I’m always amazed and delighted and surprised by people when they reveal themselves. You have these preconceived judgments about people and then when you find out who they are it’s pretty much always a delightful surprise. Let’s cultivate that more, more places where more diverse voices and people can feel seen and heard and their stories valued.
Aspart of our series about pop culture’s rising stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Precious Chong. Precious is an award winning actress, writer and comedian living in Toronto. Her most recent credits include USA Network television show, “Falling Water” as well as the Hallmark Christmas movie “Love You Like Christmas” and “Northern Lights of Christmas”. Recent theatre credits include “Fuddy Meers” at the Rubicon Theatre in Ventura, California, “Fair and Square” and “Real Estate” at the Lighthouse theatre and “Dating by the Book” in Port Hope. Other film and tv credits include Hallmark’s “Love’s Complicated”, “God and Country”, “Playing it Cool” starring Chris Evans and Michelle Monaghan, HBO Canada’s Living in Your Car, Flashpoint, Against the Wall, Amelia, LA Confidential, and Pearl Harbor.
She has written about her life for the Toronto Life, Reader’s Digest and the Fix among other publications.
Her short film “Chinatown” which she wrote and starred in, directed by Canadian Comedy Award Winner Sandra Battaglini, premiered this November at The Female Eye Film Festival and at the New Hampshire Film Festival. Her first full length feature film that she wrote “The Red Velvet Coat” won Best Screenplay at the 2015 Female Eye Film Festival. Her most recent screenplay “Myra and Susan” won the Crowd Pleaser Award at the 2017 Female Eye Film Festival. She co- wrote, co-produced and co-starred in the full length horror comedy “Homewrecker” alongside Alex Essoe (Doctor Sleep, Starry Eyes) that recently premiered at Fantasia Fest, Fantastic Fest in Austin,Toronto After Dark, and the New York Horror Film Festival where it won best screenplay.
Her dad is counter culture icon, Tommy Chong of Cheech and Chong. She also walks on stilts.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
Igrew up mostly in Los Angeles and we moved into nicer and nicer neighborhoods as my dad became more successful. He’s Tommy Chong of Cheech and Chong. I had an usual childhood because my dad was/is a counter culture icon, I have two older black half sisters, and my parents are still together. We moved to New York when I was 13 and then France and then I went to Swiss boarding school. My mom had a plan that I’d marry a Prince but that didn’t happen.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
Because my family was in show business, when I was younger I wanted to do something more ‘normal’. I was pretty into school and I went to university. But I always loved dancing (ballet) and writing. So I got my degree in english literature worked for Oliver Stone for three months got fired and then decided I wanted to dance professionally. I didn’t start acting until I was in my mid twenties because I had terrible stage fright as a teenager. My dance agent sent me on an acting audition by mistake and I did terribly but I left that audition and knew that this was what I wanted to do.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
One of my first real jobs was one day (night shoot) on LA Confidential and I had no idea what I was doing or who Curtis Hanson was and Russel Crowe wasn’t famous yet. It was a really magical experience. One of the first people I asked for help was Dante Spinotti who was on the shuttle with me going to set. Even though I grew up on my dad’s movie sets it was different as an adult. But for some reason that set had a feeling like something special was happening. And Curtis Hanson as a director was very nondescript and calm and respectful.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
So many. What comes to mind is I once did a staged reading of a play and I had seen another actress do the part I was doing and I spent the whole rehearsal process half mimicking her (badly) and half just being really bad. It was a painful process.
I went through a period where I had terrible nerves when I auditioned. I had an audition for Gigli, of all things, the one JLo did, and it was just a terrible audition. I was nervous, in my head, and I did not have fun. So I left, got in my car started sobbing and decided that I needed to go back and do it again. I just couldn’t have another ‘bad’ audition. Mind you I’m still crying as I go back to the casting office and I look like a crazy person. The poor casting lady took pity on me and let me do another reading which wasn’t that much better! Don’t do that. It’s not a good look.
As I’ve gotten better at auditioning and less nervous I realize that even when I think I nailed it I might not get the part and I’ve gotten jobs where I thought my audition was just so so. I used to put so much pressure on myself and expectation that it was hard to have fun. If there’s no joy it’s not worth doing. But the audition process can be painful. So I try to work on it as much as I can, learn the text, and then say f- it.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
Well we are not really doing a lot of acting right now so I’ve used these past few months in quarantine to finish some writing projects. My next big goal is to direct a full length feature so I’m working on rewriting a horror movie about a little girl at a cottage who’s parents go on an errand and then don’t come back and this weird Circus Lady starts to come around. I want it to be as if Hello Kitty made a horror movie. I even wrote a part for my dad in it. And the little girl is my son’s half sister Audrey who at 8 years old is obsessed with horror movies. Seriously, she went as Leather Face for Halloween. She’s a badass.
