I recently got the chance to talk to Dwight Sora about his role in ‘Red Dawn’. Here, Dwight talks about how he got involved in the project and what it was like working with the cast and crew on-set…
Great to meet you too, Matt.
What’s the general plotline surrounding the film?
Well, it’s a remake of a 1984 film that was about World War III. In that film, the Soviet Union attacked the U.S., but it didn’t result in all-out nuclear holocaust. Instead, a conventional war is fought and the story focuses on a group of high school kids in a Colorado town who form a rebel resistance force when the Soviet army occupies things.
This time, however, the antagonists are North Koreans who first knock out all the electricity using an EMP device and then send in their troops.
Tell us a bit about the character you play in the movie…
It’s really quite a small part. I’m listed as the “Drunk Officer”. Towards the latter part of the movie, the high school kids (who have branded themselves as freedom fighters under the name “The Wolverines”) have teamed up with some veteran soldiers lead by Jeffrey Dean Morgan and attempt to invade the headquarters of the occupying North Korean army. They’re there to steal a critical device that might turn the tide of the war. Once inside, they are nearly discovered by a drunk North Korean army officer chasing after a female officer – (that’s me and my on-screen co-star Cindy Chu). A little later on, two of the kids (played by Josh Hutcherson and Connor Cruise) are attempting to retrieve the device from a computer room, when suddenly myself and the female officer walk in on them. The kids briefly freeze then run when the female officer screams.
How did you get involved in the project in the first place?
The usual channels. My agent called me up and asked if I could record a videotape audition. I was informed it was a bit of last-minute casting. If I recall, the film had been in production since mid-summer 2009, and this was the beginning of December. There were no lines. I basically stumbled about in front of a video camera for a couple of minutes looking as drunk and lecherous as I could. I didn’t think much of it, but within 48 hours I had been called back by my agent that they needed me in Detroit for filming ASAP.
How would you say this film is different and unique?
Well, for myself it was my first genuine experience working on a big film set. I’d been an extra for some local location work in Chicago (‘The Weather Man’, ‘Derailed’, ‘The Dark Knight’), but this was the first time I was on an elaborately constructed set. When I arrived in Detroit, I was driven to the production basecamp, which was a converted industrial space providing both administrative offices but also a large warehouse-type space that had been converted into a soundstage and prop storage area. Walking around for my costume fitting, I was pretty impressed by the elaborate military equipment, as well as a full-scale mock-up of the underground cave that the Wolverines used as a base in the film.
The film stars Chris Hemsworth, Josh Peck, Josh Hutcherson, Adrianne Palicki, Isabel Lucas, Connor Cruise, Edwin Hodge, Brett Cullen and Alyssa Diaz – with Dan Bradley onboard as director – what was it like working with the cast and crew on-set? Any good anecdotes?
The overall crew was a good, professional group. As an actor I felt taken care of, especially since I was being fitted into what was possibly a last-minute addition to the script. A lot of them talked about other films they had worked on, like Clint Eastwood’s ‘Grand Turino’. For my actual scenes, I actually got to be on set with Chris Hemsworth, Josh Peck, Josh Hutcherson, Connor Cruise and Jeffrey Dean Morgan.
Remember that ‘Red Dawn’ was delayed in its release, so when I was working on the film, this was prior to Chris Hemsworth filming ‘Thor’ or ‘The Avengers’. He was still a relatively unknown actor at the time. I vaguely recognized him and one of the crew reminded me that he had played Captain Kirk’s father in the most recent ‘Star Trek’ film, and that he was going off to film ‘Thor’ once ‘Red Dawn’ was completed.
Filming ran into a couple of delays, so even though my part was small, I actually spent about a full week (maybe a week and a half) in Detroit. So long that I actually got to attend the cast party at a casino resort in Detroit. My favourite memory is that Chris Hemsworth remembered me from our day of filming and gave me his impression of my drunk officer routine. Sadly, most of my stumbling about and grumbling is left on the cutting room floor. Even my confrontation with Connor Cruise and Josh Hutcherson is pretty much truncated, so you never realize that I’m going for my gun before they charge out of the room.
Let’s talk a bit about you Dwight. What made you want to get into the acting industry in the first place?
It’s a bit of a fluke. I’ve always been a fan of watching performed works and storytelling. I’m a die-hard movie buff, and I saw my first play when I was 10 or so (I think it was Yul Brynner’s farewell tour of ‘The King And I’). I did a little acting in school plays in high school, but I never gave it much thought as a serious career. I had actually hoped to get into creative writing when I was younger but I just didn’t have the discipline or focus then to complete anything.
I ended up getting a Bachelor’s in East Asian Languages & Civilizations from the University of Chicago. After graduating, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, so I did a lot of volunteer work. One of the things I did was work with a group called Scrap Mettle SOUL, which is a combination performance and community outreach group in the Uptown neighbourhood of Chicago. They have an ongoing storytelling project where they interview members of the community about their lives, then create a two-hour piece based on the stories using both short dramatized pieces and songs. The performers are mostly volunteers from the community with help from a few professional artists.
