Filmoria sat down with lead actor, Alex Chang to talk about his latest comedy TV show ‘Pete and Whitely’ and new post-WWII period drama ‘Pao’.
Can you tell us about your recent comedy ‘Pete and Whitely’?
Absolutely! The show is essentially a satirical look at behind-the-counter life in a Chinese takeaway. Pete runs his family takeaway and hires his friend, Whitely, to help him do it. It’s very much a run-down place which they both hate working at, but at least they have each other to prank and entertain, both each other and the customers! It’s low-brow comedy and totally outrageous with some of the dialogue which I enjoy a lot!
You play the lead character, Pete in the show. Did you have to research much for this role?
I grew up in a Chinese takeaway so I know first hand how stressful and interesting it can be behind the counter and in the kitchen. My parents had me working in the kitchen pretty early on, when I was 13 years old, until I was trusted to work with customers at the front counter. That’s when I can draw upon those experiences to help ease into the character of “Pete”. It’s great that I have that working experiences because it totally informs how instinctual I can be with “Pete” – as he’s quite close to who I am. It is rare to take on a role that you can pretty much be yourself!
Your latest role is Xiuquan, in the epic drama ‘Pao’. Can you tell us about the TV show?
The first thing I can wholeheartedly say is that it is EPIC. Not in terms of special effects but just in pure context and story, there is so much scope to the world of the series and indeed the characters. The show is based on Kerry Young’s award winning novel “Pao”. It tells the story of Pao, a Chinese immigrant to Jamaica who, after taking over his mentor’s organized crime syndicate and struggling for decades to achieve and maintain a position of status, comes to realize that there are other forms of status that are more important. As Pao comes to a place of redemption for his career-long personal and professional misdemeanors, the narrative also explores themes related to the nature of oppression and the relationship between the inner and outer life.
In an age where diversity is rightly taking more centre stage, it’s an incredibly exciting project to be part of. Full of fantastic creators and artists – it’s truly been wonderful.
Can you explain your character in “Pao”?
I play Xiuquan, Pao’s brother, who misses the motherland of China. He never wanted to move out to Jamaica and even though Chinatown in Kingston is populated by accommodating fellow Chinese workers and potential friends, he has found it incredibly difficult to acclimatize. Pao doesn’t have the same issue as he’s taken under Zhang’s (his mentor and lord of Chinatown) wing and so Xiuquan feels more resentment for the life of crime that Zhang associates himself in. As a character Xiuquan is a joy to discover. There are real problems he has which on screen can seem like he is petulant but in reality, we all could feel the way he does in a flash.
The relationship between Xiuquan and Pao is frosty. There is love between the brothers but they are so different in terms of what they value and hold dear which makes for dynamic scenes together.
What type of genre of film or TV show are you drawn to normally?
I really enjoy playing comedy. I think naturally I can be fairly sarcastic but that may be the Britishness in me! Equally though, I like high stakes films and TV series. Shows such as Grey’s Anatomy, 24, Prison Break, Sons Of Anarchy and more recently, Designated Survivor are brilliant. For films, I love The Godfather, Scent Of A Woman, Heat, Glengarry Glen Ross, Jerry Maguire and American Psycho – to be fair, the list could go on but I’ll leave it at that!
Who inspires you as an actor?
Al Pacino was the reason I got into acting in the first place. The Godfather is a mesmerizing piece of work and Al Pacino does a phenomenal job in it. He’s such a class act, a real gentleman too. I also admire Keanu Reeves and Denzel Washington, both as actors and people for very different reasons. Keanu for just how hard he works on his films with regards to stunts, the physical side to action and Denzel Washington for how he has so much gravitas as a performer. They’re both wonderful human beings and the epitome of dedication to the craft. More recently, I’m going to be biased and say that, Tom Hardy, Eddie Redmayne, Daniel Wu, Benedict Wong, Jimmy Akingbola, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender are guys I learn from constantly.
What can we look forward to from you?
These are exciting times. I’m currently on an international tour of “The Twits” by Roald Dahl on stage in association with The Curve Theatre & Rose Theatre Kingston. I also have a couple of movies set to film just after the summer so stay tuned!
Thank you Alex – we are excited to see what’s next for you.