Today is amazing! Another great Star Trek actor joins us for a chat! This time its Garrett Wong who played Ensign Harry Kim on Star Trek Voyager! This is only part one and Jeff and Garrett talked for over two hours!
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Garret Wang – Part 1
[00:00:00] Garret Wang: Hello
Jeff: , a spoiler country today on the show. We had the phenomenal Garrett Wong.
Garret Wang: How’s it going, sir? It’s going well, thank you.
Jeff: I want to thank you so much for coming on the show. I’ve been a big fan of yours for a very long
Garret Wang: time.
Thanks Jeff. So,
Jeff: As, as I do these interviews, I always do some background research on the people I’m talking to. And I read about you that you’ve been in a lot of different places. You’ve lived in California, Bermuda, Tennessee, Indiana. That must have given you an immense level of insight into. People into the country itself.
What, what, what did you learn about people in these travels of yours?
Garret Wang: Yeah, that people all over as different as they are. There’s still a lot of similarities that, that tie us all together, no matter what part of the country we’re from, you know? And I think it’s good when you move around a lot. I helps give you a little better idea of humanity as a whole.
You learn how the other half lives, you know, if you live in a lot of different places, as opposed to just one place. And yeah, I mean, [00:01:00] it’s, it’s, it’s I think if anything, it, it helped me prepare to be a better actor
Jeff: because you have a better sense of people in general, or because you been able to. Maybe like a morph into different cultures as you’ve
Garret Wang: moved.
Yeah. I mean more so that you know, as an actor, you’re always playing different roles, right? So you have to always change it up for every role that you do. And when you tackle a new role, it’s not unlike me tackling a new. Environment and new city that I’ve moved in to a new school. And, you know, you know, these are all things that you learn when you’re when you move as much as I do you end up that ends up being your normal.
And I think that helps because you know, very few actors play one role for their entire life. Right. They’re always moving to another character. It’s just like, I moved from one city to another.
Jeff: That is awesome. And I also read that you took part in a Taiwanese cultural exchange [00:02:00] program at when you were 22 years old.
What did you learn? During this
Garret Wang: period. Yeah. Yeah, this thing, this, this program, it’s really interesting. The government of Taiwan subsidizes this six week program. So for six weeks for your room, your board, all your food, your, you know, your tuition, everything. I think it amounted to something like a hundred.
And 50 bucks or something like that, which, you know, you can’t, there’s no way you could go to any country, unless you plan on living and camping outdoors or something like that. Right. If you don’t stay in a hotel, your hotel alone one night would be 150. If you travel somewhere to a foreign country. Right, right.
Six weeks, you know, for, for this very small amount, it might have been more, it might’ve been like two 50, but still regardless, that’s still pennies on the dollar for a six week program. Right. And [00:03:00] yeah, you know, we had classes, we had cultural classes, language lessons, and a lot of tools. We took a lot of tours around the Island of Taiwan, the Northern part, the central part, the Southern part.
And. Essentially this program is offered by the government of Taiwan as a way to kind of showcase. Taiwan and all it has to offer in the hopes that these young Chinese Americans will grow up and whatever business they start will hopefully involve, you know, Taiwan in some way, shape or form. You know what I’m saying?
So it’s, it’s, it’s kind of their way to say like, Hey, look, this is how great we are, you know, and hopefully now that you’ve gotten a taste of what, what Taiwan is like, maybe you’ll think of us in, in fond. You know, you’ll put us in a good light when you’re, when you’re a person who can contribute to the world.
The economy is, well,
Jeff: I mean, that sounds very generous of them until you hear the two $50 to $50 a month. You’re like, Oh, I don’t know if anyone’s [00:04:00] coming back for that.
Garret Wang: Yeah, yeah, yeah. But it was great. I had a fun time on that and they, the other term that they call this, they called it the love boat because like the television show, the love boat, people would go onto the boat in the beginning and then they would leave.
W hooked up with somebody else, you know, they would,
Jeff: so, so I assume that $250 a month was not the pitch that you, that drew you to them. What made you want to do that?
Garret Wang: It’s just something that that, that Chinese parents that are living in the States send their kids to, it’s just sort of a tradition, you know, and just to clarify, it was like, It was either somewhere between one to $200 for the six weeks.
So that’s a month and a half actually, so that’s even longer. But it’s just a tradition. It’s just something that a lot of parents do. But what was interesting is the majority of the program were. American citizens of Chinese descent that came over, but they also had a side program, which was the international program that, which were countries outside of the U S.
So there were Chinese, French, [00:05:00] Chinese Germans, and we didn’t really interact with those guys so much, but every now and then we’d, we would bump into them. And what was so interesting was that, so the guys from, you know, the Spanish speaking countries, you know, their names would be like Diego Chen, you know, it would be, or, or, or Guillermo Chen, it would be like a Spanish first name and then Chinese last name.
And then you then you’d have the German Chinese, and it would be good into Chen and, you know, Manfred Chen. So you would have all these really international representation of every country, the last name would stay the same. It would be a common Chinese last name, but the first name would just evolve according to what country these students were from, which was hilarious to me.
That’s wicked fun.
Jeff: Yeah. No. Was this the first time you lived by yourself during those six weeks? Or were you already on your
Garret Wang: own during that time? I was already on my own cause I had left. I started. College at [00:06:00] UCLA. I was a 16 year old freshman at UCLA. So I had already left home already. And the way that happened is if you’re in the U S I think the earliest you, the old, the youngest you can be in first grade is like five and a half.
I think something like that. Typically you’re six when you start first grade in the U S but I started as you know, I’ve moved around a lot. So I was in Bermuda when I started first grade and Bermuda is not. Part of the U S it’s part of the it’s it’s, what’s called, they are in the British Commonwealth, which means they’re not owned by England, but they choose to be ruled by England.
