I recently got the chance to talk to Pun Bandhu about his role in ’2 Days In New York’. Here, Pun talks about what it was like working with the cast and crew on-set and how he got into acting in the first place…
Hey Pun. Thanks for taking the time out to talk to me about your new film, ’2 Days In New York’.
What’s the general plot line surrounding the film?
This is the sequel to ‘Two Days In Paris’. Julie Delpy’s character, Marion, now lives in New York with her American boyfriend, Mingus (Chris Rock) and their two children from previous relationships. When Marion’s father, sister and her sister’s boyfriend visit from Paris, cultures clash, tensions mount and hilarity ensues. Though the relatives stay for only two days, they change Marion and Mingus’ relationship forever.
Tell us a bit about the character you play in the movie…
Mingus, Marion, and her father – (played by Julie’s real life dad) – decide to have a spa day in Chinatown as a way for Mingus and Marion’s father to bond. My character, Joe, is a the masseur assigned to Mingus. Joe came to America fairly recently, but knows that he is destined for great things. He is not really happy that he has to massage strangers. His real dream is to make it in the entertainment world. You get the sense that he taught himself English watching Hollywood movies. He thinks he is hi-LARE-ious. He recognizes Mingus as the host of a radio show and spends the entire massage telling him (inappropriate) jokes in the hopes that Mingus will put him on his show.
How did you get involved in the project in the first place?
I came in through the normal audition process.
How would you say this film is different and unique?
Culture clashes have been done before in comedies, but this film feels really fresh. Delpy has written her version of ‘Stranger In A Strange Land’. You completely understand how New York can seem like an alien world through the eyes of foreigners, but Delpy doesn’t let her countrymen off the hook. The French characters are so outrageous, with their unconscious racism and sexual mores, that in the end, you’re not sure who is more strange, the Americans or the French. This film is filled with out-sized characters – and that’s the fun of it – but what is remarkable is that you completely understand where everyone is coming from. Julie has truly captured NYC, with all of its colour and complexity.
This is also a unique film in that the character of Mingus is a radical departure for Chris Rock. You’ve never seen him play the straight man before and I think after this film, Chris will be considered for other roles than the ones he has come to be known to play.
The film stars Chris Rock, Julie Delpy, Albert Delpy, Alexia Landeau, Alexandre Nahon and Kate Burton – what was it like working with the cast and crew on-set? Any good anecdotes?
It was amazing to watch Julie at work, she was everywhere! She directed actors in English, then discussed the shot in French with the crew. She had a massage scene herself so she was half-naked,
under a towel on the massage table. Between takes, she propped herself up on her elbows, the crew whisked a monitor to her, she looked at the dailies, gave adjustments to the woman playing her masseuse, then went back into acting mode. She is a true artist, a jack of all trades, a Renaissance woman; I have nothing but respect for her.
During my scene as I am massaging Chris Rock, there is a moment where I crack myself up laughing at my own joke…I instinctively slapped Chris on the back during rehearsals. Hard. Julie loved it and asked me to keep it in for every take. She told Chris she wanted a bigger reaction from him when I slapped him. Poor Chris croaked, “this is going to be over soon, right?”
It might be interesting to the filmmakers out there that my entire scene is shot through a mirror, placed underneath the massage table and angled up to catch both of us in the frame. We had to stop for a while because there were streaks from the glass cleaner on the mirror. It wasn’t until one of the crew suggested wiping it down with newspaper that we were able to get the mirror streak-free. I’m reminded of that every time I clean my bathroom mirror – (and I now keep a small stack of newspapers around just for this purpose).
I loved shooting this scene..it’s the first time I’ve done a scene where the entire room burst into laughter the minute the director yelled, “cut” as if they couldn’t stifle it any longer. You know then that the scene works. I just hope that people are laughing with Joe and not at him. As an Asian American actor, you are very conscious of how invisible Asian Americans are in the mainstream. We either play tiny roles on the periphery or we are The Perpetual Foreigner, not part of the American landscape – I wouldn’t have lasted this long in the biz if I couldn’t do accents. My hope is that Joe comes across as three-dimensional, endearing and fun, with a different and original perspective than you normally see when new immigrants are portrayed in film.
I did not get to have a scene with Kate Burton, but I’m glad that we were finally able to act in the same project. I met her years ago at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in Massachusetts. She was doing ‘The Matchmaker’ on the main stage and I was in ‘The Big Knife’ by Clifford Odets on the smaller stage. Kate heard that I had been accepted to the Yale School of Drama and would be starting in the fall. A YSD alum herself, she took me out to breakfast and proceeded to tell me what I was in for and how to make the most of my tenure at Yale. That was such a classy thing to do; I’ve never forgotten her graciousness and generosity.
How would you spend 2 days in New York?
