FERNANDO CHIEN INTERVIEW

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One of the biggest villains of season three of “The Last Ship” was President Peng Wu, played with masterful malevolence by Fernando Chien. While Peng died at the hands of Takehaya, he left a lasting legacy with Chandler in particular, and we have no doubt that his shadow will continue to be seen in seasons to come.

We hit up Fernando with a few questions about his role, interacting with fans, and what it means to him to be Chinese-Canadian.

TLSTV: Peng was painted as a villain from the get-go. How did you decide to interpret the character? Where did you get your inspiration for your portrayal of Peng?

Fernando Chien: This is an interesting question because when I first read the script I didn’t know for sure if I was the villain. I agree I was painted as the villain, but the truth is, as a leader I felt I was doing what was best for my people. You see, it all depends on which side of the line you fall. I know Americans are biased since China is continually portrayed as the enemy/villain in the media. Just listen to Trump, but in actuality, the way Trump deals with his companies is very much in line with how China operates in many areas. So who is the bad guy?

I actually studied historical figures such as Mao, Bin Laden, Hitler and drew inspiration from the Nanjing Massacre and Maajid Nawaz. These figures are all seen as horrors of human beings, but if you were on their side you may have seen a different thing. Did they execute horrific moral and ethical acts against humanity, certainly but they all had their reasons. My job was to justify my actions and not judge them.

TLSTV: Even though Peng was set up as a villain, it was ambiguous for a long time. Was that something you consciously started to emphasise to keep people guessing?

FC: Yes. From studying these historical figures, one thing they had in common was that they were all terribly charming. In fact there are many accounts of how seductive yet manipulative they all were. You have to be to lead. I wanted to try to convince people to see things my way, to empathize with my situation and if I could charm, convince or manipulate them to befriend or agree with me, then I wouldn’t have to resort to action/violence etc.

TLSTV: When Peng’s plan was revealed, we saw a switch, and he seemed to go into full “evil” mode. Did you prefer playing the direct approach, or the more ambiguous character from earlier in the season? Which gave the biggest challenge?

FC: Of course the more ambiguous side was more engaging, because at the beginning of the season, Peng was the only one who had all the secrets. I was really the only character who knew everything. Everyone else was in the dark.

peng3TLSTV: What do you believe Peng’s motivation was, seeing as he was basically a psychopath! What drove him to do what he did? We didn’t get to see much backstory, but we understand there’s a limit to what you can get into 42 minutes!

FC: Psychopath? Hmmm, I think that is a little inaccurate. I am not completely familiar with all aspects of that term, but I felt I was more of a megalomaniac. Historically, there is a deep-rooted animosity between the older generation of Chinese towards Japan due to the Nanjing Massacre 1937. 300,000 Chinese civilians raped and killed by the Japanese during that event. Although it feels far off, if your family was directly affected by it you might also harbor ill-intentions toward that culture. Also research the Chinese and Korean comfort women. Imagine you were raised by a grandmother whose husband was killed during that time and your mother was a product of your grandmother being raped. Your mother was later forced to be a comfort woman, and becomes pregnant with you and commits suicide because of it. You may be affected in a certain way. Harbor certain ill-wills toward that culture.

TLSTV: How did it feel for the Chinese to be portrayed as the bad guys in “The Last Ship”? Is it something that you feel strongly about?

FC: Yes, at first it bothered me. But as an actor, I deal with content and justification, not judgment. Luckily, I am not as easily swayed as most Americans, and actually being a Canadian I see things a little differently. Every person makes good and bad actions and decisions. In this case I feel that the writers of The Last Ship portrayed this situation as a Chinese leader who went rogue. So it was about me, Peng, under specific circumstances and set of influences taking action as an individual rather than as a nation.

TLSTV: Peng’s death scene was incredible! Can you tell us about filming that?

FC: Really? Thank you! Death scenes always make me anxious. I haven’t done many. And it was tough. I have to thank Eric Dane and Paul Holahan. They were very patient with me. Eric is so great. I can’t say enough good things about the man. I had one intention and that was to maintain that what happens to me was on my terms. The whole season and all my actions had to be on my terms. So I made the decision to end my life when I wanted to. Eric thought it was odd since that was a Japanese custom – “Seppuku” – but I saw it differently. By killing myself, I died on my terms. I wasn’t going to allow Chandler to get any information out of me, and my death was going to leave him with a question that would haunt him: “he is all alone”. I felt that the writers were genius in this, because he needed his enemy to help him, and I refused. It cost me my life, but I stayed true to my convictions. We all gotta die sometime.

