I believe that diversity should be represented in the film industry and television, not just through their films but their castings as well. I believe that in today’s age and time, having a different ethnicity playing a lead role would actually draw more audience and viewers to want to invest in watching a film. I mean let’s look at some facts here, minorities can play the lead role just as good as the little roles that are always given to them. Jackie Chan has definitely been a good example of it. Bruce Lee’s, Enter the Dragon is a prime example of leading a successful film debut. I believe that a good reason to invest in the importance of having diversity exists in films and television is to display the many great potential actors that we already have.
As a part of our series about pop culture’s rising stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Toom Chanda. Toom is a Rising Action Actor, Film Maker, a Martial Artist, and the Founder of Toom Stunt Team.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Toom! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
Thank you for having me on board, I’m glad to be doing this interview with you today. Yes, I grew up in Laos, as many of you may know, Laos has a very beautiful scenery yet still faces many adversities like poverty and I actually grew up in those same circumstances. You know, as a young boy trying to do his homework under a streetlight every night after helping my parents farm and run errands just to be able to put food on the table for all of us. I remember lighting candles to do homework inside when the street lights went out. I remember telling myself that one day, I will change all of this so every child growing up like myself, will have the choice to have their essentials for everyday life. Fortunately, my parents immigrated to America when I was 7 and brought a better life for my family. Having experienced such hardships growing up and moving to a new country certainly did have its impact on me. It forged me to be the person that I am today and my dream, my vision, has stuck to me ever since. To Be Able to Be the Change. To Take Action. Just like our TST Motto for our TST Movement.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
Acting was actually not one of my first pursuits. I got into the Martial Arts World first. I wanted to be an established Muay Thai Fighter. I took up the art of Muay Thai/Lao when I was 12. I started fighting competitively at the age back then. I took up wrestling at 17, along with Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and other martial arts. I opened up my gym and started training and coaching for quite a while. My love and passion for Martial Arts never went away, but I found myself asking a very profound question one day I was looking at my gym. That was, “ How can I do more? How can I make the change that I wanted to, ever since I was a young boy? I remembered the struggle, the adversity, the hard life we had to endure till today. How can I make an impact that will help shape those around me and those who will carry on the future?” That’s when I decided. I closed down the shop and went on a journey, a pilgrimage to find that answer. I remember as a kid watching Bruce lee movies and man, Bruce Lee truly was The Man.I thought to myself, if I could climb to the top of the mountain in the film industry as Bruce Lee did, the film industry could serve as a platform for bringing on that change I looked for.
I also knew that in this day and age everyone knew Bruce Lee, Scott Adtkins, Michael Jae White, Tony Jaa, and Jet li. These guys were the Heroes of Eras for many different cultures and ethnicities. But how come there were no known Hmong or Lao Action Heroes? I wanted to look for a Role Model to take after, but I soon realized that in the industry, there were none. So I told myself, I had to set out and become that. I will be not only a Proving Statement, but a Foundation for that Door to Open. Everybody knows Bruce Lee, But No one ever knew Toom Chanda. So, I promised myself, the world will soon know who Toom Chanda is. I wanted to be that role model for my people to see that they do have a Hero as well. That the youth has hope and the older generation can rest assured we make it someday. That someday is today. Not just for me, but I want to open that Door for Everyone else. That is what truly drove me into the Film Industry, Acting, and Action.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
The most interesting story that happened to me since I began my career… I’ve got to say, is actually when I started. See the thing is that I’ve actually never done any kind of acting beforehand and the first audition I had, I was actually fortunate enough to be featured in Chicago Fire, as their extra. I mean that was my very first time! I got the opportunity to meet many famous actors like Brian Tee, on the acting set. There are many stuntmen and stuntwomen who have been working for 4–5 years and never had that opportunity, so I certainly was very grateful for that to happen.
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?
The funniest mistake that I made when I was just getting started was shooting my own films with no knowledge but pushing the recording button. I mean you know when you are trying to become a great actor and make it big but you are the minority of the minority, you have so much drive that you want to put all your efforts and dreams into making something big. You want to be on the big screen so bad so you make your own special feature. As funny as that was, I had no idea what I was doing. No script, no cameraman but me and a couple of my guys. No make-up artist at all. I still remember that like yesterday. I mean, oh man, the color grading of the film was horrendous, the camera angle, dialogue, and did I mention we didn’t even have onset snacks? As hilarious as that was to remember, it was probably one of the greatest lessons that I will have ever come to learn. That is, you need to have great equipment along with clarity of direction. But also if you have a well-committed team that believes in one another, making a mistake is not a problem if you are willing to take the necessary steps to crafting a better result.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
One of the most interesting and exciting projects that we are working on right now actually takes place in Laos and Thailand. We are working on a feature film that revolves around those demographics. Although I do not want to reveal too much at the moment, what I will say is that the world has definitely seen some Bruce Lee films, and even good Donnie Yen films. But the world has never seen Toom Chanda. All I can say is, it is going to be a gamechanger for the action world and the film industry. So stay tuned in for it.
