BD Wong Reprises Role From Two Decades Ago in ‘Jurassic World’


Story by Carol Park

As a character actor who’s been in the business for more than 30 years, BD Wong has that sort of timeless face that is at once familiar and yet transmutable, whether he’s playing the right hand man to Martin Short’s flamboyant wedding planner in Father of the Bride (1991), the role model son in the Margaret Cho sitcom All-American Girl (1995), a Tibetan official opposite Brad Pitt in Seven Years in Tibet (1997) or a gay forensic psychiatrist in Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (2001-2014).

His latest role in the highly anticipated film Jurassic World, which was released on June 12, has him reprising the character of Dr. Henry Wu from the original 1993 film, Jurassic Park, and it doesn’t seem like he’s aged a day.

“It’s been 22 years, literally, since the first movie took place,” says the 54-year-old Wong, whose character, he admits, hasn’t changed much. “It’s such a classic franchise, but this fourth one [following The Lost World (1997) and 2001’s Jurassic Park III] is the best at serving up the original movie – not repeating it, but giving the same thrill and stimulation and entertainment as the first one.”

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BD Wong in the 1993 film that started it all, Jurassic Park. Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures.

Directed by Colin Trevorrow, the film stars Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard, as well as acclaimed Indian actor Irrfan Khan and Japanese-Korean American actor Brian Tee as Katashi Hamada, a member of the security unit for the dinosaur theme park. In this latest installment, Dr. Wu is working on a new innovation – genetically modified dinosaurs – which the owner of the park, Simon Masrani (played by Khan), hopes will boost flagging attendance. Of course, the mutant dinosaur will escape – to the thrill of moviegoers everywhere – and havoc will ensue.

“It’s a whole new movie that can satisfy your craving if you are a fan of the first movie,” says Wong. “It’s super scary and suspenseful, and it’s technologically [advanced] when it comes to special effects.”

The sure-to-be summer blockbuster is a long way from Wong’s first big role in 1988, when he played the beautiful opera diva Song Liling in the David Henry Hwang Broadway play M. Butterfly, for which he won an unprecedented number of accolades, including a Tony Award. But it is perhaps another role, that of Dr. George Huang on Law & Order: SVU, for which Wong is best known.

“I’d never experienced [the recognition that comes] from being on a show for so long,” says Wong of his 11- season stint on the series. “While the job itself wasn’t particularly stimulating artistically – and it wasn’t meant to be – the exposure and career boosts were substantial and taught me a lot about the value of being on a show like that.”

Born Bradley Darryl Wong in San Francisco, Wong’s passion for acting began in high school. At first, his parents – his father worked for the postal service, his mother for a phone company – were skeptical and encouraged him to pursue a “stable career.” But Wong pursued his craft with zeal and with his high school drama teacher’s help, his parents eventually came to support him. “She was great to me and directed me and really helped me to understand the potential that I had,” says Wong of his drama teacher, Zora Chanes. “That was crucial for me because it can go one way or the other, depending on how you’re inspired by parents or teachers.”

It was while studying acting with Donald Hotton in the ’80s that Wong developed the acting technique and philosophy that he follows to this day. Hotton believed that actors are mere messengers there to serve the writer’s vision. “You’re not acting to satisfy your own ego,” says Wong. “Once you understand that, it’s wonderfully liberating.”

It’s perhaps what allows Wong to jump with ease from theater (You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, The Orphan of Zhao) to voice-over work (as Captain Li Shang in Disney’s Mulan), from television (Awake, Oz) to film (most recently, Focus and The Normal Heart). Yet when asked about career highlights, it’s that ability to create that he treasures most. Over the years, he had developed an affection for the one-man musical Herringbone, in which an actor plays nearly a dozen roles, and Wong pushed hard to produce the musical.

“When it eventually happened – we did four productions – that was tremendously satisfying,” says Wong. “It came from my own energy, and that’s important for everyone to experience.”

It’s something many a minority actor has had to do. As a veteran in the business, Wong has witnessed the snail’s pace at which Hollywood’s attitudes toward Asian actors is changing. (“It is incredibly slow and way slower than it should be,” he admits.) Yet with stars like Mindy Kaling, Steven Yuen and Sandra Oh becoming household names for their roles on The Mindy Project, The Walking Dead and Grey’s Anatomy, respectively, Asian Americans have come a long way.

And when Fresh Off the Boat premiered on ABC this past February, 20 years after Wong starred with Margaret Cho in the only network show until now to focus on an Asian American family, Wong found it encouraging. “The show is chock full of Asian actors that are interesting and have leading roles and carry the show,” he says. He believes the sitcom, which follows a Taiwanese American family living in Orlando, Florida, in the ’90s, has the potential to help fix the “things that are broken about the industry.”

Despite the challenges, Wong urges his fellow actors of Asian descent not to get discouraged. “Don’t back down,” he says. “It’s a noble thing to try and fix [the system]. Resilience, encouragement and being healthy of mind and body and spirit are really important, more so than in any other job. If your average person were to meet the kind of indifference we meet as Asian American actors, many people would give up.”

And Wong is, if nothing else, resilient. In between his dozens of appearances in film, television and theater over the years, he wrote a heart-wrenching memoir, Following Foo (the electronic adventures of the Chestnut Man), in 2003 about the premature birth of his twins via surrogacy and the harrowing time spent with the surviving twin, Jackson Foo, in neonatal intensive care. (Wong now shares custody of Jackson, 14, with his former partner Richie Jackson.) Wong also spends his free time giving back to the community, mentoring budding actors in the nonprofit arts education program Rosie’s Theater Kids. Most recently, he was named artist-in-residence at La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego, where he is learning the administrative side of productions and creating his own projects as writer, actor and director.

Does the veteran actor ever need a break? Apparently not. “I’m not a big vacationer,” says Wong. “I have to be talked into going away. I’m always looking for something new to do, like play the ukulele.

“When you do something you love doing,” he adds, “then you don’t need a break from it.”


Feature image courtesy of Jim Cox. 
This story was originally published in our Summer 2015 issue. Get your copy here