Vivian Bang is a very accomplished actress whose new show Sullivan & Son is now airing on TBS. Vivian Bang shares some insight into her character Susan on Sullivan & Son. As Steve’s younger sister, Susan is consumed by her one-sided sibling rivalry with Steve who is the golden child. Susan can’t seem to do anything right in the eyes of her mother, but that doesn’t stop her from trying. In addition we also touch on her past career moves and chat about whats ahead. Read below for the full interview…
As an actress how challenging is it to bounce from television work to film, and vice versa? Are there many differences in terms of time, tone, and pressure between the two?
Vivian: Not so much difference between TV versus Film but more of single camera performance vs. multi-camera performance. When you have a single camera, it’s a much more of an intimate performance… where you can be as subtle or as real and it can all be very interesting. Multi-camera used in sit-com format is wider. It’s more like capturing a theater performance w/ various cameras shooting you. It doesn’t depend so heavily on post. You have to get the rhythm and delivery of the jokes (timing and all that as well as chemistry with the other actors on the spot.) There is pressure to deliver jokes and still be true to the character. I mean with comedy, it’s either funny or not. I think there is a famous quote that there are a million different choices in drama but only one choice in comedy — the funny one. But, to be honest I try not to think about all that. I understand my character’s point of view and stay true regardless of the format. I just adjust the delivery by either addressing to one person as oppose to 100 eeps.
For any budding actresses/actors on the fence, based off your own personal experiences, would you recommend going to formal university to help kickstart an acting career?
Vivian: An acting career is a very personal journey and it does not have any concrete paths. I know many successful working actors that were discovered in the malls for their looks. Also it depends on how you define an acting career. I am very grateful for my formal university training, but it was more of a personal gratification for me. I loved going to NYU … I didn’t have the discipline on my own to learn about all the theater history, methods, and theories of acting…and being surrounded by like-minded actors and working with directors in my teens. Also, being in New York City and experiencing all the art movements and theater both Broadway and downtown experimental… these times were some of my most treasured memories and chapters of my life… I would always encourage people to learn more. But how and what they learn is everyone’s own path. As far as my acting career, I wouldn’t say that NYU helped me to kick start it. I know many many many Alumni peers that went in all different directions.
Could you tell us a bit about Mythomania, and how you came to be apart of that project? Having a web series focusing on Asian Americans is a great rarity among scripted series! What challenges did that bring forth?
Vivian: Derek Kirk Kim is a good friend of mine. He is very well known comic who has won the Eisner award for his series. His passion for storytelling and hard work is infectious. I read Mythomania and begged him to let me play NINA… he said i was too pretty for the role … so i brought out my OLD retainers which were very painful to fit back on my teeth and my old glasses and transformed as one of the boys. He said ok. I think one of the challenges is not having enough funds or money to get everything that Derek wants to capture… but he makes up for it w/ his imagination and homemade resources. He made his own dolly and other expensive film gadgets out of cardboard and aluminum foil. DIY! Yay!
The series’ creator was very outspoken about Hollywoods inability to cast Asian-Americans correctly. Do you have any opinions on this issue and do you feel like you have had to work a bit harder to get your roles because of it?
Vivian: Hollywood wants to have box office hits or TV hits! So they go by what is selling or the TV ratings. What seems to profit are action, horror movies or special effects versus alot of character driven stories. Their job is not to make sure that Asian Americans are represented correctly… they are interested in how to entertain and make money. So the good roles are few, not because of Hollywood but because of what the audience is supporting. Hollywood just needs proof that they can profit by casting Asian Americans in interesting roles…etc. If we can prove we can be successful and have a following, let’s see how quickly they will want to cash in on that.
I think it’s hard to create really good roles period. Good storytelling is a gift and not everyone has it, so like everything, you have to seek it out. Anything worth doing is hard…Life is hard. But where there is a will there is a way. I’m a bit of cliché freak!
