The life and times of actor Hank Chen are filled with fun while fueled by focus. The diverse and talented true-to-heart comic stars in “Life Size 2” along with Tyra Banks and is poised for a breakout year in 2019.

Ink Tone Swep 

Images Benny Haddad 

Lines Emily Zempel

Location Hollywood Hills, Los Angeles, CA

All of life is a gamble. So why not pursue your dreams.

Hank Chen

You are originally from the DMV area. Do you feel like the region is slept on? Underexposed to some degree? New York, LA, Miami, Chicago, and Vegas seem to garner most of the hot city talk and subsequent tourist attention, but DMV is basically an incubator for talent in business, education, sports, and entertainment. Growing up in Maryland we always called it the MVA, so it didn’t get confused with that other DMV everyone dreads – the Motor V (Laughs!). Regarding DC not getting much attention, I believe that’s partially done on purpose as DC is at the center of global politics. That’s their way of protecting their interests. I feel like the entire city is on lockdown at times. And the grid of DC is so complicated. DC is Xs and Os and squares, that’s truly the city layout, so if the city is to be shut down, it can be by section. And being a political scandal place, DC loves it’s secrets. It is a very secretive place and stays low profile. No real publicity unless it’s around voting time and they want to push policy. It’s not the place reality stars are letting people know where they are having lunch (Laughs!). It’s not a PR town. The popular people here are trying to stay out of the news, that’s DC PR. And the people in DC aren’t as cute as in New York or Los Angeles (Laughs!). DMV socialites are more Safeway than runway (Laughs!).

What is your character Brendan Butler up to in “Life Size 2”? How was your experience working with Tyra, Francia, and the crew? Looks like you all had fun. No one worked harder than Tyra. The first Life Size from 2000 is iconic. She herself is iconic. Disney is a power house, everything about the legacy of the film and what it meant to it’s fans and the Disney franchise is just amazing. I’ve always wanted to be in a Disney film, and Tyra had been working on this particular incarnation for the last five years. She was just waiting for me to say yes so we could do it (Laughs!). I’m kidding. No, but Tyra made filming a family affair. She brought her son to set some days. Her mother was on set. She made it a Freeform-Disney house party. We were all hanging out on set together, eating dinners together, getting eaten alive by mosquitoes together (Laughs!). It was truly great, an experience I will never forget.

Why don’t people ever grow tired of Holiday movies? Everyone loves the holidays, makes us feel warm, reminds us of our childhoods, and we spend time together with friends and family – even the members who drive us crazy. The markers of red, green, snow, Santa, and shopping just evoke a certain feeling. It’s that time of year again, and the really good holiday movies capture that essence and portray that feeling through good stories and good characters viewers can relate to. I think everyone sees themselves in the movie, to a degree. And for those it reminds of childhood, it was a time of innocence, before bills and college exams and dating pressures and political crap and all the confusion and stress that comes with adulthood. Holiday movies are like our childhood connection. And of course, I mean hey, it’s cold out there. Let’s get inside and huddle up under a blanket with some hot chocolate and watch a movie (Laughs!). You’ll shoot your eye out! (Laughs!). Lucy moving the ball right before Charlie Brown tries to kick it!

You worked with Robin Williams in “The Angriest Man in Brooklyn”, an indie film. How was working with that comedic genius, a legend in film, television, and theatre? The world misses him so much. I miss Robin, too. He died two months after the film came out. I still get emotional about it. All his scenes with me were originally read over the phone, which I was comfortable with. Then one day he was on location, and we read together. Read our lines together off camera! Me and Robin Williams! That almost never happens with a star actor of Robin’s stature. The director or PA will usually sub in on their behalf. He didnt have to be there, but he was such a real actor and so dedicated to his craft, and he so enjoyed acting. I think that was a big part of it with Robin Williams, the work was so inviting to him. That meant a lot to me. To read and work with him one on one off camera.

