By Mikkel Hyldebrandt
Photos: Yves Bright, Benny Haddad
Freeform is premiering Life Size 2 on December 2 as part of their “25 Days of Christmas” lineup, which was shot in Atlanta and stars Hank Chen who plays the character, Brendan Butler. Peach got the opportunity to speak with Hank, who is gay and Asian-American, about the film, working with Tyra Banks, and the importance of representation in the entertainment industry.
You are part of the cast of Life Size 2 which is an 18-year overdue sequel starring Tyra Banks (again) – tell us about the movie and your role in it.
Life-Size 2 is the follow up to the original film starring Tyra Banks and Lindsay Lohan from 2000. We shot in beautiful Atlanta for five weeks. I play a character named Brendan Butler. His name is a play on words because he is the childhood best friend of Grace Manning (Francia Raisa) but also works for her. So literally her butler – driving her around, cleaning up some of her messes. He loves her because they have such a long history but finds himself doing his best to reign her in as her life spirals out of control and trying to balance the, sometimes conflicting, obligations you’d have to your friend versus your boss.
How was it working opposite Tyra Banks?
Tyra was a dream in every sense of the world – from being so cool and nice, to literally me wondering if I’m legit in a dream while shooting a scene with such an icon. The day I arrived in Atlanta, I got a surprise phone call from her. I will never forget the moment I was at Publix picking out dish detergent when a restricted number called. “Hi, is this Hank?” I was like, “yes, who is this?” and the chipper voice answered, “It’s Tyra!” I gasped and nearly dropped my phone. She welcomed me to Atlanta, said the nicest things about my audition, and how much she was looking forward to working with me. It was a surreal moment, to say the least. Tyra really set the tone when it came to professionalism, generosity, and general badassery during the shoot.
You are a man of many talents including actor and comedian – where else have we seen you?
For a while, people seemed to recognize me from the first season of Transparent and one of the first episodes of High Maintenance when it was still a web series streaming on Vimeo. Last year I was in the Reese Witherspoon-starrer, Home Again. In between acting jobs, you can catch me doing stand-up around town in Los Angeles.
Let’s talk representation: Do you think TV and film do well in representing ethnic and sexual minorities?
It was really cool to observe an Asian man, Steven Tsuchida direct Life-Size 2. I have observed more opportunities for both gay and Asian actors – especially on television, and I love it. I like seeing myself represented in media as well as having the opportunity to possibly reflect someone else’s life experience back to them. As an actor, I’d like to think of myself as the conduit for marginalized voices be it the gay or Asian community, because representation is so important. For young Asian boys who grow up post-Crazy Rich Asians, leading Asian men are now a thing that exists.
What kind of roles would you like to see emerge in the future?
As a trained actor, I would enjoy the opportunity to flex my drama muscles more with no pressure to be funny. As for roles that exist for minorities in general, I have seen the industry head in a positive direction. For decades, it seemed like minorities in television and movies had to have justifications for existing. Like, oh this character is Asian because he’s a foreign exchange student. Or, we need a gay guy to sass it up on the outside but have a lot of inner conflict about his sexuality. We can’t just be in the world as ordinary people. I remember many years ago reading for a role at a director’s callback where I was asked to try it again with an Asian accent even though the ethnicity of the character had not been specified. I felt like was being asked to play a caricature – a white person’s “idea” of an Asian character. I don’t think a request like that would be made today. The happy ending is that I got the job, and the final dialogue on screen is me speaking in a normal American accent without any justification for my ethnicity. Progress!
Life Size 2 airs December 2 on Freeform as part of their “25 Days of Christmas.”