Congratulations to Tony Award-winning actor BD Wong on receiving his first Emmy Nomination – for Guest Actor in a Drama Series – as whiterose/Minister Zhang in season 2 of USA Network’s MR. ROBOT, episode “eps2.3_logic-b0mb.hc”.
Wong has now been made a series regular on the show, which airs its third season in October.
“whiterose is the leader of the Chinese-based hacking organization, the Dark Army. Secretive, controlling, and self-protective, whiterose is obsessed with the concept of time. As fsociety deals with the consequences of the five/nine hack, whiterose moves forward with plans for Phase II. whiterose’s public identity is as a man, Minister Zhang, the Chinese Minister of State Security. In this capacity, she hosts an FBI investigative team looking into the hacking of E Corp’s Chinese back-ups…”
In addition to MR. ROBOT, Wong has been juggling two other high profile roles: Prof. Hugo Strange on FoxTV’s GOTHAM (GOTHAM Season 4-airs September 28th), as well as reprising his role as Chief Geneticist Dr. Henry Wu in the JURASSIC WORLD sequel JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM (release date June 22, 2018).
Wong was recently invited to join the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The Academy’s 2017 class of inductees is made up of 774 new members and exemplifies its continued effort to diversify its ranks.
In March, Wong – with his writing collaborator, composer Wayne Barker (Peter and the Starcatcher) – debuted their new musical adaptation of the 1995 Hollywood Pictures movie MR. HOLLAND’S OPUS in a workshop at a California State University. Wong and Barker, who have been friends for 23 years, will now continue to workshop the ambitious musical at both Penn State University and a major American regional theater this fall.
I caught up with BD via email.
Lia: You were nominated for a Critics’ Choice Television Award for Best Guest Performer in a Drama Series for your turn as whiterose in MR. ROBOT’s first season. How did you feel when you heard the news of your first Emmy nomination for your work in season 2?
BD: I’m somewhat uncomfortable with the whole idea that people vote on who gives the “best” performance in any given category, after all these years that still doesn’t make sense to me at all. But I also value the career recognition at the same time – so it’s kinda complicated. It did occur to me that I was glad I wasn’t too old to enjoy this feeling of validation. And I think it’s super fun for my mom. “Think”?! I know it is.
Lia: What have been the challenges of playing whiterose?
BD: The number one challenge was working as a “guest star” (on the first two seasons), and guest stars aren’t necessarily told a lot of plot intricacies, so until I was made a regular this season (3) I felt in the dark a lot of the time (on this show they really want to avoid spoilers, so they just don’t tell you anything/everything, and that makes it challenging to do your job as an actor – a job that completely relies on having a deep understanding of what the character you’re playing has done, is doing, or is going to do.
Also, I’m aware of people in the trans community who haven’t seen the show and assume whiterose is your average, everyday trans character so they therefore think the character should be played by a trans actor. Trans actors should absolutely be playing themselves on screen and telling their own stories – just like Asian actors and gay actors also struggle to do, but one could also intelligently submit that whiterose’s situation is perhaps a tiny bit more complicated because of her dual male identity (Minister Zhang) – whiterose is a kind of theatrical, poetic, gender politics metaphor of Sam Esmail’s creation that doesn’t really apply to most people – trans or cis.
Lia: Can you share anything about Prof. Hugo Strange in the fourth season GOTHAM which begins airing in September?
BD: I can’t! I don’t know anything! I don’t even know if or when Prof. Strange will actually return to the show. I hope so, though; I enjoy the character a lot, he’s a lot of fun.
Lia: Congratulations on your invitation to be a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Would you like to address your feelings about #oscarssowhite and/or Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park leaving “Hawaii Five O”?
BD: I think it’s amazing that those two fine actors walked away, clearly as much to make a point to the world and the industry as to CBS or the #H50 producers. That gesture is huge and is greatly appreciated by me and our community. It’s SO much more common that an actor just “bites it” and “sucks hind tit” and nobody ever hears about it, let alone discusses it. They actually WALKED AWAY from the hundreds of thousands of dollars they were surely already making on principle alone. Let’s give a nice, standing slow clap for them and that, that’s huge. And walking away aside, from a PR and social media perspective this was extremely well-played in my opinion. They never whined or said a thing. The writing was on the wall; everyone was forced to literally Do The Math. It was pure grace.
