Interview by Diana Lu for the New England Theatre Geek.
Actor Michael Tow:
DIANA: So, Michael, I recently saw you in a Zoom reading of a local play (Wild Goose Dreams by Hansol Jung) in Boston and you’re such a fun, playful actor. What are your upcoming projects?
MICHAEL: The big one is Lucky Grandma. We premiered the movie at Tribeca, which was really my first part in the lead cast in a movie. And that was pretty exciting. The premiere was really successful at Tribeca and we went to LA and London and Macau and it did really well.
We were expecting a really fun nationwide theatrical release in August, 2020, but all of a sudden, COVID hit and all the plans for our release were changed. Now they’re doing a virtual theatrical release, which was in some ways maybe even better because we actually get seen by way more people. They ended up partnering with theaters across the country where you can rent the movie online and the local theater gets part of the profits. And then there’s also a portion that goes towards, towards a nonprofit in Chinatown.
However, the part that I was looking for as an actor was the red carpet stuff and going to different cities, that would have been really exciting. So this is a different, not what I had in mind, but at the same time, just as much fun. And in some ways with my personality, we just talked about kind of being all over the place in terms of kind of my mind, always on the go, this actually is better because I can be in so many places, you know, from my computer about the premiere that I, and I wouldn’t have been able to do that if we were at a location.
DIANA: Yeah. COVID is affecting every production and it’s great that all the production for your movie was done beforehand, so it can just be released. And hopefully, with more people seeing your movie it’ll lead to more red carpet events in the future. Everything is crazy right now. I think I read something about how at least in the theater world, this whole season, which had a lot of Asian American plays in New York, just completely got canceled.
MICHAEL: This, this year was tough for New York they had some things that were here in Boston, Cambodian Rock Band and Endling, all that stuff got canceled, which was really tough. That’s a cool thing about Boston, though. What premiers here gets picked up by Broadway. I think there’s something to do with it being Asian American plays. I think if they were kind of mainstream, we wouldn’t be able to get them. But because it’s Asian American and the hoopla is not as, easy for people to jump onto, Boston was able to get some of these beforehand before New York. New York would get them first and then everything else after. But I think the producers don’t fully believe in “non-traditional” type plays. It takes some time to, they need more selling, you know, but at the same time that gives Boston an opportunity.
DIANA: Well, hopefully, Boston can lead the way where New York is dragging behind in the future too. How do you feel like COVID is going to impact your career moving forward? Because I feel like the whole media landscape is changing because of this.
MICHAEL: So, you know, in some ways things are good. But in terms of TV, film stuff, I was supposed to be in a pretty cool movie down in Atlanta shooting this month and obviously that got canceled. And I don’t know when that’s going to start up. I have a bunch of different things coming up and it looks like, I don’t know how they’re gonna go. A bunch of movies that were supposed to premiere and open up and I don’t know how that’s going to happen. They might just jump to streaming right away.
But yeah, it’s gonna really affect the way productions work because movie and TV stuff is very huge crews, huge sets, very intimate setting and theater as well. It’s going to be a very different landscape. It’s going to take some time for people to feel comfortable being in a tight, black box essentially with a hundred people.
And that’s why we’re seeing a lot of these, these zoom readings now that’s been a really interesting process to go through too. In some ways like you get, you get the essence of the play, you get there pretty quick. The good thing for me is that I am able to do some of these. I have another play called The Living about the bubonic plague. That’s going to be out next week. And normally I wouldn’t be able to do these readings because I’m so busy with film and TV out in New York. And now it gives me the opportunity to get some of my theater fix.
DIANA: I also felt like it was much more accessible. A lot of times people can’t go to a theater or it’s prohibitively expensive, but this reading was free and it was available at any time for like four days. So you had a very big window of having different kinds of people who wouldn’t necessarily always be able to go to the Playhouse be able to see this. And hopefully, it draws more people into theater and it can be like another avenue for theaters to distribute content.
MICHAEL: Oh, that’s cool. That’s cool to hear.
DIANA: In terms of the kinds of roles that you foresee yourself getting in the future, do you think that’ll change at all? Because Asian American representation was getting better but now political tension between China and the U S and that bleeds over into the culture.
Journalists are basically promoting Sinophobia and my fear is that there’s still going to be Asians in movies, but it’s all going to be Fu Manchu/Yellow Peril roles because that’s what happens. After 9/11, it was just 20 years of brown people being forced to play terrorists. That was the only thing available for an entire generation of actors.
MICHAEL: That’s really scary. And it’s yet to be seen what’s going to happen. And over the last two years, there’s been so much movement and progress made in terms of more writers and getting more movies produced and directors and showrunners and actors, you know, all people connected to the industry who are Asian American.
We have had so much more chance to progress and move up the ladder the last few years. And while I am very worried about that Sinophobia happening and coming over to the entertainment side, I have enough faith that there has been enough progress. It’s really important for Asian Americans not to let this trend turn back and go back to where we were. So, you know, we still need to make sure that we support our own work and we don’t take for granted where we’ve come, because like you said, we could, we could easily turn back and go back to, you know, 20 years of being the Fu Manchu bad guy.
DIANA: It is different now. And I think that it’s the people in the industry, it’s their responsibility to tell responsible stories or at least not damaging stories and to, us to put the pressure on as much as possible. Do you have any suggestions for allies? If they see something they don’t feel comfortable with, like how can they also help?
MICHAEL: My answer to the allies would be to stand up and show support. So I think it’s one of those things where we have to come together and realize when, when a group is under attack, that we are all under attack, in this case, it’s Asian-Americans now, but it could be, African Americans. It could be Muslim Americans. It could be whoever the flavor of the month is for these racists. You know, it’s one of those things where this is the time that we all need to come together. To the best of your ability, don’t be silent.
It gets to a point, and I’m seeing that happen with politics right now that if you think something and you don’t say anything, whether or not it’s even a, like on a comment, that’s on you showing where you stand. If they are allies, they are not on the fence. They can’t ride that neutral ground anymore. They have to get one side or the other.
The Lucky Grandma trailer.