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?
3 Reasons why I believe that diversity is important to be represented in the film and television industry.
Reason #1, I believe that it is important to have diversity in the film and television world because it is a strong representation of real-life everyday people. It shows the world that we are watching exists in a community of different people from all over the world that carry different beliefs, cultures and ways of life. However that should not be a case of holding one back, but to be able to drive one to push forward. It is not something that should be shunned and tucked away and frowned upon, but open for opportunities. I mean that is a thing of the past. The way motion pictures used to be back in the day has come too far along to exclude diversity now. I believe that it is a good platform to show that people of different descendants and different ways of lives, should not impact their right to approach an industry where all cultures should exist.
Reason#2, I believe that diversity should be represented in the film industry and television, not just through their films but their castings as well. I believe that in today’s age and time, having a different ethnicity playing a lead role would actually draw more audience and viewers to want to invest in watching a film. I mean let’s look at some facts here, minorities can play the lead role just as good as the little roles that are always given to them. Jackie Chan has definitely been a good example of it. Bruce Lee’s, Enter the Dragon is a prime example of leading a successful film debut. I believe that a good reason to invest in the importance of having diversity exists in films and television is to display the many great potential actors that we already have.
Last but not least, Reason #3, why I believe that Diversity is important to the film industry and television. Impact and Influence. The more we as actors and audiences are able to experience the life of diversity in filming, in castings, and in the industry itself, the more we can accept it as a society. Instead of shying away from these opportunities, if we own the chance to invest in diversity, we can start changing the film industry into a more culture-filled influence. We as a society, grow and change each era, so as we start opening our minds and perspectives on things we can only build a better world, filled with more opportunities and more diversity than our forefathers before us could. As an industry and as a society, we should aim to do better for ourselves and those after us, so they can have a shot at a better deal.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
Ah yes, 5 things I wish someone told me when I first started, actually brings back so many memories. Let me share some of those stories with you. Back in the day when I started to get into the acting field, I never actually invested in an agent or agency, so the game plan was to just audition as much as I could and hope and pray that I get a callback. Every time I went for an audition, I was nervous and wanted the part so badly. I really didn’t have a formal structure of conducting a professional presentation but just going over the lines that the auditioner wanted me to go over. I was curious as to why my success rate was not as high as I would expect them to be. I mean x amount of auditions would mean x amount of yes’s for roles right? Not entirely true. I mean yes there are many actors who have succeeded in landing major roles all by themselves, however, I found that if you take a more strategic approach you could accomplish so much more. After some failures and some successes, I finally found an agency that was glad to sign me up and collaborate with me. That’s when all of a sudden, things started to take a turn for the better. So number 1, find an agent or agency that you know and trust. They are going to not only help you look more professional but also build your presence in the filming industry. It helps your presentation and packaging look a lot better to approach from an auditioner’s point of view. The 2nd thing that I learned throughout my ongoing journey as an upcoming actor is that you want to have an occupation that allows flexibility. I remember when I was working a solid 9–5, and I would all of a sudden get a call for an audition that would need to be done in the next couple hours and if I would be able to make it. I wanted to take those opportunities so badly. But at the time I had to commit to the occupation that I had in place already. So a flexible occupation will save you a lot of headaches and a lot of time for scheduling spontaneous audition calls. The 3rd thing that I learned from is actually something that you would think is common sense, but when you’re trying to become a big-screen actor, sometimes your mind can get clouded. That is knowing your self-worth. Never sell yourself short just so you can land a role that you may not even like. Nothing is worth your self-value. There will always be more roles and more films to come, but the moment you sell yourself short is the moment you start making a habit of it. The 4th thing that I learned is to be able to invest in yourself. Yes, that’s right, invest in yourself. I learned that in order for your opportunities to acknowledge you, you have to first acknowledge your strengths and your weaknesses. You have to be able to be truthful and honest about the things you need to work on and the things you are good at. Once you are able to address those factors, you can only win and keep upgrading yourself and the opportunities will come. The 5th thing that I would say taught me a lot and I wish I knew about when I first started, was networking and building fundamental relationships. I remember when I was on set most of my first time, I would just be amazed by all the great actors but so afraid to approach them first hand. I remember working on set this one time, and at the time I didn’t know that there was a producer on set just sort of observing. I thought of introducing myself and getting acquainted with him but I gave in to my shyness. A year or so after, he reached out to me and asked if I could help him in a project that he was working on. I immediately slapped myself in the face and jokingly mentioned that had I spoken and got acquainted with him earlier, we could have already gotten multiple projects done already. Remember, don’t be shy and get to know everyone that is on the set and after. The more fundamental relationships and impressions you leave on people, the chances you could be working together in the future are definite.