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Chris Pang Talks About What It's Like to Play a Crazy Rich Asian

by Vincent Ong | Aug 3, 2018
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The actor gets real about Asian representation in Hollywood, what it’s like to portray a crazy rich character, and how he landed the much-coveted role.

Chris Pang, who plays Colin Khoo in Crazy Rich Asians (a.k.a. Nick’s best friend whose wedding is the catalyst for all the drama) arrived at his Preview photo shoot alone, in a Grab car he booked himself. The Hollywood actor—whose movies under his belt include Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny, 2016; Marco Polo, 2014; and Tomorrow, When the War Began, 2010—didn’t even have a road manager to field questions and requests for him. He had no qualms about the food on the set either. And to state the obvious, his behavior is not typical for a celebrity, especially not for someone with his cachet.

Seated in the makeup chair, the Melbourne-born-and-bred actor gets candid very quickly. As a group, we cover a range of topics like the last song he played on Spotify (the Pokémon theme song, would you believe?), spaghetti (why do Filipinos love it sweet?), and brow makeup (it was his first time to wear it for the shoot). His humor peeked through the entire conversation, joking and teasing us more like a friend than a movie star. Even the interview itself was conducted over bites of pizza and potato wedges.

It’s true what they say: Stars, they’re just like us—or maybe not. He got to live like a crazy rich Asian, after all—not just in the movie, but in real life as well because of it. Read his exclusive interview with Preview below and see what we mean.


Jacket, P32,680; Shirt, P32,680, both PORTS 1961, Distinqt, Shangri-la at the Fort.

Hi, Chris. Let’s get all the touristy questions out of the way first. Have you been to the Philippines before?

"I have been once—Manila last year in October."

How did you find it?

"I love Manila. I’m honestly thinking that I should move here… I’m Asian, I look Asian, so I belong in Asia. Anywhere else doesn’t feel like home. When I’m here [in the Philippines], everyone speaks English, so I can communicate with everybody. But everybody looks like me, too, so it’s a nice balance. And I’ve found the Philippines so welcoming."

So what brings you to Manila this time? How long are you going to be here?

"I’m going to be here for about a month, back and forth. I’m producing a feature film called Empty by Design. One of my friends, Andrea Walter, is a director and a writer. She’s half-Filipino, half-British. This is really her story. It’s an indie drama character piece, so there’s not a lot of action sequences or big sets or anything that takes a long time. We’re only shooting for 18 days."

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Wow! Can you tell us more about this movie you're producing here?

"It’s a really progressive film. There are LGBT themes, identity, and culture in there, so that’s one of the strongest points of the film. Osric Chau plays one of the leads in the film. Dante Basco and I are also in it… The story is about two people coming back [to Manila] and rediscovering their culture, their connection to the culture, as well as finding themselves at the same time."

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You’re better known as an actor. What made you go into producing?

"You know I love acting, it’s always going to be my number one passion. But it’s a natural progression to start going into directing or producing or storytelling, right? So I really want to champion the up-and-coming auteurs who have a story to tell. I really want to push them to do it, because we really need to change the landscape here.


"I feel like representation and diversity are such hot topics right now. They're being talked about so much in the media and in Hollywood. It would be a shame not to push that. So I'm doing my part to get as many different stories told, so we can see diversity not just in ethnicity but also sexual diversity, or all kinds of different groups to join in the conversation. That’s the ultimate goal."

"I always felt like I never saw Asian faces in Hollywood. And even when I did, it was just the martial arts dude who never got the girl. That’s not very good for you when you're growing up—to feel like you'll never get the girl—and it’s damaging to your self-confidence."

Going into show business, was representation always your goal?

"It sort of organically grew from seeing the state of my industry and the lack of work that I experienced myself. I was very lucky; I was part of an Australian film called Tomorrow, When the War Began, and it was the highest grossing film that year. I played one of the lead characters: an Asian kid who got the white girl. And so that was a big deal for me. It was my first big film. I was immediately thrust into that world, that conversation of how important it was for representation.