We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?
I have strong opinions on this. Sometimes I work in commercial casting behind the scenes and one thing I’ve noticed is that there’s a real push for more diversity in front of the camera but behind the scenes it’s still mostly white and it’s still mostly male. I think until the gatekeepers and decision makers are more diverse than it’s just virtue signaling. I’ve been doing commercials as an actor since I was a little kid and I’ve only worked with two female directors (I’ve worked with more as a session director) and no women of color. None. That’s just crazy! It is getting better and better but no one likes to give up power and it’s human nature to want to help people who are like you so cis white male directors tend to help other up and coming cis white male directors. And it’s just as bad in the festival circuit. I mean it’s changing and evolving but now with the protests and the awareness I hope there’s even more change. Because film and television is about telling stories and stories are all about the creator’s point of view. We need more point of views. It’s more interesting and it is such a powerful medium.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
Well first of all I’m sure I was told all of these things but just didn’t listen or didn’t know how successfully implement the information.
- Create/write your own work, don’t wait for someone to give you the perfect part, whether it’s stand up or solo shows or a short film, it’s empowering and it distracts you from putting too much pressure on other stuff like auditions
- Be open to feedback, I remember one of my first agent meetings and she told me I should do improve classes at Groundlings or something like that and I wanted to be a ‘serious’ actress but she was right and I finally did but only after a couple of years
- Go to acting classes, find one you like and go, you make life long friends and then you don’t have to remember how to act when you get an audition
- Work in casting behind the scenes if you can, as a reader especially, it’ll help demystify the audition process and you’ll see what works and doesn’t work in the room (believe me I still make all the same mistakes but at least I’m a bit more aware)
- Find other things that bring you joy and do those things, I love taking ballet classes and it’s fun to work on an art form not for a career but just because it makes me happy, do that
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
See above, also cultivate a life as much as you can. I had a dog when I was in my 20s and acting in Los Angeles. I live in Toronto now and we’d go on hikes, it helped a lot to be in nature, now my family; my son and my partner remind me that I’m loved and that I am more than just that last audition I didn’t get. Meditate and watch David Lynch tell the weather every day on his YouTube channel.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Ugh this is a hard one. I present as a middle aged white woman. I think we’ve got a lot of our voice out in the world, already. I teach stand up which I enjoy more than I thought I would because I love hearing people’s stories and often surprising takes on the world and I love to laugh. I’m always amazed and delighted and surprised by people when they reveal themselves. You have these preconceived judgements about people and then when you find out who they are it’s pretty much always a delightful surprise. Let’s cultivate that more, more places where more diverse voices and people can feel seen and heard and their stories valued. It might sound corny but art and creativity is a balm to the senses. I’ve been watching a lot of Rupaul’s drag race and I think that show is all about that. Let’s let our freak flags fly.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I had an acting teacher Julie Ariola who I took from for years and she was a huge influence on me as an actor but also as a creative person in the world. We used to do these things called the project where we’d create these themed shows as a group and it helped me gain the confidence to go ahead and start writing my own stuff.
I also worked with a director Jenny Sullivan a lot who I love. We recently got to do a show together after about 10 years and it was delightful. And then Michael Kearns help me to create and he directed my first solo show. We also did an indie movie together. He told me that when he was a young actor putting on a self produced play he couldn’t afford a set so he would just use all the furniture in his apartment. Literally load up his car with his furniture, do the show and then bring it back. It’s such a hilarious actor thing to do. I really relate to that.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Which reminds me of Teri Garr in Tootsie when she said “I’m sick of buying things for auditions.”
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Yes! Trixie Mattel and Katya. I just discovered their youtube show UNhhhhh and I’m obsessed. It’s so hilarious. And I’d love to have a meal with those two biological women. But I’d be shy.
How can our readers follow you online?
I stopped paying for my domain name so now it sells russian pharmaceuticals. I’m on twitter @preciouschong and instagram @preciousshelbychong and facebook but I’m thinking of leaving facebook because it’s gross.
This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!