Whether It’s Food or Style, Top Chef Winner Kristen Kish Is in Control

When Kristen Kish arrives at our meeting place, the rooftop lounge of a five-story hotel just steps away from the sands of Venice Beach, she looks more rock star than chef, her lithe frame in jeans, T-shirt, boots and leather jacket, and her cropped hairdo impeccably coiffed. And despite the gusty sea breeze blowing continuously over the next 30 minutes, those short strands deflect any attempt at disarray.

Like her hair, Kish is equally unflappable.

She didn’t let being voted off stop her from winning Top Chef earlier this year. Kish became the first contestant on the Bravo cooking competition to be eliminated and then come back via the show’s version of the loser’s bracket, called Last Chance Kitchen, to claim the title.

There was one thing, however, that Kish notes as a bit of a disappointment. “In my head, I thought I would look more like a badass [than I actually looked on TV],” says Kish, with a laugh.

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But she did become only the second female named Top Chef over its 10 seasons. “Maybe why I fared well is that I didn’t look at it as a competition [against other chefs],” says Kish. “I looked at it more as a competition with myself.”

That is still some tough competition because Kish considers herself a perfectionist, someone who refuses to slack off. “I put a lot of pressure on myself to succeed in some way,” she says.

She was also adamant about not falling for this reporter’s repetitive questions trying to probe the psychology of being adopted from Korea at the age of 4 months. “I never felt like an outsider. I always felt so included,” says Kish. “The whole perfectionist thing comes from somewhere I can’t [explain]. I wish I could figure it out. [It’s not like] it’s because I was adopted and I feel I have more to prove. But whether it’s true or not, I don’t know. I just think in cooking, I just want to make things perfect not only for me but for my guests.”

Being driven and passionate about serving others is just a part of who Kish is, she insists, a product of her personality and her upbringing by nurturing parents in Michigan.

She might find out how much of nature factored into the person she’s become in the near future, when she plans to visit and immerse herself in the country where she was born. Of course, food will play a big part. “I want to eat my way through Korea so badly,” says Kish. “I love Korean food.”

Finding her birth parents, on the other hand, won’t be a part of the trip. “I have no desire to meet [them] only because it’s not realistically an option for me; there’s no record,” says Kish. “What I want to do, though, is to go to the village where I was born, and spend X amount of days or weeks or whatever it may be in the trenches, doing what [the locals] do there. That’s going to bring me more gratification than if I were to meet my birth parents.”

She hopes to travel before the end of the year. In the meantime, her priority will be a new job: running the kitchen at Menton. Her post as chef de cuisine of the Boston restaurant was in the works before she won Top Chef. “[Menton] is fine dining; it’s beautiful, perfect service, perfect food. It’s just my style. I love that formality of dining,” says Kish. “I’m not a rustic, farm-to-table kind of girl.”

And operating a fine dining establishment of her own is what she envisions in her future, not being a celebrity chef on television. “I want to cook,” says Kish. “I want to be in a restaurant.”

And still looking every part the badass in the kitchen, no doubt, every hair firmly in place.

Story by Jimmy Lee

Photo by mercurephotography.com

Story originally published in the Fall 2013 issue of Audrey Magazine. Buy your copy here!

From Keith Urban to The Voice: Christine Wu Can Throw Down and Do a Hoedown

Meet the multi-hyphenate musician who can “throw down and do a hoedown” with the best of ‘em, from Keith Urban to The Voice‘s latest champ. Story by Jimmy Lee.

Back in June, Christine Wu’s workweek started on Monday with a violin performance on the penultimate episode of NBC’s The Voice. On Wednesday, she was part of the band backing the newly crowned The Voice champ, Danielle Bradbery, on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, where viewers watched the cameras zoom in on Wu for a close-up during a fiddle solo. Her Thursday night gig was at the L.A. International Airport, playing with an orchestra at a special gala for local big- wigs, including the mayor, to preview a new terminal.

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Just another atypical week at the office for the violinist, cellist, pianist, composer, producer and dancer.

But at one time, it was a rather conventional narrative — all too familiar to many Asian American children — for this daughter of a Taiwanese father who came to the U.S. and met her German American mother in grad school: Her parents forced her to play the violin, starting at the age of 2.