"I started looking at who are the big household name Asian actors. There are only a handful. Even the most famous ones in the industry right now, people can’t name them. They're just like 'that guy from that movie' or 'that girl from that TV show.' So I'm trying to change that. Even the smallest step, I’d be happy with that."

How did that come to be? What was it like growing up in Melbourne?

"I felt a longing from within me to explore my roots and get close with it. So I turned to Asian cinema. I always felt like I never saw Asian faces in Hollywood. And even when I did, it was just the martial arts dude who never got the girl. That’s not very good for you when you're growing up—to feel like you'll never get the girl—and it’s damaging to your self-confidence.

"So I was always watching Asian cinema, especially in my later teen years, when I was developing my personality. I wanted to find myself, find my identity. I was watching Chow Yun Fat, Andy Lau, and stuff. Of course, you say who your heroes are, and Bruce Lee is always going to be up there as one of the most inspiring ethnic. He did more for the Chinese in today’s society—but even in his movies, he never got the girl. Then sure after that, Jackie Chan came along. He and Jet Li never got the girl. In his film Romeo Must Die, he’s Romeo and Aaliyah played Juliet—the greatest love story of all time. But there’s no kissing scene between Jet Li and Aaliyah. They filmed it but they had to take it out, because it wasn't acceptable.

"That’s the kind of battle you’re dealing with, and when you grow up outside Asia I guess it isn't as confrontational—if you grow up in Asia, you have Asian cinema. You have your likeness plastered all around you on billboards and everything. But when you're not, it’s a different story."


Brown coat, P21,750, MFPEN, Assembly, SM Aura. Navy blue coat, P22,800; Pants, P14,800, both EASTLOGUE, Assembly, SM Aura. Pullover, P7800, NAVY STUDIO, Assembly, SM Aura.

That’s a very interesting point, because we see a lot of billboards and ads that put a premium on Western features. How do you feel about the premium that’s placed on Western ideals of beauty in Asia?

"That’s very damaging to someone’s self-esteem because the Western idea of beauty is now accepted everywhere in the world, even in Asia. And Asian people don't look like white people and that’s the bottom line. You grow up thinking your image is not accepted, all these issues arise and they stem from not accepting your identity. And so I really want to push diversity for that reason.

"The last film that came out of Hollywood with an all-Asian cast was Joy Luck Club in 1993. It was 25 years ago. There’s a whole generation in those 25 years who haven't seen a big Hollywood studio with Asian faces leading a film like that. And this is the first one since then, so it’s a really big milestone. Crazy Rich Asians is a very important film."

"The casting process for Crazy Rich Asians was insane. They basically saw every single Asian actor in the world."

Speaking of which, let’s talk about the Crazy Rich Asians movie. How did you land your role as Colin?

"The casting process for Crazy Rich Asians was insane. They basically saw every single Asian actor in the world. They had an open casting; they told everybody, 'Even if you're not an actor, here’s the audition scene, videotape yourself, post it on YouTube, tag the right people, and we will watch it.' So everybody who was interested in being in the movie had an opportunity. And throughout this process we actually found some people on YouTube and put them in the movie. So it was a real attempt at finding the [right] people.

"And so, everybody at that time was auditioning for the lead character Nick. And Nick is this suave charming, knight-in-shining-armor, perfect, humble human being, and that’s not me. [Laughs] I'm realistic; I know that’s not me. And everyone was going for Nick; everyone wanted the lead role.

"I read the book; I gravitated more towards Nick’s best friend, Colin. So when I went in the audition room and met with Jon Chu the director and Nina Jacobson the producer, I was never really trying to do Nick. I went into the Nick audition just wearing a T-shirt and was real casual about it. So when they started casting Colin, it made sense."


