After several decades in show business, James Hong knows what he’s looking for when it comes to choosing his roles. A veteran of the screen, the prolific actor is just as busy as he’s ever been, showing no signs of slowing down at 93 years old. This includes a role in the acclaimed movie Everything Everywhere All at Once, which hit theaters this year, along with a voiceover role in the all-new animated film Wendell & Wild on Netflix.
Hong’s roles might be pretty different, but there’s something that all of the actor’s projects have in common. In a recent interview with THR, Hong addressed what it was that has him accepting roles in the various movies and TV shows that are sent his way. The actor explains that he cannot take any role that comes along, as he must first make sure that there are “good people” involved.
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“I have to know who’s in it and that it’s not slandering any minority groups. That’s the most important thing: that there are good people behind it, whether it’s the stars or producers or directors. Look at Everything Everywhere All at Once. That came to me, and I said, ‘Boy, this is some project.’ Although I must admit to you, upon reading the script, I couldn’t understand it.”
James Hong Was Honored With an Icon Award
Hong’s interview comes with the actor receiving the Icon Award for the Critics Choice Association’s Celebration of Asian Pacific Cinema and Television. The event had him reflecting on just how far things have come for Asian Americans in Hollywood. He recalls how hard it was to get by when he first got started in the 1950s, and having seen the success of other Asian Americans in show business in the years since, Hong feels that things are on the right track.
“I came out here in the summer of 1953 with my comedy partner, Don Parker — Hong and Parker, we called ourselves — and we were going to hit it big. We didn’t get any gigs. They didn’t know what an Asian and a half-Indian in a comedy show did. That was the problem in those days. They said ‘Get out,’ in so many words. Now I look at the list of honorees for this celebration, and I’m flabbergasted. The innovators, the creators — like Daniel Dae Kim, Janet Yang, Ang Lee — will drive this forward. My efforts, like starting [the Asian American theater group] East West Players, will be carried on by these new people. When I was a kid, [1937’s] The Good Earth was played by Caucasian leads that taped their eyes up. [My career’s] been 70 years. I won’t live another 70, but you can’t stop artistry. Artistry will always find its way.”
Hong can be heard with his voiceover roles in the upcoming HBO Max series Gremlins: Secrets of the Mogwai along with the animated sequel Kung Fu Panda 4. He is also attached to the upcoming film Patsy Lee & The Keeper of the 5 Kingdoms.