What about the accuracy of said films? You were apart of Memoirs of a Geisha, and although it is universally regarded as a fantastic film, many Asians who worked on the film were outspoken about how the films’ culture was mishandled. As one of yoru first big budgeted films you worked on, did you see first-hand some of these barriers being placed?
Vivian: I don’t think films are made to be accurate; it’s an art form and it’s job is to tell it’s own version of an account. In the case of Memoirs, the film was told in English but many of the lead actresses could not speak English well enough to tell it’s own version, so that was challenging. I was helping to fix all the voices. I guess if Japan wanted to finance and make the film they could have hired Japanese actors and made their own version with more authentic Japanese culture. I think it’s easy to be a critic.
OK, this interview is getting a bit heavy! Let’s have some fun! You had me laughing, just the other day when I saw Yes, Man on television. You seem very comfortable in humorous roles. Is that what drew you to Sullivan & Son, originally?
Vivian: Since I was a child, laughter has always been my life source. I’ve always been able to make people laugh. But what actually draws me to most roles is when I can recognize the character’s pain. I think laughter and pain are two sides of the same coin… and for some reason I always laugh when I see someone in pain. Not in a meanway, but out of some recognition or connection. For example, in Yes Man, Soomi who’s had no luck in love, filled with bitterness works at a Wedding Card shop. That’s both painful and hilarious to me.
Again, this is one of those rare shows that showcases humor and situations from multi-racial and cultural backgrounds. For those who want to know what the show is all about, what kind of unique characteristics will this show provide that sets it apart from other sitcoms?
Vivian: It’s a real slice of Americana. Working class people and family from all backgrounds hanging out and sticking together and poking fun at each other from their own point of views… without censorship. And from this honest place, we can actually have a real dialogue about what pisses us off. It may be so politically wrong and the characters are so faulted but it’s a place of honesty. It’s our truthful ignorance and our frailties and fears about each other out in the surface. And if we can laugh about, it means we can relate and recognize the issues.
What is it like on the set working with Steve Byrne and having a bunch of guest star comedians that make appearances throughout the season? Do practical jokes get played?
Vivian: Working with Steve Byrne is like being with the family of your choice. He’s the brother I wish always had. He is incredibly generous and kind, hardworking, and super hilarious… (I can’t even make eye contact with him without laughing) And he has invited same caliber of professionals and good peeps on our show… He’s created an incredible group of ensemble that truly enjoy working together. It’s a very fun set. And I’ve said this before but I have a crush on everyone on set! And yes practical jokes get played… (can’t tell you deets on that . ha)
What was it like acting in front of a live studio audience for the taping? Any pressure there, or did your past work in theater help you get comfortable in such settings?
Vivian: I love taping in front of a live audience. Yes, it’s very much like theater. I love the theater. The energy I get back from the audience enhances my performance. But it’s a fine line of appreciating their energy but not having any expectations… like expecting laughter or cheers. It can be distracting or it can get in the way if you start depending on a certain reaction or making assumptions about their reactions. I guess it’s like any good relationships… don’t make assumptions and don’t have expectations. Ha. But, I’m truly grateful that we have so many people who come to watch the tapings and love working w/ the audience there.
Could you give us a few of your favorite Asian films?
Vivian: I love Korean films!!!! My favorite Korean films are Peppermint Candy, Oasis, Secret Sunshine – all by Lee Chang-Dong. Also Old boy, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Lady Vengeance, I am a Cyborg; all by Park Chan-wook. And I love Memories of Murder, The Host, Barking Dogs Never Bite, and Mother. I also love the visceral works of Kim Ki Duk.
And who doesn’t love Wong Kar Wai’s In the Mood for Love?! Or Zang Yimou’s Raise the Red Lantern? And Takashi Miike’s Audition or Kinjii Fukasaku’s Battle Royale.
OK, we know you have jokes! Could you give us a Susan original?
Vivian: I’m actually a HORRIBLE joke teller. I can’t ever get through a single joke without anticipating the punch line or messing up the setup… so it’s strange that I make people laugh… it’s probably just my whole SAD CLOWN persona.
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