Interview With Actor Nelson Wong

By Ruth on January 1, 2018 in Interview, movie, television
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In addition to considering myself a champion of the supporting cast of the films and shows I regularly watch, I also do appreciate and value diversity within the film and television industry. While I may not voice my concerns publicly about the traditional lack of diversity within the industry, I regard this issue as one amongst a whole host of others that are vital to the ongoing success of this business. For whatever reason, I tend to have a heart for Asians within the industry who have exceptional talent and deserve to be recognized. In the case of Nelson Wong, I have noticed his work for several years now, so reaching out and asking him a few questions about his career is an action that matches perfectly not only with my own beliefs and value system, but certainly with the Hallmark network as well. Although the Christmas movies are past, I am honored to be able to share the career and thoughts of this astounding actor and benevolent human being.

Photo by Odyssey Media © Odyssey Media

RH: Why did you decide to become an actor? 

 NW: I always felt like an oddball being the youngest and only boy (I have two older sisters) in an immigrant family in New Zealand. I had a hard time relating to my family and the world around me due to cultural differences, and I got bullied at school initially for being Asian and different. The people I related to the most were on TV–folks like John Ritter, Don Knotts, Gil Gerard, and Adam West. They showed me a world where people were allowed to be different, clever, and funny, and I would steal and adapt their mannerisms and humour to feel more comfortable. Then I started acting up in school to get the kind of attention I could control to make people laugh and entertain them.  After surviving that and other stages in life, I’ve really come to believe that we’re more similar than different. So it’s become my actor’s mission to prove that we can all be different people given the right circumstances. As an actor, I’m trying to understand and portray as many different experiences as I can.

Photo by Chara Beck

What was your earliest professional role and what are your memories of working on it?

I played a hockey goalie in a movie about a hockey-playing chimpanzee. I didn’t have any lines, but it was my first pro gig. I remember the actors and the director were hilarious, but the best part was getting to meet the monkey. Before we shot our scene, the monkey had to see who I was beneath my equipment and then the trainer had us hug it out. Hugging a hockey-playing chimpanzee on my first acting job really let me know I was doing something out of the box!

My first exposure to your work was as a part of the Donald Strachey films (Sebastian’s Spence is a good friend of mine.) How did you get involved with that series and what are your memories of working on those films?

with Chad Allen
Donald Strachey films

I love those movies and love him! Those were my first real acting jobs with a sizeable role. Ron Oliver, the director, and I were great friends before the series and he created the part of Kenny Kwon which evolved into Donald Strachey’s budding detective/sidekick as the series went on. Pretty much everyone on set, but especially Chad Allen, Ron and Sebastian, mentored me. It was like the best film school an actor could practically learn in. They were all so welcoming and so insightful.  We were all so happy making those movies; they seemed to really have a purpose in portraying a loving, loyal, and fun husband and husband duo. They were romantic, tasteful, and filled with suspense and mystery. I’m so glad you caught them!

with Ron Oliver

I believe your first Hallmark film was The Wedding Planner Mystery. How did that role come about?

 Actually, it was a small part in The Music Teacher. Ron brought me on board once again as Kenny Kwon. Kenny’s survived beyond the Donald Strachey mysteries and finds himself in various Ron Oliver movies shot in Vancouver BC.  He’s peppered in whenever Ron and I can work together. I think we’re up to twenty-four movies now. In The Music Teacher, I played the assistant to Shawn Roberts’s character who was a Hollywood action star (not far from the truth at all!). Shawn and I had worked together on the second Strachey film (Shock to the System), and eventually worked together again when he played the TV chef on Hallmark’s Recipe For Love, where this time Kenny was the long-suffering director of the chef-diva’s cooking show. It sounds like a lot of nepotism, I know, but I still have to audition and do the work. There are many creative decisions in the process to make sure the chemistry is right for what Hallmark audiences want to see. I’m very grateful for every opportunity I get to be part of the Hallmark family and it’s great to make these stories with my film family.

With Paul Greene and Danica McKellar

Since that time, you have been involved in several Hallmark productions. What do you like about working for this network?

