British-Chinese talents in the entertainment industry – Actor Linda Louise Duan

Emmanuelle Khoo – Film and Entertainment Editor 

Nee Hao starts off its exclusive five-part series that engages in a meaningful conversation with British-Chinese talents in the entertainment industry.

From audition tips to guilty pleasures, ongoing debates of British-Chinese identity to East Asian stereotypes in film, Emmanuelle Khoo uncovers an underlying narrative of what it means to identify as both British and Chinese.

Linda Duan as Tina Minoru in Marvel’s Doctor Strange

Linda Louise Duan Interview

What started as a fun, week-long course in Mime, escalated into something even British-Chinese actress, Linda Louise Duan found unimaginable. She took a daring and unconventional route to first pursue her passion for Mime at the International School of Corporeal Mime for two years, before moving on to Ecole Philippe Gaulier (2014-2015) in Paris, to train as an actress.

A year upon graduation, something else unimaginable happened. Linda was cast to play as Tina Minoru, one of the Masters of the Mystic Arts in Marvel’s Doctor Strange (2016), with her 1st Dan Black Belt in Shotokan Karate with the Japan Karate Association (JKA) as a valuable asset. Although the final shots were few, there is a possibility we may well see her again, given the intricate links between characters in the Marvel universe. After this blockbuster, Linda went on starring in other productions, playing the nurse in a psychological thriller (Whisper, 2017), to a battle-seasoned warrior in upcoming medieval-fantasy drama, The Dark Kingdom (2018).

Nee Hao catches up with this raging ball of talent to talk to us about her journey, and her views on entertainment industry.

Photo by Riccardo Servini

Tell us a bit more about how you started taking interest in acting. I believed you nearly went for an architecture degree. What made you decide to pursue an acting career instead?

Yes, so this happened the summer before I was about to study Architecture. At the time, I thought: “ You know what? Before embarking on this 7-year long course (which I wasn’t too sure about), I wanted to try this Mime course by Desmond Jones.” I had seen it online and thought it would be really fun.

Desmond was the man who got me to reconsider my options of pursuing something outside of a standard degree. At the end of the course, he came up to me and asked if I have ever considered pursuing mime as a career. At first, I laughed at the idea. Obviously, it never crossed my mind.

But Desmond pressed on, and believed that I have a knack for it. He later went on and told me about other specialist schools that I would not have known much about.  After that, I thought about it carefully and decided to talk to my Dad about this possibility. He was extremely supportive about my decision. And so, with his blessing, I went down that road!

Who is your favourite actor / actress of all time and why?

Rowan Atkinson is an actor whose shows I grew alongside as a kid. He is a real international icon with his Mr Bean character, and I find Blackadder to be one of the greatest comedy series ever. His stand-up and speaking acts are also very clever. He definitely has my respect and admiration.

What do you miss about France?

I miss waking up in the morning and walking down to the bakery to buy a fresh baguette for the day! No baguette in the UK has ever tasted that good.

Tell us about your first audition experience?

The first audition was a self-tape for a role in a big TV show. I was 18 at the time. The character was really seductive and confident but she had this exotic word for her lady-bits. It was quite explicit and I remembered feeling really overwhelmed but I managed to get over it. The casting team ended up liking my audition tape but they chose someone else who was way on point!

Linda as Sam in Whisper (director of photography, Jamie Weston

A year after graduation, you made a cameo as Tina Minoru in Doctor Strange (2016). I understand that this is your first experience of film as well! Well done! Could you tell us how it like acting in a Marvel production alongside Benedict Wong and Tilda Swinton?

It was incredible! I still do not think it is real! When you study acting, you dream of being in a production of that magnitude, but for that to be my first acting gig after graduation is unbelievable! I am so lucky! I spend most of my time with Tilda (The Ancient One) and Benedict Wong (Wong). Both of them are absolutely lovely, and friendly too! Benedict especially, took the time to talk to me about his experience in the industry. 

Out of the roles you have played, which character do you most empathize with in relation to yourself as a person? Please elaborate.

It is probably my latest role, Louza in The Dark Kingdom (2018). She is a Katori Warrior in an all-female tribe.  Similarly, I went to all-girls grammar school so I know what it is like being surrounded by feisty women! Louza stands up and speaks out when she disagrees on something and that is a trait I would like to work on!

The Western entertainment industry has been portraying East Asian women as one-dimensional characters in film: the China Doll, the Dragon Lady, the martial artist and more recently, nerds. What are your feelings on this common conception?

I do feel the same! I believe it remains a same-old problem. However, in Indie films, people are taking action to change the way East Asians are represented. There is one script that I have read recently and my first impression was: “Wow! Here is an actual living, breathing Asian character.” It is a film titled, Ghosts (2018) by Tim Porter. One of the two leads is of an Asian girl who is riddled with financial difficulties and, also struggling with the need to feel wanted as she otherwise would not get from her parents. I do not want to spoil it too much but it is definitely one to watch next year.

As a British-Chinese actress, what are your experiences with East Asian stereotyping in casting? 

I get told a lot that I do not look Chinese when in fact, both my parents are Han Chinese! However, to casting directors, photographers and a whole load of people, they know I am “Asian”, but not necessarily “Chinese”. For most part, I get labeled as mixed-race, sometimes as another ethnicity from East Asia but never Chinese. One agent even said to me: “I can tell you are British-born because you have good teeth”… sometimes it makes me wonder if I look Chinese enough?

If you could choose any acting role, what kind would interest you, and why?

Mulan is obviously my dream role. She was my role model, as she was to every other little girl growing up on Disney. She is so strong, so driven and so kind. And so clumsy, just like me! I am really excited to see which actress would play the live-action movie and how the script will turn out!

Linda as Red Flame in Shadow Warriors (2017) (Directed by Bulent Odemi

I know that you are very active in sports, with a 1st Dan Black Belt in Shotokan Karate with the Japan Karate Association, plus your other passions for horse riding, ice skating, rollerblading, scuba diving, swimming, abseiling and air rifle shooting. This is simply remarkable! How do you find the time and the right balance to hone in these individual skills?

I practice karate the most! If my schedule allows, I would go for a maximum of three sessions a week. Working as a freelancer, it does become difficult to commit to a fixed schedule as you just got to work around with the time you have! I do make sure to go to these sessions as I feel good after exercising. And it grounds me. I get to go back to a familiar place, the dojo, and to learn from the same Sensei. It is like a community.

Any filmmakers or actors you would love to work with?

So many! Wes Anderson, the Coen Brothers, Tarantino, Nolan… recently, I am really into Park Chan-wook’s work as well!

What is your favourite film of all time?

Rope (1948) by Hitchcock. Incredibly underrated.

Tell us about your guilty pleasure

NACHOS

Finally, what advice would you give to a young, aspiring actor?

Stay grounded. Do not be driven by your ego. If you are in it to get rich and famous, you are in it for the wrong reasons. Most actors are very poor. Do not see everyone else as competition because they are not. YOU are your only competition.

You will get hurt by the industry and by the rejections, so you have got to be tough and yet, have a good sense of humour. Surround yourself with a network of loving and supportive people, but do not forget to enjoy the ride!

To find out more about Linda:

Agency: The Harter Allen Agency www.theharterallenagency.com

Website: www.lindalouiseduan.com

IMDB: www.imdb.com/name/nm8091879

Spotlight: www.spotlight.com/interactive/cv/4053-5640-7038

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