"Everybody at that time was auditioning for the lead character Nick. And Nick is this suave charming, knight-in-shining-armor, perfect, humble human being, and that’s not me. [Laughs]"

What’s life as a crazy rich Asian like?

"I got a little experience of the crazy rich life, because as we were filming in Singapore—it was a big deal for Singapore; they're very supportive—I went out one night with some real crazy rich Asians. These guys were dropping money like it was air. They were just breathing money. It was insane. And so many people came up to me, different people at different times that night, and told me, 'Hey, all that stuff that happened in the book, they're based off real people and I know all of them.'

"Everyone in Singapore seems to think they know who the characters are. And they do some crazy things in the book and they’re all like, 'They're all real and I know this family. I know that family.'

"I even had one person come up to me saying she knows everybody in the book, except Colin is not a real person. But I talked to [Crazy Rich Asians author] Kevin Kwan, and he’s like, 'Yeah, they're right. They're all based off real people and Colin is definitely based off a real person. In fact,' and he gave me a little clue, 'you kinda look like the real Colin.' So somewhere out there is a guy who looks like me who is actually really rich. But trust me, it’s not me. I’m a crazy poor actor who plays a crazy rich Asian."

You said people have come up to you to say they know the real-life counterparts of the characters in Kwan’s work. How do they not blow their covers in real life?

"It’s almost like a superpower, like Spider-man: 'With great wealth comes great responsibility.' And they explore this theme in the story, that when you're that rich, you're no longer trying to prove you're rich. You're trying to live your life to the fullest without the politics, and so it becomes almost the reverse.

"Their friends would know but they probably wouldn't make a big deal about it, because that’s how they became so successful in the first place. It comes out in the movie a lot. Michelle Yeoh’s character really carries that burden. And so that’s one of the interesting things about the story, even if it’s dealing with an idealistic life—these people are so wealthy—it also shows the downside to that, too.


"There’s a difference between enjoying your wealth and needing everyone to know."

There’s a Filipina in the movie, Kris Aquino, and it’s quite a big deal for us here in the Philippines. Do you mind telling us about her role?

"So the biggest event is Colin’s wedding—my wedding. It’s the whole reason why the whole movie happens, right? So Kris Aquino’s character attends the wedding—I’m not sure how much I’m supposed to say, but she’s in there for sure. I think the people who’ve read the book might know what character she’s playing, but I don't want to spoil anything for those who haven’t. So I’ll keep it fresh."

What was your first impression of her, though?

"It was so funny because I was reading all the news when it came out. And everyone in the Philippines was so excited about Kris Aquino being in the film. When I met her, I didn't know, so I was kind of confused because she came with 18 assistants. I was like, who is this person? [Laughs] I probably thought they were part of the set, like some character had all these helpers and assistants, which kind of made sense. But no, those were her actual [personal assistants]!

"Obviously, I know who she is now. She’s the real crazy rich Asian. All of us were acting and trying to dig deep into this life that we didn’t know, but she was just playing herself."

What was it like on-set? How’s your relationship with your fellow cast members?

"I think it [has a lot to do with what] I was talking about earlier: When you grow up outside your own culture, you experience things, and they’re things you can’t really communicate and explain, but anybody who’s been through it knows. And when you meet someone with the same story, you gravitate towards each other. There’s an unspoken knowledge and bond. And that was the exact thing that brought the cast of Crazy Rich Asians together so quickly. I was suddenly surrounded by a bunch of people in the same industry—and talented people at the top of that—who have lived the same story. It was so amazing to see that. We all just bonded and we had the best time filming.


"Even now, we all still keep in contact. We have a Whatsapp group that still goes off, like I have to mute my phone at nighttime if I want to sleep; we’re just chatting. We’re like family now."

Produced by Marj Ramos

Photographed by Patrick Diokno

Styled by Loris Peña

Art Directed by Mark Buenaobra

Grooming by Jason Delos Reyes

Hair by Mark Rosales

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