I recently got the chance to talk to Fernando Chien about his involvement in Tom Hardy’s new film, ‘Warrior’. Here, Fernando talks about what it was like working with the cast and crew of ‘Warrior’ and about his stint on ‘The Guild’…
Hey Fernando. Thanks for taking the time out to talk to me about your new film ‘Warrior‘.
What’s the general plotline surrounding the film?
Haunted by a tragic past, ex-Marine Tommy Conlon (Hardy) returns home for the first time in fourteen years to enlist the help of his father (Nick Nolte) to train for SPARTA, the biggest winner-takes-all event in mixed martial arts history. A former wrestling prodigy, Tommy blazes a path toward the championship while his brother, Brendan (Edgerton), an ex-fighter-turned teacher, returns to the ring in a desperate bid to save his family from financial ruin. But when Brendan’s unlikely, underdog rise sets him on a collision course with the unstoppable Tommy, the two brothers must finally confront each other and the forces that pulled them apart.
Tell us a bit about the character you play in the movie…
The character I play is Fenroy. He was the gym rat out of Colt’s Gym. Initially I’m the one who signs Tommy up at the gym when he first arrives back to Pittsburgh. During his time at Colt’s I train him, run the gym’s daily activities and also introduce Paddy (Nick Nolte) to the world of MMA. On the one occasion Mad Dog Grimes (the #1 contender who also trains out of Colt’s Gym) knocks out his training partner, Tommy obliges to jump in to spar Mad Dog. When doing so he knocks out Mad Dog which Fenroy secretly captures on his Flip camera and posts it onto YouTube. This is where the world discovers Tommy Riordan.
Fenroy represents all the MMA fans out there that follow the sport online and on TV. They are the one’s who have been in the game and love the sport.
How did you get involved in the project in the first place?
Originally I was hired on as the assistant stunt co-ordinator and fight choreographer. Because of my MMA background I choreographed all the fights to look real and based in true MMA techniques – not Hong Kong fighting styles. With my good friend Sam Hargrave we shaped each fight to have a specific narrative. Not only showing each characters’ specific styles but also representing their personalities in the fight choreography.
On one night during pre-production while we were out having dinner with Anthony Tambackis, the writer of ‘Warrior’, it came up that they were still searching for an actor to play Fenroy. Sam Hargrave suggested me and Anthony asked “Do you act?” I said yes and the next day Anthony discussed it with Gavin O’Connor. I then had to go and audition for the role like everyone else. Luckily they liked my audition and the rest is history.
How would you say this film is different and unique?
The film is different because it encompasses everything. I think people who want an action film will get that but even those who are not into action will love the storyline and drama moving the character and the stakes. There are very few people who see the movie and do not become invested in it by the end even if they are not MMA fans. Actually it isn’t even an action film in my opinion. It’s a drama with some action, but the action is bad-ass!
The film stars Joe Edgerton, Tom Hardy, Nick Nolte, Jennifer Morrison and Frank Grillo, with Gavin O’Connor onboard as director – what was it like working with the cast and crew on-set?
On set I got to work with mostly Tommy, Nick and Gavin. The one thing I can say that sums it up is generous. Tommy came from a strong theatre background and took the time out to really help me with my acting. We would spend time in his apartment reading Labryinth Theatre plays like ‘Jesus Hopped The A Train’ and ‘In Arabia We’d All Be Kings’. Nick was a master – talk about an actor that does his work. I remember the first table read he brought a binder full of notes and ideas. Then I had the opportunity to do a scene with him where we were improvising Fenroy teaching Paddy about MMA and how to beat the other fighters in the tournament. He was genius and so giving. When I got flustered or anxious he would chime in with some great anecdote or reference to bring me back to what we were talking about. Unfortunately the scene had to be cut due to time constraints.
And Gavin…man, Gav is my brother. He was so patient with me. It was my first big acting part and he gave me the time to make mistakes, and I never felt pressured. Even Anthony would come up and say “Bro, say it in your own words!”. It was such an ego-less environment.
As for Joel, Frank and Jen. Wow…some of the most hard-working actors I have ever met. You can see why they are stars and why they work. Frank aka Grillz came out to train with us 8 weeks before filming to get into the part. 6am training sessions that lasted all day. He was studying us and how I teach MMA and how we train. Then traveled to New Mexico to shadow Greg Jackson, the premier MMA Coach. Joel was a beast too. I had to teach him how to be a dynamic fighter. Everything from wrestling, Jiu-Jitsu, boxing, Muay Thai, strength training, endurance training and then sparring. I had to beat him up so he knew what it felt like. We took it easy on him for 4 weeks then beat the piss out of him for 4 weeks. Tommy too!
