Dennis A. Amith interviews Roger Fan (2002)

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     As I stepped into my office, the music was blasting and the songs lyrics went like this:

     You love this town Even if that doesn't ring true
     You've been all over And it's been all over you
     It's a beautiful day
     Don't let it get away
     It's a beautiful day

     The lyrics are from U2's "Beautiful Day", describe the atmosphere among director Justin Lin and the people involved with the Indie movie "Better Luck Tomorrow" which received nothing but awesome reviews and an encouraging article from movie critic, Roger Ebert about the importance of the film. So important and so impressive that the director and the cast should be singing "Beautiful Day" because the movie was recently picked up by MTV Films for national distribution in 2003.

     One of the people involved with the film is Roger Fan, a member of the Asian American celebrity circle which I have deemed as the "Brat Pack". This group consists of Roger Fan, John Cho, Parry Shen, Jason Tobin, Marie Matiko, Lela Lee and several others who carry the task of being the pioneers of young Asian American talent on screen but also carrying the task of being a group of friends who often have to go against each other at auditions.

     Despite the lack of roles for Asian American men in Hollywood and as these roles slowly improve, Roger Fan has been very fortunate to be one of the few who are keeping busy in the business.

     Not only has it been a beautiful day but it has been a beautiful year for the Brown University graduate. Roger has been busy promoting "Better Luck Tomorrow", "The Quest For Length" (a film which he wrote and produced), working with his local theater company and currently producing and working on a new Indie film titled "The Children in the Mirror". No matter what kind of challenges that he may face, he's loving every minute of it.

     He has appeared in movies such as "Corky Romano" and "Rush Hour" and also on the television shows "Frasier", "ER", "Martial Law", "Party of Five", "Diagnosis Murder" and many more.

     I recently had the opportunity to interview Roger Fan.

DENNIS: Where were you born and raised?
ROGER: I was born in Baltimore, Maryland at the Union Memorial Hospital and I grew up in the white-collar hood of Southern California.

DENNIS: Did you grow up with a strict Asian American upbringing?
ROGER: No. It was kind of weird. My parents wanted my sister and I to do well. However, they never really put pressure on us…except for Chinese school and Suzuki-method violin. I think its because both my parents were artists at heart.

DENNIS: How did your parents react when they found out you wanted to pursue a career in entertainment?
ROGER:
After a year working in corporate America, I quit. I moved my stuff back home and bought a one-way ticket to Europe to be a pro nomad. My mother greeted me at the door and she asked me what I was doing. I told her that I quit my job and that I wanted to be a professional actor. She responded with a comforting smile and said, "I was waiting for you to do this." My father grunted and said, "Go ahead, but when you want to get married and you have no money, don't expect daddy to pay for the wedding." That was cool with me because little did daddy know that in America, it's the girl's family who foots the wedding bill.

DENNIS: When you were younger, what was your dream job? As a child, what did you want to be when you grow up?
ROGER:
When I was younger, I really wanted to be an airplane pilot, a doctor, a professional athlete or an actor. As a kid, all my daydreams revolved around these 4 things and as an overgrown, adult-kid, it remains the same.

DENNIS: I read your bio and it said you had traveled across America in the back of a green, wood-paneled station wagon. Do you still have fond memories of that experience?
ROGER:
My fondest memory of crossing America in a wood-paneled station wagon was on one hot summer day. I spilled a coke on my lap wearing my blue, OP shorts. Since it was my father's mission to make this journey nonstop, I had to sit there and watch my legs and crotch area turn into this brown, syrupy, "La Brea tar pit-like" mess. It certainly didn't help that I was sitting on green vinyl and that I became physically bonded with the car's upholstery.
Photo: Roger Fan laying down the law in 'Corky Romano'. Pictured, Dave Shierdan (Scary Movie) and Richard Roundtree (the original Shaft)."