However, that however that works. So they’re in the British Commonwealth. So I went to a British private school and they didn’t have any rules about, you have to be at least five. So my mom. Put me in first grade, I’m at three and a half. So I turned, I turned four in first grade. My birthday’s in December.
So in the middle of first grade I turned four. So when I graduated from high [00:07:00] school I was 16 years old and that’s when I enrolled at UCLA. And so I was already alone. You know, I’d already gone away from home at that tender age of 16. That’s
Jeff: amazing. So every grade you were in, you were pretty much must have been the youngest, maybe even the smallest person in your classes because you have been what?
Two years younger than
Garret Wang: house. Yeah. Yeah. See, that’s, that’s tough, especially in America because. In America, let’s face it when you’re in grade school and junior high and high school, you’re kind of looked at, especially if you’re a male, if you’re a boy, you’re kind of looked at according to how well you do in sports city
Jeff: as a kid who was bullied for 18 years of school, I
Garret Wang: will tell you that is true sports.
The more popular you become in school, that’s kind of the you know, That the ratio. Yeah, the working ratio. It’s not fair, you know, I don’t think it’s the way it should be, but unfortunately that’s what that, that’s what happens. Right. And [00:08:00] so imagine young me coming to the U S after Bermuda and now.
Every sport. I played, you know, I played soccer when I first got here. Later I did, I ran track and field in middle, middle school, excuse me, in junior high. And I played tennis in high school. Every sport that I took on I’m competing against kids that are literally a year and a half to two years older than me that are in my grade.
And that’s. That’s huge. When you’re talking about a 14 year old, up against a 12 year old in track and field, you know, who’s going to run faster. It’s going to be probably the 14th. You know, there’s a, there’s a wonderful book. I think it’s called the outliers and it just talks about how if you look at in the NHL, A lot of the kids that get drafted, you know, and become professional hockey players.
Their birthdays are in January and February because they are the oldest and the, the, usually the, the strongest, the most developed [00:09:00] of any kid in that year that they’re born. Right. So if you’re a December kid, you know, like I was, you’re kind of out of luck. It’s kinda, you’ve gotta be, you’ve gotta be Gretzky level.
In order to make it as opposed to all the other kids. So no
Jeff: worries. Was there sort of like honor rules of don’t pick on the kid two years younger than everybody, or like, you know, I’m saying it was like, there’s no a tolerance for a youth. I wish
Garret Wang: there was there really wasn’t you know, I used to boast about it though.
When I was in middle school, I would be like, Oh man, I’m so much younger than all of you. And then it wasn’t so good. You know, once I started playing sports and then once everyone started dating, it’s sort of like, everyone looked at me as like this little kid and it was, it was very difficult. I
Jeff: can, I can, I can only imagine I, when I was in high school, I was like said I was bullied, but did not have the excuse of being youngest than everybody else.
I was just. Not coordinated enough.
Garret Wang: That’s okay. You survived it right. You’re here. So that’s good. You made, [00:10:00] yeah,
Jeff: there’s something to be said about those who are bullied, you do come out kind of stronger at some level.
Garret Wang: I, I agree with that 100%, you know, as long as you don’t, as long as you don’t take it to the point where, where where you lose it, where you lose your mind you definitely will come out stronger in the long end.
Jeff: agree with you a hundred percent. So like I said, I do a lot of background research on the people I’m interviewing and I would love some clarification on something. Okay. Sure. Because I heard two different stories. I’ll read three different stories about your decision to go into acting. One story that I read said that it was influenced by your professor at UCLA a theater instructor.
Another version said that it was your time during the. The Taiwanese exchange program that inspired you to become an actor because of representation. So which one is closer to accurate?
Garret Wang: I think probably, I mean, my decision to go act and go into acting was, I guess it’s it [00:11:00] started even earlier than that.
I mean, I, growing up, I was a huge fan of Saturday night live. I love Saturday night live. And back when I was a kid that was like John Belushi and Chevy chase and Dan Akroyd. And you know, all these guys that were there in the seventies, you know, in early eighties. So late seventies, early eighties, you know, I just.
I just thought that was, that would be my dream job is to be someone who performs sketch comedy, you know? So so I really had a love for entertainment and, and, and television and film when I was a young kid. And so really the influence wasn’t. The Taiwanese program so much or, or the, the, the professor at UCLA you know, those are both important milestones in my lifetime, but they weren’t the main factors of what made me decide to.
Go into acting. When I got to college, I declared as pre-med. So I was going to be a doctor, you know, for the longest time I said, I’m going to be a medical doctor. I’m going to be, [00:12:00] I’m going to be an anesthesiologist. I’m going to be the guy that puts you under, you know, so I don’t have to worry too much about, you know, cutting anyone opener or dealing with all the, you know, the Gore, the blood and Gore, but I can definitely give you the drugs that will knock you out.
So that’s, that’s, you know what I thought I was going to do, but once I get to the good stuff, Yes.
And anesthesiologist is a professional drug dealer, basically. So I, you know, I just, I really felt that that was my calling in life, but that was more. The Asian American thing to do. You know what I’m saying? I mean, there’s, if you look at any medical school in the country, I’d say probably 50% or more of the enrollment is probably Asian American and I’m including East Indians in that as well.
You know? So it’s, it’s just, it’s just disproportionately Asian skewed in every medical school. So that kind of was more of a cliche decision of mine, I guess. But once I got to UCLA. I kind of [00:13:00] fell out of that. And I started thinking, you know, what do I, what do I need to do that? I, what should I do that I’d love to do that I would love to do, because I remember seeing a book that said, or something that said you know, do what you love and the money will follow.
It was this book that I saw, you know, when I was in college as a freshmen and I mean, that’s true. I mean, why should I. Pick a job. Like I could easily become an accountant or a CPA, but do I really want to number crunch, you know, for the rest of my life? Not really. I mean, what do I really love? And I thought back to Saturday night live and also there used to be an well he’s still alive and a Personator by the name of rich little.
