It is not often that someone can be so profoundly affected by a job that it not only changes their life, but their outlook on it as well. For actor Osric Chau, the role of Kevin Tran in the long-running series “Supernatural” did just that. He holds the fandom up on such a high pedestal and doles out gratitude like fruit-flavored candies from a Dean Winchester PEZ dispenser, making his appreciation for his place in the “Supernatural” universe an infectious component of his natural charm.
Now starring in “Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency,” Chau is roaring forward in his career, currently in the midst of filming season 2 of the BBC America series while also appearing in the recently-released comedic action film “Boone: The Bounty Hunter.”
We sat down with Chau to discuss getting to smash things for a living, Hollywood’s grasp on audience diversity, and the impact of “Supernatural” on his life.
TrunkSpace: “Boone: The Bounty Hunter” was released last week. As someone who dreamed of being a stunt professional as a kid, we have to imagine an action flick like that is right in your wheelhouse?
Chau: Oh, it was so much fun. I didn’t get to do much stunts. It was almost all John Hennigan, who was the lead in it. He is incredible. Just being around that kind of energy… I was so blessed to watch these performers do their thing. It was a very enjoyable experience for me.
TrunkSpace: There were also a lot of action hero legends making appearances, which had to be pretty exciting.
Chau: Yeah. I knew everyone that was doing a cameo in it, which was really cool. To have those performers who are so well versed in film or action or anything really… it was cool to know everyone who was coming on set.
TrunkSpace: It was also recently announced that you were upped to a series regular on “Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency.” Was that expected?
Chau: I mean, I had an idea, but you never know. They always change their minds, but for the most part, I kind of had an idea that they were going to go a little bit bigger with my character next season. And when they finally did it, there was still a long wait because they had to get the network and the studio to approve it. And they did. I’m super excited to be on in such a capacity for season 2 because it’s such a fun show. I’m really excited. I start next week.
TrunkSpace: We know that you can’t give too much away, but do you have any idea where we’ll see your character Vogle go in terms of a story arc?
Chau: So we ended last season with me running off with Amanda, so in terms of the specifics I cannot go into too much, but I do get to talk a lot more. I think in season 1 I just ran around yelling and smashing things. This season I actually have conversations. (Laughter)
TrunkSpace: Running around and smashing things must be good for getting some internal frustrations out? (Laughter)
Chau: Oh my God. It’s incredible. (Laughter) Season 1 was such a dream. To be able to show up and just destroy everything? Like, that’s your job? How insane is that? It’s a dream come true. (Laughter)
TrunkSpace: The way we consume media continues to change at a breakneck pace and both “Boone: The Bounty Hunter” and “Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency” are prime examples of how unique, quality content can find a home and find an audience in places that, ten years ago, wouldn’t have been possible. Have you been able to see that change in the industry happen from the inside and from an actor’s perspective?
Chau: Well, from the perspective of a minority actor, it mostly definitely has. Even a decade ago, I wouldn’t have been up for any lead roles. It wouldn’t even be a consideration I don’t think. Obviously experience is one thing, but there weren’t that many non-Caucasian leading roles back then. Even now, they’re few and far between, but at least they exist and they’re starting to come in as studios and distributors and everyone start to realize audiences have all types of representation. Just being in this new era, you definitely see more open ethnicity and they’re just looking for the best actors. Of course they have to find a good balance for everything, but I’ve gotten the chance to audition for characters that are not just specifically Asian. And that’s kind of all I wanted to do when I was growing up. I just wanted to play a person. I don’t want to play a Chinese person. I just want to play a person that has nothing to do with his race. Of course that’s like a flavor, but that doesn’t have to be the thing.
TrunkSpace: It’s hard to imagine that just a few decades ago, most notably in the 80s, many minority characters were used as a punchline and not really presented as people with layers.
Chau: Yeah. Part of that is also because there is more representation and people have more to draw from. Not everyone will be able to relate to… with most people, you’re just unable to relate to everyone from all backgrounds and ethnicities. It’s just impossible to know all of that. So where do you draw it from? Usually if you’re trying to write a character and you don’t know anything, you either take the time to research or like most people, you don’t take the time to because it takes a lot of work, and you just write based on what you know, which happens to be what is already out there in TV and movies. So, it ends up being this cycle of if you see one stereotype you’re just going to reinforce that stereotype and someone else is going to reinforce it based off of the thing that you made.
We’ve gotten to the point where, with more and more actors… like, if I see a character that has an accent for no other reason than for just being the butt of a joke, I just won’t audition for it. I think more and more actors are starting to do that. It’s not an easy career, so I still understand that some people will have to just do it to pay the rent, so I’m not looking down on them or anything, but I think more and more people are starting to voice their opinions with, “Hey, this is not okay. It can still be funny without them having an accent. There’s a better angle to go after than that.”