“I’m half-Asian; it’s my biological imperative to either play the piano or the violin before you can properly walk or speak,” says Wu, just one of many wisecracks that come from the irreverent 36-year-old. Despite wanting to quit, she exhibited a high musical aptitude, adding the cello and the piano to her repertoire by age 5. “My mother, she was trying to take the fun out of everything. She said, ‘That’s really great you can play Beethoven by ear, but you’re probably doing it wrong, so you need lessons.’”

Wu, who was born in Germany and moved frequently throughout the U.S. due to her physicist father’s jobs, was now required to practice all three instruments, every day, which cut into her playtime. So at 5 years old, Wu would wake up at 5 a.m., practice each instrument for half and hour and then go to school. “I was like my own tiger mother. I was like, ‘How can I game the system if I want to be free after school?’ I have to get up early.”

While a music undergrad at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, her jazz friends encouraged her to do something she thought she couldn’t do: improvise. That obstacle, too, was overcome. Now “I can jam or do whatever, and I love it,” says Wu. “It’s brought me some great opportunities.”

She’s supported famed singer-songwriter Paul Anka and Bollywood icon A.R. Rahman, traveling to far-flung places such as Uruguay and South Africa for concerts. Her talents have been displayed on American Idol and Dancing With The Stars. She’s even backed Billy Ray Cyrus. “Who knew that Asian nerd could throw down and do a hoedown?” jokes Wu, on playing behind the country crooner of “Achy Breaky Heart.” It worked out well because the next week Keith Urban’s people called her to play a fiddle part on one of his recordings.

Wu seems to take special delight in upending people’s expectations, like with Kenny Loggins. “He looks at me and he’s like, ‘I don’t think so,’ because … I’m Asian. [Loggins thinks] ‘she has to read music, and she can’t groove.’ But [his managers] are like, ‘Just give her a chance.’ So I get up there and do the thing, and I get the gig,” recounts Wu.

“I really have met a lot of my idols and worked with them. I would have never guessed, listening to [Loggins’] ‘Danny’s Song’ over and over again in high school, that I would be on stage with the guy, playing it in front of 8,000 people in Vegas.”

But getting to this point where she’s an in-demand session musician, who also composes commercial jingles, writes her own artsy pop songs and produces music videos, would not have been possible if she hadn’t gone against her dad’s wishes. After earning a graduate degree at the University of Southern California, she landed a full-time position with the Houston Symphony, beating out dozens of other violinists. “That was my straight job,” says Wu. “That was the job my dad wanted me to have, [with] tenure, benefits, job security.” But after five years in Houston, she made the move to Los Angeles in 2007 to devote her attention to working for herself.

“He still asks me if I’m making enough money, like my regular salary,” says Wu. “I tell my dad I make more money than I ever was working for the symphony. But then he says you have no job security. [I tell him] nobody does anymore. But he sees that I’m happy and making it work.”

Photo by Michael Becker. Originally published in the Fall 2013 issue of Audrey Magazine. Get the issue here.

Racecar Driver Verena Mei Just Won’t Slow Down

RACE CAR DRIVER VERENA MEI, WHO LED THE FIRST ALL-FEMALE TEAM TO EVER WIN A NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP IN THE HISTORY OF RALLY AMERICA, IS CURRENTLY COMPETING FOR HER SECOND TITLE. Story by Ada Tseng, photo by Pinky Yoshimoto, pinkyphotography.com.

 

Growing up in Hawaii, Verena Mei says her mother always told her that as long as she worked hard, she could accomplish anything.

Mei laughs. “But I know she wasn’t talking about racing.”

Raised in a family of engineers, Mei did not know anything about race car driving until she started modeling for Toyo Tires after graduating college. After attending races consistently for three years, she grew such a passion for motor sports that she was dying to see what it was like behind the wheel.

“I just knew that I could do it,” says Mei, who is ethnically Chinese. “I always had that attitude. I would see something and think, ‘I could do that!’ In my head, there was no doubt.”

In 2002, she was referred to a stunt driving school by Indy- Car legend Bobby Unser Jr., and only a month later, she earned her pro competition drag racing license, making her the fastest Asian American woman in the United States.

She then trained to be a race car driver at the Bob Bon- durant School of High Performance Driving, and it was there that she found her passion for drifting, a racing technique that began in Japan that involves the driver intentionally over-steer- ing and sliding around corners.

