Yvette Lu is an actor, filmmaker, and family physician in Vancouver, BC. As an actor, she has appeared on the last two seasons of TLC’s Untold Stories of the ER. As well, her films have screened on television and in film festivals across North America, including at the Vancouver Asian Film Festival, the Route 66 Film Festival (Illinois), and on Shaw Multicultural Channel. On the other side of the camera, Yvette has worked as a producer, director, and composer for numerous projects. Frankly speaking, there isn’t much that she can’t do. Read below for the full interview as we discuss her film projects, past and present, and what lies ahead!
Looking over your body of work I saw that you are not only an accomplished actress but also a producer, composer, co-director, writer, etc. How did you grow to become such a multi-disciplined creative?
Yvette: I have always been very interested in the world around me. When I was young, I would borrow a bag of books every week from the library. In high school, I took courses in both the arts and science, and in university, my science degree was sprinkled with theatre and arts electives. It’s this desire to continue learning and growing that has led me to explore different ways to express my creativity, and I feel very fortunate that opportunities to experiment have frequently presented themselves!
My first film role was in Food for the Gods, a short film about a brave psychic warrior who must choose between her true love and her duty to her tribe. When we were on set one day, I heard the director, H. Scott Hughes, talking about the musical score. He’s a musician and was planning on composing it himself. I thought, “Wow, here’s an opportunity to collaborate and work on my composing skills.” I’ve been playing the piano since the age of three, and had dabbled in composing, but had never tried anything as ambitious as scoring a film. Scott was happy to have me join him as co-composer, and we had a great time. I was already emotionally entrenched in the world of Food for the Gods as the lead character, so I brimming with musical ideas and we ended up using most of the music I came up with in the film. I was having so much fun, I gradually became more and more involved in the post-production aspects of the film. Music branched into sound design, then into other post-production tasks like marketing and publicity, and thus I became a fledgling producer.
Having that experience gave me the confidence to take on and initiate other projects. Shortly after, I was acting in a film about two sisters being attacked in China during World War II (Servants of War), and I discovered that they didn’t have a composer. I offered, and was delighted when they accepted! I see projects as a chance to explore, so I did research on Asian music and studied the musical scores of films like Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and Hero. I wrote some haunting lyrical melodies and hired a wonderful Erhu player named Xu Qian to record them. He also plays on the Food for the Gods soundtrack. It all worked out really beautifully. Both Food for the Gods and Servants of War screened at the 2008 Vancouver Asian Film Festival. Many of my other producing and writing projects have had their origins in a similar fashion: an opportunity presents itself, and I jump on and hang on for the ride!
In addition to your film work, you can competently take care of undifferentiated patients in a clinic. What brought upon such involvement in two totally different areas of work?
Yvette: By the time I was in my second year of University, I’d pretty much decided that I wanted to study medicine. My grades were good, I enjoyed my science classes, especially those pertaining to the human body, and I liked the idea of caring for people and helping them in their time of need. However, at around the same time, I had started taking theatre and acting electives, and I discovered that I was also passionate about acting. I didn’t know what to do because my interests were so divergent! I didn’t know which path to take. A mentor told me, “You can do what you want, but you can’t do it all at the same time,” and another mentor advised, “Start Someplace, Go Somewhere”. So, with that wisdom in mind, I chose medicine and put my artistic pursuits on hold. Medical school is intense: you’re studying all the time, you’re up all night at the hospital, you’re in the anatomy lab on the weekends memorizing parts of the brain. Despite my busy schedule, whenever I could, I would do my best to inject artistic pursuits into my life. We had summers off, so I spent my summers acting, and in my 2nd year of medicine, I and some of my fellow students produced and acted in a musical, You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, as a fundraiser for our medical school’s rural practice program, which sends students to train in rural areas.
Over time, I have become more and more adept at balancing my different areas of expertise. It’s definitely a challenge! People often wonder how art and medicine fit together. I am certain that being an actor helps me to be a better doctor, and vice versa. Both require good listening skills and compassion, and both involve a deep understanding of the human condition. The analytic skills I hone in medicine help me with script analysis, and the flexibility of mind developed through creativity can only make me a better doctor. Plus, I am happier when I am doing both. It provides a great balance to my life.
Stemming off from this experience you created a play that migrate these two experiences together. You stated that you wrote it to give a voice to patients. Why did you feel this was a necessary action?
Yvette: My play is called Stories from the Closet: a play about living with chronic illness. It’s a research-based play inspired by combining information from structured patient interviews with research findings and my experiences in health care. Chronic illness is very common. Everybody knows someone who has a chronic illness. It could be migraines, chronic fatigue syndrome, depression, inflammatory bowel disease, lupus, diabetes… the list goes on.
What I found is that people with chronic illness are often isolated and misunderstood by family, friends, co-workers and health care professionals. There’s a stigma associated with illness, so it is hard to talk about, and in addition, since many people have chronic illness that is “invisible”, they are often seen as embellishing their symptoms, or being lazy, and are told to “pull up their socks and get over” whatever they are suffering. An illness impacts everything – your energy, your relationships, your job, your future prospects, your emotions, your identity… It’s hard to understand the huge impact that being ill has on your daily life unless you’ve gone through it, and the result of this is that it’s hard for patients to get the help they need and to communicate with their loved ones.
