"I believe filmmakers and storytellers have the power to either unite or divide humanity, and we need to be aware of that."
Yoson is fast becoming Aotearoa's next big thing.
Calm, collected but fiercely driven, Chinese-Kiwi Yoson An has been acting since 2012 and already has an impressive list of credits to his name. Locally, you might know him from Flat 3, Mega Time Squad and cult classic Ghost Bride. A skilled martial artist and speaker of Cantonese and Mandarin, Yoson's natural charm on camera has landed him roles on international features Meg, Mortal Engines, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon 2 and the HBO Asia mini-series Grace.
Speaking with him about his career so far, what is most remarkable is that Yoson has consistently broken the tired stereotypes that Asian actors are often cast in, having the chance instead to play leading romantic roles, action heroes and nuanced characters that are far from the nerdy, one dimensional tropes, something he focuses on when writing and directing his own film projects, as well as curating his new media site for short films called 'SkyRise', something the driven actor works on when he's not on set.
Yoson recently landed a leading role, Charlie Fung, in the new SBS crime-thriller series Dead Lucky, acting alongside Rachel Griffiths. After arriving back in Auckland from the shoot in Sydney, Chye-Ling, co-founder of PAT, caught up with Yoson about the experience.
Firstly, congratulations on shooting Dead Lucky! Tell us about the series.
DEAD LUCKY is a gripping crime thriller told from multiple perspectives. Detective Grace Gibbs (Rachel Griffiths) is obsessed with catching the armed robber who killed her junior officer. Charlie Fung (Yoson An) her new trainee, blames Grace for the death of his best friend.
Meanwhile a share house of international students think that they have found paradise, until one of their housemates disappears. A couple of greedy convenience store owners resort to deadly measures to defend their business. While on the outskirts of the city, a violent fugitive is hiding.
Over one week, the paths of these characters collide, leaving Grace and Charlie to find the killer, the missing girl ... and a way to rebuild their lives.
What was the casting brief for Charlie Fung - did it specify race?
Yes, they specifically wanted a Chinese male. SBS shows are quite consistently multi-culturally accurate in terms of casting, I believe they accurately represent Australia on screen.
How did you get the role - what was the audition process like?
It was through a self-tape audition. I sent the tape, they liked what I did and booked me (with no call back - which was extremely lucky and unusual at the same time).
What surprised you about working with Rachel Griffiths and the team on Dead Lucky?
I don’t think I was surprised about anything because I went in with no expectations. I really enjoyed working with Rachel, and the whole team was amazing. Rachel and I got along quite well - I think she’s an awesome person. It was a real honour for me to be co-starring with an academy award nominated actress; being around her and observing her process has taught me so much, and have also inspired me to go deeper into the craft. She was also really generous with providing me with some constructive guidance every now and again on set.
What’s been the most fun shoot day you’ve had so far?
This entire shoot has been a dream come true. The cast was stellar and the crew was amazing. Unfortunately, I can’t disclose the plot too much.. But one of the most memorable days of filming was when Rachel and I did our big confrontational scene (of the show) on the rooftop - it really reflected the depth of Charlie as well as Grace (Rachel’s character).
Do you find the Australian screen industry much different to New Zealand, and if so what are the main differences? Do you think there are more opportunities for non-white or Asian representation in Australia compared to New Zealand?
In terms of cultural diversity (accuracy) on screen, I feel like Australia has more opportunities for non-white actors to break into the film industry than we do in New Zealand (since they’re constantly making new shows - creating more content than NZ). In saying that though, I also believe Australia has a lot more actors in general than we do in New Zealand. I was lucky to be involved in a SBS original series; they’re known for having accurate multicultural representation of Australia on screen.
As an actor I’m aware of the amount of auditions you have to go through before you book a role. Previous to this role, what kind of casting briefs were you getting through, and from what countries?
I’ve been quite fortunate with my auditions. There have been a few stereotypical Asian characters, but a lot of my briefs have been from US productions and most of the characters’ personalities have been quite multi-layered.
What would you like to see more of on New Zealand screens?
More original content and a more truthful representation of multi-cultural casting to reflect the real world (if the story is based in our geographical reality).
What were the barriers you faced in becoming an actor and a filmmaker?
I’m a big believer/experiencer of “what you put out, is what you get back”. The only barriers I’ve faced were the barriers I’ve imposed on myself. In my experience, this goes for anything and everything in life. Our personal beliefs can either accelerate us or hold us back. There have been many times where I’ve felt anxious on going into an audition or taking on a role (which may be seemingly too big - there’s really no such thing), but I’ve realised it always stems from a lack of self-worth. So I consciously do my best to let go of limiting beliefs that doesn’t serve me.
Charlie Fung is part of the new wave of POC characters breaking away from screen based stereotypes. Do you feel a certain pressure taking on this role?
I’ve certainly felt a pressure to do the best I can for this role - but it was more from the fact that the script itself is so amazing, and the cast members are all so talented, I just really wanted to do the best I can for the series. I was really excited about playing Charlie because he had so many layers to him; it definitely penetrated much deeper than the usual Asian stereotype - that’s also one of the reasons why I absolutely loved about being a part of this show.
What role do you see yourself playing in changing the way that Asian men are perceived on and off the screen?
I don’t have a particular plan as to how I can change the way Asian men are perceived, but I’d like to be of service by being the most truthful version of myself and create from that space. I feel like film and TV is a beautiful medium that can inspire and influence us to gain a deeper perspective of our surroundings. If ideas and cultures are represented falsely on screen - this may influence a false reality into viewer’s mind and create an illusion of separation in our world. I believe filmmakers and storytellers have the power to either unite or divide humanity, and we need to be aware of that.
In Asian Men Talk About Sex (a Loading Docs documentary), you speak candidly about sex from an Asian male perspective. What makes a good date, and have you been on any good ones lately?
A good date to me is when two people are attracted to each other (in whatever way they wish to define attraction), and at the same time, both totally comfortable with each other (where they can just fully be themselves). Unfortunately, I haven’t been on any lately..I’ve been too busy!
Check out Yoson in Asian Men Talk About Sex here
Photos by Jen Huang.