my number one teacher.  I’m a very observant person and I’m able to sit in moments and soak it all up for all that it is. I think that is invaluable.

I think as long as you’re getting some kind of training somewhere, how you decide to go about it and whatever works for you is the way to do it. What you’re doing seems to be working really well for you. I think most actors today are pretty content being working actors just like you are. 

I agree one hundred percent. And really, my current success has only recently happened. I want to say like last year in April was the big moment in my life where I’ll never forget this. Like I said, I had grown up in the restaurant business my whole life. I’ve always been juggling several different jobs while trying to pursue an acting career. It got to the point where I felt that I was on the edge and something happened at work one day. Something switched in me, and I said I just couldn’t do it anymore. I had like twenty-seven dollars to my name and it was the worst time possible to quit, but I just said, “You know what? I’m gonna believe in myself and trust the universe.”  As cliche as that sounds, it was from that moment after I had jumped off that ledge that I was able to figure out my wings and start flying. And from that point on, I haven’t looked back. Just like you said, I have been a working actor since then. I think I’m living proof that if you just focus on what you want to do and do what you love, eventually the universe conforms in a way and allows you to do it.

I love how you take an interest in the supporting cast because at the end of the day, some of these actors will become leading men and women, and you can say that you were one of the first people to interview them and go back into your archives and pull those interviews out.

Well, fingers crossed I get to do that with you one day, Curtis. Nothing is more rewarding than seeing the careers of these actors I have interviewed finally get that break they have been waiting for. Those are the success stories that remind me of why I do what I do.

Well, I think you have great intuition because I’ll tell you that the day you reached out to my agent was the day I got my first real big break. I mean, I’ve been working for awhile now. I have many credits. But I would like to consider this project as the first project where I actually get to spread my wings a little bit. I only recently closed the deal, so it’s been really amazing and busy lately. The timing of your reaching out was just perfect.

That is amazing! I’m so happy for you and so glad it’s working out. Congratulations on that. {pause} Now before we discuss the current stuff, what was your first professional role in the business?

Well, before we get to the role, let me tell you about the first scene I have ever shot professionally, as in, I got paid to act. It was actually a sex scene for a show called Renegade Press, and we shot it in Regina, kind of in the interior of Canada. I played this character called Connor Ying, and for whatever reason, even though the show was in its final season, they decided they wanted to cast an Asian. I booked it and quite randomly it seemed like my character became the sex interest of one of the bad girls. So my second day there, I found out I had to go to camera, and I was just freaking out. I had only found out I booked it like a week before. And then on top of that, they were like, “Oh, by the way, there’s a sex scene.” I remember I had this big eating time with my family with a lot of fatty food, and I immediately put my chopsticks down and said, “I can’t, guys.” They were like, “What’s wrong with you?” I was like, “I booked a gig, and apparently, I have to be naked like in five days.” So that was really interesting. It was a heck of a way to just dive right in and get started. It was on maximum ten as far as discomfort level.

I don’t think I’ve ever interviewed anyone where that was their first scene ever that they had to film.

Yeah, and to top that off, I think I was nineteen or twenty years old at the time. The actress I had the scene with was sixteen, so her mother had to be on set. So not only were we trying to create this sexy moment but in between, your cinematographer is fixing things. There’s a boom mic right above us. So you’re already uncomfortable, but on the other side of it is the girl’s mother watching everything you’re doing. {laughs}

Well, I guess that proved right off the bat that you could do anything in front of the camera.

Yeah, it forced me to get comfortable with anything. They put you in what’s called a dancer belt when you do a scene like that.  I was Magic Mike before Magic Mike! {laughs} Becoming an actor was a big deal for me. I did have a bit of the stereotypical Asian hardship of trying to prove specifically to my dad that this is something that was worthwhile doing.  When I started taking acting classes and all of that, I didn’t even tell my parents. I knew they would give me the speech about getting real and finding a more realistic profession. So I secretly took acting classes for about six to eight months. Then I booked this, and still, they were like, “Okay, that’s cute. You got a little role.” I’ll never forget the day that show first came on TV. I was serving at my family’s restaurant and the show actually came on TV while I was working. Just to see the face of my dad and all the customers and staff and to see that it was an actual, real thing. You know, it was a feeling that you can’t really put a price on. It’s one of those moments where everything made sense and it was a testament to exactly what I wanted to keep on doing, I wanted to keep on entertaining and keep on proving not that people are wrong, but just proving to them that I can do it.

