Author: Kate Liu & Gina Groesbeck
Lights, cameras and scripts make up some of the elements of acting. While some people want to stay behind the scenes, others want to shine center staged. Parry Shen found his passion for acting late in his academic career but is living out his dreams today.
Asian and Asian American actors are often overlooked and not given the same opportunities in the acting field. However, in recent years, producers are starting to recognize talents amongst Asian minorities, like Parry Shen, and bringing their talents to the spotlight.
What do you think is the most important soft skill or leadership skill that you’ve developed and want to instill in the next generation?
Leading by example without cynicism and with enthusiasm has been what works for me over my 20 year career. I’ve found that it covers the widest range of the varying personalities in the workforce. Those who are on the same page as I am, they’re excited that they found someone that works just as hard as they do and are excited that they found that partner in crime in trying to find solutions and work together. I’ve been in workplaces where people bond and think it’s funny by being cynical and rolling their eyes, but it’s just unhealthy. What makes cynicism so damaging to a team environment is that it’s so subversive. It’s not outright being said-it’s sneaky and doesn’t create a good situation. Just leading by example, being excited, and being here because you want to be here, is contagious….
Some of our followers are interested in theatre/ acting, what advice would you give to hopefuls to embark on a career path like yours?
Any actor that wants to get into the business, do it any way you can, and take whatever opportunities you have. Absorb like a sponge to figure out what you’d like to do. There’s a lot of different mediums (hosting, audio books, film, stage, etc), and they’re all a performance of some sort. Know what you like to do and what you can do, discover your strengths and weaknesses and act accordingly. Practice, train, do at least one thing a day towards your career each day.
Agents and representation are often given too much power by actors. if you’re doing the work, then you need to be hustling out there. No matter how good an agent or manager is, nobody’s going to work harder for you than yourself.
What’s your day-to-day work schedule like?
It’s never the same day to day. If im not on set, I’ll go to the gym. I feel that if I’m looking my best, I feel confident and that comes out on screen. I’ll work on audition material, and my lines for my script on the soap opera I’m in, General Hospital. Sometimes I’ll be shooting two episodes on one day, which means I’ll have to learn multiple scripts. My process is I have to handwrite or type my material because that’s how it sinks in for me. I’ll multitask and learn them while I’m on the treadmill, or even in the shower. When I’m shooting, I’ll get on set at 6am and block a scene, which is rehearsing camera positions, and then shoot from 8-11am. Then I’ll go to the gym, hammer down my lines for the next day and it starts all over again.
Describe the most difficult obstacle you’ve overcome.
After we shot Better Luck Tomorrow and it was the number 1 movie that weekend, we were thinking “this is it”, and expecting higher caliber roles from then on. But agents didn’t want to represent any of us and kind of said that we broke the rules in a system that still exists today, and that it’d take time for people to catch up to us and have stories for us. It felt like we were back to square one, which was frustrating.
It sounds very romantic now, but at the time it was something that most people wouldn’t do. We told our agents we were off the market because we were shooting this movie. Even when great opportunities came up, one challenge for me was sticking to my guns and turning those down because we were creating something special. All I remember is that in the six years I’d been acting before Better Luck Tomorrow, I’d get a script and my first lines would start on page 57, deep into the script as a minor character. For the first time in Better Luck Tomorrow, they asked me to read for Ben, and I turned the page and Ben was on the very first page of the script.
Another obstacle was letting go of the responsibility that I was responsible for representing all Asian Americans in cinema. Someone’s always going to have something to say about the way Asian actors represent their roles in media.
Did you identify with your character Ben in Better Luck Tomorrow?
Yes! I especially identify with the fact that all the kids in the movie were left alone- you never see parents in the movie and these were honor roll kids were left alone at home because they were assumed to be “good kids”; you trusted they would never do anything bad.
I remember in high school, I used to hang out with a lot of the members of the Chinese gang in Queens, The Green Dragons. They seemed like normal guys, but then people would come up to me and say that the person I was hanging out with just stabbed someone with a pen. I could see how easily I could have gone another way, and the wrong set of choices could have changed things. If I hung around them a bit more than I did, things might have ended up differently, and I understand how easy it is to make the wrong decisions.
You mentioned going to business school and being president of your fraternity. How did you balance all that while looking into acting?
There’s a way to balance everything if you prioritize and organize. I was a business major and was very ingrained with a plan by my Asian parents. The plan was to go through my undergrad, masters, and doctorates. When all was said and done, I ended up having enough credits to graduate as a Junior and reality set in. I realized I didn’t want to do this [career in business]. So with one year left, I basically had a year of freebies to figure out acting. I looked through my course catalog at all the classes I had wanted to take before but never let myself and took ALL of them my senior year, and it was so much fun. I actually ended up getting an additional minor because of that.
The campus was huge, so I was doing all my business stuff on one side of campus and then I would rollerblade with my suit on all the way to my theatre classes right after. I somehow ended up being the president of my business frat but I wasn’t taking a single business course that year!
What do you think of Asian Americans in media today? Where do you think they’re headed (e.g. Master of None, Crazy Rich Asians, etc)?
I think it’s great because it’s creating this empowerment in us that my generation had never seen. Those entering the industry today will not see the same struggles that I’ve had, just as I didn’t see the ones that my older counterparts had like George Takei. It’s also great to see that Asian actors have a broader reach today because of social media
Any hints on what you’re working on next besides what’s already been posted on your twitter? (i.e. I, Survivor book updates?)
I’ve shot this independent movie called “Death of a Thousand Made lines”, where a husband and wife team builds a time machine and sends the wife into the future.
“I, Survivor” is now up on Amazon! I’m also doing an audiobook in time for Christmas and voicing the thoughts of my character from Hatchet 3 and 4 and the backstory of “I Survivor”. I just did a video game for Sony’s new open world video game.
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