What's up everybody? Today I share my interview with my buddy, actor Jon Yu, who has released a new book that actors can use to improve their careers and lives, "How to Identify Your Unique Gifts".
Q What was the catalyst that made you jump from high tech to acting?
The idea of becoming a professional screen actor started brewing in my mind back in late 2004 when I lived in Pittsburgh. I would frequently see 18’ movie studio trailers downtown and even took my first acting class at Carnegie Mellon University the following year. I had been involved with all aspects of technology for about ten years at the time, and greatly enjoyed the process of applying my problem solving skills to create innovation and more importantly, learn new things as I adapted to new roles at the company.
Soon, I was booking acting gigs and I juggled both careers for a few years, as I still enjoyed the fast paced world of high tech until eventually, the repetitiveness of the stressful product life cycle combined with the realization that there was nothing new technology could teach me fueled my desire to leave high tech and make the leap. There were plenty of other careers that piqued my interest, and since I was seeing results from my acting efforts, it was the logical next step.
It’s tough to be an actor. 85 percent of actors earn less than $5,000 a year. I was drawn to this challenging career precisely because of these overwhelming odds. Since nobody in my family or immediate social circle was in the entertainment industry, I would become a trailblazer. A defining moment that deepened my resolve for quitting high tech was when I read of an article about a VP of a large corporation who had made the same decision years ago: he quit his lucrative job, left behind his plush office and expense accounts, and took a 97 percent pay cut to be an actor. His catalyst, to enjoy every sandwich, lingered in my mind and helped me seize the day. I took action, and the rest is history.
Q What's your take on "security" in life?
Security is an abstract, intangible idea like the word “uncertainty”. To me, security is grounded in
unshakable self-awareness. This pertains to insights about our lives as well as the gifts, skills and talents that we either possess or see emerging. You see, it’s all about diversification. The more talents and abilities you have, the less vulnerable you are to risk, since you are always employable. In order to figure out what to do with our lives, we need to know what doesn’t work for us, and this requires us to explore and find out a great deal about ourselves.
I believe that “uncertainty” will stay with us unless we fully explore the world around us and introspectively examine our beliefs and interests. It’s akin to a treasure map of fixed size; the more we reveal the unknown terrain of the map, the more certain we are of the location of the treasure.
We have to venture beyond our comfort zone and stay there until there’s nowhere we are not comfortable. That is the greatest feeling of security; to be unaffected by events or people around us, such as the economy or unemployment rates. Security is found when we can stay focused on our dreams, because there is power to commitment. When you know beyond the shadow of a doubt what you came here to do, you will be able to commit to your choice –regardless if it is a character choice for your scene or a new career direction – and focus on the journey without holding back or sabotaging yourself.
Q Why did you write the book?
In life, we all face similar challenges and obstacles. Most of us can recall the struggles of finding our earliest jobs or the difficulties from transitioning away from a dying industry affected by emerging technology. Our creative self-expression has a huge impact on our lives; the extent to which we are fully expressing our talents is directly proportional to our happiness and wellbeing.
You meet a lot of people if you are an actor or in any public-facing role. I decided to write books once I realized that many people were interested in overcoming the same challenges that I faced head-on. In our conversations, they would invariably ask me how to be happier, do work that they enjoy, and make positive changes in their life. I believe this book has the answers to some of their most pressing concerns.
Q How can actors use the book?
It is said that actors are athletes of the heart. In order to realistically play a role, actors must take a script and use their judgment to interpret the scene, make snap decisions about a character, all the while committing fully to their choices and staying focused from moment to moment. Moreover, they must have a strong connection with their bodies and emotions. The actors’ process is all about helping actors unblock emotions and develop a greater self-awareness.
Being an actor requires business acumen as well. To be an actor is to be an entrepreneur, and successful actors all developed the ability to promote their craft, market themselves, and manage the business logistics of their career. A certain mindset is required to be able to stay the course and persist in the face of challenges and setbacks.
This book not only nurtures actors and enables them to become athletes of the heart, it also shows them how to develop an inner fortitude that’s required to survive and thrive in this business. In this book, actors learn how to delve deeply within themselves to get back in touch with their intuition and unique talents. The process also help actors develop stronger concentration and focus, which they can direct towards their acting career or, for that matter, any substantial endeavor in life.
Q What's the most unique acting gig you've had?
There was a period of time in my acting career many years ago, where my hair was grown to around earl ength and combed back. I’ve had significantly shorter hair in my adolescence and discovered as I grew older that this style was a better fit for me. I have a very business, corporate ‘look’, and this hairstyle, as you can imagine, resulted in many lost opportunities. Producers would be delighted at my reads and earnestly ask if I would consider buzz-cutting my hair, but it simply wasn’t an option anymore as I was committed to keep the hair, so I ended up booking mostly commercials and training videos.
One day, I got a call from my agent out of the blue. She asked if I was available to travel out of town that very night to film a docu-drama over the next few days. I replied that I was, and she asked me to record a brief vignette for the producers. Before we hung up, she asked, “Is your hair still long?” and I replied, “Of course!” I immediately booked the lead role for Season 3 Episode 13 of Investigation Discovery’s Wicked Attraction and the reasons, as I soon learned, was precisely because I had long hair. It turns out that the producers searched all over the region for an Asian man with long hair to no avail and my hair, more than anything else, was exactly what they needed for the reenactments.
The company booked a nice suite for me and I had a blast playing the bad guy. This experience was in many was more instrumental to my development as an actor than many of the ‘safer’ corporate acting roles that I’ve booked along the way.
In a world where everyone is trying to fit in, there’s no more room to hold anyone else. You have to stand out in a good way, unique and true to you, which helps you be more memorable. Not only was I distinctively remembered as “Yao Ming with long hair”, I would be filming different projects years later, and producers and directors would come up and tell me about the terrific performance from that episode.
Q Any hot new acting projects this year?
While my main focus right now is to inspire, educate, and tell stories through my books and words, I recently did a training video for Best Buy, showing aspects of good and bad customer service. It was a blast. I’ve been acting (for fun) since I was ten years old, and it will always be a part of my life.
Jon Yu Bio:
Jon’s screen credits include Hushed (Cannes Film Festival 2010), national commercials such as Yuengling, Carmax, Ocean City Maryland, television shows and appearances including Wicked Attraction and HBO’s The Wire, as well as dozens of training videos for clients including Best Buy, FAA, US Postal Service, Customs and Border Patrol, Microsoft, and Morphotek.
You can get "How to Identify Your Unique Gifts and Talents" on Amazon.com
(http://www.amazon.com/Identify-Unique-Gifts-Talents-ebook/dp/B008GHXMIQ/) and direct from Jon’s website, Diversify Your Life: http://diversifyyourlife.net/store/how-to-identify-your-unique-gifts-and-talents-clues-and-signs-to-steer-you-on-your-right-track/