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Actress Linda Wang gives the lowdown on her role in the biopic drama 'Low Down'

Taiwanese-born American actress Linda Wang isn't afraid to speak her mind or boss around a reporter to get her way.

Linda Wang
Courtesy of Linda Wang
Linda Wang with Alex Fox and  Michael Gregory Fung on the set of "Revenge of the Green Dragons"
Photo by Andrew Lau

A renegade from Queens, New York, Wang wanted to meet in person for an interview about the upcoming premiere of her latest film "Low Down" so I invited her to join me at a media preview screening of the Cannes Film Festival Jury Award-winning Japanese film "Like Father, Like Son" in Beverly Hills

She insisted on driving, but after picking me up, she didn't hold back from venting her rage at the L.A. traffic.

Luckily, she came prepared with her own personal "calming weapon," a Sonic screwdriver from the "Doctor Who" TV series that a Comic Con friend had given to her as a Christmas gift.

"My friend gave it to me after being terrified riding in my car during rush hour traffic on the 405 freeway. It's geeky, but it worked. It calms me down in traffic," Wang says with a smirk on her face.

So far, so good, I thought to myself, at least we'll get there alive and well.

In fact, we got there over an hour early as Wang took us along surface streets to avoid most of the rush hour traffic on our way to the screening, which left us plenty of time to chat about her career.


Known as 王憲苓 (Wáng Xiànlíng) in China and Taiwan, Wang has been profiled in countless Chinese media interviews during her career.

A versatile actress with over 50 American film and television credits, she also works as a Chinese translator, interpreter and dialogue coach in Hollywood.

"It's something I fell into over the years," says Wang, who is fluent in Mandarin Chinese and was the former Citibank worldwide Chinese Mandarin spokesperson for five years.

Her recent Hollywood interpreting and coaching credits include the Ben Stiller action comedy "Tropic Thunder" and Garry Marshall's star-studded ensemble romantic comedy "Valentine's Day."

But the topic Wang really wanted to talk about was her latest project, the independent biographical drama "Low Down" which premieres at this year's Sundance Film Festival on January 19.

Directed by veteran documentary filmmaker Jeff Preiss, the film stars Oscar nominated actor John Hawkes ("The Sessions" and "Winter's Bone") as Jazz pianist Joe Albany.

The supporting cast members include Peter Dinklage, Glenn Close, Lena Headey, and Flea. The script was written by Topper Lilien and Amy Albany, based on her memoir.

The film's producers include Albert Berger and Ron Yerxa (who Wang says "did an outstanding job"). The duo were also producers on director Alexander Payne's critically acclaimed hit "Nebraska."

As for "Low Down," Wang spoke highly of the story's family drama set during the jazz scene of the 1970s and told from the perspective of Albany's young daughter Amy Albany, played by teen star Elle Fanning, as she watches her father contend with his drug addiction.

Wang plays the role of a Chinese restaurant owner who encounters Albany during the course of his life.

"I love the title of the film," Wang says. "In Chinese 'Low Down' is pronounced as 'Dee Toe' meaning 'lowering of your head' as in someone who has reached a low point in life. If you look around, in life we all have ups and downs, the people that stick by you at your lowest point of life, those are the ones who are real. Life is a circle, we all complete the circle of life."

According to Wang, landing the role was a bit of a surprise considering she originally got called into read for two other parts.

"Casting directors Justine Baddeley and Kim Davis-Wagner loved my initial read for another role," Wang recalls. "They asked me if I'd mind going back to read for the role of a nurse so I went back for a 10 minute audition."

After auditioning for the hospital nurse, the casting directors asked her to come back a third time to read for the role of the Chinese restaurant owner.

"They said, 'Linda, that was a very good read. It's very smooth" Wang says, noting that for her audition she had prepared by getting into the character's mindset as well as physically transforming into the character, removing her make up completely, tying up her hair in a ponytail as someone working in a restaurant would and going through all the authentic motions of serving and preparing a takeout in Chinese restaurant.

A stickler for accuracy, Wang feels going through the process brings out the truth in her characterizations, which helped immensely while working with the detail-oriented Preiss, who is best known for his cinematography work on the 1988 documentary film "Let's Get Lost" about the life of jazz trumpeter and drug addict Chet Baker.

On working with Preiss: "He's dedicated to capturing the moment. Realism is very important to him. He would ask me thing's like 'Would it make sense if I did it this way?' We'd talk about doing things authentically as the character in that situation. He's very communicative and let's you do what you need to do to prepare. And I think that's why he's now working at the level he is today."

Having grown up in and around her uncle's Chinese restaurant in Manhattan's Diamond District, Wang also channeled her personal experiences into developing her character in "Low Down," which included a key scene with Hawkes and Fanning.

"It gave me tremendous relief to receive an email from the screenwriter Topper Lilien. He told me that he saw the Chinese restaurant scene and felt that I brought a lot of soul to it," Wang says of her role.


Wang is effusive in her praise for everyone in-front and behind-the-scenes of "Low Down."

"I'm very grateful for Jeff Preiss, Justine Baddeley and Kim Davis-Wagner for giving me the experience of working again with John Hawkes and the sweet Elle Fanning," she says.

On working with Hawkes: "I love John. He's just so genuine; a real down to earth guy."

Wang had previously worked with Hawkes on the HBO series "Deadwood" as a Chinese translator and character during the show in 2004 and 2005.

She adds: "The reason John's so successful now is because he's such a great actor and remembers the little guys. When you interact with him, he truly speaks from the heart."

While on the set of "Low Down," Wang recalls being in the makeup trailer when John entered unexpectedly and surprised her from behind.