 With Hallmark, you know you are getting characters who are trying their best and are caught up in difficult but many times funny situations. I think we can all relate to doing our best and getting tied up in things. I always remind myself in life that if I looked at my problems in a different context, my life could be a comedy. Hallmark reminds us to laugh, trust in the values of honesty, love, and joy, and see the magic in life.

with Candace Cameron Bure

The Hallmark fans are always super positive and supportive. I really enjoy hearing from them and getting their feedback!  And getting to work with the leading cast is always a treat! The success of the network is no small feat. I’m really happy they are busy making movies that are relatable, entertaining and that my entire family can enjoy.

 This year, Hallmark audiences have seen you in: Like Cats and Dogs and The Christmas Train. Any special behind-the-scenes moments you can share from those?

Like Cats and Dogs

We make those movies so quickly it’s hard to remember anything other than having a lovely time! Working with Mr. Oliver is always a pleasure; we get to extend our friendship to the set and it takes the pressure off and he keeps it moving and fun and inspiring with his energy, quips, and his musical playlists between setups. It’s always a relief when your leading cast is generous and patient through the process of acting together and forming relationships.

 Cassidy Gifford on Like Cats and Dogs was absolutely wonderful and engaging. There’s something about the best lead actors who make you feel like the only person on the planet when they engage with you, and Cassidy had such a joyful curiosity and interest about her. Then when I saw her on camera I was just astounded at how natural and bold her presence is. I really enjoyed working with her.

The Christmas Train

Getting to work with the leading cast of The Christmas Train was an absolute delight! Dermot Mulroney was, for me, the head of the acting train! He knows the process so well and helped keep us on point and moving. He’s a musician so I think it’s just like jazz to him. He even played O Canada on the cello for us in between setups in the wedding scene.  Both Kimberly Williams-Paisley and Dermot brought such poise and enthusiasm to all of our work; they really lead the way for the ensemble. Joan {Cusack} was a delight and seemed so inspired by everything around her; it’s impossible to not get caught up in her inventive energy. I didn’t have a lot of scenes with her but getting to play around the tree with her and the children extras still bring a smile to my face!   And to have Danny Glover’s warm-heartedness and that velvet voice…he was like this magnetic and reassuring rock of a presence. Working with the entire ensemble was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had making a movie.

 You have also appeared on Riverdale. What have you enjoyed about being on that show?

It was so exciting to be on a show that everyone’s been watching! I was in the first season before anyone had seen it and got to return in the second season after it had become a hit and it was great to see how much the cast and crew gelled and were enjoying their success. The entire cast and crew are so welcoming, I’m really lucky to get to join in the fun with them!

Any other upcoming roles you can mention?

I got to work with Asian-Canadian writer/director Mina Shum on her latest collaboration with Sandra Oh in 2017’s Meditation Park. It’s a family drama set in Vancouver about the challenges a senior couple (played lovingly by Cheng Pei Pei and Tzi Ma) and their family face when infidelity is suspected. I think it’s available online at Cineplex. I loved working with Mina and the cast and crew and am really excited to be in a film with such resonance that portrays seniors with full, complex lives. And you can also see me in a recurring role on the first season of The Good Doctor. I am also in the upcoming Winterfest film, Winter’s Dream.

Winter’s Dream

Winter’s Dream

As an Asian in the industry, have you experienced racial prejudice? How have you dealt with it and how do you see that changing?

 When I first started out, and I was looking for an agent, almost every time I’d be asked if I did Kung Fu or could speak with any Asian accents or if I did stunts. The expectation was that if you look like this that you’d have to play immigrants and gangsters or ninjas. There was already so much of that and it wasn’t why I wanted to become an actor. I wanted to play more relatable people not just stereotypes. Things have gotten way better, but there’s still a ways to go in having Asian actors play multi-faceted, relatable humans. I try not to get upset by what seems to be limitations, but rather try to get inspired by what hasn’t yet been seen.

 

Photo by Chara Beck

Ironically one of the biggest racist obstacles I had to face was my own internalized racism when it finally came time for me to play an early immigrant story for the movie They Wait. I mistakenly saw the Chinese accent as “broken English” rather than just the way one language relates to another. I got coached by actor Rick Tae and had to confront my biases. It was a humbling eye-opener.

