Downsizing’s Hong Chau isn’t your typical Asian sidekick

Downsizing’s Hong Chau isn’t your typical Asian sidekick


Text: Esther Soh

Image: Facebook | Downsizing,
Facebook | Cinematgy

Taking the role of Vietnamese political activist Ngoc Lan in Downsizing, the up-and-coming actress channels her ethnic origin in Alexander Payne’s miniature masterpiece

"According to a recent article, only five percent of speaking roles in Hollywood are played by Asian actors —" said Seth Meyers in his opening monologue at the recent Golden Globes.

" — but those numbers might be off since a white person did the math," finished Downsizing star Hong Chau, delivering the punchline in the "Jokes Seth Can't Tell" segment of the awards show. The bit played on stereotypes faced by both sides, though while watching the Golden Globes, you couldn't help but notice the lack of diversity in both race and gender. Chau, however, is a refreshing new face in a landscape that's slowly, but surely, changing. Joining the Golden Globes nominee in Downsizing is Matt Damon, the leading man who also made the choice to live life smaller.

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The 39-year-old Thai-born, Vietnamese-American actress landed a part in what we'd imagine to be a conventional and clichéd Asian role. She's Ngoc Lan, a full-time housekeeper for the uber-wealthy folks of the fictional hood, Leisureland, as well as a sole survivor of human smuggling. Despite landing herself in this stereotypical role, Ngoc Lan redefines authenticity through her buoyant, strong-willed and honest virtues that sprout in her multifaceted character development.

Hollywood could have casted any other Asian actress (or God forbid, a non-Asian one), but Chau was picked partly due to her own family history that parallels with Ngoc Lan's. As much as this rising star was raised mostly in America, her family holds a past that was just as gripping. Think: A post-war escape to Thailand while still in her mother's womb, adolescent days in a Thai refugee camp and then graduating from Boston University. Now that's a story you wouldn't expect from just any other Vietnamese-American woman.

Before the actress' quantum leap to success in Alexander Payne's comedy-drama, Chau went through an arduous journey of challenging her introverted nature through auditions and public speaking classes. After a decade of honing her craft, she now exuberates the confidence of a polished actress. 

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Before Downsizing, Chau was seen in Big Little Lies as well. The actress is clear of her direction in Hollywood and beyond. "I hope it will be an interesting story with a good director who's passionate and has been trying to get something off the ground for years that nobody wants to work on," she shared in an interview. Hopefully, it's a sign of greater things to come. 

Catch Downsizing in theatres from 11 January.
Check out last week's #WomanCrushWednesday here.