“Even back in 2000, they were calling me ‘Drift Girl,’” says Mei. “They’d say, ‘I could see the fire in your eyes.’ [Two- thousand-four] was the year that drifting came to the U.S. as a professional series, and it was the start of something huge.” The discipline crossed into the mainstream with Justin Lin’s Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift, the 2006 film in which Mei has a cameo.

After competing in Formula Drift for five years and becoming the first female to win a championship in the Redline Time Attack auto racing series, Mei decided to pursue rally racing. Rallying takes place on real roads through all types of surfaces and weather conditions, and events can last for multiple days.

In 2012, Mei and her co-driver, Leanna Junnila, were the track’s only all-female driving team that was going for the na- tional championship in Rally America, which has been oper- ating since 2005.

“[Junnila] leads me, so I can drive with my ears instead of my eyes,” Mei explains. “We’re going so fast, the roads are so narrow, and you can’t see all the turns, so she gives me notes, and I have to visualize it in my head. It takes a huge amount of trust in each other.”

When they won the Rally America B-Spec National Championship in their first year of competition, they made history as the first all-female team to ever win a national title in the history of Rally America.

“She’s created so many milestones for women in racing,” says Julianna Barker, a representative for tokidoki, the Japanese- inspired pop culture brand created by Italian artist Simone Legno that sponsors Mei’s #335 True Car/Star Girl Racing rally team. In addition to a custom tokidoki helmet and a Porcino vinyl toy she keeps in her car for good luck, Legno has created a new cartoon character based on Mei called “Star Girl,” inspired by Mei’s passion for racing.

“I can totally relate to what tokidoki, [which means ‘some- times’ in Japanese] is all about,” says Mei. “Sometimes … dreams come true. And for me, I’m living the hugest dream. Throughout my whole racing career, I’ve always wanted to rally.”

Seeing that rallying is often considered the most dangerous motor sport, Mei knows that her worried mother waits for the day she stops racing. But her parents have their own way of supporting their record-breaking daughter.

“It’s funny, my dad will say ‘Be careful! Drive slow!” says Mei. She reacts in mock horror. “Drive slow?!”

Looks like Mei will not be slowing down any time soon.

 

WHAT WERE YOU DOING 10 YEARS AGO?
“I had just earned my pro drag racing license and was tirelessly (no pun intended) searching for sponsors, but no one took me seriously. It was only at the end of that year that I met Greg Fresquez from the Bondurant High Performance Driving School who believed in me and gave me a chance. It was a life changing moment. I took the opportunity and ran with it and never stopped.” — Verena Mei

 

This story was originally published in Audrey‘s Summer 2013 issue. Buy the issue here

“Arrow”‘s Celina Jade Is a Straight-up Triple Threat

SHE CAN SING, SHE CAN FIGHT, AND SHE’S REALLY SMART, TOO. THE HONG KONG-BASED TRIPLE THREAT MAY BE HOLLYWOODS’S NEXT ACTION STAR. By Ethel Navales, photo by Ken Yeung.

 

It only took a week for Celina Jade’s career to take an abrupt turn. A few days after sending in her audition tape for The CW’s Arrow, the action-adventure television series based on the DC comic book character Green Arrow, Jade was on a plane from Hong Kong to Vancouver. She had landed the role of Shado, a skilled martial artist and archer on a mission to rescue her father. “I had no idea how Shado’s character was going to develop. I had no idea she was going to be more than a one-episode gig,” says Jade of the iconic comic book character introduced midway through the first season of the show. “It was a total mystery, and I went into my first ever U.S. television series shooting in a tank top in freezing cold, rainy weather, lying in wet grass.”

Apparently, wet grass is the least of Jade’s worries. She de- scribes being punched in the face and dropped onto a concrete bridge, and then laughs, saying bruises are a part of the job. “I’ve been doing martial arts ever since I was a young kid,” says Jade, who was raised in Hong Kong by her Chinese mother and American kung fu star father, Roy Horan. “My father never had a son, so he taught my sister and me how to fight.”

But it wasn’t martial arts that first lured Jade into the entertainment industry. At the age of 14, she landed a record deal after winning an Asia-wide singing competition. She later moved on to songwriting, inspired to have more of a say in what she sang. But in the midst of her rising fame, she suddenly found herself at a crossroads.

