In a world of artistic endeavors, particularly in show business, being a household name is the goal. Many have tried, but only a few have succeeded. The chances of breaking into the elite group of stars could be somewhere near enough to zero, depending on how committed you are and how your physical and emotional energy can cope. But that doesn’t mean one can never “make it big”; in fact, most of the A-listers owe it to what we call “suddenness,” or a meteoric rise to fame.
In Hollywood––the so-called “self-declared entertainment capital of the world”–––the case is more arduous for non-Americans, especially Asians. For the last decades, America’s booming entertainment industry seemed not to be the best place for Asian actors to establish their ground. But recent developments in America’s show business for non-locals start to take place alongside the rise of new media platforms.
We had the privilege of talking to Nathan Ing, Wong Fu Production’s “The Spring We Never Had” lead actor and one of the generation’s up-and-coming stars to share with us some glimpse of how it is to be an aspiring Asian American actor in the Tinseltown.
“So far, it’s better lately for Asian Americans in Hollywood,” Nathan answers quickly when asked what the hurdles and difficulties he has gone through by being Asian while making his way to the mainstream were. “But better doesn’t really mean it’s where I would quite like it to be. They’re more inclusive in diversity and casts and stuff like that, but I don’t really see it as very different from what it was before; we still wouldn’t be the lead roles, right? We are still sidekicks; we would still be like, just background characters, the best friends,” he adds.
Nathan Ing, a degree holder of Economics and Finance, started acting during his fifth grade but only took it seriously two years ago, nearing the end of his college days. Two years could be relatively short to be where you wanted to be, particularly in showbiz. Still, in Nathan’s case, he had already achieved a handful of projects to back up his acting portfolio.
“Are you proud of that? Like, do you even realized that?” I ask, talking about the web short films and TV series he has landed in such a short period, setting aside his thousands of social media followings.
He flashes a smile before giving a quick and brief “No” answer.
Though that type of humility is what I typically get from people I meet, Ing’s reserved responses ignite the curiosity. So I continue probing and ask him why not.
“It’s hard. It’s hard when you’re in the process of going about your life—feeling like you could do much more,” he answers. Nathan continues to share how he sometimes doubts himself about whether he made the right decisions or not, or if he could be more successful in doing other ways or work harder. Despite all that, he is well aware of the advantages of starting to transform those doubts into a positive mindset; more into acknowledging and being happy in the future with what he has accomplished over the years, rather than being like, where he is now. “I want to be happy about the journey and have no regrets there,” he adds.
Growing Up as an Asian American
Interestingly, Nathan grew up in an Asian community and never felt exclusion and inequity concerning his race. His race only became apparent to him when he enters college, and the initial response was to avoid hanging out and be associated with other Asian kids.
“That’s a pretty messed up mentality for me to have. And I’m not proud of it,” he recalls. “So I eventually did something about it; I wanted to make sure that people who felt the same way as me going into college are never feeling like they’re alienated. So I became the Asian Student Union president and then created a foster community of being feeling included.” The said organization as to how Ing describes it is a “foster community of being feeling included.”
And is there any particular unforgettable moment when you feel that being Asian puts you in a disadvantaged position? I ask.
“Yeah, and not necessarily in acting, but in the dating world, man is hard. It’s hard out here,” he answers quickly, then lets out a giggle. Nathan shares that he has met several people during his college days who are not “very diverse.” He adds, “I’ve been approached several times, and people were like, ‘hey, you’re attractive––for an Asian!’ and I was like ‘the f*ck?’ like you’re a little bit insensitive. You just stop right there, on attractive.”
Although Nathan’s delivery of words is entertaining and somehow comical, you can still sense the conviction and truth in his every word. Through those encounters concerning diversity, he became conscious of being an Asian and made him feel like he was in a bubble. To him, it’s never a good thing, because as cliché as it may sound, the young actor doesn’t want to be defined by his ethnicity and but rather by who he is as a person.
Where It All Started
Aside from starring in different VET TV shows, one of the most significant projects Nathan participated in was during the pandemic when he leads Wong Fu’s short romance film, “The Spring we never had.” The said digital production company has been making short films on YouTube since 2003 and probably became a part of generation Z growing up. “I’ve looked up to them [Wong Fu] most of my life. When I was in high school, I’d say, one day I would love to be an actor or lead one of their films, and that happened.”
Nathan believes that the production house is one of the forefronts born within the industry that provides a safe and productive space for Asian American actors. True enough, there are several cast from Wong Fu’s projects which showed up in major film outfits and Netflix series over the last decade, one being Justin H. Min, one of the leads in the Netflix original series The Umbrella Academy.
But despite landing all these lead roles and projects within two years of officially venturing into acting, it also takes its toll on Ing; he sometimes doubts why he was chosen for a role and not the other people who spent all their life training and honing the skills. He describes it merely like an “Impostor Syndrome.” In Psychology, it’s defined as self-doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence. “I guess I’m not as experienced as I want it to be. And I was hoping that taking [acting] classes would kind of affirm those insecurities to be ‘just’ insecurities, and know that I am capable.”
Speaking of insecurities, there’s also a lengthy debate on how extensive editing in Photoshop in achieving an “idealized beauty” drains society’s self-esteem. Having modeled for several campaigns, Nathan parts his fair share on the matter. “In some modeling, you just become so insecure because you notice every single fault in your face and your body. When you see the released pictures, they edited it, so it looks like you, but then it’s also not you, and you’re like, ‘Oh, this is their ideal version of me.’ And that’s not who I am. And that makes me extremely insecure.”
“So, what is the highest form of validation for you?” I ask.
“I would say being recognized for the things that I do,” he starts. “It’s really nice when people do not just comment on appearance but comment on performance. If they comment on my humour, that really makes my day. I mean, I’m not saying I’m opposed to people saying that they think I have a nice smile, but I feel like it’s more validating if it’s their deeper compliments. Also, the validation of my friends and family, I can’t do this without them.”
Social Media and Self-Worth
As the current media consumption of the society changes, Nathan recognizes it and sensibly utilizes the new media platforms as tools to show his craft. In fact, he’s making all his effort to become more prominent in social media as he believes that casting directors, nowadays, particularly those in commercials, are not looking at talents but rather at an individual’s account followings.
“It’s fantastic, and it’s actually really fun!” he exclaims, talking about producing content on social media. “Most of the time, as an actor, you don’t really work as an actor; the job is to look for jobs. But if you are creating your own stuff, you can say creative, and I mean, I don’t really get paid for it, but it’s still fun. And it reminds me why I am an actor and why I love it.”
Algorithms play a huge part in social media, and one will never know when a particular content becomes a hit. Having that one viral moment could be detrimental to mental health, especially to those who take it seriously. Study shows that content creators start looking at the numbers, and start associating them with their worth. Nathan is not exempt from that, and he acknowledges it.
“I just had to think about why am I doing this, to begin with, it’s because it’s fun. It’s not for the numbers. It’s not for affirmation from other people. But just to make at least one person laugh. If I can make one person laugh, then I made someone’s day. And that’s all I care about. And if I could just make one person, obviously, if I can make 2.5 million people laugh, that’d be better. But that’s not my goal.”
“No matter if I’m down here or up here, I want to be humble. I want to have humility, and I want to be able not to forget why I’m doing what I’m doing, and it’s to spread entertainment and joy. To make your day a little bit less shitty, because of the world kind of sucks. That’s what I want to do,” he concludes.