I worked with the group a couple of years in addition to my regular job (as a Japanese document translator), plus volunteering for the local branch of the Japanese American Citizens League and studying the martial art of Aikido. After one performance, a woman asked me if I was an actor. I said no, but she said she was producing a local play about the rape of Nanking and they were having trouble getting Asian actors and asked if I’d audition. I had nothing to lose, so I went it, using one of my Scrap Mettle SOUL pieces for my monologue (I had no headshot or resume though). As luck would have it, I got cast, and ‘The Rape of Nanking: According To Minnie’ ended up being my first theatrical credit.
The cast included several more experienced local Asian American actors. I had a good time working on the show (though the show itself wasn’t that successful), so I asked them about what I had to do to get started professionally. That was the best free class I ever received about the acting profession. Those guys told me about where to look for auditions, where to take classes, where audition and other news was listed, how to get a headshot, prepare my resume, get an agent, etc. After the show ended, I put everything together and shopped around for an agent. I landed one very quickly, and then, as they say, the rest was history.
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to pursue a career in the industry?
Since I’m not one of those who set out on the path when I was younger, and didn’t get a Performing Arts degree, I don’t know if I can advise those pursuing that particular track. However, as a general rule, I’d tell everyone to always be professional. Even if you’re working on an obscure low (or no) paying job, dot every i and cross every t. Show up on time for auditions, rehearsals and performances, be prepared when you’re told to be prepared, apologize when you mess up and follow directions. And keep your ego in check. You’re never as important (or talented) as you think as you are. You’re only as good as your latest work, so your latest work should be a product of dedication and effort. And don’t do it for the money (though it’s nice when you get paid well). Do it because you enjoy it.
You’ve been in a number of films and TV projects – which actors/actresses have been your favourites to work with and why? Any good stories?
You flatter me. Really, my work up to now has been in some very minor parts, so I don’t feel like I can comment much. I have to say that Chris Hemsworth seemed like a very likable, personable sort. So was Hugh Jackman, on the set of ‘Real Steel’. I’m always impressed when the most important guy takes the time to say “Good morning” to the least important. They don’t have too, and certainly in the ego-driven world of show business they could probably get away with it. But those guys didn’t act that way, so I’ll remember them well, and also try to act accordingly myself.
What’s currently on your I-Pod right now?
Sadly, my I-Pod is the victim of a power surge and dead as a doornail. I need to get it replaced. But, if it was working, you could listen to a massive box set of music from Factory Records from the late 70s/early 80s – (Joy Division, Durutti Column, etc.). I love that stuff from the old Manchester scene.
If you could have dinner with three guests – (living or dead), who would you choose and why?
- 1) Truman Capote – I love ‘Breakfast At Tiffany’s’ and ‘In Cold Blood’ (the novels not the movies). Plus I’m fascinated by how he wasn’t just a famous novelist but embodied a very specific approach to the artist’s lifestyle.
- 2) Miyamoto Musashi – He’s considered the greatest samurai warrior who ever lived. So good, he actually got to die undefeated in his ripe old age. I’m fascinated by Japanese martial arts and I’d be curious to see his insights. Not just about fighting, but about life itself.
- 3) Barrack Obama – I can’t imagine the weight of history riding on his shoulders. I’d just have to ask him why he did and keeps doing it. Mind you, I don’t like all his actions as president, but his brain is one I’d definitely want to pick.
Which film was your favourite of 2012 and why?
It’s a tie for me. ‘Argo’ and ‘Lincoln’ really struck a chord with me. I’m a history buff, so both appeal to my sensibilities. I’m just old enough that I can vaguely remember the Iranian hostage crisis, and it’s fascinating to find out what sort of crazy things the government was doing behind civilian eyes. ‘Lincoln’ really managed to (hope this doesn’t sound too cheezy) make history come alive. I thought it did an excellent job of taking the dust off of all those figures from American history and remind you that these were people; smart, hard-working people, some principled, some deeply flawed, but all of them had a great impact on the history of the United States, and thus the world.
What’s coming up for you in 2013?
I’m currently appearing in a local theatrical production of ‘The Three Musketeers’ playing Aramis. I’m also hoping to get some work on one of the many film or TV projects coming to town this year. The NBC series ‘Chicago Fire’ is going strong and there is talk of a spinoff series being launched. Plus the next ‘Transformers’ sequel will be setting up shop soon, as well as the upcoming science fiction film ‘Divergent’. Fingers are crossed. I actually know a lot of folks who’ve truly made the leap to the big time. I remember Danny Pudi – (Abed on the NBC comedy ‘Community’) when he was doing sketch comedy in Chicago. Plus Keong Sim who appears on the TNT series ‘Monday Mornings’ was the actor I understudied for a play at Steppenwolf Theatre years ago and we’ve remained friends ever since. In fact, my mother helped him learn the Korean dialogue he needed to audition for the movie ‘Olympus Has Fallen’ – (a role he landed). So, here’s to hoping that lighting strikes in my direction at some point. And if it doesn’t immediately, in acting as in martial arts, I shall just keep moving.
Thanks for the interview!