At the peak of her singing career, Jade’s studio asked her to quit school in order to focus on singing. “I decided to terminate my contract to continue my education because I realized I was not really becoming somebody I admired,” she says. Staying true to her word, Jade got a degree in management at the London School of Economics before pursuing her dreams of performing.  “It’s really nice for me, in my opinion, to have an education because by having an education, I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to do,” she says. “I can maintain a sort of integrity within the entertainment industry and, worst case scenario, I can always get a normal job.”

But upon returning to the industry, Jade discovered that things didn’t always go as smoothly as one would like. Times had changed and all those offers of fame were nowhere to be found. “I was at the low of my career,” she says. “I remember my bank account was nearing nothing because I hadn’t had a job in a while. I hadn’t met the right person to sign up with. I didn’t know if I wanted to sing or act, and I was really losing confidence because there’s a lot of luck involved in what we do.” She prayed for a sign — something to tell her that she was doing the right thing. As it turned out, she didn’t get a sign — she got three.

In the span of one week, a number of little things added up: a successful performance at a wedding solved Jade’s financial crisis; she was recognized from one of her films by a very enthusiastic fan; and, after opening up to a friend about possibly leaving the industry, her friend told her, “No, Celina, you can’t. We really hope that you succeed because it’s the dream that we never had the chance to pursue.” Taking her cue from these signs, Jade decided to give acting another chance.

And it’s a good thing she did. Today, when Jade is not in Vancouver filming (Arrow was just renewed for a second season), she’s in Hong Kong rehearsing for an upcoming rock and roll musical, Good Morning Hong Kong. Although Jade’s schedule seems overwhelming at times, she emphasizes that the key is to not overthink it. “The happiest a person can be is just to live in the moment and live it fully,” she says. “I don’t think about it — whatever comes, I’ll tackle it and ride it.”

This story was originally published in the Summer 2013 issue of Audrey Magazine. Get it here.

Summer 2013 | Pop-arazzi: Tobit Raphael

DEPT: Pop-arazzi
AUTHOR: Ethel Navales
ISSUE: Summer 2013
PHOTO: Stasi Photography

“THE FILIPINO AMERICAN ACTOR LEARNS A THING OR TWO FROM VINCE VAUGHN AND OWEN WILSON IN THE NEW FILM THE INTERNSHIP.”

 

“I thought I was dreaming. I was constantly biting my tongue just to check if I was awake,” says Tobit Raphael, the Filipino American actor about to star in his very first major mo- tion picture. “It was one of those things that just kinda fell from the sky — like I was struck by lightning. I wasn’t even expecting to get a call-back.”

Before he knew it, the now-24- year-old, just a few years out of UCLA theater school, found himself in front of the camera alongside Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson, starring in the summer’s first big comedy, The Internship. The film follows middle-aged Billy and Nick (played by Vaughn and Wilson) who lose their jobs as salesmen and have to start at the bottom of the ladder in their new careers — as interns at Google. Raphael plays a nervous and socially awkward computer programmer, Yo-Yo, who is placed in the same internship team as Billy and Nick. “That kind of social anxiety is really prevalent in my generation,” says Raphael of his character. “It was really fun [to play Yo-Yo] because I feel like I can relate to him in some ways. I think he has a lot of heart.”

It’s no wonder landing the role was such a surprise to Raphael — unlike most young actors, he didn’t pursue acting until relatively recently. “I always thought I was gonna end up in something boring,” he says. But then in high school, “I really started exploring being creative as an actor. I realized that a lot of people enjoyed watching me do that, and I enjoyed doing it.”

And who enjoyed watching him the most? His parents. Raphael says he’s thankful that his parents were enthusiastic about his leap into the creative arts. When he got to college, he realized that many Asian parents may not have been quite as supportive — he was one of the only Asians in his theater pro- gram. “It’s something that I think about a lot. One thing in particular with being Filipino is that you don’t see a lot of Filipino American [actors]. If you see Asians at all, you usually see a lot of Chinese, Japanese or Korean actors.” But Raphael doesn’t let that discourage him, saying that being Filipino helps him by allowing him to “stand out.”

So what’s next after The Internship? We’ll soon find out, but mean- while, the up-and-coming star is sure to take his own advice: “Do it because you love it. That’s what life is about — doing things that make you happy.”

