Dustin Tri Nguyen [Interview]

We all remember Dustin Tri Nguyen from the cult classic 80’s sitcom 21 Jump Street.  Even those of us not really old enough to remember the show being on air.  But, Nguyen’s career as yet to cease in it’s own right since the show ended over 20 years ago.  Dustin has continued to appear in the acting world in the states as well as gaining prominent notarity in his home country of Vietnam.  He recently made a splash with a huge role alongside Cate Blanchett and Sam Neil in Little Fish.  Critics were awestruck from this performance, and we are sure to hear more from this amazing actor.

Dustin Tri Nguyen is an actor who feels the struggles of his work from all angles.  He’s an Asian male, for one.  The stereotypes associated with their race makes things pretty damned difficult.  Secondly, he is will probably never be able to lose the stigma of Ioki.  Not a bad stigma really, but constant recognition for a role that ended over 20 years ago can truly carry some weight.  But, through pure charisma and grace, Dustin has continued to advance his career, just as he chooses to.

We were fortunate enough to have a chat with Dustin to discuss what he has been up to lately, the stigma of 80’s stardom, and joys and struggle of acting across the globe.  Check it out!

How does the Vietnamese film industry differ from the U.S.?  Better?  Worse?

THE FILM INDUSTRY HERE IS INCOMPARABLE TO THE USA; IT’S SO SMALL AND FLEDGING – 18 FILMS MADE THIS YEAR. IT’S VERY DIFFICULT TO SAY BETTER OR WORSE. WHAT IT LACKS IN FUNDING, IT MAKES UP FOR CREATIVE FREEDOM. FILM MAKERS HERE ARE BURDENED AND TRIED BY THE SMALL BUDGETS, BUT ARE GIVEN LOTS OF CREATIVE FREEDOM BECAUSE THERE’S NO STUDIO SYSTEM; NOT YET ANYWAY. I CAN LITERALLY FINISH A SCREENPLAY, GO RAISE MONEY FOR IT AND BE SHOOTING WITHIN 6 MONTHS.

You’ve been quoted as saying you weren’t satisified with the oppurtunities of Asian males in the acting world.  In your opnion, have things gotten better?  worsened?

FIRST OF ALL, I’M ASSUMING YOU MEANT HOLLYWOOD WHEN YOU SAY THE ACTING WORLD, YES? WELL, IT DEPENDS ON HOW YOU DEFINE BETTER.  IF IT MEANS MORE JOBS; QUANTITY, THEN YES, IT HAS GOTTEN BETTER.  BUT WITH THE EXCEPTION OF JUSTIN LIN’S FILMS, THERE ARE NOT TOO MANY EFFORTS THAT GO INTO HAVING A THREE-DIMENSIONAL ASIAN CHARACTER.  THERE ARE MORE ADVANCEMENTS IN TV, I HAVE TO SAY, MORE EFFORT THERE, WITH SHOWS LIKE LOST – I HAVE NOT WATCHED AMERICAN TV SINCE LOST, BUT I’D LIKE TO THINK THAT CURRENTLY THERE ARE OTHERS. AT THE END OF THE DAY, I’M AN OPTIMIST, SO I HAVE TO SAY THAT THERE ARE SOME ADVANCEMENT, TO SAY THAT THERE ARE ABSOLUTELY NONE WOULD BE TOO EXTREME! IT IS WHAT IT IS, IT’S UNREASONABLE TO EXPECT HOLLYWOOD TO PUT ASIANS IN LEADING ROLES, OR TO PUT SOME SERIOUS EFFORTS INTO WRITING  STRONG ASIAN CHARACTERS. WOULD YOU EXPECT THREE-DIMENSIONAL WHITE CHARACTERS IN LEADING ROLES IN CHINESE FILMS, OR JAPANESE FILMS?

You have quite the extensive background in the martial arts.  What style do you participate in?  How long have you been doing it?  And why do you do it?