The one thing about them all was that it was a really tough movie for me. I was going through personal issues and they were all super-supportive and were really rooting for me to succeed. I can’t express the love I have for them and how lucky I was to be a part of it.
Let’s talk a bit about you Fernando. What made you want to get into acting in the first place?
Actually I was a really shy kid growing up and coming from an Asian family I was always steered into being in a stable career. So I studied Biology and got my B. Sc. from McGill. Afterwards I started my Masters in genetics and then I realized that there was something missing and that I was a little socially retarded, almost a ghost – like nobody could see me. So I was walking through school one day and there was an audition for ‘Pirates Of Penzance’. I was so unhappy with my life that I auditioned. I guess I figured that I had nothing to lose. From there it just scared the hell out of me and I knew I had to do it. I knew I had to do it for me. I didn’t care if I was good or bad, but I would work as hard as I could to be the best I could be. Then it grew into an obsession, I was angered that Asian Americans get no recognition in Hollywood. And I felt I had something to say, that I was interesting.
When I look at the arts, Asian American men are everywhere except in the mass media. I think it was Roger Ebert who stated that Asian American men are the least represented demographic and that is retarded cause if you think about it there are so many stellar Asian American men in business, the arts, everywhere – yet Hollywood doesn’t recognize this. There’s a stereotype that most Asian men are either gay or geeks, passive and weak. I want to change that! I grew up hating that I was Asian and now I love it. I’m different, I’m special and like ‘Warrior’, I’ve always been the underdog. But our time will come!
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to get into the industry?
My advice is to work as hard as you can but expect nothing. You can blow up and just as easily fade away but you have to always maintain your integrity and character. Otherwise you will lose yourself. There’s a reason why so many actors are addicts and half of Hollywood is on Xanax. Enjoy the journey and not only the outcome. The industry is loveless, it’s a business, it’s not fair and success can ruin you if you don’t have your head on straight. Success occurs when preparation meets opportunity.
You’ve been in some well-known films and TV projects – who has been your favorite actor/actress to work with and who has given you the best advice?
My favourite actress to work with is Felicia Day. I just adore her. She is…I don’t even know how to explain. I had the best time working with her and she has a very very dear place in my heart.
Actor? Wow, tough question but I have to say Chris Hemsworth. We worked together on ‘Red Dawn’ but I really got to know him on ‘Fast Five’. He was out there visiting his wife Elsa Pataky and he said to me one day “Keep your feet on the ground cause all this is bullshit, pressure is not real, fame is not real, be present and be you right now”. Oh and Frank Grillo gave me a great piece of advice, he said “People need to do what’s right, and stop always trying to be right”.
We should also mention that you’ve been part of the online sensation that is ‘The Guild’ – what was it like working with the likes of Felicia Day and Jeff Lewis on such an internet hit?
Like I said Felicia is my dream girl in a way. Working on ‘The Guild’ was a chance of a lifetime and it was the most fun I had ever had on set. Felicia just oozes creativity and positive energy yet also a youthful wonder and excitement for everything. I was working on TV shows and movies while we were shooting ‘The Guild’ but each day I couldn’t wait to get to set. I would get there early and stay even after I was wrapped. I am so happy for their success and I hope that more people recognize her genius.
What is currently on your I-Pod right now?
LOL The National, who coincidentally did the theme song for ‘Warrior’! And Kid Koala, another Asian American wonderkind.
If you could invite three historical guests to dinner, (living or dead), who would you choose and why?
- Jesus because of his sacrifice which is metaphoric through everything we do cause he was the ultimate underdog.
- DaVinci because that fool was creatively on the next level.
- Marilyn Monroe cause…well a dinner with 4 dudes? Plus I’d have the best chance cause Jesus is celibate and I heard Leo was gay. And it better go all night long!
What is your favourite drink / food?
My favourite drink is sweet tea. My favourite food is soup noodles (like Ramen or Pho). I eat it everyday when I’m not trying to cut weight.
What’s coming up for you in 2011/12?
Well I am just recovering from spinal fusion surgery so I haven’t committed to anything until I am fully recovered. I am up for a few parts but nothing is confirmed so I don’t wanna jinx it! But I would like to be acting more and stunting less, though I still have a few stunts left in me.
Thanks for the interview!