Stories and theatre allow access to the emotional turbulence that these people can suffer, and I hope that the play can help educate family, friends, and health care providers of people with chronic illness. When I read my play, I frequently have people come up to me, sometimes in tears, thanking me for sharing this information and telling me that what I’ve spoken about is exactly what they are going through. When I hear that, it reminds me of how important this work is and that I must continue to educate people on this topic.
Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/stories.from.the.closet
You have worked in both comedy and sci-fi. Which genre to you prefer?
Yvette: That’s a tough choice! I love them both! If I absolutely had to pick one, I would to pick sci-fi/fantasy, and that just comes from my love of the imaginary. My favorite stories are those that take me to other places, times, and lands — ones with epic stories, fabulous costumes, stunning sets, and magical creatures. The funny thing is that as technology improves, more and more of these stories are shot fully green screen, and even the actors don’t get to see what the world looks like until it’s on television or in the theatre! As an actor, you have to have a really good imagination to work on these projects.
Does the culture of Hong Kong influence your work at all? Is there any cultural roadblocks you experienced growing up?
Yvette: I was born in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. I grew up in a family that follows a mixture of Western and Asian customs. The biggest cultural roadblock I experienced is that artistic pursuits are generally not seen as practical or proper careers to pursue by many Asian families. My parents have always been supportive but I know that they are sometimes puzzled by my continuing passion for the arts.
What are some of your favorite Asian films?
Yvette: I love watching films from outside North America. There are excellent Asian and international films that come to Vancouver each year with the Vancouver International Film Festival. I love how each country has its own unique flavour of humour and perspective. Two favourite films from Asia that I own and love are Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and Spirited Away.
You also have musical training as well, as you demonstrated by composing work on film. What initially brought upon this interest and how has it served you?
Yvette: My mom started me in piano lessons at the age of three. I still remember the audition at the music school. There was a long stairwell, followed by a stark waiting room. I was called into a big room where I had to sit at a grand piano (which seemed huge at the time) and play for a mysterious white-haired lady. I’m not sure what I played because at that point, I didn’t actually know how to play piano yet. Apparently, she liked what she saw because she let me into the school! Practicing piano every day was a huge part of my childhood. Sometimes I enjoyed it, sometimes it was a chore, but in the end it was all worth it. I’m very grateful to have music as part of my life and to my parents for bringing me to all those piano and music theory lessons over the years. Music is a language that reaches into your heart and touches your emotions, and like acting, it allows me to express myself creatively. As you might guess, I also love watching and performing musical theatre. People bursting into song as soon as they are struck by emotion… I love it!
What is in store for you in 2013? Anything exciting you could share with us?
Yvette: 2013 has been great so far. In January, I was one of the leads in a wonderful play, the Vancouver Asian Canadian Theatre’s Canadian premiere of The Theory of Everything by Prince Gomolvilas. It deals with the challenges of immigration and ethnicity in North America. I played a single mom from the Philippines who has to deal with the burden of her past and her son growing up. For the spring, I have a lead role in a sitcom pilot about a psychologist who has a lot of quirky clients, and it looks like I will be working on a comedy sketch piece as well. I also hope to continue to do readings of my play, Stories from the Closet, and to expand my work educating the public about health and wellness.
On the producing side, Nik Green and I (we worked on the Megami Saga together) are still submitting the two films we shot last summer to festivals, Alive and Kicking and Fantomes. Alive and Kicking (http://facebook.com/aliveandkicking.film), a documentary about two Taekwondo athletes with personal challenges, won Best in Show at the Near Enemy Film Festival in New Jersey last fall, and Beverly Wu (Xionko in Food for the Gods) received a best actress honorable mention from Asians on Film for her work in Fantomes, a short film about a pregnant assassin. I also hope to shoot another short film this summer, but nothing is finalized yet. And of course, I will be working with H. Scott Hughes on the music and post-production for the Megami Saga once he finishes up with Timekeepers.
Food for the Gods gained a lot of attention over the years and I know there was a possibility of perhaps a series or more films coming out from this franchise. What is the status of this as of 2013?
Yvette: Currently, we have already filmed two teasers that could be expanded into films or a series. They are currently in post-production and some trailers have been released. Scott Hughes is also writing a novel based on the series, and we have proposals for an anime or graphic novel version in the works as well. We have some great images drawn by Asuka Hazuki. It’s so neat to see myself as a manga character! The project is currently on hiatus as Scott has been called away to write the script for Timekeepers, a sci-fi time travel thriller produced by Canada (East) Films that will be shooting next summer. However, we expect to have it up and running again soon. Please stay posted [Links to the project at the bottom of interview].
Lastly, any advice for any actors out there?
Yvette: I would encourage anyone who wants to pursue acting or any other creative pursuit to go for it. Start by taking classes and finding some teachers that you feel comfortable with. Acting can put you in a vulnerable position so it is important you find someone you trust to work with. Watch plays, watch films, read plays, read screenplays, read books about the field– all these things will help you. As an actor, you’re constantly being buffeted by external circumstances- the flagging economy, the roles available, tax credits, stereotypes, industry trends, etc. – and it’s important to stay focused on what is important to you, and to stay connected to what inspired you to become an artist. Whether you decide to pursue it as a hobby or a career, adding something creative to your life will be amply rewarding.
To follow Yvette and stay up to date on all her projects please follow her cookie crumb trail below:
Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Yvette-Lu/156765336164
Megami Saga links:
Trailer 2: Search for the Gods
Facebook page: http://facebook.com/megami.saga
Food for the Gods full film: http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=285579978184775
Legacy for the Gods/Megami Saga Website: http://megami.food-for-the-gods.com/