[Warning: General spoilers ahead.]
Set your Swatches for your weekend binge, because The Lake drops this Friday on Prime Video, and it’s a wickedly funny romp and the cure for what ails you, with a liberal dollop of snark for good measure. Just in time for Father’s Day, it’s dad-centric, too, with two wildly different father figures.
First, there’s Justin (Jordan Gavaris), a kid at heart who’s reconnecting with teenage daughter, Billie (Madison Shamoun), who he gave up for adoption when he was also a teenager, and then there’s Victor (Terry Chen), the husband of Justin’s step-sister, Maisy-May (Julia Stiles). Victor is former NHL player who’s an evolved, doting father to two very different sons–sensitive teenage jock Killian (Jared Scott) and the exceedingly self-aware ten-year-old Opal (Declan Whaley), who identifies his pronouns as “icon.” I spoke with Chen this week about the character, the series, and embracing opportunities for representation.
While Chen readily admits Victor was a fantastic opportunity, and he auditioned for it, he immediately panicked when it was offered to him. “I turned the role down. I was like, ‘This is not my wheelhouse. It’s a half-hour comedy. I love the character, but I’m just a chicken,’” he laughs.
“So I was terrified of the role but they liked what I had sent in [and they offered me the role]. I slept on it and the next morning I was like, ‘No, I want it.’ And we called back and thankfully they hadn’t [cast another actor]. I’m terrified of comedy. So much of it is timing. It’s much harder than anything dramatic or action-based. I love comedy, but it was very daunting and thankfully they let me have the role.”
“It was [series creator] Julian [Doucet] and the writers from the get go. The material was so good [as well as] the ensemble cast. It felt really good as soon as we did the table read and all those fears get dispelled once you realize everybody feels that same nervousness.”
“It’s just working through that, giving trust to the material, which is first and foremost, always. I’m very grateful I was able to have that experience [in] something that is, I think, really funny. With so much happening [in the world], we use these mediums as escape and I hope it’s a reprieve a little bit. It’s very light about this quite insular group that everybody relate to in this subculture set in this pristine backdrop.”
“As an ethnic minority, these kinds of characters don’t come along very often. I certainly haven’t read an Asian-Canadian character like this before which most people would’ve jumped at. He’s a very well-rounded character for this [half-hour comedy] format and for this genre. There’s definitely some character flaws, but he’s a very endearing character.”
“And I found him along the way with the writers, as much as you take it off the page. The writers just came up with such a really interesting character and there was so much opportunity given. As an actor, when you have such a great foundation, when you have such great material and you’re working with such great collaborators, it’s an absolute pleasure.”
Victor’s relationship with Opal is refreshingly non-judgmental, and in some respects, Victor is the student and Opal is the teacher. Chen loved the dynamic, and getting to see that character onscreen. “Declan is the show-stealer. From his entrance on, he’s such a character off camera, too. Not to say he’s anything like Opal, because he plays this fantastic character as my son. But it speaks to the material and the themes that Julian and the writers wanted to set down without beating you over the head with it,” he says.
“The character development always goes back to that. They’re not just these archetypes and ideas. They’re very well-rounded characters and I think Opal, as a character, is someone that audiences want to see, and we haven’t seen a character like that written in such a way. I think all the characters are quite endearing in their faults and in their foibles. It’s what makes the show work and relatable. It’ll be interesting to see how it’s received.”
Chen also appreciates that the show is Canada playing Canada. “With AMAZE producing it, they’re a Canadian production company and we’re filming and it’s set in cottage country in Canada. It’s not like we’re set somewhere else. And it’s shot beautifully, too,” he explains. “I’m excited for people to get a chance to see it.”
Viewers also saw Chen recurring on The CW’s culturally appropriate reboot of Kung Fu, and he loved the experience, and the larger push for diversity across the TV and film landscape. “I’ve been very fortunate as this tattooed Asian guy, to play a diversity of roles. Thankfully they have tattoo cover in our industry, but Victor was definitely a groundbreaking role for me. I hope that there will come a time where it’s just part of the game, but I think it also speaks to the moment that we’re in and Prime Video really supporting this the way that they have,” he shares.
“I think it also speaks to a little bit of a paradigm shift in terms of representation and in terms of what we’re seeing onscreen. It’s very important for me. I will seek out more roles [that are] more well rounded. I want to be like James Hong. I don’t ever want to retire.”
“The guy’s 93 and he’s still working. He’s an inspiration. I’m very fortunate, any actor is very fortunate, to do what we do in the industry. It’s a passion and I do believe that if you find something you love to do, you won’t work a day in your life.”
“[Kung Fu] It was a fantastic experience solely based on Bob Berens and Christina Kim and their leadership, bringing me in the storyline that they wanted to create with my character and Eddie Lou’s character as well. The actors are all supremely talented. The cast and crew, everything from the top down was an absolute pleasure.”
“Any representation on any level from the CW to Prime Video to feature films across the board, there are such genuine people who care for their work. And that’s an environment that everybody wants to work in, obviously. I’m so grateful and fortunate to kind of fall into these situations.”
“I’m also riding this wave of acknowledgement and a bit of awareness, as slow as it comes for Asian representation, especially in such a conflicted time and against such controversy and not-so-nice-things happening.”
“That being said, it’s our duty as artists, if we have that opportunity, which is presenting itself more and more these days, to tell our stories and speak about our experiences authentically, as Canadians, really.”
Chen is also happy to be aging into the opportunity to play a dad. “I have kids, so I’m shifting into these dad roles. In Kung Fu, I played a dad, too [and] I’m so grateful to be able to transition into an older phase and to be playing these different roles. I think it’s important for me and my kids, watching in the future,” he says.
Representation was a part of two sci-fi series that featured Chen and still have staunch fan bases–Continuum and The Expanse. “I have a special place in my heart for Continuum, obviously because of the people involved. Simon Barry was such a great collaborator, and that was such a great experience because I got to shoot that in Vancouver, where I’m from,” he points out.
“There was a plethora of incredibly talented cast and crew involved with that who have branched off and done some incredible things. So just nothing but fond memories.”
“I [was] quite unaware of the fandom coming into The Expanse. I didn’t really know much about the show until I read for the part. And then doing a bit of a dive into the world, knowing that Prax was written quite different from what I appear to be. But I didn’t lean on that. I just brought my own interpretation of it and I think the fans liked it. So I was happy to be received.”
“The Screaming Firehawks are an amazing fan base. They literally got the show picked back up by flying banners overhead. They are forever in my heart.”
“I love sci-fi because you can suspend your disbelief. Growing up, Star Trek and Star Wars were my favorite. As I got older, they’re still there. I’m so thrilled every time I hear feedback from people who’ve seen these shows because they’re obviously greater than who I am. But what interests me is the characters and the material, no matter what genre, and sci-fi has such a rabid fan base because it’s such an awesome genre.”
Photos and courtesy of Prime Video.
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