"Acting is one of those things where you have to love it"
Kelly Hu is a veteran of the Asian American acting community. Landing major roles in Hollywood films in the early 2000s when there were even fewer Asians on screen than today, Hu’s success in the industry is nothing short of inspirational.
From starring alongside The Rock in 2002’s Scorpion King to unleashing her ‘mutant’ capabilities in 2003’s X2 to kicking arse as China White in CW series Arrow, Hu is the ultimate Asian badass.
Resonate caught up with Hu to find out more about the Asian American hero.
Recalling a memory from her childhood, Hu said she was inspired by a scene from Gene Kelly’s 1953 musical Singing In The Rain. “I was sitting at home one day watching singing in the rain and there was a scene where all of these movie stars come out of the car and walk on to the red carpet,” she recollected. ” I was mesmerised and and I remember running into the kitchen and telling my mom ‘I’m moving to Hollywood, I’m gonna be a superstar’. She was just like ‘okay just finish school first’.”
Although grateful for her mother’s support, Hu admits that she did not give her mother much of an option. “I didn’t give my mom much of a choice she had to be supportive she knew from a very early age that this was something that I was going to pursue.”
“She never really fought me on it I think she just knew it was my destiny and and I think she realised that if she didn’t support me on it I was gonna do it anyway.”
Growing up, Hu participated in talent competitions in school and took part in ballet, tap and jazz performances on stage. Hu had the support of her single mother but she believes that Asian parents nowadays are becoming more understanding about a career in the arts.
“I think Asian parents are more supportive now than they used to be from you know their kids going into the arts,” she said. “Every Asian parent wanted a doctor a lawyer an accountant but I think now they realise that that acting is a real profession it’s very very difficult.”
As Hu is regarded as one of the first true Asian American stars, there were very few Asians to inspire her growing up.
“Growing up I didn’t have a lot of role models,” she said. “There were not a lot of Asian actresses to look up to. Nancy [Kwan] one was one of the few. She did Flower Drum Song and The World of Suzie Wong. I didn’t realize until many many years later that Susie Wong was a hooker but um but you know those are the those are what we had. That’s what we had to look up.”
Nonetheless, the Hawaii-native said the island allowed her to be more immersed in the Asian American community. “Growing up in Hawaii I was much more fortunate because being Asian I was a part of a majority,” she explained. “Whereas growing up in the mainland I would have had a completely different narrative so my role models were more local people local entertainers but there were no real big actors to look up to.
Having seen it all in the film industry, Hu said whitewashing is certainly present. However, she encourages fellow Asian actors to not be deterred from the industry because of it.
“There are so many things so many you know factors that couldn’t stop a person from being an actor and if that’s what is keeping you from being an actor that you think that there’s too much whitewashing and that you might not be cast, then don’t become an actor. That’s just one of 50,000 reasons that they’re not going to cast you.”
She added that acting must come from passion and rejection is just part of the process. “I think acting is one of those things where you have to love and want it so much that there’s nothing that’s going to stop you from
doing it,” she said. “Whether it’s parents telling you you can’t do it because they’re not going to support you or whether it’s you being worried about this whitewashing… if those are the reasons then don’t do it.
“You’ve got to want it more than anything else because there’s so much rejection and so much that you have to put up with that that if you know if that’s the one reason that you’re not going to be an actor.”
Hu sees the future of the film industry steering towards China because “it all comes down to money.”
“China is really coming into power and they are really a market now that people are looking toward,” the Chinese American actress said. “There’s a lot more money investment and things coming from there… It all comes down to money that’s all.”
“This is an industry like anything else,” she continued. “You know we we try to think in Hollywood that we are teaching people moral values and giving them sort of eye-opening experiences but in the end it always just comes down to money. ”
Thus, Hu’s advice to the Asian community is to support projects that promote Asian leads to demonstrate that they are bankable. “As Asians, whenever there is somebody in a role that looks like us we have to go out and support that project and show that Asians can make money as lead characters,” Hu said.