Rich little could do thousands of voices. So my whole thing was if I could do anything like Saturday night, a Saturday night live actor, or, or be an impersonator like rich little, then my life would be set. And so I, you know, I felt okay, the most logical progression or the most logical direction that I should follow is probably acting, you know, because getting on Saturday night live [00:14:00] or becoming a master impressionist is.
Probably a lot more difficult than becoming a professional actor, you know? So I thought, well, acting is probably what I should shoot for. It’s a more general direction I should go in. And if I end up becoming a, you know, a Saturday night live cast member then great. But if not, I can still perform and entertain people.
And that’s, that’s my true calling, my true joy, what I felt. So you know what, UCLA, that’s where I took my first acting class. And, and my all the teachers there helped me definitely, but one teacher in particular, Jenny Roundtree who was my professor during my intermediate acting class at UCLA.
She’s the one that kind of, you know, Provided me with my first breakthrough. Because if you’re thinking about, you know becoming an actor, it’s sort of an unnatural act to be an actor because what’s, what’s going on. I mean, let’s break it down. You’ve got a camera and this camera is focused on.
Usually two individuals [00:15:00] talking that conversation is a private conversation typically, but yeah, this camera is right there in your face. And not only that, there’s like 50 people all around you watching you do this. So that’s a very public act for what it’s supposed to be a very private, you know, act of a conversation between two people.
So it’s not, you have to break through these barriers that you have. That are built in by society and your upbringing. And you know, you have to get past that and, and be free and be able to just be able to be in the moment is something that actors talk about all the time, you know, and being in the moment is really when you go with the flow, you’re going with the flow of the script of your character so much.
So that. You kind of forget what’s going on around you, you know, all that stuff sort of, and for the best, the best analogy I can think of for those people out there that are not actors are, you know, when you first fall in, love somebody in, in junior high or whatever, and all you can think of, and all you can see is that person and [00:16:00] everything around that person, all the distractions around you, your parents, your brother, was your sister that all their chatter just sort of.
The volume is turned down. He says he gets real quiet. And the only thing that’s on your mind and what you live, drink, sleep is one person that’s kind of being in the moment, you know, in a way for actors, that’s the best analogy I can come up with now,
Jeff: are you naturally extroverted or are you introverted?
And so for when you’re on a camera or something,
Garret Wang: Yeah, I’m a weird combination of both to be perfectly honest. I’m more introverted because of the experiences I have experienced in this country being a minority, if that makes sense. So yeah. So living in living in Memphis, I was bullied like you were, but I was bullied primarily because of my race.
And so when you get. Called out and you’re being, you know, you’re having racial epithets, hurled at you on a daily basis. [00:17:00] It tends to make you more or introverted in pretends to make you want to be invisible and get away from everything, everybody that that can cause you pain and heartache. So I think naturally I am an extrovert, but because of my upbringing in Arguably the most racist part of the country, the South then I would say that kind of forced me to being more of an introvert in my formative years.
But as I’ve gotten older, you know, my, my true extrovert self has come out a little bit more. I tried, I tend to be the loudest Asian on the block.
Jeff: Do you think that’s one of the reasons you. You were drawn to acting because the moments of introversion in private, you allowed to have that kind of like a catharsis or be the person you want to be when you’re in front of everybody else.
This is your moment to be that
Garret Wang: person again. Yeah. I mean maybe subconsciously I haven’t really given much thought to that, but you do bring up an interesting point. Yeah. It’s definitely possible that subconsciously that’s that’s what drew me to it. [00:18:00] It’s very, very possible. But you know, like I said, from a very young age, I’ve, I’ve always known that entertaining people with characters is something that fuels my soul.
You know, that sort of drives me. That’s always been there.
Jeff: So, what did your parents think when you went to them and said, you know what I’m gonna do for college, I’m going to act in, would they like fantastic or were they like son of
Garret Wang: a bitch, more the latter than the former? I remember that phone call.
I called my mom up and I said I said, I’m not going to med school. And she’s like, what? I said, I’ve just decided I’m not premeditating longer. She goes, Oh, okay. You are now going to law school. I said, Nope. Oh, okay. So MBA a business. And I said, Nope. She goes, then what, what have you decided? I said, well, I’ve decided I’m going into acting.
My mom dropped the phone. Literally she dropped the phone and then it was just like, [00:19:00] she picks it back up and she goes, okay. All right. Are you crazy? I said, no, because you just need, all right. Then one person named one Chinese person. Who’s made it in this business, in the business of entertainment in Hollywood named one Asian person, one Chinese, not even one Chinese, one, any Asian.
And I said, okay, Bruce Lee. She didn’t skip a beat. She said, he’s dead. Pick another,
changing the rules on you. I think that is going to be the title of my autobiography. He’s dead. Pick another. Cause it’s such a, it’s such a, it’s such a, it’s such a sexy title, but people were really wondering. And it’s very mysterious, like, well, what does that mean? What does that mean? So I think that’s going to be the title of mine in my autobiography.
Jeff: It’d be horrible tombstone too. He’s
Garret Wang: my epitaph on the
[00:20:00] actor and humanitarian. He’s dead. Pick another. Yeah, so yeah, it’s tough. I couldn’t come up with an answer. Right. So I spent about five years arguing with my parents. Just literally debating every, because most times when, when kids go leave, the roost parents call up. Call them up when they’re at college or, you know, when they’re in their early twenties and they always ask, you know, how are you doing?
And have you D are you getting enough food to eat? These are the questions the parents ask. But once I had declared my decision to go into acting, every phone call was not, have you had enough to eat? How are you doing every coup every phone call began with, have you given up your ridiculous notion of going into acting, have you given up you’re just crazy, you know, choice of, of, of.
