Actor, Director, Writer, Producer
Alain Uy is a multi-talented actor, writer, producer, and director. Alain can be seen starring as Chris Yen in the Hulu Marvel series Helstrom and Danny in the upcoming indie action/comedy The Paper Tigers. He is the founder and creative force behind Los Angeles based production company, Them Too, in which he has directed and produced for the biggest stars and musical acts in the industry including The Chainsmokers, Calvin Harris, and Steve Aoki. He has also created short form commercial narratives for big-name brands such as Adidas, Perrier Jouet, and Levi’s. Whether Alain is offscreen commanding the set, or on-screen transforming into character, it’s absolutely clear that story-telling is within Alain’s blood in whatever creative form he immerses himself into. I’m thrilled to watch a creative powerhouse like Alain continue to elevate his career and see what projects he has in store next.
Where did you grow up?
I was originally born in the Philippines. I was born in Dagupan City and moved to Los Angeles with my family when I was about 6-years-old. I grew up in Northeast LA around Eagle Rock and Glendale, and am still living in this area. I’m very much an LA based dude.
What do you like to do for fun when you’re not working?
I don’t know if it’s a hobby, but my newest obsession is cooking! I actually picked it up before this whole pandemic where everyone’s been trying to cook bread. I realized I don’t have a lot of survival skills, so I was eager to learn something new. When I was shooting Helstrom in Vancouver, I decided to take a cooking course and have been consumed by different recipes ever since. I’ve been trying to recreate and experiment creating my favorite dishes that I’d like to eat around town; let’s just say it’s been trial-and-error process! So aside from of course acting and developing ideas or stories, cooking is my current obsession.
With Hollywood currently on pause and plans inevitably shuffled, how have you shifted your creativity? Did you take a break?
No, never a break! I did take a little bit of time for myself because I was gone for nearly a year shooting back-to-back for The Paper Tigers and Helstrom, so it was really great to decompress from playing two very different characters and just get back-to-earth for a bit. I welcomed the solitary confinement, but within about one or two months, I started to look for other ways to channel my energy.
I went back to writing, developed some ideas and concepts, flushed out a show bible for a series that I want to write, finished writing a short that I want to produce later this year, and read a few books that I’m really interested in buying the rights to. You never stop, you can’t stop! I had a friend once ask me years ago, “When do you plan on retiring?” I said, “Retire from what? Why would I retire?” I told him if I retire, then I’ll do what you’re supposed to do when you’re retired, which is what you want to do, which is the same thing I’m doing now! So, what is there to retire from? He had a really good laugh about it.
With the lack of Asian representation and the stereotypes that Hollywood has unfortunately authorized in its history, do you feel that this has affected your career opportunities or impacted your identity as an actor?
The simple answer is yes, but going into the industry when I first started, I understood that this was the beast that was in front of me, so there are aspects that I in some way accepted to the detriment of my own craft. I remember distinctly thinking when I first started out that I was never going to be the next Tom Cruise, or the next whoever, and at the time I thought, “that’s okay.” I just wanted to work and be able to do good work in whatever that might be. I wanted to audition for roles that I see my contemporaries auditioning for, like the Dante Basco’s of the world or the John Cho’s of the world.
In some ways it’s affected me in that aspect, but it’s part of the game that was set up for us to play and at some point you go through that trajectory and understand the process of getting a job and how the industry works, which we don’t really have a lot of control over.
That’s one of the reasons why I started my own production company, Them Too, in my mid-twenties. I was starting to get really frustrated with how the industry worked and how little visibility there is for folks who looked like me. I do believe there’s more sensitivity and awareness about different cultures and what could be perceived as offensive. I’m excited and looking forward to Asian American filmmakers and writers creating stories that are specifically Asian-American that I can relate to as a person who may have immigrated here and start to see and feel these experiences.
Do you feel you have more responsibility on your shoulders?
Yeah, there’s certainly a responsibility to ensure that you take control of your own destiny. There’s a responsibility that you uphold whatever motivation you have, and so for me, my motivation is to find ways to tell types of stories or perspectives that ring true to who I am not only as a human being, but also as an American of Asian descent who is an immigrant. So that responsibility manifests itself in storytellers who are often trying to find the truth and what the truth is in what we’re trying to say in the stories we’re telling, and if taken too lightly, it could be a disservice to the movement; therefore, we should have the grace amongst our community to say that if someone is trying something new or experimenting, that’s okay. Some people are more willing to take certain risks and some people aren’t, but we should foster space for that exploration and nuanced dialogue. And so again, as people who create stories and provide platforms for other content creators or storytellers, we should give that type of grace.