 

Summer 2013 | Pop-arrazi: Rila Fukushima

DEPT: Pop-arrazi
AUTHOR: Anna M. Park
ISSUE: Summer 2013
PHOTO: Sasaki Tomokazu

 

“THE MODEL-TURNED-ACTRESS DISHES ON WORKING WITH HUGH JACKMAN IN THE WOLVERINE.”

 

On the last day of production of the highly anticipated film from Marvel Studios, The Wolverine, director James Mangold tweeted some black and white photos he took of “three people I adore”: Hugh Jackman, who plays the title character; the Japanese model Tao Okamoto, who plays Logan’s love interest Mariko; and the elfin beauty Rila Fukushima.

Herself a former model who first gained international attention when she appeared in the D&G spring/summer 2004 campaign, Fukushima hasn’t just won over one of Hollywood’s top directors. She’s just signed with ICM Partners, one of the world’s largest talent agencies. “There are so many roles I’d like to try,” says the Tokyo-born actress, now based in Los Angeles. “I love a good challenge, and I look for roles that speak to me somehow.”

In her big screen debut, out in theaters July 26, Fukushima found plenty of challenges in Yukio, the ninja character who first appeared in the original 1982 comic book, tasked by Wolverine’s nemesis to find the mutant. “The role required intense training in a variety of martial arts styles and tech- niques, from sword fighting to bo staff,” says Fukushima, who is fluent in English. “I think the biggest challenge was the physicality of the role. Long days of martial arts and stunts were really hard. It was both incredibly rewarding and humbling to go through it. I definitely learned a lot of things about myself.”

After all, Fukushima isn’t your typical martial arts actress. Raised in Tokyo, she graduated college with a degree in English literature. While working at an advertising agency, she met an agent who encouraged her to give modeling a try. “I am not sure exactly what my first job modeling was; it was so long ago,” says Fukushima, who has been modeling for at least a decade. “But I remember that it was for one of the magazines that I would regularly buy. So one day, I got to pick up an issue, and I saw myself in it. It was such a sur- real experience, seeing the pages I had worked on in a magazine that only a few months before I was just a reader of. It took a while to get used to that feeling.”

Since then, Fukushima’s appeared in everything from Elle to V Magazine to Vogue Japan, and has done campaigns for Vera Wang, Gap, Calvin Klein CK One and Kenneth Cole Reaction. And as a model, she had occasion to work with now-co-star Okamoto. “It was a lot of fun to get to work with Tao,” says Fukushima. “She is a very talented ac- tress, and I had an amazing time work- ing through the script and spending time together with her while shooting the film.”

It seems there was a lot of bonding on set, from director to co-stars to crew. (The film features a number of Japanese actors, including Hiroyuki Sanada, as well as Asian American actors Will Yun Lee and Brian Tee.) “We had a great time every day,” Fukushima recalls. But there was one moment she particularly relished.

“One of my best memories was seeing Hugh with his shirt off for the first time,” she says. “I’m not sure if my reaction will make it into the film, but I must have looked really surprised. It was like looking at a Greek god.”

WHAT WERE YOU DOING 10 YEARS AGO?
“In 2003, I was still living and working in Tokyo. The summer was probably really hot and muggy, as it always is in Tokyo, and I was just a few months away from getting to go to New York.” -Rila Fukushima

Summer 2013 | Pop-arazzi: Kunal Nayyar

DEPT: Pop-arazzi
AUTHOR: Ada Tseng
ISSUE: Summer 2013
PHOTOS: Diana King
STYLIST: Skye Stewart- Short
GROOMER: Sonia Lee, Exclusive Artists

THE BIG BANG THEORY STAR IS NOTHING LIKE HIS CHARACTER — JUST ASK HIS MISS INDIA WIFE”

 

Having just completed its sixth season, the CBS sitcom The Big Bang Theory is more popular than it’s ever been (currently the highest-rated show in television with 20 million viewers), and 31-year-old Indian British actor Kunal Nayyar is working on his favorite storyline so far: his astrophysicist character Raj finally falls in love.

“It’s fun to explore that side of Raj,” says Nayyar, “to see him be vulnerable because he has a legitimate shot with a girl. I don’t think we’ve seen him genuinely like someone yet.”