Of occupation, you know, if you decided to go to med school again, that was every big every conversation with them for five years. Oh my gosh. I was literally pulling my hair out. It came down to the most absurd conversation was my mom [00:21:00] called and said, okay, This is the plan that your uncle has drawn up for you.
And I’m like my uncle. Oh yeah. He wants you to go to business school. And after you get your MBA, he wants you to go work for a fortune 500 company for a period of one to three years and then go over and take over his company. And I said, wow, I’m so glad that my. Uncle has DRA drawn out my entire future for me.
Thank you. And I said, no. I said, I’m not going to do that. You know, I’m really going to keep stick to my guns. And the only thing that really saved me was. We from my mom’s side of the family her maiden name is Ling L I N G. There is a link family reunion that we’ve been going to for, you know, decades where every five to 10 years we would meet up.
And, and so my mom’s father had four brothers. So these five link brother, five blink brothers or. Basically the grandfathers, they all had these different families. One, one lived in [00:22:00] Adelaide, Australia. So he brought the Australian clan of links to these family reunions. The other one lived in the DC area.
And that he was the oldest of the Ling brothers and he had married a Scottish woman. In whatever it was 1910, I get a time that, you know, Asian men, Chinese men weren’t even allowed to look at any white women. Like he went off and married. He went up and married this Scottish woman. And so that lineage would come to these family reunions and then a, another FA grandfather settled in the Arizona, the desert area.
And he would bring his clan. And then my aunt, my grandfather. Settled in New Jersey. He opened up a a little tiny little hotel right off of the boardwalk. This is before the casinos came in and, and ruined it. And he you know, he was in Jersey and, and he would bring his clan. And so we would go to these reunions and there was a couple of.
Aunts they’re my, my mom’s cousins basically that were really progressive. [00:23:00] And during these reunions, during the talent show, I would always do some type of performance of something, whether it was some dance routine I come up with or some type of, you know, some impersonations I would do for everybody or some standup routine, whatever, I would do something.
So these very progressive to, of these progressive aunties or the ones that kind of convinced my parents, they said, listen, If this is really what he wants to do, think about every reunion we’ve had. I think about how entertaining your son is, how, what all the things he’s done over the years, you should support him.
You should, you should let him follow his dream. You know, and if he falls flat on his face, that’s going to be his own choice, his own actions that make him, you know, fail. So you should, if anything, be his parents and be supportive. And that’s what turned the tide. I remember my mom was like, okay, we’re going to support you on this.
And this is after five years of deductible baiting. [00:24:00] And during that five-year time, literally, they had said, if you try to become an actor professionally, we will disown you. So during that five year, all I did was take more lessons, more classes, study more. I did plays, I did play after play after play. And really that time, that five years was awesome because it.
It helped me be more prepared to be a professional actor. You know, whereas most people, when they come to Hollywood, they, they, they come from Oshkosh, Wisconsin or whatever, small town USA jump on the Greyhound land in Los Angeles. No money to their name, no real acting classes, except for whatever they, whatever theater they did in high school.
And that’s it. And they try to make it and they fall flat on their face. Right. But for me, I had been taking workshops and doing all kinds of things. And this preparation of hopefully one day my parents would support me in this. And they finally did, you know, they were like, yep, we’re going to do this. So what do you need from us?
And I said I said, I’ll be honest. I [00:25:00] have a lot of friends that are trying to make it into acting right now. And. Most of them are having a difficult time making ends meet, meaning getting enough money to pay for rent in Los Angeles, you know, and their acting class money and their photos that they have to take with their headshots.
Getting those done all that. There’s a lot of fees, a lot of, a lot of income that you have to have to support. The the chase of being an actor, right? The occupation of being an actor. So it’s, it’s a very it’s a very, it’s heavy on investment upfront. And a lot of times, very little return comes for, you have to keep waiting and waiting and waiting until your break comes.
And so I, so I told my parents, I said, I don’t want to be like some of my friends. I had one friend. I couldn’t believe it. She worked at as a waiter. She was a waitress at three different restaurants for the lunch shift. So she did an early lunch shift, a middle lunch shift and a late lunch shift at three different restaurants.
And I, and I said, I said to her, how do you, [00:26:00] how do you deal with this? She goes, I said, how do you go to audition? She goes, well, usually I, I really. Don’t audition much. I’m so tired. I’m so just exhausted from just my jobs. I don’t have any energy have to do anything. Yeah. And I said, well, what’s the point then?
I mean, why are you even in this industry, you don’t even have the energy to do it. And so that prompted me to say to my parents, I need a loan. I need a loan from you guys. I need something that’s going to give me. The time that I need and the focus I need to be successful to give me a chance of success.
So I said, I basically need room board. I need, you know, I need money to live. So I can focus on acting and not focus on waiting tables or any other menial job. You know, I didn’t want to work at an electronic store or whatever it was, you know, and I, and they said, well, how long? I said I threw out the number two years.
I said two years, because I felt that they were going to say, mm we’ll give you six months. You know? And I thought that [00:27:00] was a good starting point that I could negotiate, you know? So my mom said, okay, I’ll talk to your dad. I’ll, we’ll get back to you in a couple of days. And she called back and she said, okay, we’ll give you two years.
I thought, wow, I got it. I got room board, everything covered for two years. I don’t have to go to any restaurants. I don’t have to work anywhere else. I can just focus on acting. So I went out, got a talent agent. I had both and in, in Los Angeles, it’s different from other cities. You, you typically have an agent that’s just film and TV.
Then you have another agent that handles just commercials. So I I had two different agencies working for me and, you know, back in the day when I started, if you were a 20 early twenties, Caucasian male with a good commercial, Agent that handled commercials specifically commercials, they would be going out on auditions probably anywhere between five to 10 a week.