"He said, 'Hey, you look familiar,'" she says. "I looked up and I see John. I didn't have any makeup on and we hadn't seen each other since 'Deadwood' but he came over and gave me a big bear hug."

Wang also recalls sharing a laugh with Hawkes over a story about their former boss "Deadwood" show creator David Milch.

According to Wang, the story goes that Milch had offered Hawkes a role on "Deadwood" as Sol Star, a Jewish merchant, which Hawkes expressed concern over playing and reportedly told Milch, "But I'm not Jewish."

Milch then responded by asking Hawkes, "Have you ever felt shame or sadness or been ostracized?"

To which Hawkes answered, "Every day." Prompting Milch to reply, "Then you're Jewish."

Wang also points out that while on the set, she realized that like herself, Hawkes would jot down thoughts in a notebook and ask a lot of questions regarding each scene.

Hawkes also shared a unique New Yorker trait of carrying around his stuff in an old messenger bag.

"It's a New York thing," Wang says. "I had the same bag. I bought it in the East Village in the 90's because you walk a lot in New York and the bag comes in handy."

Wang also had glowing compliments for her rising young co-star: "Elle is a sweetheart. It's a credit to her mom and the way that she was raised. She's such a gracious young woman for someone that has reached stardom at an early age. After the shoot, while I was coming out of my trailer, Elle's mom Heather Joy told me that she watched our scene from a monitor and felt that those moments with Elle, John and I were very moving."

The young Fanning's generosity on set included presenting small gifts to each of the cast and crew members that worked with her.

"No one expected it," Wang says of her gift of a key chain with an engraved personal thank you message from Fanning. "It just shows you how special she makes everyone around her feel."


Following the "Like Father, Like Son" preview screening, I ask Wang for her quick take on the film, which Steven Spielberg's Dreamworks Studios has already purchased the rights to do an American remake.

"The film was endearing with deep emotional twists," Wang says. "The two kids totally owned me. They steal the moviegoer's heart!"

Afterwards, Wang feels hungry so she takes us on a journey across town to grab a late night meal at one of her favorite Korean BBQ restaurants, but it closes for the night before we can get there, so we make a mad dash over to a nearby place that's open late in Koreatown.

Wang, who began her acting career with an appearance on "Sesame Street" and several episodes the PBS Children's show "Mathnet" nearly 30 years ago, has since played a variety of supporting characters ranging from a Sexy Bathhouse Girl to Doctor and Tiger Mom in film and television.

Some of her recent TV credits include roles on "Deadwood," "House M.D" and a recent pilot entitled "The Temp."

Fans of the Daytime Soaps "As the World Turns" and "One Life to Live" may also recognize her as a recurring Nurse character.

"As an Asian American female minority actor, at times you just can't be too picky with the roles. A job is a job; it pays the bills but most importantly as an actor you must embrace all kinds of characters, as in life these people you played do exist and are around you," Wang says of her work.

According to Wang, her very first booking came as a seven-year-old when her mother took her along with the neighbor's daughter to a SAG commercial casting on 23rd street in New York City for Kodak Films where the casting director said she was a natural at taking direction.

"I didn't know any better," Wang said of the childhood experience. "When you're at that young age, it's a game. You think it's fun. You're just being a kid, curious about life with full energy. You don't think about any technique, or moment before, you just imagine the scene as you read along and do it."

Following her early exposure to show business, Wang studied at New York University, the Lee Strasberg Theatre Academy and HB Studio with the late Herbert Berghoff.

Repped by her long-time New York AEA manager Eileen Haves of 20 plus years, Wang now resides in Los Angeles where she's currently working on the comedy feature film "My Favorite Five" Directed by Paul Hannah, with veteran actor Steven Williams ("The X-Files" and "21 Jump Street") and Rochelle Aytes ("Mistresses").

Wang can also be seen playing the mother of two boys drawn into the world of Asian gangs in Queens, New York, in the upcoming crime drama "Revenge of the Green Dragons," which was produced by Martin Scorsese ("The Wolf of Wall Street") and directed by the duo of Andrew Lau and Andrew Loo ("Infernal Affairs").

"It's based on a true event in Queens, New York," Wang says. "I personally knew most of the people that the lead characters are based upon, as they were kids attending the same school and sat next to me in class before getting involved in crimes. The lead character Tina Sham was my real-life best friend. Unfortunately, she was tragically killed and her death broke my heart into a thousand pieces, I was never the same."


After treating ourselves to a late night Korean food binge, Wang drops me off. She thanks me for letting her talk about her life and career. I think to myself, "What actor in Hollywood is this generous?"

Honestly, most actors I encounter are too preoccupied with themselves to even think about anyone else, yet here she was literally going the extra mile.

In fact, to say that Linda Wang goes the extra mile would be an understatement. Although she comes across as being a "Bossy Chinese Lady" at times, I must confess she is also one of the most giving actors I've met and seems to have a very clear understanding of the often pretentious nature of Hollywood.

Summarizing her lengthy career, Wang says, "I want to be one of those actors like Betty White that just keeps working at their craft for the love of acting. Each time I book a job, no matter how trivial it seems to others, I treat it as 24K gold. Each 'No' means I am just that much closer to a 'Yes.' I wish Hollywood would open its door further for Asian American and Pacific Islanders in-front and behind-the-camera. Do audiences really know the difference between an Asian American actor vs. Asian actors from overseas? Even watching the award season telecasts, I count only a handful of Asian American colleagues attending the show. I think solidarity is the key when faced with injustices. Asian Americans need to show their support. We have the buying power. We just need to speak out as part of the circle in Hollywood. As life is a circle, we all complete the circle of life."

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