Do you have any plans to do some writing or directing of your own?

No plans as of yet, but I have a great mentor in Ron Oliver!

You have worked very closely with Ron Oliver on many of his productions throughout the years. What do you appreciate and enjoy most about him as a person and a director?

with Ron Oliver

Acting in TV and film is already such a great job, but to also get to work with and spend time with one of my closest friends is incredible. His gracefulness in leadership and his great energy keep the entire cast and crew loose, inspired, and focused. His vast knowledge and passion for storytelling and film reassure any insecurities I may have and lets me know I’m taken care of. After twenty-four movies, we’ve developed a great short-hand and getting to hang out while he works has definitely developed my film-sense.

How do you celebrate the holidays? Any special traditions?

My background is Jehovah’s Witness, so I didn’t celebrate Christmas for years. I came out of that organization after deciding to become an actor. I still didn’t really celebrate the holidays until I developed this close friendship with Ron. His friendship and the chosen family we get to be with makes the holidays a very festive time! Ron Oliver is the Christmas master of ceremonies in movies and real life! No wonder he’s made so many Christmas movies! We all get together each year and it’s a great way to check in and celebrate the challenges and triumphs of the year!

So glad we got to chat, Nelson. I appreciate you taking the time.

Hope you’ve had a great holiday season, Ruth! Thanks for the chat! Cheers!

At Disney XD premiere

Having admired Nelson’s work for some time and watching his online interactions with fans, I was already predisposed to like this actor before I even interviewed him. Like I have seen posted online more than once, some would claim it’s not a Hallmark film without the presence and talents of Nelson Wong, and indeed if it is a Ron Oliver film, you can almost bet your bottom dollar Nelson will be involved in some shape or form. I am grateful that Nelson was able to take the time to answer my questions. With the busyness of the holidays and the frenetic acting/auditioning schedule Nelson keeps, it has not always been easy to schedule our promised interview. However, in the end, I found myself “falling in love” with this actor who is more than amenable to investing the time and resources necessary to experience the successful career of a working actor. Not only that, but he is constantly learning on set and honing his craft. There is never a wasted occurrence nor a set that doesn’t have a special moment or memory for him. Moreover, his positive outlook in spite of any difficulties he’s faced is stimulating, and it reinforces the strong conviction I already had about him. Nelson is definitely a team player on any and every set to which he is invited, and he is willing to do whatever necessary to create the most magnificent project possible along with the other members of the cast and crew.

As a side note, I am absolutely dumbfounded at how many films he and Ron Oliver have made together, and I know that some may consider that nepotism or favoritism, but I see it far differently. In this kaleidoscopic business that is overwhelmed with actors jockeying for their moment in the spotlight, it can be challenging to choose a reliable cast and crew who can create the kind of film the network, the viewers, and those in leadership desire, Additionally, having a pleasant on-set atmosphere is crucial in a world of entertainment where choices are practically endless, for no one wants to work on a set that is negative and fraught with stress. I believe that if a director has the authority to request that certain individuals he/she trusts are allowed to audition regularly for his/her projects, I say “go for it!” Additionally, who wouldn’t want someone like Nelson on a film set? Can you really get any better than him?

Hopefully, my readers have had the chance to watch some of Nelson’s past works, and I would invite all of you to check out his links below and follow him where applicable because he does indeed enjoy interacting with the fans as he is able to. Additionally, I hope that everyone examines the upcoming Winterfest films on the Hallmark Channel that will premiere every Saturday in January. Winter’s Dream is the grand finale, premiering January 27th. While I would expect that everyone would tune in because it is a Hallmark movie and is replete with fantastic actors, be sure that you watch out for Nelson Wong’s role. From my own experience, I can state that sometimes if you do not watch for Nelson, you just might miss him as he is a versatile actor with the extraordinary talent of immersing himself within every role he portrays. I wish him every success in all of his future endeavors, and I can hardly wait to see what else will be headed his way in 2018 and beyond!

FOLLOW NELSON

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

2 Comments

  1. denise January 6, 2018 Reply

    I’ve seen him a lot over the years.

    • Author
      Ruth January 6, 2018 Reply

      Me too Denise!

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