Five to 10 a week. And for me, I was getting out probably on [00:28:00] commercials once like a month yeah, the slim Pickens, real slim Pickens. And so the two year deal that I had with my parents it was about the midway point. Well, after one year, I had nothing to show for it. Cause my, my thought process was if I booked one thing, if I book anything, it doesn’t have to be a part on the TV show.
It can just be a commercial. If I could just book one commercial, they can see this commercial and maybe I can extend my two year deal to an extra six months or an extra year, make it a three-year deal, you know, renegotiate. So the, I can do something. And at the one year point I was. Just absolutely starting to freak out.
I go, Oh my God, I got 12 months left on this, on this this contract. And I’m going to be, I’m going to be out on my own after that. And so I remember getting fed up with going on commercial auditions because in Los Angeles you have to fight traffic and traffic and Los Angeles is the worst. Absolutely horrible to get to the audition.
And then you gotta find parking. You gotta fight all these other actors for parking. [00:29:00] You got to deal with the 15 signs that you have to read. No parking between two and two 30 on Thursday on the leap year on it’s like what is going on? And then you rush in and then all you do is literally, there’s a guy running the audition with a video camera and he’s like, slate your name.
Your agency turn to your right turn to your lap. Show us your backside. Thank you. And your golf that’s 99.9 of all commercials back in the nineties was that, that was how your audition was done. And so I was like, okay, I need to just focus on just film and TV roles, not commercials. Cause I’m wasting, I’m wasting too much time, even though it was like once a month to go down and go to these ridiculous you know Commercial auditions all the time wasted, getting ready, fighting traffic, finding parking to say, to go in, to be on camera for three seconds and you’re out.
So I made the call. It’s a decision that I was not going to do any more commercial auditions. And I remember I was at the gym and I got back from the [00:30:00] gym and I played my messages on my voicemail. And there was a message that said, Hey, yeah, this is your commercial agent. Yeah. We got you a commercial this afternoon.
It’s at 3:00 PM in Santa Monica for burger King. Call us back, tell us you’d make it. And I was fully ready to call them and say that I was done right with the whole commercial thing, but I thought, ah, one last one. What the hell? So I went and. I’ll tell you, when you think in your head that this is the last one you’re going on, there isn’t much pressure on your, on you.
You really it’s. It’s so crazy, but your brain or the psychology of, of, of. Acting or auditioning is so important. Like you really have to be in the right mindset. Like if you go into an audition thinking, Oh my God, my rent is due. Oh my God. I got to do, you know, if you go into this audition with a mindset of desperation, [00:31:00] You will never get the part.
You will never get the role. There’s impossible because nobody wants desperation. You know, no matter what it is, if you, if you go to a public situation and you see somebody who’s attractive of that you want to ask out desperation. We’ll not get you that date. Okay. It’s a, and it’s the same when it comes to job hunting or auditioning for roles on television and film.
But because of my mindset of I’m done, this is my last audition I showed up. I was even late by 10 minutes. I remember that I get there late. I sit down and in the waiting room. There is a young black kid next to sitting next to me, also there for the audition. And we struck up a conversation and we started making each other laugh, and then we bonded and you know, the wait was taking longer than normal.
So we, we literally, we started talking about all kinds of stuff. And then we started joking about man, we should do our own TV show. You know, we should totally just, we should write our own stuff. We don’t need to, you know, why do we have to wait for. [00:32:00] Auditions. We just do our own show as should be like two cops, a black cop and an Asian cop.
And this is before rush hour. Might I add? Okay, so this is the, I, I think that I put it out in the universe in rush hour happens. So those producers owe me something on that commission on that, but I literally. I bet this idea was sprung at this commercial audition. And I said, it was going to be really funny is like the intro to our TV show is going to be you you’re going to come out with the gun.
Right. And you’re going to kind of aim it at the camera, kind of how like the James Bond movie start, where he aims at the camera at the camera. Right. And then I’m going to jump in flying over your head with this karate kick. And I was totally playing up on the martial arts, which is what rush hour is, is Jackie Chan and using his martial arts.
All right. So I had already come up with this fricking idea, you know, before that rush hour was even a concept, a concept you know an idea in the minds of those producers and I, so I’m, and I said, as I jump over you, I’m going to make this total chop socky, like [00:33:00] sound as I fly over your head. And so we started laughing uncontrollably and then the guy running the audition comes out and he goes like you to shut up.
We’re running an audition here and we’re like, oops. You know, we’re like, okay, cool. Sorry. And so we kind of quiet down now it’s on my turn to go in. And I walk in there and this time they have copied and copied means, you know, you have a script, you have something you have to say. And I remember, and I’m, and I remember thinking this is so odd because 99.9% of auditions are just on camera shows your right side, your left side, your backside.
Bye-bye right, that’s it. But this one, I had to say something and it was for burger King and the role was for an employee. So my, my lines were, you can get a BK broiler in Denver for two 99. That’s all I had to say. So I said the lines into the camera. I said, all right, thanks. And I started leaving now.
Remember the mindset of a desperate actor when desperation is what’s on their mind, [00:34:00] that actor will finish his audition and say, Oh would you like me to do it another way I can do it a lot? I could do like six or seven different ways. How did you like that? Is that good? Or what would you like me to do?
I’ll do anything, but I can bend over backwards. I can, I can, I can sit up. I can wag my tail. I mean, you. But like this eager, desperate dog, you know, puppy. And I didn’t do that. I sat there and I said, okay, thanks. And I started leaving now. What happens is in psychology. Human beings always want what they can not have.
I had made it, I had made it so that I was unavailable. You cannot have me. I ended that audition. I was walking out, you see the steak and the guy goes, wait. And I’m like, yeah, he goes, ah, would you like a t-shirt from our production company? I’m like, Oh, God, it’s weird. I go, I go, I go, sure. What size are you?
