Ningin’s Interview with Justin Chon
During the taping of the Boys vs. Girls episode of ABDC, I got the chance to speak with the friendly and laid back Justin Chon. The 27-year-old actor recently received national attention for his performance as Eric Yorkie in Twilight and is currently on the heels of another success: the upcoming film Crossing Over, an intense drama that weaves together several vignettes about immigrants in Los Angeles.
Why was he hanging out at ABDC, you ask? It turns out that Justin’s apparel store, Attic, which is located in San Diego and in his home base of Orange County, is currently supplying clothing for the boys of Quest Crew. In this two-part interview, we touch upon his past work, his inspirations, his dream projects and his ethos on acting. I enjoyed getting to know this passionate young actor, and I hope you guys will, too.
TJL: Can you tell us more about your store?
JC: It’s called Attic, and every season we’ve provided clothing for certain teams, and this year, we ended up providing clothes for Quest.
TJL: So, it’s more like an urban style, street wear kind of store?
JC: Yeah, and I’m out here to support the show and support them [Quest] and check it out [ABDC]. I’m a huge fan of the show.
TJL: In regards to your store, do you do any designing for the lines? Or is it consigned?
JC: No, it’s not consigned. We have accounts with different brands, and I’m not really too involved with the buying, but one of my best friends [James Yang] runs the store with me. He’s mostly in charge of that. But yeah, we just kind of got together and started buying a lot of clothes we like and [are] selling them now, yeah.
TJL: Very cool. It’s great if you can make a living doing that.
JC: Yeah, definitely.
TJL: I understand that your father was an actor in Korea, right?
TJL: What was that experience like for you, and how did that impact you as a kid?
JC: When I was young—growing up—I used to watch his black and white movies, and it definitely influenced me a lot because I was just like, “That’s possible?” Even back then, that was like in the 60’s, so that drove me to kind of follow my dreams. But there’s a little bit of a difference. He did it out of necessity; he needed to make money. I always had an interest in acting, but he allowed me to be like, “Okay, well, you can do it.”
TJL: Did he have any words of advice for you when you started getting into acting?
JC: I mean, he’s just like, “It’s a really lonely road. It’s a really hard life, but if you’re up for it, go for it.” And he gave me a few acting tips, and he continues to critique my work. [laughs]
TJL: And what’s his best advice so far?
JC: I would say… he says all the time, “You gotta make it real. You gotta make it truthful.”
TJL: And on that subject—on Eric Yorkie—what sort of preparation went into that role? Because it’s not typical [in mainstream American media] that a person of Asian descent is given a role that actually transcends all colors and barriers.
JC: Yeah. I just thought of it not in terms of color. I was just like, “What does this kid [Yorkie] need, and what does he want? And what’s his main driving force in life?” I just figured that he’s just like anybody else. He really wants to be liked, but really liked to an extreme. So, at his school—I boiled it down to one word: he’s like a diplomat.
TJL: Yeah, he is.
JC: Yeah, so he’s the type of guy in your school where he’s friends with one guy from each crew.
TJL: Ah, the interloper.
JC: Yeah! [laughs] So, he just drifts around. He has his little clique, but he’s in with everybody. So, he obviously has to be in a good mood all the time and [be] very energetic and [be] someone that people want to be around. And he might not be funny, but he tries to be.
TJL: Will we be able to expect to see him in the subsequent [Twilight] films?
JC: I think so, I think so.
TJL: People like [Yorkie]—when they’re always trying to please other people—are sometimes very repressed on the inside because they can’t show anger or loneliness, so will you eventually get a chance to play any of that in the later films?
JC: I don’t think in Twi—actually, I have no idea because I haven’t read the scripts yet, but I know in my other movie that’s coming out, you’ll see a lot of drama.
In part one of Ningin’s Justin Chon interview, we learned about his father—a former South Korean actor—and got an idea of both of their approaches to tackling roles and acting in general. In part two, we will learn more about his new drama-packed film, as well as get a glimpse of this inspired film buff’s all-time favorites in the industry.
TJL: What’s the project called?
JC: It’s called Crossing Over. It’s with Harrison Ford, Ashely Judd, Ray Leota, Jim Sturgess.
TJL: Sounds like a great cast.
JC: Yeah, like an awesome, awesome cast, and it’s about immigration. Very dramatic. It’s all about… sad. [laughs] It’s a tear jerker.
TJL: Did you get really emotional filming it?
JC: It was a very tough role to play. To date, that’s my hardest role—preparation wise, it was the hardest.
TJL: What was your first role? Was it that kung-fu flick from Disney? [Wendy Wu: Homecoming Warrior]
JC: I was in that, and I did a co-star on the show Jack & Bobby. In terms of TV and film, I think that’s the first thing ever.
TJL: What’s your dream role? And whom would you like to collaborate with one day?
JC: You know, honestly, even for like acting, I’ve already accomplished what I’ve set out for initially because seriously, I never thought I’d even get this far.
TJL: You’ve gotten your name out there.
JC: Yeah, and I’ve got to work with huge people, but if I had a choice, probably like a little, tiny indie that has a really brilliant director. Someone like—you know how Danny Boyle won all those awards? I mean, he’s an amazing director, but he’s a little bit under the radar.
TJL: Right! Well, Trainspotting… did you ever imagine the director would be there [the mainstream success Boyle has been experiencing for Slumdog Millionaire] one day?
JC: Yeah! Like the director of 28 Days Later, or you know, Sunshine? He’s just kind of like—he’s had these wonderful films that have just been visionary, but he’s just kind of flown under the radar. To the general public, that is; of course, the industry knows him.
TJL: Exactly, but he’s not like Spielberg. He doesn’t have that kind of name.
JC: Yeah, so I’d love to find a director like that before he gets huge and work on an amazing film…who has a total vision…trusting totally and completely.
TJL: Someone you can grow with.
JC: Yeah! Creating true art.
TJL: When it comes to actors, films, directors—whatever in the industry—what are some of your biggest inspirations or favorites?
JC: I love all the neglected actors, like I love Crispin Glover.
TJL: Oh, I love him! [Chon's publicist and friend laugh about us talking about Glover]
JC: Dude, I love—
TJL: I love that rat movie he did. [Willard]
JC: Yeah, you know people just take huge risks and don’t care what people think. I don’t think I have the luxury of that, yet, but I look up to those who can just let it go.
TJL: Play off the beaten path?
JC: Yeah, you know? And he’s had a career [Glover]. Or someone who’s just very meat and potatoes and who knows his craft, like Mark Ruffalo.
TJL: Yes, he’s one of my favorites.
JC: People like that just really inspire me. I mean, of course greats like Johnny Depp are obviously inspiring, but they [neglected actors] are just really interesting people.
TJL: Is there anything you’d like to share with people who are just starting out in acting or might be interested in it?
JC: I always say just learn how to act because, you know, a lot of people just want to be famous, and that’s not what acting’s about. At all.
TJL: It’s an actual craft.
JC: It’s an actual craft, and I was talking about this the other day with somebody. You look at all the best actors—they’ve all been trained by Strasberg or Uta Hagen or Roy London—they actually have training. There’s a select few, like 5%, that don’t get trained and are just amazing, but that’s just…. you can’t just rely on raw talent unless you’re—I dunno—like Johnny Depp. Yeah, I would definitely say just learn how to act.