DENNIS: Back in high school, what kind of student were you? The popular guy? The person you would find in the library or find smoking in the restroom?
ROGER:
First of all, smoking is very, very bad for you. That is why I only smoke one light cigarette a day. I have since cut down by forcing myself to run steeper than shit hills so that it reminds me of the importance of a clean pulmonary system. In high school I was the kind of student that could get B's regularly but had to work his ass of to get the A's. That's because I went to this high school with students that just happened to have much larger brain cases than normal.
This also applied to such wonderful standardized test like the SAT. Only through thousands of dollars and hours spent learning from my vegan, freshly graduated from MIT, Princeton Review instructor, was I able to insure and justify an SAT Math score 500 points higher than my verbal.
My freshman year I was 5' 3" tall and about 98 pounds...so obviously I did not exhibit the desirable, masculine traits of the 80's (think Don Johnson in Miami Vice). Since I went to a private school, pretty much everyone was a brainy nerd. So to call myself a brainy nerd would be redundant. However, a funny thing happened my sophomore year. I became a pretty darn good athlete and that's when everything changed. I wouldn't call myself the "popular guy" or anything like that. But being a good athlete in high school really helped with attracting significant others, getting invitations to parties, and warding off upper classmen trying to find a victim to give a lemonade swirly to. I found this to be really funny because throughout all of this "letterman-jacket" fantasy, I was still that same small-brain-cased, skinny kid.

DENNIS: What experience made you want to pursue a career as an actor?
ROGER:
When I was in junior high, I was stuck in a small farming town in Taiwan for summer break. Did I mention that was my home town and that I am basically a farmer's child? I was totally bored of trying to walk my grandfather's pet monkey, so I went to the town's cinema to watch a movie and that movie was John Woo's "A Better Tomorrow" starring Chow Yun Fat. I remember I pretty much cried through most of the film. At that time, I didn't know why. In hindsight, it was because it was the first time I ever saw anyone in film/TV that I could truly identify with on a personal, normal level. Prior to that experience, my role models were Tom Hanks and Don Johnson. This experience, coupled with the fact that I spent most of my time as a kid pretending to be a bounty hunter, a flying squirrel, Don Johnson on Miami Vice, a person dying of a degenerative bone disease, etc. Are you seeing a pattern here yet or what? It experience got the ball rolling towards my becoming an actor.

Photo: Roger Fan and Roger Fan junior in 'The Quest For Length'
DENNIS: Let's talk about your career as an actor. The first movie we will discuss is "Better Luck Tomorrow". What was it like to work with Justin Lin?
ROGER:
Working with Justin Lin and the rest of the "Better Luck Tomorrow" family was by far the most rewarding experience in my entire acting career. Justin is one of those rare breed of directors who understands not only the technical in's and out's of film making, but is also an "actor's director". He sets a strong tone of trust and safety on set so that his performers can do their best work.

His mantra is very sports-oriented and it is all about working as a team. Justin was able to inspire people to work "with" him and not "for" him and I believe that was the main reason why "Better Luck Tomorrow" was able to inspire the mainstream Hollywood community to embrace our film. I hope every actor has a chance to work with Justin.

DENNIS: What was it like to work with Parry, Jason, Sung and the others involved with the film?
ROGER:
It's very difficult to be friends with fellow actors that you are in constant competition with. There are so few roles for Asian American actors like Jason, Parry, Sung and myself. And when you are a young actor always fighting for scraps against these guys, you can't help but resent them and see them as the enemy. One of the greatest things that has come out of working with Parry, Jason, and Sung, was finally being able to be on the same team as them and ironically through the process, realizing that in the biggest picture, we have always been on the same team. It's just that the mechanics of Hollywood prevented myself and many Asian American actors from seeing that. I have never worked with a group of actors who were as good, as trusting, and as supportive than "the boys". I am great friends with all of them and hang out with them all the time. And now, when we see each other at auditions, I genuinely hope, from the bottom of my heart, that one of "the boys" gets it.

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