TrunkSpace: Is part of that also making sure that those who are making the decisions high atop the Hollywood food chain also are representative of every ethnicity and background?
Chau: For sure. It’s happening already. There are a lot of Asian and minority executives, but even then, they don’t have the final say. It all comes down to the numbers and it always comes back to the consumers. What are they watching? What are they paying tickets for? If we as a community start paying for minority faces on screen, then at some point the decision makers are going to buy those products and the people who get to put those products together will realize and then they’ll do more. There have been instances where Asian American executives have to whitewash characters and maybe they didn’t want to but they felt that their hands were tied by whatever other outside forces. I think it’s all going to come together in a couple of years. I think we’re headed in the right direction.
TrunkSpace: One would imagine that social media is going to come into play with that as well.
Chau: Yeah. There’s also that. There’s a lot of metrics now… a lot of quantifiable numbers that we can show. That definitely helps to dispel all of the myths. And women have had that for… I mean, they still have it. For the longest time they’d say that women couldn’t lead movies. They represent HALF the population. More than half of the population. And to say that they can’t lead movies is just ridiculous. In fact, I think numbers have shown that they’re doing better than a lot of male leading films.
TrunkSpace: “Supernatural” is a show that does both drama and comedy really well. Do you think having appeared on the show and portraying Kevin enabled you to show off various sides of yourself as an actor?
Chau: Oh, the arc that Kevin went through… I’ve never had a chance to play a character who has gone through so many changes and it’s been really, really fun. Kevin hasn’t really had that many comedic moments for the most part. He’s always been in the meat of the story, so he has been at the height of pretty much every dramatic moment, but, yeah… it is such a fun role to play and one of the few minority characters on that show. But, they’re starting to be aware of that and they’re getting better. But yeah, with ‘Supernatural,” the cast, the crew, the fanbase… they’ve been incredible through and through.
TrunkSpace: What is great about Kevin is just how important he became to the overall mythology and universe. Even his death has a lasting impact on the characters in such a way that it’s still being carried forward. Did you ever have any sense that Kevin would be a character who would leave such a lasting impact?
Chau: Oh, absolutely not. I originally turned it down because it was only two episodes and I was going to die in the second one and I got another offer from another show. (Laughter)
Chau: Yeah. It was such a crazy time. I originally turned it down and turns out that both shows were with the same business affairs person and they were just like, “We don’t want to lose an actor to our own shows.” So they made it work and the other show didn’t end up going and “Supernatural” changed my life. Sometimes things just work out and that was one of those times.
TrunkSpace: Life certainly moves in a direction that you can never plan for.
Chau: Exactly. I am very thankful for the way it worked out. (Laughter)
TrunkSpace: And you must still feel the impact from the fanbase to this day?
Chau: Yeah. The fans have changed my life… really flipped it on its head. One, I’ve never been so active on social media. I mean, I’m not that active, but I’ve never been this active on social media ever. I’ve never been so aware of so many different types of people. They’ve really helped me empathize and sympathize with all walks of life. That’s one thing that I’ll always thank the “Supernatural” community and fandom for is that, for the most part, I’ve just kind of gone through life thinking about myself and this was one of the first times where I was like, “There is a better, less selfish way to live this life.” I’ve really tried reaching back out, just to try and thank them, and the more I do it the more I enjoy it and the more I want to do it. So almost everything that I try to do nowadays is for a greater purpose than just myself, which is nice for a change.
TrunkSpace: It’s so funny to hear you say that because it just seems like everyone who has been involved in that show is so thankful and appreciative to have been a part of it. It’s a really rare thing.
Chau: Because for most of us, we’re still working actors. There’s no guarantee for our future and there isn’t for most people, and so we’re so thankful of not only being able to work, but having the fandom… they’ve changed every single one of our lives and we never expected it. It takes a really special person to say, “Oh, what is this garbage?” No, we appreciate it so much and for a lot of us, we want to reciprocate. We want to thank everyone and we don’t know how. So of course we have to appreciate it because turning your back on that is crazy and not wanting to thank the people who have kind of taken you to this place is… to me that’s crazy too. It’s just a form of appreciation of how we got here and I wouldn’t be here without this fandom.
TrunkSpace: It sounds like the fandom changed your life more than the show itself?
Chau: Yeah. I will argue most definitely that. The fandom is… it’s the engine of the show. The show would have gotten canceled numerous times by now if it weren’t for the outpouring of support from the fans. They keep the show going. They keep the actors going. They keep the crew going. There really is a “Supernatural” family. I thought it was just a word you said at the beginning, but it really feels like that. Every time I go back on that set, it feels like that. Yeah, it’s a really strange thing and I really hope Dirk Gently’s will kind of have that same type of feel, but there’s no guarantee because I’ve never experienced anything like that before.
Featured Image Credits:
Photographer: Diana Ragland
Groomer: Nikki Deroest
Wardrobe Stylist: Yesenia Cuevas