I go, I’ll take a size large. He’s like, Oh, here you go. And he gives me this t-shirt and I thought, God, this is really weird. I go, well, thanks a lot, man. It was nice meeting you and I, and I walk out [00:35:00] and so then I get back home and. I get a page from the the commercial talent agent. And he’s like, Hey, he’s like, Hey, how’s it going?
I go, I said, good. And I’m glad that you’re calling me because I’m about it because I was to call you to tell you that, thank you so much for working for me for this last year, but I’m going to I’m going to end our relationship. I’m going to quit going on commercial. Auditions, because it’s just too much too stressful and just kind of a waste of time.
So but not that you know, you’re not, you didn’t do a good job. Thank you so much. I appreciate it is that you might want to rethink that. I said, what. You booked burger King. I said, not only did you book burger King, they want to use you for two other commercials. So you both commercials in one hit. I said, you are sure there’s, there’s no way.
He was like, well, wait, you got it. He’s like, congratulations. He goes, by the way, I have another audition for you. And I was like, Oh, my, I was thinking, this is crazy. I typically [00:36:00] go on one a month or one every three weeks. And now he has another one for me to go on the next day. So I go on that one. I take in the same mindset, the same.
I use psychology again. I don’t think about desperation. I think about, you know, my mindset is it would be in your best. Interest to hire me. I’m the one who you need, you know, and the thing is, you can’t be cocky. You can’t be a jerk about it, right. But you have to be confident. And Supreme confidence is knowing that you are the right one for the job.
And if they don’t pick you, wow. You know, and you end the meeting, you always end the meeting when you’re really confident. So literally I use the exact same mindset. And it was for chase Manhattan bank and bam. I booked that one and then I got another audition. Two days later, two days later for a Kellogg’s rice Krispies treats, same thing walked in there.
Same attitude, confident, but not cocky, not a jerk. Bam book that I’m like, what the heck is [00:37:00] happening. Right. And then the final audition was that week was CA was big red chewing gum. And you remember that there used to be a huge ad campaign language. Yes. Yeah. Every commercial was the same. There’ll be two people that are kissing and T kind of like ignoring the world around them and then people around them going like, jeez, hurry up and finish kissing like that.
So that, and my. Audition. The role that I audition for was not for the kissing person, but the, but the friends that are next to the kissing people going like Jesus, hurry up. And so I go in on that. And I get a call back. So I’m like, Hmm, that’s interesting. Usually they, they decide off of one audition, but now I’ve got to go into a second round of auditions.
I get there and the guy running the audition is like, well, congratulations. We whittled it down from 800 actors down to 60. So you guys are the final 60. So now we’re going to bring you in five at a time. When you walk in the room, you’re going to see these three stools that are set up and you’re going [00:38:00] to go ahead and sit down on whatever stole was open.
And just so you know Phil’s going to be running the audition. He’s got a camera, he’s going to record it. There’s also a direct, they basically wired the, the camera to a monitor. There is an office screen set up, so you can’t see them, but all the the executives for Wrigley’s are sitting there as well as the Madison Avenue ad agency execs.
They’re going to be there too. So no pressure, you know, so we’re thinking what the hell. So we get there and the, and Phil’s there with his camera and he’s like welcome actors. Okay. So I’m going to ask each of you one question and I want you to answer. In your normal voice. I don’t want you to be all like commercially and hay and super over smiley.
I mean, we don’t, we’re not looking for that. We’re looking for slice of life, real people. Okay. So just, you know, just be yourself. So they ask and I’m sitting in the middle stool and there’s two actors to my left and two to my right. So they start, you know, with the first actor and they asked the person How long, you know, how’s it been [00:39:00] going, you know, in LA as an, as, as an actor.
And they’re like, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And the second person, their question was, what are your hobbies? And the guy’s like, well, I like fishing and blah, blah. And then they come to me and they said where are you from? And I said, Oh, well, I was born in California, moved to India then to Bermuda then to Memphis, Tennessee, and then back to California.
And so then the guy that runs the audition goes, Oh, so you’re a military brat. Right. And cause all those places I’ve listed actually do have bases. So military bases and I looked at the camera and without. Skipping a beat and just in a perfectly straight face. I looked at him, I looked at the camera and the guy running the audition.
I said, no, I said not a military brat. Actually my parents. Our heroin importers and we stayed and we stayed one step ahead of the law. It’s what I said. But the minute I said heroin, I could feel the other four actors. They’re all turning towards me. Right. [00:40:00] I could just sense. In my peripheral vision, all of their heads are looking at me like, are you raised?
I get there. And the guy run the audition. He takes his finger. And you know, when you, when you do the kill signal across your neck like that, like, you know, he does that and he’s given me this look like, Oh, I’m going to. I’m going to kill you. He’s so mad that I said that, right when I said, I said, yeah, my parents are heroin importers.
We’ve stayed one step ahead of the law. And I’m feeling the next craning. And look at me, I’m feeling the guy doing the kill signal and I give it about a beat beat and a half. And I break into this smile, which. Is basically telling the Wrigley’s people I’m joking. You know what I’m saying? I noticed that the screen is moving there.
Nothing so hard. They’re putting they’re new, they’re hitting the screen in laughter because they like, you know, all day long, they’ve been seeing, you know, young, young actors and actresses come in and nobody has said anything remotely that. Yep. Assets esoteric and [00:41:00] just, well, let’s just face it that that’s pushing some boundaries there.
You know, you’re, you’re where you are at the edge of the precipice. You were at the edge of the cliff about to jump off. When you talk about your hair, your parents being heroin importers. Right. But they loved it, you know, and sure enough, I booked that role. I booked it. I booked that job and that was the longest running.
Commercial that I had that thing ran. Oh my gosh. I think it was probably three years. That, that one single commercial alone in residual checks. I think I made close to 200 grand, you know, maybe a quarter of a million off of that one, correct? Sure. Well, it was my, I mean, Oh my
Jeff: God, honestly, that is one of the most serious auditions for a.