As for #oscarsowhite, maybe being a member of the Academy will help make the actual watching of the Oscars, or being excited about the nominations, palatable for me again!
Lia: What difference do you think you can make as an AMPAS member?
BD: Honey, it’s the most American thing ever. It’s all about your vote. You have one vote: you best use it wisely and with conviction and most importantly, one must have unshakable faith with all of one’s might that one vote actually matters.
Lia: What inspired you to adapt a stage musical of MR. HOLLAND’S OPUS?
BD: The movie really moved me when I saw it in 1995, and it stayed with me a couple decades in the back of my mind. Wayne and I were looking for something people remembered fondly to adapt, and we really wanted to write about arts education, arts funding, mentoring, and to create something that could be unabashedly diverse. We began writing it just a few days before the last presidential inauguration, and that timing has influenced the identity of the adaptation tremendously.
Lia: What can you share about the process for this particular project?
BD: We are two old besties who share a lot of fundamental philosophies and creative tastes. We work in great harmonious, rhythmic, synchronization and each appreciates what the other brings to the process and the project. We sequestered ourselves in a cottage in Connecticut in the dead of winter to make our ridiculous deadline and we were successful. In the process, we got to know and understand each other much better and grew tremendously close. I really couldn’t do without him.
Lia: What has the collaboration been like workshopping a musical in an educational environment? Is that an unconventional breeding ground for new musicals?
BD: It’s both wonderful and challenging. Not only do Wayne and I both love mentoring and teaching, but we are writing a show in which those are the main themes. We lucked into an absolutely stellar, professional caliber class of students who brought the characters in the show to vivid life and who moved us not only with their talent and their performances but with the classy way they handled themselves under pressure and under challenging circumstances. Musicals have been developed in educational environments before, over time, but it’s challenging. No matter how talented and enthusiastic the students are, the musical’s development can only be as productive as a theater department is able to support or sustain it, and the amount of experience its faculty has working in this tricky medium, specifically in the unique and sophisticated process of really honing new work. A lot of people think they are up for it but aren’t. So Wayne and I find that a writing team, with their project, must really look hard to find a good fit. We’re really excited about working with John Simpkins and his Musical Theater Department at Penn State. They’re wonderfully professional, enthusiastic, straight shooters, and don’t have baggage or negative energy there. Most importantly, they’re smart and get our work.
Lia: What can audiences look forward to in December?
BD: I think in December we might have announcements about where MR. HOLLAND’S OPUS is headed after taking these big developmental steps I told you about that we’re planning now. The process of making a new musical is great fun, but super painstaking, because it is full of countless elements and details. We work fast but even so it takes time. There might also be news about another big theater project that I’m currently also taxiing down the runway with. Thank goodness the funding from the dinosaurs I engineered helps to subsidize my theatrical aspirations.
Lia: It’s a Jurassic World for you. Your character Dr. Henry Wu appeared in JURASSIC PARK in 1993. In the 2015 sequel Dr. Wu was the only character to return to the “Jurassic” franchise. What was the experience then, and now? Can you share anything about JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM, set for release in 2018?
BD: Then, it was frankly a little insignificant feeling, with the resounding exception of working for one wonderful day with Mr. Spielberg. Then, the character just kind of faded into the woodwork, nobody cared much about him or paid much mind to him, and that made me so sad, because he was so great in the book, and 1993 ideas about race in Hollywood kept him from being more than a run-of-the-mill Asian scientist. Then, that pendulum swung very far out and very far back…and it was a surprise when Colin Trevorrow invited me back to the Jurassic Party. And that time (JURASSIC WORLD 1) I felt the character was a little more important to the story and established as a kind of oddly iconic character of the franchise. This time (JURASSIC WORLD 2), I felt he was even more “ensconced” in the franchise, and I could enjoy the work more. I will be interested to hear how the fans respond to the character – and what happens to him – this time!
