Art Hsu was born in Queens, New York and raised in New York City. A rebellious and non-conformist spirit led him to military school in Long Island, NY. He also attended Boston College. In his early 20’s he spent time working and traveling in Asia before beginning his career as an actor. You might have seen in him in such films as Crank 2, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, and The FP to name a few. We sit down and talk about a variety of subjects, from before he became a rising acting star to what’s over the horizon. Read below for the full interview…
For the role of Vang in Crank 2, you had to morph yourself by getting tattoos, and beefing yourself up a bit. As far as commitment for a role, how far would you go?
Art: I would go pretty far. As long as I was physically capable of making the adjustments and it didn’t affect my long term health, I would be willing to do a lot. If something can help me better communicate who a character is, I would be interested in exploring the option.
I actually caught your new flick ‘The FP‘ at SXSW and loved it! Since it relied heavily on Dance Dance Revolution, we gotta ask…how are you at the actual game?
Art: I’m good at DDR, but Jason Trost, Lee Valmassy, and the other members of the cast are really great. I actually don’t do any dancing in ‘The FP’, so it worked well. I think I could be great at DDR with some more practice. Practice makes perfect.
It seems most of your roles are indirectly connected in some way to all the craziness going on onscreen. With a background in sketch comedy is this something you look for particularly in the roles you choose?
Art: I usually look for several things in role. The quality of the project and the people involved are very important. Next is what kind of role it is and how effectively I can play it. Then I look to see if the part is interesting or challenging. If the story is solid and if I can play the character well, these are the most important things. That being said, if a project also happens to be crazy and fun, well that’s just an extra added bonus.
Do you think acting is a vehicle to affect the world in a positive way?
Art: I definitely think it can be. “Positive” is such a relative term though, because it’s different for everybody. To me, positive is entertaining people – transporting them to another place and time, and making them laugh, cry, think, or not think. Positive to me also means appreciating and understanding diversity more, and showing how people from all over the world are kind of the same. Acting is a part of a larger puzzle, a grander scheme. It’s an element in a film, television show, play, or new media. It is those things that are watched and interpreted by people. So it’s only when an actor is given an opportunity with the right project and the right colleagues that s/he can affect the world in a positive way.
The FP seems to be the mark of you transitioning out of the crime & gangster genre into more mainstream projects. Is being in a big budget summer Hollywood blockbuster something that appeals to you?
Art: I guess, although I would hardly consider The FP to be a mainstream film. As for being in a big budget summer blockbuster, heck, I don’t know many actors who wouldn’t find that prospect appealing. What really appeals to me, though, is trying to do the best work I can. I would have nothing against being in a big budget summer movie, but I love smaller, independent projects as well. I guess the ideal situation is when you get all the best aspects of a big film together with all the best aspects of a small film, where sometimes you get to tell stories that are closer to the heart. When that combination occurs, it’s truly special.
How close are we to seeing “The Asian Scarface” film from yourself and Jason Yee? What is the background and status of that film?
Art: Wow, I’m impressed you know about that film. It’s still in development. The idea for it came about when Jason and I were hanging out with some friends at a club in Koreatown, Los Angeles. The place was crowded, music was bumping, lights were flashing, and the layout of the club kind of looked like the one where Tony Montana hung out in Brian De Palma ‘Scarface’, which was a remake of the 1932 classic directed by Howard Hawks. So Jason said to me, “I have an idea…Asian Scarface.” I immediately thought the concept was brilliant. So as I started doing some research, it became clear that the major challenge in getting it made would be market demographics and tastes. I would want it to be more than just a niche project. Plus anything based on Scarface better be pretty darn good, considering the precedents. So the key is to develop a solid story and script, and making sure all the pieces are in place to create something worthy of continuing the Scarface legend.
Art: Efren Ramirez mentioned in an interview at Comic-Con that Crank 3 is going to happen. It could be a prequel. Or it could be something else. Whatever it is, it’s going to be insane. Neveldine/Taylor are cutting-edge directors who are at the top of their game right now, so I’m sure they have some crazy stuff in mind for it. There would be no point in doing a Crank 3 unless they could literally raise the insanity level even higher. Considering what they did with Crank 2: High Voltage, that’s saying a lot. Crank as a trilogy, who would have thought?!
Although it wasn’t your passion, you received a business & liberal arts degree, before moving on to acting. Why didn’t you make the jump to acting before you decided to pursue an unrelated degree?
Art: I actually didn’t realize I wanted to be an actor until I was 20 years old. It was between my junior and senior years of college, and I had dropped several courses during the previous semester because of, shall we say, extracurricular activities. So to make them up, I went to Hawaii, got a part-time job in a coffee shop, and took two classes that forever changed my life. The first was called Intercultural Communication. It taught how different cultures have different values, what those values are, and how they’re passed on from generation to generation. I found that subject really fascinating because I had grown up in a multi-cultural household, and was always trying to reconcile being raised by Asian immigrants with being born in America and growing up American. The other class I took was called Introduction to Acting. The moment I stepped into this small, dark theater, I sensed something. I met some really talented people who also had this passion for performance, and spent the next several weeks improvising, rehearsing, and performing with them. I felt like I could express myself in ways I had always imagined, and realized I was able to transform into different people with different personalities. It was a very powerful experience for me. And it was there in that theater that I realized this was something I really wanted to pursue. Afterwards, I made the decision to return to college and complete my original major. I wanted to be an actor, but knew it was wise to finish my degree. I took acting classes as electives to fulfill my remaining credits. Plus I really did enjoy some of the business and other liberal arts classes I was taking as well.
Describe your short time working in Asia. How different is it versus working in the States?
Art: After I finished college, my sights were set on acting, but I wanted to travel and see the world a bit first. I had applied for and received a scholarship to study at a language center in Taiwan, so I and packed up a suitcase and moved halfway around the world to Taipei. After about a year, I embarked on a backpacking trip around mainland China that lasted several months. When I returned to Taipei, I put my business degree to use and found a job in marketing for a Fortune 500 company. More specifically I was marketing a major American beer brand to bars, clubs, and restaurants. I was driving a bright red Budweiser van around, putting up neon signs and merchandising, setting up promotions, and working with Bud Girl teams. I also had an expense account to sponsor events and buy beer for people. It was an awesome job.
I had never lived outside the U.S. before, so it was quite a shock with the language, culture, and customs. Another interesting thing is that I went from being the minority in an environment to a place where I looked liked the majority. It was a kind of crazy and enlightening experience at the same time.
In addition to those things, I guess the other major difference between working in Asia versus working in the States is how the people there relate to one another. It’s more traditional. Relationships between superiors and subordinates are more hierarchical. Relationships between men and women are more old-fashioned. And relationships between family members adhere to more classic principles. It’s almost like a flashback to the 1950’s as far as the rules and values in society go. But there are things each region has in common as well. People in the cities are different than people in less populated areas. Young people have different beliefs than older people. And alongside regular society, there exist different countercultures where people act, dress, and think differently than the mainstream. These things are the same in both the United States and Asia, just like they are in most places around the world.
As far as Asian films go, do you have any favorites? How about anime?
Art: My favorite Asian films are Seven Samurai, Rashomon, Ran, Ikiru, A Better Tomorrow, The Killer, Chungking Express, In The Mood For Love, Raise The Red Lantern, To Live, Ringu, and Oldboy. My favorite Anime films are Akira, Fist of the North Star, Princess Mononoke, and Spirited Away.
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