Well, I would say you’re definitely doing that. Your credits are impressive, and you’ve been on some very well-known shows. I noticed you were on Supernatural, and in many ways, that show almost seems to be a Vancouver rite of passage. It seems like either everybody has already been on the show or they want to be on the show. 

Absolutely. The running joke is that Supernatural is almost like this elitist club that everyone wants to be a part of.  And if you’re really cool, they bring you back for more than one episode.

I also noticed you were on Arrow.

Yes, and I’m a recurring character on Supergirl now.

Oh wow, that’s really cool! That’s a massive show.

Curtis Lum as Henry Kishida on Season 5 of Prison Break

The most publicity I got for a show was on Prison Break.

Oh, I’m well aware of that show. One of my favorite little actors was on that show, Christian Michael Cooper.  He played the main character’s son. I didn’t watch the original Prison Break, but I sure watched that one and really enjoyed it. So how many episodes were you on?

I think I was on four episodes. I had auditioned a couple of times for that show. This one came up, and just like how it sometimes happens, the auditions you don’t think too much about or believe in yourself about–you know the ones where you go, “Oh man, I would never get this.” It is those that I often seem to get. Then the ones where I think, “Oh, I”m perfect for this,” I often don’t even get a callback for those ones. With the audition for Prison Break, I think that was my third audition for the day. When I first saw the role, it was listed that the character was supposed to be in his thirties..mid-thirties, NSA, the state department of defense…and I was kinda like, “That’s not me at all.” I feel like I look like I’m seventeen. I wasn’t sure how it was going to work, but I went in and got the part.

That show was really a great learning experience because they never really told me what was going on. I mean I got the scripts, but I had no idea what my character arc was.  When I first booked it, I thought it was going to be for just the one episode, and then I found out they were gonna bring me back and my character would have a part in some of the plots of the show.  So it taught me that you really had to know your stuff, but be ready to discard it at any moment and be fluid. I was going on a day-to-day basis where they were constantly changing things up. Even after the fact, after we shot it, there were a lot of ADR rewrites. It was a very interesting experience because even though it was this huge show and I had a pretty good part,  I didn’t feel like I got a chance to flex any true kind of acting muscle. More than anything, I was just trying to keep up. I think they deliberately kept me in the dark so my character didn’t know. But as an actor, the more you know about your character and your story, the better we can try and convey the truth. But being a part of this show is what really helped me kick things into another gear. I got an LA agent, and publicists were very interested in me after that.

Curtis Lum as Agent Demos on Supergirl

So with Supergirl, are you allowed to say whether we’ll see you in season three?

All I can say is watch the show and find out. With recurring roles like that, you never know if you’re going to be called upon and then all of a sudden you get the call and they need you right away. And as Deb taught me, you always have to be ready so that you don’t have to get ready.

Let’s talk about your Hallmark works. I realize your parts have been smaller, but you’ve done a few things with the network. I believe you were in a couple of the Signed, Sealed, Delivered movies.

Yes, I just shot another of those recently.

Oh, the Postables are going to love hearing about that.

My first experience with Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I had no idea what the show was all about. I knew it was a show on Hallmark, and I was excited that they wanted an Asian person on the show. But in the most recent one I did, it was amazing. The director and executive producer, Kevin Fair–I got a chance to see why everyone speaks so highly of him. I haven’t met a person that hasn’t spoken of him in glowing terms because he’s a really great guy. I think I am in Signed, Sealed, Delivered number eight. I play a really funny hotel desk clerk. And that’s about all I can divulge. It was a lot of fun shooting it, and I think my role turned out pretty funny.

Well, we will keep our eyes open for you then.

Anyway, I’m not one hundred percent sure if I’m in number eight or nine–not certain of the chronology–but I’ll be in one of them. And just for fun, it’s interesting to note that as we were chatting about Signed, Sealed, Delivered, Crystal Lowe just walked by me.

Wow! That’s cool. {pause} Now you mentioned that you booked something really big recently. Are you able to tell us anything about it?