Well, I live in New York, so I’ll just tell you what I have planned for the next two days. I see every new show on Broadway before the Tonys and will be seeing the revival of ‘Porgy And Bess’ on Friday night…before that, I have to make an appearance at a benefit for a friend’s theatre company. I also
have two auditions Friday afternoon which I’m prepping for now – (before I go see my playwright friend’s Off Broadway debut production tonight, which I’m excited for). On Saturday afternoon, my Brazilian friends are throwing a birthday party in Long Beach. It’s an hour away by train, but will be worth it since they live right next to the beach and since they make delicious fejoida from scratch. Early that morning, I’ll bring my dog over to Central Park – dogs can run off leash until 9 am. She loves it and it may poop her out enough so that she sleeps all day while I’m away. After the park, I’m planning on going to the East Village to pick up a birthday gift before the party and I will probably get a banh-mi – (a Vietnamese sandwich) from ‘Baoguette’ while I’m there. It’s a baguette that’s crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside, filled with liver pate and crispy pork belly along with pickled veggies, jalepeno peppers, topped with a fried egg and slathered with fish sauce and spicy Sriracha sauce. Droooool. I’ve been craving one for days. New York is definitely a foodie town, and while there are fantabulous fancy-frou-frou restaurants with celebrity chefs, the locals know that some of the best food is found in hole-in-the-walls. Two days in NY goes like that. There’s just so much to do.
Let’s talk a bit about you Pun. What made you want to get into the industry in the first place?
My dad was a theatre lover and he would take us to see shows all the time. I fell in love with theatre at a very young age. I always acted in school plays but didn’t think I could make a living at it; I didn’t see people who looked like me on TV and film. I got my degree in Political Science and International Studies at Washington University in St. Louis and originally thought I would have a career in diplomacy, but after I graduated, I knew that I would regret it for the rest of my life if I didn’t give acting a go…and I got a lot further than I expected. I haven’t looked back since.
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to pursue a career in the industry?
Cultivate a generous spirit. In this industry, a rising tide really does float all boats. Become a resource for people, connect others, become an invaluable part of the collaborative process…make yourself invaluable. And leave the attitude at the door because there will always be someone just as talented who doesn’t have a chip on their shoulder. Become someone who people want to have in the room. Funny is money. And lastly, don’t wait around for the next gig, you’ll become desperate and jaded real fast. Create opportunities for yourself and surround yourself with people who inspire you.
You’ve had a number of roles in different films and TV series – which actors have been your favourites to work with so far and why? Any good stories?
There have been many. I really enjoyed working with Tilda Swinton, she’s just so chill, her own person…and genuinely interested in having real conversations with you, nothing like the icy persona you often see her portray. I remember at the wrap party for ‘Michael Clayton’, I asked her what she was doing next. She said, “I start shooting the next Coen Brother’s movie next week.” I said, ‘Burn
After Reading’? So am I!” She said, “Get out. Who are you playing?” I said “Doug Magruder.” She said, “YOU’RE Doug Magruder??” I suppose having a Scottish father, she had an idea of what someone with the last name Magruder would look like!
Fast forward to the set of ‘Burn After Reading’…she was getting her hair done when I stepped into the hair and make-up trailer. When I entered, she immediately yelled out, “Pun!” like we were old mates. There was no pretension whatsoever, even though I was a nobody. It made a big difference that I had just worked with her and George Clooney on ‘Michael Clayton’. Trapped in a Brooklyn apartment all day with the likes of Clooney, Swinton and John Malkovich, I don’t think I would have been able to hang out so casually between set ups if I hadn’t already worked with two of them. George, of course, is a consummate pro, ready to crack a joke at the very moment the crew is getting tired and cranky. And working with the Coen Brothers was a dream come true. They were like kids in a candy store, cracking themselves up when looking at the dailies. Their sense of fun and love for what they do permeated the entire set.
If you were stranded on a desert island, which three ‘personal’ things could you not live without?
Yoiks! Hard question! I think I would be able to construct everything I need to survive, so I won’t be smart and include fishing nets, etc on the list. There are actually very few things I couldn’t live without. I think I would have to say:
- My Buddha amulet for good luck. I’d be meditatin’ and prayin’ a lot, I gather.
- An Archie Comics double digest. Archie comics taught me how to read… they remind me of my childhood and probably had more of an influence on my world outlook than I even realize…and they always cheer me up.
- I would go crazy if I didn’t have a creative outlet…I think I’d write and draw a lot, so a limitless blank journal and an always ink-filled pen would be good. Hopefully, I’ll also be able to include photos of my friends and family in this scrapbook/journal, since they are what I would miss most.
What is your favourite holiday destination and why?
Hawaii. It’s magical, filled with double rainbows. I especially love Kuai.
What is your favourite word?
My favourite word is, “yoiks!” I also say “fantabulous” a lot.
What’s coming up for you in 2012?
2012 has been a good year so far. I just made my Broadway debut in ‘Wit’ starring Cynthia Nixon. We were nominated for a Tony for Best Revival, which is exciting; we’ll find out in June if we won. I’m starting a workshop of a new adaptation of ‘Peer Gynt’ next week. Have been doing a bunch of readings and survival jobs such as corporate videos and the like…just shot a print ad for a diabetic drug…and of course, I can’t wait for ’2 Days In New York’ to be released in America in August,
2012 – (you guys get it before we do)! Basically, I’m auditioning and swimming in the wide pool of possibilities which is always an exciting and creative time for me. I can’t wait to see what happens next!
Thanks for the interview!