Friday, October 25, 2013

What is it like to be an Asian-American actor? An interview with Jason R. Sol

Finding positive Asian-American representation in the media is an ongoing concern for the Asian-American community. Guy Aoki, the founding president of the Media Action Network for Asian Americans, summed up the Asian-American plight perfectly in August of 2013 when he stated, "We are the one group that can get picked on and people think they can get away with it. People are afraid of offending black people, but they aren't afraid of angry Asian people. And that's why this stuff happens."

"This stuff" he was referring to was the controversial Asian jokes and stereotypes featured in the pilot of Fox's new sitcom Dads. The pilot featured lead actress Brenda Song in a fetishized schoolgirl costume, had characters refer to Asians as "Orientals," and of course featured the obvious tired "small dick" jokes. Now that the controversy has seemingly died down because most attribute the offensive content to lazy writing, the underlying issue still remains: How long will it take for the mainstream media to portray Asian-Americans as real people and stop with the stereotypes? Do we really need more Long Duk Dongs or Mr. Chows?

Luckily, some Asian-American actors break through the glass ceiling. For instance, Steven Yeun's character Glenn on The Walking Dead is not defined by his race, and he is a masculine character who gets the girl. However, characters such as Glenn are still not commonplace, and oftentimes, Asian-American male actors have to fight over limited "geek" or "guy with accent" roles. No one can blame those who do take these roles, because after all, everyone needs to eat; but it is disheartening that finding an Asian leading male is a rarity in Hollywood.

Jason R. Sol
Thankfully that doesn't mean that Asian actors have quit the fight for positive representation. One such actor is Jason R. Sol. We connected through social media, and I'm very impressed with his story. He was successful in the corporate world, but after several years, he followed his passion to become an actor. He was recently cast in a new Korean drama series called "This Love Song" and the first episode will air October 9th. He has also appeared in short films and the TV show Royal Pains.

Jason stopped by the T.Lo Club, and we discussed defying cultural expectations to pursue one's dreams, breaking into entertainment, and what it's like to be an Asian man in Hollywood.

TL: I find it very inspiring that you chose to leave a career you were unhappy with to pursue your dreams of working in the entertainment industry. What was the moment that you knew you had to leave the corporate world?

JRS: I wanted to become an actor since I was young but always thought it was just a fantasy. Around December 2011, I was sitting at work and I had an epiphany. At that time I always heard the term “YOLO” which means “You Only Live Once.” I was also watching the HBO show “How to Make It in America” and that sparked the idea of moving to New York City (unfortunately, by the time I made the move the show was canceled). I just pictured myself 20-30 years from now, and I didn’t want to live a life of regret. Long story short: After 8 years in the corporate world, I quit my job. In a matter of a couple weeks, I pretty much sold everything that I had worked so hard for and moved to New York to pursue acting.

TL: How did your loved ones react?

JRS: I think my family always knew I wanted to get into the industry but never really took me serious because I didn’t do any theater in school. I was always involved in sports year-round. At first, they were very stunned and concerned about my wellbeing. My family was probably looking forward to the next chapter of my life—marriage, starting a family, etc. I just had to ignore the criticism and keep pushing forward. As the months went by and they could see I was working to make a name for myself, they became a lot more supportive. I remember my father saying that he’s happy for me and no matter what happens just try your best!

TL: What would you say to someone else who is in a similar situation where they are unhappy with their career but scared to make the switch?

JRS: You have to weigh your options and consider your personal situation. Since I wasn’t married and didn’t have kids, I was only responsible for feeding myself so I was content with going hungry some nights if I had to budget a little bit. Many people are working in industries they hadn’t planned to be in when they finished school. Even though I don’t make the money I used to, I’m in a much happier place in life. I wouldn’t recommend anyone just to quit their job and go into acting. I do think if you have the work ethic where you want and need this like your lungs need air, then go for it. I moved to New York with just a dream and a prayer. I told myself if I have to drum on buckets in the subway for some money then I would.

TL: What are some of the struggles you've encountered working in entertainment? How have you overcome those obstacles?

JRS: Being an Asian-American male is pretty hard in the entertainment industry. We get a lot of stereotypical roles. I would love to change those stereotypes or inspire others to do the same. The market is definitely growing for the better for Asian actors though.

TL: How did you break into the entertainment field?

JRS: When I first moved to New York, I had no idea what I got myself into. I literally started from scratch and had to find ways to get myself out there. The most important thing is to do your due diligence and research everything… and network, network, network! Networking and meeting people is the most crucial key—especially for someone like me who didn’t come from a theater background. I have been so blessed with the all the people I’ve met who have helped me along the way.

TL: Thank you so much for sharing your story. Is there anything you would like to add?

JRS: I have to acknowledge all those who have been so supportive with my career. Even though I am fairly new to acting and slowly building my credentials, the support has been overwhelming! I always make an attempt to get back to everyone that corresponds with me on all social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram). It’s very humbling to hear that I’ve inspired people to pursue something that they have always been afraid of. Some people aren’t able to pursue their dreams and they live their lives vicariously through me. When I hear these stories, it motivates me to work that much harder and make sure that I don’t let my supporters down.
To connect with Jason R Sol
  1. Instagram: JasonRSoL (http://instagram.com/jasonrsol/)

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