Part of the reason Raj’s personal life has been so slow to develop is because he has social anxiety disorder, specifically selective mutism, which makes him unable to talk to women. Early in the first season, Raj discovered that alcohol overrides his psychological fears, and he has since experimented with other pharmaceutical drugs with varying results. Though often played for laughs, it’s a serious disorder that thwarts his desire to be a ladies’ man.

When Raj meets Lucy (played by Kate Micucci), he asks her out for coffee, only to have her excuse herself to go to the bathroom and sneak out the window. This sends Raj into a mini depression, and his friends find him alone in his apartment, bingeing on lobster, wearing only his tighty whities.

“You know, I’m not insecure about the way that I look, and as an actor, you’re just playing the circumstances,” says Nayyar. “But it’s not like I have a six-pack, so when I saw it, [knowing that] 20 million people were watching, I was like, ‘My God, time to go on a diet.’” He laughs. “But in my defense, I was wearing three [pairs of] underwear under the [top] one, because they wanted my tummy to stick out a little more.”

To see Raj failing at social interaction is not new, but this time, he wasn’t the reason the girl was scared away. Lucy later apologizes, admitting that she suffers from social anxiety and gets nervous around new people. Suddenly, Raj’s weaknesses that have crippled him in the past are the same qualities he uses to convince her to give him a chance.

When she finally agrees to a date, he calls out, “You won’t regret it! I’m the most pathetic guy you’ve ever met!”

“For the first time, Raj is the one who’s saying, ‘You have to put yourself out there,’” says Nayyar. “It’s their first date, and he’s worried that she’s going to have a panic attack, so [he says,] ‘let’s have a first date in a library,’ and ‘let’s text each other.’ He’s making an effort to take care of her, which I think is very sweet.”

In real life, Nayyar definitely doesn’t need help with the ladies — he married former Miss India Neha Kapur in 2011. Nonetheless, as The Big Bang Theory writers have gotten to know Nayyar over the years, they’ll sometimes slip in elements of real life into the character.

“Sometimes they’ll write something in the script, and I’ll be like, ‘Oh, that’s how I, Kunal, talk,’” says Nayyar. “But sometimes it gets blurred. Sometimes my wife will be like, ‘You know, you’re sounding like Raj right now.’”

While The Big Bang Theory’s ratings have always been high, it wasn’t until after the show went into syndication in 2011 that Nayyar truly understood the extent of his reach. Now that people approach him in airports and restaurants all over the world, his success feels more tangible.

“I love playing a character that has this innocence and naiveté about him, because it’s rare in the real world,” says Nayyar. “I mean, it exists, but I’m not like that, so it’s great to be able to play a character that is pure, has good thoughts, loves his friends, and is really just a positive guy.”

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WHAT WERE YOU DOING 10 YEARS AGO?
“I was in Portland, Oregon. I had just turned 21, and I had my first beer; my brother bought me my first beer. I mean, I had had a beer before that, but I remember my first official beer. I went down to show my ID. And I was in a band called the Prince and the Pauper.”
— Kunal Nayyar

Korean Actor Byung Hun Lee in “Red 2″

 

SOUTH KOREA’S HOTTEST ACTOR IS WELL ON HIS WAY TO BECOMING ONE OF HOLLYWOOD’S LEADING MEN. Story by Kanara Ty, photos courtesy of BH Entertainment Int’l Management Agency.

 

Byung Hun Lee is a celebrity in his native South Korea as one of the nation’s top actors. Nevertheless, when he was on set for the upcoming action-comedy sequel Red 2, playing the role of Han, an agent-turned-hired killer out to get Frank Moses (played by Bruce Willis) — his second Hollywood role this year after playing Storm Shadow in the spring block- buster G.I. Joe: Retaliation — he couldn’t help but feel a little star-struck.

“There are amazing actors in this film. They are legends: Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren and John Malkovich. It was a great experience, but I had a hard time adjusting to the environment the first time. Acting among them made me so nervous,” says the 42-year-old.

Fortunately, Lee’s character allowed him to look pretty cool onscreen. “Han has a lot of pride,” says Lee. “He’s a pretty scary character in the movie.”

Interestingly, the action sequences weren’t the challenging part of filming for Lee (“I’ve done a lot of action movies in Korea,” he says); it was adjusting to a different type of comedy. “Every country has its own brand of comedy,” he says. “I had to understand American comedy and the cultural differences.”