Thank you #TheLastShip #PengOut

A photo posted by Fernando Chien ???? (@fernandochien) on


TLSTV: What was it like to work with such a legendary actor as Hiroyuki Sanada?

FC: Oh boy!!! OK, so I didn’t see him all season since we were never in the same scenes. But when we were filming the last episode, I was walking out of my trailer and I saw him. Immediately, he looked at me and said “Hi” with open arms. I jumped, and I told him how big a fan I was of his. I always admired Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan growing up but it wasn’t until I saw Hiro in “The Last Samurai” that I knew I wanted to be an actor. Also, I loved him in that film. He had minimal lines, but his presence was transcendent. It was the beginning of my film journey. So to put it modestly, it was one of the highlights of my professional career. I wish someday to emulate his strength and presence.

TLSTV: On social media, you seemed to play devil’s advocate a lot, challenging peoples’ perceptions of Peng. This elicited some surprisingly passionate responses from people. Have you been surprised by any reactions you got?

FC: Not really. I mean I enjoyed them immensely. All of them, the good, the bad, the educated, the ignorant and even the insulting.

TLSTV: You’ve got a martial arts background. Was it hard not to just bust a move from time to time, especially with people like Bren and Steve Oyoung getting all the action around you?

Photo by Jamie Youngblood - © Copyright 2011, Universal

Photo by Jamie Youngblood – © Copyright 2011, Universal

FC: YES! Honestly, it killed me. I asked Steven Kane, Paul Holahan and Mike Kettleman to please give me something. I asked to fight Chandler, Wolf, and I would’ve LOVED to fight Takehaya. It just wasn’t possible, or it wouldn’t make sense for the story. I wish we could’ve done a little more in the final showdown with Takehaya, but we were already pressed for time. It would have been EPIC, though.

TLSTV: Were there any scenes that ended up on the cutting room floor that you can tell us about?

FC: Hmmm…well, I think there were parts of scenes that were cut for time or whatnot, that I wish could have made it, but I don’t think I am privy to discuss them. They were more meaningful to me, and probably would’ve justified my actions too much, and for this type of show viewers need the lines to be more clearly drawn, so I didn’t mind the edit. I’m happy with the way it all turned out.

TLSTV: It’s obvious that you love to interact with your fans, and the videos you posted online during the show’s run were hilarious! What’s your motivation for that sort of thing? You seem to be a naturally funny guy. Is that something you would like to bring over into your roles?

FC: LOL!!! Oh gosh…I don’t know, to tell you the truth. I have no idea why I even did those videos. I mean lemme think…probably cause I wanted the fans to see that we as people contain all possibilities of all human beings. I wanted people to know that to really understand someone you need to empathize with their situation and engage. The root of all problems is disengagement. So I guess it was my way of engaging. And I think, going back to an earlier question, I wanted make sure that fans aren’t influenced into thinking that all Chinese people are evil, which could have happened. So maybe a little humor helps me to be relatable. In all honesty, I got the worst criticism from Chinese viewers… that stung. It was really harsh criticism from my accent, to my Chinese, to how unattractive I was. I was quite surprised but it’s ok everyone is entitled to their own opinion. I just keep telling myself “you can always get better”, ha ha ha.

TLSTV: You have a long list of credits, including extensive work as a stuntman and stunt coordinator. How does the stunt work differ for you from the straight acting?

FC: Great question. Stunt work is very quantitative, meaning you have to be good by hitting a specific move, fall or action. Having it done perfectly each time so that you don’t get hurt, or hurt anyone else. Acting is more qualitative in that to be “good” you need to be present, vulnerable. In a way, to “not know” and allow the moment to present itself and react and deal with the situation under the circumstance and influence. It’s very vulnerable, and I think that’s what attracts me to acting and why I walked away from stunts.

Behind-the-Scenes on The Accountant

TLSTV: Even now, outside of Asian films, it’s incredibly rare to see an Asian character in a lead role. What are your thoughts on that?

