Interview: Actor Lewis Tan
Lewis Tan: A Hapa Superhero On A Mission
By Melissa Slaughter
For too long, we’ve seen Asian men portrayed as meek computer geeks with no sex appeal and no social currency. Sure, we've had martial arts masters like Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, and Jet Li, but very rarely did they get the girl. More likely they got a pat on the back and a "laugh line" in return for their role as the sidekick. Hell, Jet Li didn’t even kiss Aliyah at the end of Romeo Must Die!
Well, no more! Asian dudes with sex appeal, gusto, and smarts to boot are here, and they’re not going away. 2017 might have been a garbage fire for Asian-American representation in film/TV, but out of the flames rose guys like Ludi Lin (Power Rangers), Ki Hong Lee (Kimmy Schmidt/Maze Runner), and Henry Goulding (Crazy Rich Asians). Asian actors are breaking stereotypes left and right, and new positive role models abound! Hapa Mag is very happy to have one of these gentlemen with us in this spring issue!
Type “Guy Who Should Have Been Iron Fist” into your search engine. I dare you. There’s plenty to read about Lewis as the "Almost Iron Fist" here, here and here. However, Tan is much more than a high-flying Marvel drunken monk. He's an accomplished actor, an stuntman, world-traveler, and legacy martial artist.
Lewis Tan: My father was a national champion martial artist who competed in many different styles. He taught me from a young age how to fight; it was our bonding time. We would sit and watch old Bruce Lee films and stretch in the living room. We traveled a lot because my father was doing different films all over the world. Eventually we came to the USA for Batman and we have lived here ever since.
As many a Hapa knows, we’re often told we’re too Asian, not Asian enough, too ethnic, on and on. And often being mixed race isn’t taken into account at all. In casting, this pressure is magnified as one's outside presentation could dictate whether or not you get a job. Our own Sam Tanabe wrote about such inequity in our inaugural issue. So why choose a career path that, more often than not, will throw someone aside for just their looks?
LT: "I got into acting when I was very young because I fell in love with cinema. It was also all I knew and saw as a child. I grew up on sets with some of the most legendary directors and it was a dream to play make believe and get paid for it. Still is.
Being mixed in an industry that has been known for casting [people of color] as stereotypes has been frustrating and tiring, but has also made me a better actor and performer because I have had to convince casting directors and producers I am the ONLY choice for the role. As we go into 2018, I think the industry is starting to see the world in a broader perspective. It's about time and I am very grateful for all the hard times that has built me up."
Born in England to a Chinese father, a British mother, Lewis now calls the USA home. Lewis told us "I love my mixed heritage because it has given me depth and perspective on the world. It has also been challenging in the film industry, but at the same time [it] created a deep discovery of who I am as a man and I am proud of my heritage."
And it's not just his family heritage that gave him the chance to get a broader worldview. "Traveling has introduced me to the craziest mixes I have ever seen, people with accents you would never expect. It has been such a mind-opening experience and the world is a colorful and beautiful place." Mark Twain would agree; the famed humorist wrote in his travel book The Innocents Abroad that "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts." Lewis expanded upon the idea that travel "makes you judge less...It just shows you that you can not ever put people in a box. There is no box. It's endless, and that is a lovely thought."
Don't think Lewis has been sitting pretty as a stuntman and action actor; he's no one-trick pony. He's a multi-talented actor with plenty to show the world. He wants to do it all and to work with the best. He's certainly been in enough projects in the works to stretch anyone's artistic ability. He can be seen in the new crime thriller Den of Thieves, with Gerard Butler and 50 Cent, and as Gaius Chau, a leading role in Daniel Wu’s Into the Badlands, as well as “a few more that I can’t announce yet but are huge! ;)” I will be candid when I say I am very excited to see what Lewis has in store for that AMC martial-arts extravaganza. (Shout-out to Keith Chow of the Nerds of Color and Hard NOC Media who introduced me to both the show and to Lewis himself. #ColorMeBadlands) Lewis has pushed Asian-American representation forward by leaps and bounds and takes seriously his responsibility.
LT: “It is bigger than me and other actors. It is about the next generation feeling represented correctly and inspiring them to create and be heroes in their own story. I have season 3 of Into the Badlands coming out, which in my opinion is revolutionary when it comes to diversity and also the best action on TV. I am going to continue to do my best to use my platform and skills to inspire others and rep for my people. Count on that.”
A few more Lewis Tan Fun Facts:
- His favorite martial arts movies: "Enter the Dragon, IP Man, Drunken Master, Kill Bill, Crouching Tiger, The Matrix, Fist of Fury, Ong Bak, Kung Fu Hustle, anything from Jackie Chan, Kurosawa and most recently I saw The Villainess and it blew my mind."
- His biggest martial arts inspirations: "My father had a big influence on me. My sensei and teachers I have had, which are many. I am constantly learning and growing, understanding my body and how it moves."
- His favorite foods: "I eat everything! But my favorite food is Thai, Japanese, Italian and Indian, but I do not discriminate. I love good food and don't look twice at the price."
*All pictures were taken by Samantha Rebuyaco
Melissa Slaughter has lived in all four time zones in the contiguous United States. A former actor in Seattle, WA, Melissa now resides in NYC as a content creator. She is the producer of the We're Not All Ninjas podcast, which she also hosts with fellow Hapa Mag writer, Alex Chester. Melissa also writes for online blogs Nerdophiles and On Stage Blog. Find her @NotAllNinjasPod.