by HAEIN JUNG
It’s not like actor Andy Pang didn’t try other things. Although he enjoyed performing ever since a child, he pragmatically entered college as a pre-med student until he “did horribly” in his early science courses. Then, after graduation, he turned to journalism, working for CNN, CBS Sports and then for a small business magazine. When that magazine folded, however, the jobless, then-23-year-old Pang found himself itching to go back to his first passion.
He auditioned for a play, Made In Bangkok, written by the late Anthony Minghella. He booked it, and the love affair with acting was rekindled. A much more intimate affirmation that the second-generation Korean American should pursue acting came from, of all people, his sick father. He told Pang, “If you can find a way of being happy, that’s great. You should do it.”
That would be followed by a graduate school acceptance letter from the renowned Yale School of Drama. “From then on, I made it the focus of my career to be involved in storytelling,” said Pang, who today not only counts roles on major network TV shows like Law & Order, The Good Wife and The Blacklist among his acting credits, but also works as a film and TV editor and has made his own films.
His latest role, however, has him focused solely on his first love. He co-stars in A Picture of You, an indie film written and directed by J.P. Chan and featuring Asian American lead characters, though the movie’s theme is universal. It tells the story of a brother and sister, Kyle (Pang) and Jen (Jo Mei), who have an uneasy relationship with each other, in part, because Kyle is resentful that he’s played the primary caregiver role to their sick mother (played by Jodi Long in flashbacks), while his sister enjoys her free-spirited life. But, when their mother dies, the siblings come together to pack up her belongings at her home in rural Pennsylvania, where they make a shocking discovery about the woman they thought they knew.
“In a weird way, in the beginning of this film, the mom separates them,” explained Pang. “[Kyle] has to take care of the mom, and it makes me bitter toward my sister. In the end, us working together to find out who this other person is makes us find a way to find a connection with each other.”
The project was quite personal for Pang in many ways. He had met the director a few years earlier when Pang was working on his own short film, Works of Art. He and Chan hit it off, and the latter even introduced Pang to many people he knew in the film industry. So, when Chan was ready to begin auditions for his first feature film, he knew whom to call for the role of Kyle.
“I think the most exciting thing to me was just getting a chance to not only work with J.P. and Jo Mei, but it was also an exciting opportunity to be with [JP] on his [first] feature,” said Pang. “In terms of the role, there were definitely some things I can relate to. I lost my father many years ago, and I dealt with elder care with my mom, and similar issues like that. I think if you’ve seen the film, the cool thing about it is that there are Asian Americans in it, African Americans in it, Caucasians … it’s not about race—it’s about family, this issue, and that was really cool and exciting, too.”
Unlike major studio and bigger-budget projects Pang has had a chance to work on, A Picture of You was a much more modest effort, but it was also more intimate.
“When you work on bigger projects, … I have to say it’s almost a little compartmentalized. You go off into your trailer or your dressing room … you get to go to makeup, you go to costuming, you get ready to do your stuff. You come out onto the set, you do your thing and, boom, it’s over,” described Pang. “But on this [film], … it’s like you come out maybe you help move a piece of the set, you’re getting your makeup done right there next to where you might be doing a scene, you’re putting costumes on in the bathroom or in a side garage or whatever. We were very much like a family.”
A Picture of You opened last week at the AMC Loews Village 7 in New York City for an initial weeklong run that got extended to July 3, thanks to positive reviews. The New York Times made it a “Critics’ Pick,” praising Chan’s direction, especially of the scenes of Pang and Mei’s “easygoing banter.”
“This sort of Big Chill getaway has been a staple of filmmakers from John Sayles to Joe Swanberg, yet even with a furtive pot-smoking sequence, A Picture of You subverts cliché,” wrote New York Times critic Ben Kenigsberg. “There’s enormous warmth when the hipster-ish Doug earnestly picks the wrong time to seek Kyle’s permission to propose to Jen, and a matter-of-factness to the film’s reflections on Asian American identity.”
Even as the film was finding its way to audiences, Pang was already busy at work on a number of other projects, both in front of and behind the camera. He will grace the stage for The World of Extreme Happiness, which will premiere at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre in September and end its run at the Manhattan Theatre Club in New York next February. He’s also working as a film editor on The Cobbler, which stars Adam Sandler and Steve Buscemi.
Pang says he feels fortunate that he gets the chance to play these different roles in storytelling; in a way, each helps inform and support the other.
I definitely think working as an editor and seeing behind the scenes and how they shoot things has affected my understanding of acting in front of the camera,” he said. “I worked [as an assistant editor] on All Is Lost last year, and that had Robert Redford in it. I spent a couple years working on Damages [with Glenn Close]. Basically I’ve had a chance to work on a lot of projects with some really talented actors. … Getting to work every day and watching them work, you definitely learn something.
“Before I got involved in postproduction, as an actor, you can get like neurotic about things that happen on set … and you tend to think as an actor that it is all about you like, ‘Oh, they’re slowing the day down because I messed up,’” he continued. “But in production, you have a better understanding of what’s going on, and that it’s not always about you as an actor. There are many different factors that help create the different reality you see on screen. It definitely gives perspective to everything. I’ve gotten better in all those aspects because of having these experiences and the chance to do all of those things.”