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Born and raised in South Korea, Lee got into acting 23 years ago when his mother gave him an application for an open audition at KBS, one of the nation’s top broadcasting companies. He soon landed his first role starring in the 1991 television drama Asphalt My Hometown. After working on a number of dramas the next couple of years, he starred in his first film, What Drives Me Mad?, opposite the late actress Choi Jin-sil.

Despite Lee’s extensive career in film and television, he says he initially wasn’t interested in acting. “I never thought about being an actor,” he says. “My real personality is different. I don’t want to show off. I don’t want to speak about myself in public. I don’t have that outgoing personality.”

Even when his career started to take off, he still had one foot out the door. “I thought this was not a job I would have for the rest of my life. This will be just a great experience for me,” he remembers. It took a couple years for him to realize that acting was “something that I could put all my passion into.”

It’s a passion that he may have inherited from his father, who passed away 15 years ago. “When I was a kid, my dad really loved Hollywood movies,” says Lee. “He knew a lot of things about films, actors and actresses. He was like a directory of Hol- lywood films. He always told me lines from the movies. He was a maniac about Hollywood films.” When he told director Dean Parisot about his father, Parisot decided to use a real photo of Lee at the age of 5 holding hands with his dad in the film.

“To have that picture in the film — it was amazing because my father was such a huge fan [of Hollywood]. Even though he passed away, he could still participate in this project with this picture,” says Lee.

Now with multiple big-budget Hollywood films under his belt, and his hand- and footprints immortalized in cement at the famed TCL Chinese Theatre (formerly Grauman’s Chinese Theatre) in Hollywood (the only other Korean actor with that honor is Ahn Sung-ki), the once-reluctant actor is not showing any signs of slowing down anytime soon. He says he’ll continue look- ing at scripts in both Hollywood and Korea, focusing on films but still open to television dramas, which are immensely popular in South Korea. In fact, Lee seems interested in taking the hallyu wave to the next level by working with a Korean director on a Hollywood film — maybe Park Chan-wook, with whom he worked in Joint Security Area, which made him an international star in Asia, or Bong Joon-ho of films The Host and Mother.

After nearly a quarter of a century as an actor, how does Lee keep it fresh for himself? It’s the same bit of advice he has for new actors: “Always try to keep an open mind and think freely as a child.”

Watch out Hollywood — there’s a new kid in town.

This story was originally published in Audrey Magazine‘s Summer 2013 issue. Get the issue here.

Summer 2013 | Pop-arazzi: Godfrey Gao

DEPT: Pop-arazzi
AUTHOR: Ada Tseng
ISSUE: Summer 2013
PHOTOS: Jetstar Entertainment

 

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“CANADIAN ACTOR AND MODEL GODFREY GAO TACKLES HIS FIRST ENGLISH LANGUAGE ROLE AS MAGNUS BANE, THE HIGH WARLOCK OF BROOKLYN, IN THIS SUMMER’S ADAPTATION OF THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS.”

In Asian TV dramas, the male protagonist is often a young, arrogant, rich kid who’s about to have his world turned upside down by the wholesome, down-to-earth female who finally makes him want to be a better person. To set this up, there’s often an obliga- tory scene where a crowd of girls lunges themselves at the leading man, causing your average feminist viewer to roll her eyes.

But when Godfrey Gao, dressed in an all-white suit, makes girls’ hearts go aflutter in the first episode of the 2010 Taiwanese drama Volleyball Lover, it seems quite realistic. Or perhaps, your eyes are too stunned to roll.

 

 

It doesn’t hurt that Gao’s athletic character, Bai Qian Rui, is not arrogant, but in fact kind of silly. In order to cheer up his best friend, he crouches his entire 6-foot-4-inch frame low to the ground and jumps up and down like a gorilla. “I think that character is closest to my personality,” says the Taiwanese- Malaysian Canadian, “because I can be quite goofy sometimes.”

Born in Taipei, Gao moved to Vancouver at age 9 and immediately noticed cultural differences. “I remember [Canadian] girls in school greeting friends or strangers with hugs, some- times even [taking] a running jump to give a hug,” says Gao, “whereas in Taiwan, girls were mostly shy, and if boys came up to talk to them, they’d run away and giggle from a healthy distance.”