Garret Wang: Bubblegum chewing gum commercial.
Jeff: You’re going to say secretly. It was for star Trek, but for commercial, we did it down from 800, like teeters.
Garret Wang: Yeah. Well, like I said, I mean, they, they had plans to keep running that commercial, like the, the burger King, for instance, that was like [00:42:00] a wild spot or a regional, which means.
It’s only playing in a certain market, right? So it’s, and in the world of commercials, there’s different types of commercials. There’s buyouts, which means they’re like, okay, we’re gonna play this as much as we want. We’re just going to give you this amount of money, which usually isn’t that much and just buy you out.
Then there’s regionals that run only in, in the Midwest, you know, then there’s, then there’s wild spots, which are they’re testing a certain market out. And then the, you know, the, the golden. Chalice of commercials is the, is the class a national, a class, a national commercial is a commercial which can run in every market, whether it’s the Midwest, the South, the desert area, the East coast, all of the United States, the entire country.
And it can run morning. Noon and night. So for, if you think about it, Budweiser, you can’t run a Budweiser commercial at 8:00 AM. You see what I’m saying? They don’t run them that early in the day, but chewing gum you can run that anytime of the day. Cause people chew gum in the morning, in the [00:43:00] afternoon and at nighttime.
So that thing was running all the time. And those checks coming into the mailbox, those re residual checks or amazing, you know, they were on a 13 week schedule. So the way commercials worked in the nineties were in. Every 13, it’s a 13 week commercial commission schedule commission check schedule. So in the beginning of the 13 weeks, the checks were the largest.
So they would come in, they would be, you know, for two grand, three grand, four grand, whatever. And then. Every check after that was less than the initial amount. So they would go from 3000 to 2000, 1000 to 700 to 600 to 500 to 400, 300 to 200. So at the end of the 13 weeks schedule, they would be a few hundred dollars.
Right. But then that 13 week schedule was started again. So the, the next 13 weeks starts off with the several thousand dollars check and then goes down and goes down. So that kept going and going and going. And then finally, after a year, Then they have to pay you a renewal fee to have the, the right to even use [00:44:00] you again.
For that commercial. And at that point I was already on Voyager. I had booked Voyager, so I was sitting there in the trailer and then my commercial agents, like it was like, yeah. So they want to keep using the big rag commercials. So they want to pay you a holding fee to use you for the next year.
And so they’re offering They’re offering you like 5,000 to just use your likeness to start off with, so this isn’t the residual checks. These are just, this is just the right to use you for the next year. And the commercial agency goes, and we think that’s very generous. And I was like, Nope. And then, like I said, tell him I’m on star Trek.
Now they got to pay more, you know? And they were like, and so like, so my commercial is, well, how much do you want? I said, well, ask him for 10. And so he goes, he goes, okay. I don’t think this is going to work well. He calls me back in like, Less than a minute. He was like, they agreed to 10. And at that point I thought at that point, I, I sit there and go, I roll my eyes, go, God, dang it.
I low balled myself because like I [00:45:00] answered that quickly. Yes. To 10, they would have probably paid 20 or 50, you know, at that point. Well, wait,
Jeff: I’m going to say, I mean, that’s, that’s a hell of a gamble. We had this, the guy for a commercial. Now this is star Trek. We have like a superstar spot pretty much,
Garret Wang: pretty much.
So I, I could have asked. But, you know, it was still a funny conversation that they did. They definitely thought there was no way they were going to agree to this, you know, and they answered so quickly. Yes. We’ll pay the 10. No problem. That is
Jeff: awesome. So when did you get to go back to your mother and father and give the, I told you
Garret Wang: so speech first speaking role on camera, other than the commercial burger King was Was Margaret show that comedian had a show called All-American girl on ABC lasted for one season.
And it was about the life of an Asian family. Living in San Francisco, I think was the, was the geographical location. And so I played her I played a Handsome Korean man. Number two, it was my role and I had [00:46:00] lions and I was basically a guy working at a department store that flirts with Margaret.
And so I did the role and something really cool happened. The producers were like, Hey. We like Garrett a lot. So we’ve decided we’re going to recast the role of Hanson, handsome Korean men. Number two, with another actor, reshoot that, and then have Garrett come in as the guest star for the first episode.
After the pilot and I was like, Whoa, really? So this role, I don’t have to audition for it. Nope. You are Dr. Raymond Hond Han, if you will take it and I’m like, I’ll take it. And the character was an anesthesiologist. So Mary, you remember, this is what I was. This guy’s planning on doing this. And I told my parents, I was going to be going to medical school from my ever since I was a seventh grader all the way up until my second year in college, [00:47:00] my plan was to be a doctor.
So now I have the, the gym role of Dr. Raymond Han in the, in the first episode of all American girl. And, you know, they taped in front of a live audience. So I flew my parents down and I remember
Jeff: there sitting in the
Garret Wang: audience and in the makeup. People are all putting, you know, they’re doing their last touches on me.
And I like, I look up, I go, mom, dad, look, I’m playing a doctor on TV. I finally became a doctor on TV. There’s something like that. And they were, the whole audience is laughing because everyone knows, you know, Asian son doesn’t become a doctor. It becomes an actor, but now he’s playing a doctor on television.
Yeah. So that was that was the first time they saw me perform. Alive. The first time they saw me on television was when that burger King commercial aired. And cause when I, when I got the role, I told my parents and they didn’t believe me. They were like, Really well, how come we haven’t seen it? I said, because I just auditioned for it.
I haven’t filmed it yet. I mean, how [00:48:00] are you going to see it yet? And for months, that thing didn’t come out and they were just, they didn’t believe me. They thought I was lying the whole time and I got a call it’s like 11:30 PM at night. My parents are in Vegas. Right. And my dad calls me up until this point in this interview, most of them.