Congratulations, I heard The Paper Tigers just got acquired! Can you tell us more about this Indie film you’re in and what it’s about?
Woo! Thank you, I am super excited the film got acquired. The Paper Tigers is an action comedy and Kung Fu throwback to a lot of those films back in the day that we watched as kids. In some way, it’s a love letter to that era of Kung Fu, action, and comedy movies. It’s a story about these three Kung Fu brothers who are far removed from their prime, have now entered into their middle-age, and are away from their passions they had as kids. They are all of a sudden thrown back into that world because they found out that their Sifu was murdered, so it’s a murder-mystery in which these 3 self-aware aging friends/brothers are trying to figure things out.
I like that this film is not about creating stereotypical tropes for Asian-Americans. I believe what our director Bao Tran did is genius. The film took something that is very stereotypical in terms of Kung Fu, which is associated with ‘Asian-ness,’ and flipped it on its head and made it real, and made it more specific to an Asian-American storyline. So, what happens when let’s say, someone like a Bruce Lee is removed from his glory days and now has to pick up his kid, is dealing with his job, debt, is out of shape and divorced? These are all human things that we all experience, and that’s what this film embodies. And yes, I am extremely excited that we’ve gotten picked up, and that people can watch the film in a much wider release in North America!
What was it like to learn all of the choreography and go through all of the training for The Paper Tigers?
I’m still learning! It was a blast. I’ve got some Marshal Arts background. I was in Tae Kwon Do in the early years of my life and did really well, I was a ranked Tae Kwon Do Marshal artist in the nation. The choreography, however, was nothing like Tae Kwon Do at all. I actually more or less relied on my dance background and movement discipline for the choreography.
One of things that spoke volumes to me was how the film was creating the choreography. Insightfully looking at it, I thought, “Is this going to be for show? Is this just for Kung Fu porn? Or was there substance to this?” And there was. They broke down the acts of every fight and explained the meaning of each portion and how it’s specific to each of the characters.
When you see the film, you can see how it all plays out. There is a reason the folks who have seen it say “oh, this has a lot of heart” because it does. It rings true to the story line for each character.
You’re in another project Helstrom, a Marvel thriller drama series on Hulu that was just released. Can you tell us more about it?
Yes! The show is based on the marvel book. It’s about family transgenerational trauma and the difference between nature versus nurture. It follows the characters Daimon and Anna Helstrom as they try to sort out their differences and figure out how to move forward in this world that is coming at them a hundred miles an hour.
I play Chris Yen, Anna’s confidant, best friend, and business partner. In some ways we are each other’s chosen family because we both come from foster care and there is a level of trust that exists. Chris in some ways is the only one who can speak to Anna and talk sense into her, which is important since she can be a very loose cannon in many instances. Chris Yen is on top of everything, he’s all about having control, and anything that could derail his success is immediately thwarted.
What was it like working with the cast members in Helstrom?
It was fantastic! I was able to work with some of the people I’m fans of including Robert Wisdom, who is in the show The Wire, which is by far one of the best shows (next to Helstrom of course). I remember sitting down first and seeing his name card next to me, before I had met anybody, and I was absolutely thrilled. I was saying, “Ohhh! Robert Wisdom is going to be here?! This is fantastic!” Just to sit next to him and absorb a lot of his energy and ask him questions of what his process is was amazing.
Elizabeth Marvel is a stalwart in this industry. She’s done some incredible work and absolutely crushes it on show. She is the linchpin and her performance is scary AF. In the table read she was sitting further away, but you could hear her, and you’re just thinking “oh okay, so we’re going there!” If she’s bringing this kind of heart and Bob is bringing this kind of heat, you can’t help but have to elevate yourself to that standard. And of course, Sydney, Tom, Ariana, June were all fantastic. We all had a blast working with each other.
If you could give advice to Asian Americans or people of color who are interested in working in the entertainment industry, what would you say to them?
Do it! If you feel that it’s your calling, absolutely go do it. We need you. The aspiring actors, writers, directors, playwrights, visual effects people, DPs, all the way down the line of the call sheet so to speak. There are so many ways to achieve your goal, but the way to not achieve your goal is to not do it. The biggest barrier that stops people is failure. They go, “But what if I fail? What’s going to happen if do this for five years and nothing comes out of it?” That sort of mentality won’t get you anywhere. Failing is part of the process. So my main advice is to do it and then create plan on how you can do it.