I FIRST STARTED STUDYING TAE KWON DO. THEN LEARN TO BOX, WHICH NATURALLY LEAD TO KICKBOXING.  BUT I DIDN’T LEARN TO KICK PROPERLY UNTIL I DISCOVER MUY THAI. BUT MY BIGGEST INFLUENCE WAS GURU DAN INOSANTO AND THE FILLIPINO ARTS THAT HE TEACHES. ALL AND ALL, I HAD STUDIED MARTIAL ARTS FROM THE TIME I WAS 15 TO 35. WHY DO I DO IT? IT WAS THE ONLY PHYSICAL THING I WAS GOOD AT. I COULDN’T PLAY FOOTBALL OR BASKETBALL OR MOST SPORTS, SO MARTIAL ARTS GAVE ME A HOME, A SENSE OF BROTHERHOOD AND FAMILY. AND MOST OF ALL, IT GAVE ME A STRONG FOUNDATION AND A BELIEF THAT I CAN OVERCOME ANY OBSTACLES, WHICH BECAME INVALUABLE THROUGHOUT MY ENTIRE LIFE.

What has been your favorite role in your decades spanning career?

IT’S A DIFFICULT ONE TO ANSWER… IT’S LIKE OF ALL YOUR KIDS WHO IS YOUR FAVORITE?!  FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF CRAFTMANSHIP, I’D HAVE TO SAY LITTLE FISH BECAUSE OF THE CALIBER OF THE PEOPLE I WAS FORTUNATE ENOUGH TO COLLABORATE WITH. I MEAN FROM THE DIRECTOR ROWAN WOODS TO MY AUSTRALIAN CO-STARS CATE BLANCHETT, HUGO WEAVING, SAM NEIL, ETC… I MEAN YOU’RE IN THE RING WITH THE GREATS, SO YOU BETTER BRING ON YOUR BEST OF BEST.  ON A PERSONAL PERSPECTIVE, I TREASURE A LITTLE VIETNAMESE FILM I DID CALLED THE LEGEND IS ALIVE. IT WAS POSSIBLY THE MOST RIGOROUS AND MOST CHALLENGING AS WELL AS INFECTIOUS CHARACTER I’VE EVER ATTEMPTED.

How often are you stopped and recognized for your role as Ioki in 21 Jump Street?  Does it grow old?

IF I’VE GOTTEN A DOLLAR EVERY TIME I WAS RECOGNIZED FROM JUMP STREET, I COULD RETIRE NOW! YEAH, IT DOES GET OLD, ONLY BECAUSE FOR SOME REASON I CAN’T FATHOM THE LONGEVITY OF THIS SHOW. I MEAN IT WAS A LONG TIME AGO, AND PEOPLE STILL REMEMBER IT!!!

Tell us a little bit about your upcoming film Saigon, CA.  How did you become involved with Death Row Records?

JUST BY ASSOCIATION I GUESS.  THEY BECAME INTERESTED IN THE PROJECT, AND AT THAT TIME I WAS ALREADY ATTACHED TO IT.  IT’S A LITTLE FILM BASED ON A REAL EVENT OF A COMPUTER CHIPS ROBBERY IN SAN JOSE I BELIEVE.

What sort of projects can we expect to see in the future from your Early Risers Media Group in the near future.  Where did you come up with the name for the company?

IT WAS A BUNCH OF GUYS GETTING TOGETHER SO WE THOUGHT WE DIDN’T WANT A SERIOUS NAME, SO… WE’RE GUYS, SO WHAT DO GUYS GET FIRST THING IN THE MORNING?  HOWEVER, I’M NO LONGER A PART OF EARLY RISERS SO I DON’T REALLY KNOW WHAT THEY’RE GOING TO BE DOING.  WE PARTED WAYS A YEAR AGO DUE TO MANAGERIAL DIFFERENCES.  I, MYSELF, AM IN MID PREP FOR MY DIRECTORIAL DEBUT OF A SCRIPT I WROTE.  IT’S A MARTIAL-ARTS/FANTASY/SERGIO-LEONE KIND OF THING.  IT EXPLORES WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A MAN AND A REAL HERO.  SOME PEOPLE HAVE TRACKED IT AS “MONK ON FIRE”.  I’M THINKING OF MAYBE CALLING IT “ONCE UPON A TIME IN VIETNAM”, DON’T KNOW YET… BUT I’M GOING TO WORRY ABOUT SHOOTING IT FIRST!  WE’RE STARTING THIS NOVEMBER IN VIETNAM.

What was the last thing that made you smile?

THIS VERY QUESTION.

Stay in touch with what Dustin has going on at his Official Website.

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About rontrembathiii
write. write. write.

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