After roughly 70 years in the business, actor James Hong, 94, won his first Screen Actors Guild Award on Sunday alongside his ‘Everything Everywhere All at Once’ co-stars, who made history in winning four major awards for the evening, including for Outstanding Cast Performance.
Actors Michelle Yeoh, Ke Huy Quan and Stephanie Hsu used their acceptance speeches to recognize Hong’s legendary career, which spans approximately seven decades and 700 film, television and video game credits, including “Chinatown “, “Blade Runner”, “Kung Fu Panda”, “Seinfeld” and many more.
On stage, Hong thought back to the early days of his career, when he often played white-wired, yellow-faced secondary characters. Hong recalled that the producers “said Asians aren’t good enough and they’re not at the box office. But look at us now!”
After decades in the industry, Hong is gaining greater public recognition for her work. Hong received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2022, making history as the oldest recipient to receive this honor. Hong’s co-star and friend Daniel Dae Kim launched a crowdfunding campaign in 2020 to raise the star’s needed $55,000, which was raised in four days.
Hong says he is a better actor now than ever. “I’ve spent all this time playing and here I am,” he said in a recent interview with KTLA 5. “It’s all happening! I just can’t believe it’s taken this long. Ever had.”
Hong grew up in Minneapolis and became interested in theater when he was young, first inspired by Chinese opera performers who visited his father’s herbalist. He began performing on stage in middle school and high school and held live shows to entertain the troops when he was drafted into the Korean War.
He was working as a civil engineer when he got his break on “You Bet Your Life” in 1954 doing an impression of host Groucho Marx. Hong landed an agent and left engineering for good.
The early part of his career consisted of small, limited portrayals of Asians through stereotypical tropes.
“I did my best as an actor to overcome the cliché because I had to do it to keep working,” he said in a 2020 interview with CNN. “I took those roles and then used what my teachers taught me and put the real feelings in, even if he’s a villain…I try to find what makes the person really that person. .”
Over time, he worked to push for better representation of Asian and Asian American characters on screen, including creating the East West Players, an Asian American theater group in Los Angeles that, during over 50 years, trained actors Randall Park, George Takei, John Cho and others.
Now, “Everything Everywhere All at Once” is a firm favorite during awards season. The genre-hopping multiverse film is nominated for multiple Oscars, and Hong said that for the first time in 70 years in the business, he’ll be seated on the first floor at the Oscars.
Hong doesn’t plan to stop working anytime soon. Her upcoming projects include reprising her role in “Kung Fu Panda 4,” writing and acting in the adventure movie “Patsy Lee & The Keepers of the 5 Kingdoms,” and reuniting with co-star from “Everything Everywhere” Michelle Yeoh on Apple TV. Plus the “Chinese of American descent” series.
“I could just retire with my pension, my (Screen Actors Guild) pension, and go to Europe and tour, and India,” Hong told CNN. “But something inside of me, inside of James Hong, wants to keep going and making more movies and progressing…I’m going to make other movies until I can’t walk and can’t talk. Then I going to do this tour.”
Hong says he hopes to see movies and TV shows have better portrayals of Asian Americans in everyday roles “to see us play roles like doctors, businessmen and politicians. , like the reality of society,” he told Variety in 2022.
“I’ve worked for all of this for 70 years and it’s only just begun for me,” he added. “Maybe another 10 years when I look at this world and say, ‘Yeah, move on. “”
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