As a child, Gao idolized Michael Jordan, and it was his dream to play basketball in the NBA. A skinny, lanky kid, Gao had his growth spurt between 9th and 10th grades, a period he re- members clearly because it resulted in him dunking a basketball for the first time. He still plays pick-up basketball weekly, and if he hadn’t become a model and actor, he says he would have loved to pursue a career in sports. “Perhaps I might’ve become Jeremy Lin!” he jokes.

At first, modeling and acting seemed out of reach. “Honestly, I didn’t think it would happen because cloth- ing-wise, nothing fits me in Asia,” says the 28-year-old. But then he earned his first acting job in 2006 in the Taiwanese drama The Kid from Heaven, in which he plays an American coming back to Taiwan to run a business. Likewise, Gao had just returned to Taiwan from Canada to give acting a shot.

While he worked hard to perfect his craft, Gao jokes that it was his facial hair that changed the course of his career. “I had a long summer vacation back in Vancouver, and for a while, I just didn’t shave,” remembers Gao. “When I re- turned to shoot another TV drama in Taiwan, my manager and the producers liked my facial hair and thought I looked more masculine. That’s when I shot Wanna Be a Tough Guy, where I played Tiger, and that image stuck. It was definitely a turning point.”

By 2011, he was not only a house- hold name in Taiwan, he was declared the “world’s first Asian male super- model” by The Guardian after being named the new face of Louis Vuitton — the first Asian model for the world’s most valuable luxury brand.

In another first, this year brings Gao’s first English-language role as the Indonesian half-demon warlock Mag- nus Bane in the Hollywood adaptation of The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, in theaters August 23. On her Tumblr, Cassandra Clare, the author of the original young adult fantasy novels, wrote that after an exhaustive search through many hot Asian men, she’s confident that “our Magnus may be … THE HOTTEST MAN IN THE WORLD.” Expect a “warlock for the ages,” says Gao, whose character has a penchant for sparkly eyeliner. “It was magnificent! It was the first time I had glitter and nail polish applied on me.” The only downside, he recalls, was “the Magnus party scene where I was ‘sans pants’ in 0 to 3 degree Celsius weather.”

Godfrey Gao in glittery liner and without pants? “Expect a lot of fun,” says Gao. Indeed.

WHAT WERE YOU DOING 10 YEARS AGO?
“I had just graduated from high school and attended my first year of college where I was playing basketball for Capilano University.” — Godfrey Gao

Buy our 10th anniversary issue with Godfrey Gao here.

Pop-arazzi Winter 2012-13 | Allison Torneros

ISSUE: Winter 2012-13

DEPT: Pop-arazzi

STORY: Malissa Tem
Spray paint cans and unfinished canvases line the floor of Allison Torneros’ shared art studio. A self-described pop surrealist artist, Torneros uses acrylic, spray paint and other media to bring her vivid imagination to life on canvas. She begins the process by aimlessly splattering paint onto the canvas until a form begins to appear. At times, it is her own face that takes center stage in her paintings.

“When you step back and look at it together, it creates its own story,” says Torneros of her work. Her paintings often reflect her mood or her personal struggles growing up as a Filipina American in the San Francisco Bay Area. While attending Catholic high school, Torneros says she was characterized as the promiscuous bad girl, and later, the innocent schoolgirl, something that Torneros believes arose out of pop culture rather than actual traits that she possessed at that time. One of her showcases features paintings of the two major stereotypes often cast on Asian American women — the Dragon Lady and the Lotus Blossom.

These days, the 27-year-old is often better known by her professional alias, Hueman. “‘I am not a robot, I am a human’ — it was a mantra I said to myself to snap out of a bad funk,” says Torneros. She has ventured out onto a bigger canvas — wall murals. It seems a natural progression for someone whose fine-art-meets-street-art aesthetic grew out of the world of hip-hop, something her late brother introduced her to. “I grew up admiring murals, but the big thing that held me back was that I was a woman,” says Torneros.
“[The mural art scene] seemed so male-dominated and ego driven, and I didn’t want to deal with it.”

But when she moved to L.A. and her work started getting bigger (both literally and figuratively), Torneros realized she had found her calling.

“When I started doing more murals, I was meeting people and I began using my whole body to do my art,” says Torneros. “I felt more human.”