FC: Well things are changing, but yes, you are right. Partly, it’s because our industry is predominantly “white”, and so all the people who are in positions of power see the world through their own eyes, and partly it’s financial. You see what is happening now, thanks to all the diversity promotion, is that our industry is starting to see that having an Asian lead in a show can make money. This is helped by the Chinese market that is dominating, and soon to overtake, the US box-office. The film industry, as much as it is art, it’s also a business. You create a show where there is an Asian lead, and it grosses $200M in the box office… I’ll show you five studios ready to make more films with Asian leads. When it comes to TV, the same thing. Now with “Fresh Off The Boat” a success, and the public’s acceptance of Asian actors, I hope things will begin to change. Alan Yang had a very poignant speech during his Emmy win. You should check it out.

TLSTV: As a Canuck, how does that affect your view and opinion of the US presidential race at the moment? Is that kind of overt politicism and extreme partisanship something you’re familiar with?

FC: Ha ha ha. I find it extremely entertaining and simultaneously frightful. I’ve recently seen how it ruins relationships. I mean, even between cast members. I obviously have a different view of society than other people. I respect conservatives and liberals. I believe you need both and it’s the ‘checks and balances’ that keeps things in order. But someone said something to me when I first moved to LA during the Bush presidency: “if you don’t like it… go back to Canada”. I couldn’t argue with them.

TLSTV: Canada seems to be making more of a political splash these days, even if mainly for its photogenic prime minister! How do you think Canada is affecting the world political stage at the moment?

FC: That’s tough for me to say. I know very little of Justin Trudeau. Of his policies that I do know of, they sound encouraging, inclusive and optimistic, which I love. But I don’t have my finger on the pulse enough to intelligently comment.

tattoo1TLSTV: You have an incredible tattoo, which we saw in “Devil May Care”. Can you talk to us about that?

FC: Yes. See, I was raised by my grandmother. We were both born Tigers, according to the Chinese zodiac. It very much describes me and her perfectly. She was my rock. I owe much of my sensibilities to her. I would always go back to Toronto to see her. After every job, every movie, I would always take 2 weeks and visit her. She lived in the same 300 square foot housing complex in Toronto’s Alexandria Park area, low income housing projects where I grew up. Since I was 6, I would sleep on her floor next to her bed, on the same 1” mattress. I grew up poor in wealth, but rich in life and love. My oldest memory and daily prayer that I would make every night since I can remember was for her. It started with me praying she would be alive until I was old enough to go to college, then till I was 30. As she got older, her health failing her, and she lived alone, I was traveling for work and I would pray she knew she was loved and that I was always thinking of her. A week after her 100th birthday she caught pneumonia. I got on a plane and went straight to Toronto. I stayed next to her the next 3 days until she passed. As I was clearing out the tiny studio we lived in, there was a painted scroll that was on her wall, that went floor to ceiling, of a tiger. It had always been there as long as I could remember. It always made me think of us. I had that tiger tattooed over my heart. You see the thing she taught me was money comes and goes but happiness is in the relationships and experiences you have. I’m blessed to have had her in my life.

It was done by my buddy Bernard Buenaventura at One Life Tattoo in Culver City… all props to him and his art!

TLSTV: What’s coming up for you next? Where can your fans watch you?

FC: Well I have a film called “The Accountant” coming out Oct. 14th 2016 starring Ben Affleck and Anna Kendrick. It was directed by my close friend, Gavin O’Connor. I play DHS agent Sorkis in the film, but also it was my last stunt coordinating job. I hope I leave a mark with it. Other than that, I am just auditioning and hoping that I can have the pleasure to create and tell stories again.

TLSTV: Are you a proud Canadian, or does your heart lie with Taiwan?

FC: I am a proud Canadian, but my blood runs red… meaning I am Chinese.

TLSTV: Just a few quick, fun questions now – Canada vs USA!

FC: Depends he he he!!! I love underdogs, cause I consider myself one. So that generally means Canada.

– Tim Horton’s or Dunkin’ Donuts? Timmies

– Poutine or Sloppy Joes? Bien…Poutine!!! FTW

– Canadian maple syrup or American maple syrup? Really? Come on this one is a no-brainer our flag has a Maple Leaf!

– Montreal back bacon or streaky bacon? Streaky

– Ice hockey or football? Pigskin

So you can take the man out of Canada, but you can’t take Canada out of the man! Well, with the exception of football, but we’ll let that slide. Thanks for answering our questions, Fernando, it’s been a pleasure!


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