Well, I can’t say much, but it is a new drama series and it’s coming to Freeform next year. It’s called Siren. There’s a trailer out for the pilot if you want to check it out. It’s an all original show, and it’s about mermaids, which I think is going to be a really exciting tale to tell. We have our own fresh take on the mermaids or “sirens.” I play a character called Calvin, and myself and my shipmates are the first people to catch the first mermaid. When you catch something as precious as that and it’s something that a lot of people in that town have been looking for, there’s an immense struggle to keep that catch. It takes place in a made-up town, but it takes place somewhere coastal and kind of near Washington state.

That makes sense as I know a lot of things that get shot in Vancouver often are supposed to look like they take place in Washington state. 

If you watch the trailer, you see the mermaid comes across some clothes she steals, and it’s a Washington Huskies sweatshirt.

Well, I think I’ve heard a little bit about the show, so I’ll keep my eyes open for it because it sounds intriguing and completely different from anything out there right now.

To be honest, I think this show is in a class by itself. Not only is it different from anything on Freeform, but it’s different from anything else on TV right now. I think it’s a great dark take on such a light, cute, majestic concept. When you think “mermaid,” you think The Little Mermaid and Disney and these beautiful women. But the acting is so great on there, and everyone plays it so real and grounded. As cheesy as you think it would be, it really isn’t. It’s just beautifully shot, really enticing and exciting. I know Freeform is typically a channel for preteens and lighter fare for teens, but this is a show that I would have no problem telling people that I watch.

Well, I think Freeform has changed their branding because they used to be ABC Family, and it was different then. But with the change to Freeform, they are putting a lot of stuff out there that is appealing to more than just kids. 

Yeah, they’ve got Beyond and Pretty Little Liars. They have Misfits coming out. So I think this is the perfect addition to that family.

Is your character recurring on the show?

Yes, I’m a recurring guest star. I’m like a supporting role. Hopefully, I’ll pop up several times, but you’ll have to watch to find out. It will be premiering in 2018.

David Harewood, Chyler Leigh, Melissa Benoist, Curtis Lum, and Chris Wood in Supergirl (2015)

So in addition to Siren and Signed, Sealed, Delivered, is there anything else upcoming that you can tell us about?

I think once Prison Break and Supergirl season two come out on Netflix {if they haven’t already}, people can have the opportunity to see some of my recent work.  I’ve been working with my friends on some indie projects here and there. Those will be doing the film festival circuit, but those are probably films that most people wouldn’t see anytime soon. I’m also in this movie called Meditation Park with Sandra Oh. That should be coming out relatively soon as well, and thankfully it seems like people are going to be able to actually see it. It’s directed by Mina Shum, who is one of the leading….not even just female directors, but one of the leading up-and-coming directors out of Vancouver and Canada. The reason I love this film so much is that it’s a true story based on real Vancouver experiences. People who are from Vancouver, if they watch that movie, they will understand it. It’s an all-Asian cast, and it’s such an interesting story that is so true to Vancouver, especially for Asians.

I really don’t get it. It seems like even though things are changing, Asians tend to be ones in the industry who still struggle to get roles. It seems to be an overlooked ethnic group. It’s really nice to see you getting these roles. 

I think my trajectory has been a really great reflection of how the times have been changing. Really only in the last two years have I started to see bigger opportunities and better roles for Asians. Interestingly enough, this show Siren is predominantly black as far as race goes as well as some Asians. So I say “kudos” to Freeform for casting a more racially diverse cast.

It seems to me that when most people talk about diversity and minorities, they think about blacks and maybe Hispanics, and while I am so grateful to see networks featuring these groups, sometimes Asians are forgotten. I’m glad to see that situation rectified slowly but surely. In fact, I have even spoken to my daughter about this issue, and when we watched the most recent Spiderman film, she said afterward, “I noticed that his friend was Asian.” I was proud of her.

Yes, good for her. For me, it’s not even about equality–I’m not gonna go out and preach that. For me, it’s about real life. You go to any city on the West Coast and the East Coast and notice the diversity. Even right now where I am in my peripheral, it’s like eighty percent Asian with some Spanish and black and white. And that’s real life.

I couldn’t agree more. It’s nice to see this shift occurring and being more reflective of the society we have. We are not a society with just white people. Now I admit that I don’t always sit there and analyze the racial make-up of the shows. I think about the talent and not always their race. But I like seeing someone cast who is just a little bit different from who we might have seen cast twenty years ago. 

