Closer to Hollywood
by Ian Nathaniel
Ask any film actor what their dream is and their answer will always be “Hollywood”. We spoke to Jerome Chong, the man who’s halfway there. A homegrown talent who was once in a Petronas advertisement says, “I aspire to be the male version of Michelle Yeoh,” and is working towards it!
Tell us more about your background in Malaysia.
I started off young, directing and editing short films with my friends out of curiosity which eventually led us to pursue our passion. Along the way, we branched out to different paths and that brought me into acting. From then on, we took courses and found jobs around the field.
What did you study in Malaysia?
I studied Performing Arts and Mass Communication; I was just getting a taste of everything. I felt an actor should understand how the media works too.
What made you want to go abroad and pursue this further?
I’d say the big dreams that most actors have- Hollywood. The thought of it may be daunting as we’re going out of our comfort zone, but that is when we learn and grow. It is actually really nice to be in a new place with new challenges. In the end, I do not want look back with a single regret.
Moving all the way to the USA can be quite scary; granted even going on a holiday is scary, what more going there to start a career? The biggest thing which can be quite intimidating is the cultural difference. “The cultural difference was a little shocking to me but I eventually got used to it and managed to transition well,” says Jerome. The thought of everything turning out well is what kept him afloat.
What is the competition like there for foreigners?
There are plenty of foreigners from all around the world centred here to compete, but what separates us from the locals is that we bring our own flavour or style into the mix, which can be unique to eyes of the unseen. Without losing their own culture or identity, the foreigners are encouraged to ground themselves into the American culture. It can be as simple as learning the standard accent used by them. I think as an actor, we must be ready to absorb everything like a sponge, and it can also be an advantage because we can play roles of different nationalities- especially us Malaysians.
What are the auditions/casting calls like?
It’s pretty much the same as everywhere else, I’d say. The number of competitors varies between an open or closed audition. The script will be given beforehand or in some cases on the spot. In the audition process, we will be performing and slating in front of the casting director and camera. The larger productions would sometimes involve the director, producer and screenwriters. If we’re selected, there will be a few rounds of callbacks until the final decision is made.
We know that in Malaysia, it’s tough to make ends meet as an actor, so how’s the scene like in LA?
If you thought Malaysia is tough, you will rethink that when you get here. Not trying to be discouraging or anything like that, but it is literally an ocean of actors around town. You can just walk around the streets and talk to strangers, and most of them have acted before. Let’s leave out the top dogs; I know in most cases actors here either live from paycheck to paycheck, or they do part-time jobs as a server/waiter to feed their passion, or just fail and return to their respective hometowns. It is a good place to share your passion but again everyone’s racing to the top.
What do you consider the most important acting technique to be practiced all the time?
Breathing and relaxation should be the basis. While there are many credible acting techniques such as Stanislavsky, Meisner, method acting and so on, I personally believe there’s no one technique that’s better than another. It all comes down to the individual. One can explore and take in the ‘importance’ and discard the ‘impractical’. Create one that resonates with you. Have fun with the process, is all I can say.
How do you deal with nerves, shooting in front of a camera?
Like I said before, breathing and relaxing would definitely calm the nerves. At times I’d just focus on my acting while maintaining awareness of the camera. It’s the cameramen’s job to make you look good, anyways. Another thing is repetition, the more you do it, the more you’re comfortable and confident.
Have you ever done any “uncomfortable” scenes in front of the camera? If so, how did you deal with it?
Yes, actually- being topless or just with undies on. From my experience, I’d just talk myself out that I’m comfortable and confident with my skin. There’ll be a moment where I go like, f*** it – (If I’m allowed to swear, excuse the language) and I’d just do it. Everyone will move on and forget about it eventually.
What are you working on now? Any big projects?
I am currently working on a script with my fellow actors. A lot of planning has to be done, such as budgeting, set locations, working with the right people, and etc. We are aiming to shoot a film towards the end of the year. It will be a crime, drama and comedy film. I am definitely excited and looking forward to it. In addition, I’ll be involved in another film, too, so ‘fingers crossed’, hoping everything moves smoothly.
What are your future plans for your career?
To be in Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead. No, just kidding. Acting can be shaky, unclear- yet at the same time, exciting. I’ve no strategy as of this moment but all I can say is I will knock on the door and let them know that I am here. Here’s hoping to finally making it to the top.
What is your ultimate goal?
Maybe to be the male version of Michelle Yeoh, or better. Leaving a footprint in the industry. I’d definitely love to direct my own films too. You know what will be the real ultimate? Having my name on the Walk of Fame or an Oscar award. That is the life goal.
Any plans of coming back? Why?
Of course I intend to! I miss the food! In all seriousness, perhaps in years to come, once I’ve established myself in the States. While it is great to work here in LA, it is nice to be back home to help the younger generations who are in the same field.
Last words for aspiring Malaysian actors who have plans to make it big abroad?
Whether you think you can or can’t, you’re right either way. Don’t allow your fears to stop you from pursuing what you love. Believe in yourself even if the world is against you.