Legendary actor James Hong recently looked back on his career as “Everything Everywhere All at Once” continues to rake in award after award.
In a recent interview with The Guardian, Hong, 94, admitted he had never dreamed of being a part of a successful movie like A24’s mind-bending “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” co-directed by the Daniels.
“It’s almost a miracle that I would be in a picture after all these years that’s recognized by the industry,” Hong told the British newspaper. “I never dreamed that would happen.”
Not only did the film receive 11 nominations at the Academy Awards, but it was also well-received by critics, as it is currently rated fresh at 95% on Rotten Tomatoes.
“Everything Everywhere All at Once” follows Evelyn Wang, played by Michelle Yeoh, as she taps into different versions of herself from alternate realities. Hong plays Gong Gong, Evelyn’s stern and old-fashioned father.
Hong has seen the industry evolve in many ways through the decades in his nearly 70 years as an actor, such as a rise in Asian representation onscreen.
“The producers said the Asians were not good enough and they are not box office. But look at us now,” Hong said at the SAG Awards on Feb. 27, where he received a standing ovation.
“We were given the side parts as ‘coollies’ or distressed Asians being rescued by the white guy. We were underlings,” Hong told The Guardian.
Hong added that he “can count on my two hands” the number of roles he played in his career that were not based on clichés, such as a scientist in the 1970 sci-fi disaster movie “Colossus: The Forbin Project.”
In recent years, director Jon M. Chu’s 2018 rom-com “Crazy Rich Asians” and director Destin Daniel Cretton‘s 2022 superhero film “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” have proved that Asian actors can lead financially successful Hollywood films.
“We were not important people in the United States as far as the film industry was concerned. Until about 10 years ago when we started to win awards,” Hong was quoted as saying. “So it’s been a journey from ground zero to what it is now. But there’s still a long way to go.”
The actor also shared some of the hardships he experienced in his earlier projects, including a “yellowface” incident he had to endure.
Hong said he still had to perform his role as Barry Chan in the 1957 TV series “The New Adventures of Charlie Chan” despite his co-star, the late J. Carrol Naish, an American actor of Irish ancestry, donning “yellowface.”
“It sickened me to watch somebody glue their eyes so that they would look Chinese,” he told The Guardian. “That upset me inside, but I did my role.”
Hong said the series’ lead actor also berated him on set one day after messing up his line, an event that later cost him his job.
Hong explained that Naish was starting to develop a burning sensation on his eyelid because of the eye tape. Naish was also not allowed to move too much while filming so the false eyelids would not fall off, which eventually affected his mood.
The legendary actor said Naish became irritated after watching Hong have the freedom to move his head and jump around, which Hong said was what really “got to him [Naish].”
Hong revealed that the late actor gave the producers an ultimatum: either Hong leaves the series or he does.
One day I was off stage, just giving him the lines, and he’s on camera. I happened to miss one line. He just charged up to me and said: “What do you think this is? A school for Chinese actors?” I was shocked; I didn’t know what to do. He came at me and I was ready to fight. But he didn’t swing – he just went to his dressing room. He had me fired. That shows you the deep prejudice he had inside. That hurt a lot. It took me years to recover from that. I had to go see a psychiatrist.
As for what the future holds, Hong still wants to do more films after the success of “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” regardless of his age.
“I’d like to make a couple of other movies because this is my chance,” he said. “I’ve waited all these years to do projects and now people are going to back me.”