I have noticed that even with Signed, Sealed, Delivered. Crystal Lowe has a lead in that. And I see a bunch of other minorities in that show as well. And I think that’s a huge change and step in the right direction. While I know changes take time, it is happening.

I also work in casting, so I see a huge influx of a new wave of Asian talent who are considerably younger than when I first started…thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, all the way up to twenty, and they’re all super-talented. I talk about this with some of my contemporaries how a lot of these kids will never see the struggles that we had to go through in order to get where we are today because platforms are already there. I also think it’s a much more welcomed profession in terms of Asian culture. It’s great, but it’s also scary because one day these kids are gonna take my job from me. {laughs}But it’s nice to know that this is a celebrated thing now.

And what I love, Curtis is your positive outlook about everything. You’re not bitter or jaded in any way.

I am a strong believer in the fact that a positive outlook is the only outlook one you can have. Sure, there should be a balance. Acknowledge the feelings and all that, but at the end of the day, you can’t close yourself off. You have to keep moving forward. Growing up, I was a huge fan of basketball, and my favorite player was Kobe {Bryant}. He used to get ridiculed for it, but his mentality was, “If you don’t shoot, you can’t score.” And “Instead of dwelling on a missed shot, you’ve got to keep shooting for more.” The amount of rejection I’ve faced over these past two years…yes, I’ve been successful, but compared to the amount of opportunities and times that I’ve come second and third for these big parts…if I were to choose to be upset about it or dwell on these things, I never would have had the chance to be where I’m at today.

Exactly. I agree with you completely. 

It seems like this industry I’m in–it seems so much glamorous on the other side.

Absolutely. One of the things I strive to do is always show my readers that these actors they love and follow are just normal people who act for a living. And I think I’ve been successful in helping my readers see that. 

You know, in these days of social media, there are a lot of things we do to perpetuate the idea that actors live glamorous, crazy lives. The one thing we get to do this in this industry that kind of sets us apart is that we get to use all of these struggles and experiences–whether good or bad–we get to use them as tools for our craft. Yes, there are many versions of that in any career, but ours is much more specific, especially when it comes to emotional struggles. That is something I try to remind my friends and myself of. No matter how bad the situation is, I can use this. I’m able to pull from this whatever and whenever I need to.

Curtis, I thank you so much for sharing deeply of yourself with my readers and me today. I feel like I’ve learned so much about you. 

Ruth, it has been a pleasure to chat with you. Thank you so much for reaching out.

While many might not have recognized Curtis at the inception of this interview, I would venture to say that now a preponderance of my readers has made some connection with one of his many roles. While his career has bequeathed him with an impressive list of credits, as he stated, it is only currently that he is beginning to have unparalleled success. While the Postables (and other Hallmark fans) may applaud his roles in every Hallmark credit listed, it is his upcoming role in Siren that is likely to have the opportunity of securing his place amongst the stars.

However, Curtis is not one who seeks glory for himself, nor attempts to inflate his self-worth and self-importance. Instead, Curtis is one who is committed to the work at hand and he aims to make a success of this career which he has unequivocally chosen. His talent and drive are unquestioned, and his “blue-collar” mindset ensures that he is grounded and integritous. Furthermore, he takes every occasion to learn, whether from his mentors, with teachers at the local studio, or on set with legends of the business. 

I think one of the things I most appreciate about Curtis is that he has not permitted his difficulties to embitter him towards the business nor against those he labors alongside. Though he may have been overlooked for roles due to his ethnicity or a hundred other reasons throughout his career, Curtis has maintained his benevolent spirit, positive outlook, and jovial disposition. He will never utter a cruel word against anyone nor even wish ill on a person who has received more accolades than he, deserved or not. While he welcomes the praise for a job well done, it is never expected on his end. Moreover, he sustains a teachable spirit that makes him a crew and cast member’s dream in every project to which he is attached.

Therefore, I invite all my readers to check out Curtis’ links below and follow him where applicable. While 2018 may be the year in which he begins to attain the rank of “superstar,” I have no doubt that no matter what comes his way, he shall always and forever be the Asian boy who took a risk in spite of his circumstances, and he is now making his dreams come true. And I am merely honored to know someone as kind and as talented as he!

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About the Author

RuthView all posts by Ruth
43-year-old single mother of an active 14-year-old girl Born in Tacoma, WA; lives in Yelm, WA Entertainment Writer Available For Interviews and Reviews Substitute Teacher

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