After wowing audiences with her role as a sexy lesbian in the 2004 romantic comedy, Saving Face, winning an Asian Excellence Award in 2006 for Outstanding Newcomer, Lynn Chen took some time off acting. It took another cute yet fresh romantic comedy about an Asian American family to get her back on screen. In the highly buzzed-about Dave Boyle feature, White on Rice, Chen plays Ramona, a college student who is being pursued by one very unappealing suitor: an irresponsible, middle-aged divorcee with a love of dinosaurs and geology – who also happens to be her uncle.
If the premise of White on Rice sounds quirky and a little dysfunctional, that’s because the film centers around a quirky and dysfunctional anti-hero, Jimmy (played by Letters from Iwo Jima’s Hiroshi Watanabe). Jimmy gets dumped by his wife and moves into the basement of his sister Aiko, who lives in America. Jimmy’s search for a new wife is thrown off when he sets his sights on his niece-in-law, Ramona, and tries to woo her away from his co-worker, Tim (played by Heroes’ James Kyson Lee).
“I think everyone has had someone who’s wanted to be with them that they didn’t want to be with,” says Chen, her jet black hair flirting with a smile that looks like it’s keeping a secret. “There’s this initial reaction like, ‘I don’t want to be mean to you, but this isn’t going to happen, honey.’” She laughs as she settles into an olive green couch, looking perfectly at home in the cold, formal-looking conference room. I’m sitting (slightly more uncomfortably) with Chen, the actress, singer and food blogger, as she talks about what drew her to White on Rice and more.
Audrey Magazine: Congrats for White on Rice receiving a theatrical release!
Lynn Chen: Thank you, I’m excited. With these indie films you never know what’s going to end up happening. You never know if it’ll see the light of day, if it’ll end up on DVD or not. So the fact that we’re getting a theatrical release is very exciting.
AM: What drew you to the part of Ramona?
LC: When I first read the script, I loved that there were so many parts for Asian women and they were so different from one another. I was like, “there’s one Asian woman, and another Asian woman, and another Asian woman! Wow, how great!” I liked that whoever wrote this must understand that these parts aren’t always available, so when you see an opportunity like that, you want to grab it. Of course I wanted the lead. There’s also actually a deleted scene and Tim and Ramona get to sing and I wanted to sing. I’ve been singing my entire life and I’ve never really gotten an opportunity to do that, so shooting that was really fun.
AM: You play someone who gets chased by a pretty creepy suitor. Any similar occurrences in real life?
LC: I don’t think there’s ever been any stalker-ish behavior. In Saving Face, I did have an influx of fans when the movie first came out because we were the first Asian American lesbian couple, and for a lot of lesbians this was the first time they got to reach out and talk to someone. That first flood of fan reaction didn’t freak me out, but it did freak my husband out. He was like, “Hey! What’s going on here?” But it’s really harmless.
AM: What was the shoot like?
LC: This was one of those experiences where it doesn’t happen very often. It’s like making magic. It was a very grueling shoot for me because we shot in Salt Lake City and it was 110 degrees and I didn’t sleep at all. So I was an insomniac and I got heat stroke. But the experience was still amazing – very talented cast, very talented director.
AM: What was it like working with Hiroshi?
LC: He’s a complete professional. He’s hilarious even though he doesn’t know he is.
AM: Is he similar to his character Jimmy?
LC: He is in some ways but not as extreme – he’s not an annoying person at all. He definitely stuck on his own. For example, on days off, we’d be like, “Hiroshi, come to dinner with us and he’d be like, “Nah it’s OK. I’m going to sleep and go to Red Lobster. [Laughs.] And we’d be like, “OK, you go do that. We’re not going to do that with you, but you do that.” He does his own thing and I love that.
AM: And how about working with James Kyson Lee?
LC: We never worked together [before White on Rice], we only knew of each other. It’s funny, the Asian acting community is so small and so close that we see each other all the time. So it was awesome to work with him, getting to know him and getting to see him.
AM: And what about director Dave Boyle?
LC: He’s very calm and he really makes you believe he actually delivers, that he’s capable. He makes you feel like you can screw up however you want and he won’t make you look like a fool.
AM: Would you ever want to work with Dave again?
LC: I would love to be Dave’s muse! I want to be in all his films!
White on Rice is playing now in select theatres. Check out http://whiteonricethemovie.com/theaters.html for dates and cities.
Keep up with Lynn at www.LynnChen.com.
By Janice Jann.