Lia: Anything else you are working on now?
BD: The other big stage project I’m driving now will have a reading, sponsored by a major American regional theater in November, and who knows, maybe that theater or another will commit to producing that show which is indeed my goal. That would be dream-like for me, so right now I’m working to make sure that my concept for this material (it would be a revival) is as elegantly described and executed in the reading format as it can be.
BD Wong was the 2014/2015 Artist-In-Residence at La Jolla Playhouse, where he also acted in the Playhouse productions of Herringbone and The Orphan of Zhao. He directed The Yellow Wood at the New York Musical Theater Festival, Speak Up Connie at Stage Left Studio, and is the author of the critically acclaimed memoir Following Foo: The Electronic Adventures of The Chestnut Man (Harper Entertainment). He made his Broadway acting debut (and received the Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, Theater World, Clarence Derwent, and Tony Award) for M. Butterfly. He also appeared in the Broadway revivals of You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown and Pacific Overtures, eleven seasons as George Huang on Law & Order: Svu and was a series regular on All-American Girl, OZ, and Awake. His other recent television credits include “Mr. Robot,” “Nurse Jackie,” “Madam Secretary, “NCIS: New Orleans” and “The Normal Heart. He has worked in over 20 films, including Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Jurassic World, The Space Between Us, Focus, Jurassic Park, The Freshman, Father of the Bride, Seven Years in Tibet, Executive Decision, The Salton Sea, Stay, and Mulan.
BD Wong, Oscar Isaac, Aziz Ansari, Randall Park, Constance Wu and more nominated for 2016 Critics’ Choice Awards
Photos and Video: BD Wong at premiere of JURASSIC WORLD at the Dolby Theatre
HBO® Celebrates Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month With Jonathan Yi’s “East of Main Street: Taking the Lead” Documentary Featuring Lucy Liu, Daniel Dae Kim, BD Wong, Aasif Mandvi, Russell Wong, Lucille Soong, Jimmy O. Yang, Melanie Kannokada, Dennis Oh, Sheetal Sheth, Raymond J. Lee, Nivedita Kulkarni, Tobias Wong, Michelle Goike, Veronica Reyes-How and Katarina Zhu
Video & Photos: BD Wong and Russell Wong Guest Star on ‘NCIS: NEW ORLEANS’, Episode 1.13 – The Walking Dead
Tony Award Winner BD Wong Kicks Off La Jolla Playhouse Residency
Yellow Sound Label to Release BD Wong’s Debut CD HERRINGBONE on December 2, 2014
Photos: BD Wong, Cindy Cheung, Brooke Ishibashi, Thom Sesma, Manna Nichols, Steven Eng, Ariel Estrada and Lori Tan Chinn at Leviathan Lab’s Ghost Stories
The Orphan of Zhao starring BD Wong, Sab Shimono, Julyana Soelistyo, Stan Egi, Orville Mendoza, Paolo Montalban and More at La Jolla Playhouse through August 3, 2014
Photos: David Henry Hwang, Oskar Eustis, BD Wong, Brian d’Arcy James, Francis Jue, Jennifer Lim and Leigh Silverman at WNYC’s The Greene Space
Photos: BD Wong, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Brandon Victor Dixon, Tom Viola at “Passing It On: An Evening of Mentorship to Benefit Rosie’s Theater Kids”
Photos: BD Wong in Rehearsal for “Passing It On: An Evening of Mentorship to Benefit Rosie’s Theater Kids”
Click here for other articles on BD Wong.
Lia Chang is an award-winning filmmaker, a Best Actress nominee, a photographer, and an award-winning multi-platform journalist. Lia has appeared in the films Wolf, New Jack City, A Kiss Before Dying, King of New York, Big Trouble in Little China, The Last Dragon, Taxman and Hide and Seek. She is profiled in Jade Magazine and Playbill.com.
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