As the son of Chinese parents who immigrated to the US, was your career choice a tough sell or were they completely on board with your choosing to be an actor instead of software engineers like them. Or at the very least a career path considered more practical. I’m ethnically Chinese, but my grandparents were a military family, so they had the resources to leave Shanghai during war and relocate to a better, more civil place to raise their family. At the time that meant Taiwan. They left China thinking they’d be back in eight months when the political climate settled, but never returned. So my parents were Chinese living in Taiwan. They are both very creative, my father writes creatively and my mother can draw and paint. But in the 80’s the computer movement began to take off. Careers in tech emerged and were presented as secure if not lucrative means of making a living. And my parents were a part of that. They made the decision to migrate from Taiwan to the US, settled on a school in Missouri, and faced a lot of hardship. So you know I didn’t sell this idea to be an actor to them (Laughs! Screams!). I did it in secret behind their backs. My dream would have been shot down so fast, aww man (Laughs!). You have no idea!

Would you have stubbornly pursued acting anyway? I mean, it’s your passion and lifelong dream. And now look, your doing great. I have a theory about that. I don’t think you should share your creative dreams or sincerest life goals with everyone, because those dreams are like newborns. They are fragile and can’t stand on their own yet, so when you present this infant dream to people and say ‘But it’s going to run, and laugh, and love, and be all sorts of great things when it grows up!’ – they look at you as if you are crazy (Laughs!). So you shouldn’t overexpose them until they’re ready. One bad encounter can damage or even end your dreams. All of life is a gamble. So why not pursue your dreams. That’s my take on it; how I view it. I had people believe in me as a comic before I believed in myself. I never quit, savored every little victory. Every ‘yes’, I collected. I kept them close until they amounted to where I am today.

As a founding member of One Wheaton you have been vocal and active in your LGBTQ advocacy. Firstly, very proud of you for that man. It’s so important. Do you feel there has been significant progress in this arena? Or do people, society and culture have quite a ways to go? The short answer is yes. History always bends itself towards justice, even when it feels like two steps forward and one step back. One Wheaton was founded in 2011, and we were in a totally different time and that was only seven years ago. Are Blacks and Asians in a better place than we were in the 50’s? I think so, but it doesn’t always feel that way. I remember watching television with my parents as a kid and there were a total of two Asian actors on television –  Connie Chung was on the news and Lucy Liu was on Ally McBeal. My family knew where our Asians were (Laughs!). And they knew the time slots, which channel. Everything! Now there are countless Asians represented in film and television, though there needs to be many more. I view the LGBTQ topic the same way. For example, I read recently that Taiwan just rejected and banned gay marriage. That saddens me. Then the tolerance level has increased in the United States, so that lifts my spirits. Honestly, I see it as a generational thing. Social media and pop culture have taken over, and for the most part Gay is ok on those two platforms.

In response to homophobic Tweets from Kevin Hart which prompted him to forgo his Oscar Awards hosting gig, Tony Rock basically said the LGBTQ community should understand that part of being accepted is being teased. What’s your take on the matter? I just think it depends on who’s doing the teasing. Black people can tease each other in a way others can’t or they’d get in trouble. I think that also holds true for the Gay community. Is it good natured ribbing or is it meant to tear someone down? I believe Kevin Hart would still be hosting the Oscars if his last statement had been his first statement instead of the media running with it before he got a chance.

You mean the apology part? Exactly, because if someone tells you that you hurt their feelings you don’t get to tell them that you didn’t. I think he leapfrogged his initial statement, which was less personal. His apology was more powerful. He should  have led with that. For me personally, I want to be super sensitive with maybe a closeted guy, or a younger Gay guy, or an effeminate nine-year-old. Although what has happened and transpired is beneficial to pop culture, I think Kevin deserves to host the Oscars. That should not have been taken from him. I’ve been to Kevin Hart and Tony Rock shows. Not only are they both totally hilarious, they get every group and I feel they joke about all groups equally. 

Lastly, here is an L&R scenario: Will Smith calls you and says hey Hank, I want you to co-star with me and Martin in the next Bad Boys. Then Vin Diesel calls you and says hey Hank, co-star in this new Fast and Furious with me. Then Jennifer Lawrence calls you and says hey Hank, you and me in the new Hunger Games. Which do you choose and why? Methodically, my joke answer is show me the money! That’s my joke answer (Laughs!). If I honestly had the embarrassmemt of riches like this, because truly there’s no wrong choice, I would get on the phone with all three, get the scripts, get with my team, read and study each script front to back, beginning to end, then choose the role that would challenge me the most and give me the most range. Can we shoot in an exotic location? Can I bring my dog? Tone, I love my dog. I entered the business to dream not chase money. So, whichever was filming in the most exotic location and was ok with me bringing my dog (Laughs!). When do we shoot?!?!

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