Every conversation I’ve had has been with my mom and my mom is the extrovert of the two parents. She’s the talkative one. She’s sort of the one that wears the pants, you know, in the household. And my dad, just the quiet dude, you know, so it’s my dad. And the difference between my parents is my dad has a heavy Chinese accent.
Like an immigrant accent. My mom’s English is really good. So like she won when she was in Taiwan, growing up, she won like the English speaking award when she was in college there and all this stuff, like the best English. So, so so my dad calls me up at 1130 at night and he’s like, Oh my God, son, son, we just saw your burger King commercial.
Oh my God, you look so good. As a burger King boy. [00:49:00] I’m like, I look good as a burger King boy. Okay. Because I had the, you know, I was the employee. I had a hat on and everything, and I remember that happening, like three sizes too small. Like after I filmed the commercial, I took the hat off. I had like a hat indentation in my forehead for like six hours.
I couldn’t even iron that thing out. I’m like, why is this not going away? So my dad is freaking out and he’s like, Oh, this is so amazing. So we saw it. It’s so good. Yeah. We love it. I said, great. Very great. So you saw, did mom see it? Yeah. She saw it too. Yeah. Yeah. And is she proud of me? And she’s like, yeah.
Yeah. She’s so proud. Okay. Hold on. Hold on. Here’s your mom. So he hands the phone over and this is a worldwide phenomenon. All mothers think that they are right. 100% of the time. Okay. Yes. And when you basically prove that a mother is incorrect, because remember we fought for so long about my choice of going into acting.
So she didn’t believe that that I could make this work. I could, that she couldn’t believe that I could be [00:50:00] successful in this. And this commercial was proof that I was a success, or I had found some measure of success in acting. That’s how my mom gets on the phone. And she’s quiet. Remember the talkative extroverted when she’s not saying anything.
And I said, mom, Mom. Are you there? Hello, mom. And she’s like, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. I’m here. You see the commercial? Yeah, I saw it. Well, what do you think you’re proud of me finally. Yeah, I’m proud. Here’s your dad like that? She was like, really? She was proud. It was the weirdest, weirdest thing to experience that she’s experienced these, all these emotions.
Like number one, my son has shown me up. It’s basically proved that I was wrong. Right. So, so I’m mad that he did that, but I’m proud that he made. You know, good. You know, she’s feeling all these emotions. And so he hands the phone back to my dad. She doesn’t talk to me after that. Right. But that was the first time they saw me on TV.
It was the burger King commercial that came [00:51:00] on TV in their hotel, in their hotel room in Las Vegas. So that was it.
Jeff: Now, now that’s something you held over her life when you were like you remind every so often. Did he just kind of quietly just let it go to give her
Garret Wang: pride? I’ve let it go. I don’t bring it up to her in private, but they’ve been to star Trek conventions where I’m on stage and I’ve told this story.
So she gets three. She gets to relive it at the conventions. Yeah. And she’ll, and fans will say that really happened. She she’s. Oh, now, now she’ll deny it. So this is telling a story. That’s all. Am I now write a story? The story of the truth.
Jeff: That is great though. That. You are able to in a, in that given timeframe prove your
Garret Wang: determination was right?
Yeah. Yeah. So in the two year span at the 12 month period, I booked all the commercials, the five or six commercials, whatever it was. And then at the year and two months, period I [00:52:00] think I got all American girl at the year and a half period. I book star Trek, something like that. So it was bam, bam, bam, bam, bam.
You know? What do you, what do you
Jeff: have gotten, do you think you would’ve. Been so driven if the deadline was not hanging over?
Garret Wang: I think I would have been. Yeah, I would have been equally driven. I, it did take me a while to get started though. Like it took me almost a year to get up the, get, to stop procrastinating and go and find a photographer to take my headshot, which is the first step.
But, you know, you’ve got to have your calling card of your headshot as a, as an actor so that they know what you look like. Right. So that took me a little while to get my engines going. But once I, once I once I had the yeah. And, and just so you know, this year period that I took to get a headshot was done before the two year deal.
So I had this, I had the photo, I had the photos ready to go. They approved like, yeah. Okay. We’ll support you being an actor. So, but but yeah, it wasn’t really But that motivation would have been there, even if, if, if the two years, if it wasn’t, if it wasn’t a two year deal, if [00:53:00] it wasn’t, if it was an unlimited amount of time, I was still would have had that motivation because I I’m competitive and I want to succeed.
And also my driving force, at least what motivated me back then was Trying to negate the experiences I had in Tennessee. So being called a racial name every day for eight years, living there really messed with me mess with my head. I mean, it was, it was difficult. So my whole thing was. I want to portray a non-stereotypical character on television that doesn’t speak with an accent.
That’s not, you know, that’s not a, you know, delivering Chinese food or whatever it may be. He’s not a Japanese Jaak is a mafia member or whatever. I just want it to be somebody who spoke. You know, clear American English. And that could be looked at as, as one of the guys, just like, just like anybody.
And that was my goal. And that really proved to be, I think the turning point for me, booking star Trek, I think the universe smiles upon something along the lines [00:54:00] of, of promoting peace amongst all humanity, you know, or, or, or there was some, there was some good in that motivation, whereas a lot of people who.
End up in Hollywood trying to make it what drives them is fame and wealth. So if you’re in it for just money and fame and to be famous for your own vanity, that’s not admirable. I don’t think the universe cares for that. The universe probably looks upon that and says, well, that’s a really horrible thing to strive for.
And now you’re going to be a waiter for the rest of your life. That’s what those guys get, you know? And for me, I think. The universe or the acting gods, they smiled upon me because they thought, wow, this kid wants to act to change the way people view, you know minorities in this country, specifically Asian minorities.
And I think that helped me more than anything else was that I, I had a really pure reason why I wanted to succeed as an actor. [00:55:00]