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Burnouts tend to happen when there is not much balance between work and team building. Tips that I would recommend to colleagues in the industry and especially the younger guys that are looking to start is to take the time to celebrate and enjoy your successes and your failures. Yes, that’s right, celebrate your failures as well. We as a society have come to lean on the idea that when you win something you should be proud and when you lose something you should be down. Speaking from my own experience, nothing else, I’ve come to learn that when you build your team and work with them diligently, whether you win or lose is not always the case. But if you are loving the process of losing and winning, you and your team will grow together and avoid burnouts all together because you help lift each other up. As the Wei Emperor Cao Cao once said, “Stronghold we can lose, the morale of my men, Never,”
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. 🙂
This is actually something that I am currently working on. To be able to Inspire our TST Movement. Like our message, “Take Action”. I want to inspire more than just a nation but inspire people of different descendants worldwide. I want to build a foundation that our TST team can lay down the bricks to build a better world. When we become more well known and financially established, We want to be able to provide light and clean water through newly engineered technology. Akon’s loving act towards providing light to Africa is an example of what we look forward to doing for countries like Laos, Thailand, and eventually all the countries. So that there will be no more children doing their homework under streetlights, no more lighting candles in the midst of the night to read, and so that everyone can live a better life with clean water to drink without having to face adversity and hardships of walking 30 miles to a water well to just have the essentials that everyone needs. This is the vision and goal of TST. We as a team hope that the more established we become, Our TST Movement will inspire and transform people to “Take Action” on their dreams and provide the care and love for those less fortunate.
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?
To say that there is a particular person that I am grateful to have gotten me from the start to here today, I would say no. I had no coach and no role model that was from my culture that had gotten to that feat. That is when I knew I had to become him and why I set out to become that Role Model that I looked for. I hope to inspire my people to not set low goals for themselves but to be able to strive for more. I am already self-motivated and self-driven to accomplish this mission. This doesn’t mean that I am not grateful. I am actually extremely grateful for those that have put their faith in me and supported me along with my loss and success. I am grateful for the team that I have and that I put my faith and trust in them as they do me. I am grateful for the fans, friends, family that put their support in me every step of the way. I am in fact also grateful for all the haters that boo me down along the way, you inspire me to rise even more and accomplish something for all of us. Every day I am grateful for the opportunity to move one step closer to our goal as a whole. I feel that it is a privilege and honor to make a movement that will set out to benefit everyone around the world when we finally establish our goals.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite “Life Lesson Quote”, is actually from one of my favorite Will Smith movies, “The Pursuit of Happyness”. It is the scene from where Will and his son are on a rooftop and his son is dribbling the ball and shooting towards the hoop. Will tells his son beforehand that he will probably not make it as a basketball player because he was no good either. That he did not want his son to be playing basketball and shooting the ball all day and night up there. His son is then discouraged and broken and throws the ball away and back in his plastic bag. Will then realizes what he had done to his son’s self-beliefs and says to him, “Hey…Don’t ever let somebody tell you…you can’t do something. Not even me…You got a dream…you gotta protect it. People can’t do somethin’ themselves, they wanna tell you, you can’t do it.” What Will says and states out in this film, exactly resonates with my life. I’m sure many of you can relate. Like I said before, no one from my origins has ever accomplished high respectable feats of acting or has established a worldwide contributing foundation. I have had many haters look down on my dreams, and told me I was just a wannabe and that I will never be the real deal. I just want to let them know that when we make it, and I mean “we”, make it. Those who doubted me and tried to break my beliefs down will see the silver lining not just for our people, the Hmong/Laotian, but for everyone out there that has ever had a dream they wanted to pursue but were afraid to take action because they were afraid of judgment. Believe that.
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, actually I would love to have a private meeting with Universal Pictures and pitch my feature film to them. As I said, everyone has seen Bruce Lee, but they have never seen Toom Chanda. I believe if that were to ever happen, we can all show the world a new feat and open many doors for upcoming actors.
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This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!