Backstage Magazine's "30 on the brink of stardom" full interview...
Hometown: Hong Kong
Representation: Joanne Horowitz Management
Two biggest credits:
- “Richard III” (stage)
- “Skybound” (film)
Backstage: What was your first professional job?
Gavin: My first professional job out of drama school was working on a commercial for Nomis soccer shoes called “Damn Boots”. It was a lot of fun. The whole thing was put together really cleverly and it won two Gold Lions at the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival. It was the first time I’d seen my face on the big screen. It was awesome and bizarre at the same time!
B: Where did you train, and what was the most important lesson you learned during your training?
G: I trained at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London. I guess the most important lesson I learned during that time was to ‘let go’. There’s a quote by Bruce Lee that goes; “Freedom discovers man the moment he loses concern over what impression he is making or about to make”. To not have what my acting coach called the “Little F*cker” hanging over your shoulder in a scene, whispering in your ear “You’re terrible” or “You’re doing magnificently”… it’s harder than it sounds - to just ‘be’.
B: What is your greatest strength as an actor?
G: Wow. Everyone tends to have their own strengths and weaknesses. It’s what makes you human and relatable to an audience… I think I’m too preoccupied working on what needs to be refined in my performances, so I wouldn’t know what my personal strengths are. I can tell you what I try to work towards is truth in vulnerability. Watching someone like Montgomery Clift or even Steve Carrell today, they just bare it all unapologetically and I get completely sucked into the character’s personal struggle. It gives me that tingly feeling in my chest.
B: Who is your favorite actor and why?
G: Screen-wise right now, hands down, Chris Evans. I’ve had a huge (totally non-weird) man-crush on that guy for the past couple of years. His performance in “The Losers” directed by Sylvain White was outstanding and hilarious. He’s an example of someone right now who, in my opinion takes risks and makes brave acting choices.
Theatre-wise, I have always looked up to two actors: David Suchet and Mark Rylance, both of whom exude so much presence and charisma on-stage but always stay connected to the performance. Masters of the craft.
B: What was your most recent acting job?
G: Recently I just finished shooting a feature film in Germany called ‘Skybound’. We filmed it all in Cologne in 5 weeks, which was a hectic schedule for an action/thriller, but good fun! I had the great fortune to work with a fantastic crew and I learned a lot about production just by hanging out with the camera ops and the lighting crew. We were shooting on Red Epic which was a whole other level of technology for me. Sexy cameras.
B: What was your favorite acting job and why?
G: My favorite job to work on was Sam Mendes’ Richard III with Kevin Spacey. It was a co-production between the legendary Old Vic Theatre in London and New York’s BAM. It was 50% US and 50% UK cast and crew which was an amazing mix. I got the chance to work with incredible actors like Gemma Jones, Michael Rudko and not to mention Kevin Spacey(!?) PLUS it was directed by Sam Mendes. It was basically the dream job for a young actor like me - I got to watch all these incredible artists work and learned SO much from them. Tell you what… When Kevin Spacey starts barking lines at you on stage as Richard III, you better be on your ‘A-game’. Terrifyingly inspiring.
B: Do you have any audition horror stories?
G: OK. When I get nervous, I get serious ‘foot-in-mouth’ syndrome. I’ll say something stupid in an audition and I walk out thinking “Ah crap… why did I have to say that!?” and there’s one story that will forever stick with me, but it’s not for the faint hearted… (Disclaimer! Please note us Brits are a little more blasé with our use of certain cuss words. So, with that in mind…)
I was going for my first big audition in LA at Studio City, meeting a hugely respected casting director who’s been casting great movies from way back when, and I’d been stuck on the 101 for about an hour so I was pretty flustered when I finally arrived! I went straight in to the meeting and I think I did a pretty good job - or at least I felt I did as well as I could have. So then the casting director starts asking me about Hong Kong and what it was like growing up there. “Do you speak any Chinese?” “Sure”, I say, “I speak a little Cantonese”. “That’s awesome! Say something,” he says. So I do (“Where’s the bathroom?”). He’s impressed and asks what it means, at which point his assistant jokily intercedes, “I bet it was something rude!” I smile, spurred on by the banter. “Actually, I just asked where the bathroom was. If I wanted to say something rude, I’d say, ‘Deu lei lo mo hai!’” He laughs, “Oh yeah? What does that mean?” Now… for the life of me, I’ll never understand why I carried on. But I did. With a smile on my face and a twinkle in my eye, “Well, that means, ”F*** your mother in the c***!’”
To this day, I’ve never seen someone’s face drop quite so quickly. Beat. It was horrific.
He flexes his cheek muscles into a cordial smile which stops at the eyes. “OK… Gavin. Well, it was… nice to meet you.” The assistant opens the door, avoiding eye contact as I, ever the optimist, step out of the room, still oblivious to the bomb I’d just dropped. “Cheers, guys. You too!” It was only as I was getting my parking validated by the receptionist that it hit me. “Bollocks…” “Pardon me?” she says. “Sorry. No, nothing. I… Thanks,” I say, waving my validated parking ticket in the air like I’d won some losers raffle.
Exit pursued by bear of self-loathing.
B: What was your most exciting moment as an actor?
G: I think the most exciting moment for me was getting the opportunity to work with the Jackie Chan Stunt Team in a feature film called “Clash of Empires”. Having grown up in Hong Kong I’ve always done Martial Arts, and I grew up watching Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan films. I went through 1 month training prior to the shoot in Malaysia, which was both the most intense physical training I’ve ever done (in 110 degree heat!) and also the most rewarding. Those guys were hard as nails, demanded nothing but the best, and NEVER stopped working - sometimes not even for lunch! The stories they told me of working with Jackie were amazing. They’re like a brotherhood.
B: If you couldn’t be an actor, what would you do for a living?
G: There’s that old saying you hear from people in the business as you’re just starting out “If there’s anything else you think you could be doing with your life - do that instead!”. I’m paraphrasing, but the idea stands. I have a few hobbies that I love doing, like I love photography or I always have a guitar around to play… but it’s different. At the risk of sounding ‘wanky’, acting is more than a career, it’s a life choice. An obsession. If it’s something you truly believe in, you just have to keep the faith and find ways of surviving the tough times. But at the end of the day acting is the only thing that’s ever been truly intuitive to me. It’s the only thing I can ‘do’.
B: What is your favorite play or musical?
G: I think, my favorite play of all time would be Glengarry Glen Ross. I love David Mamet. I love his style. I love his naturalism. Recently I saw Michael Cristofer with the MCC Theatre Group in New York doing ‘Don’t Go Gentle’ by Stephen Belber which was outstanding. Supreme performances and genius production - if it’s still at Lucille Lortel Theatre on Christopher St. go check it out. It’s amazing. I love musicals as well - pretty much anything by Sondheim or Jason Robert Brown… “Company” is probably my favorite, though.
B: What is your favorite movie?
G: Can I say “The Room”? “Oh, hi Mark”.
OK seriously… tough question. I think my answer would change depending on the day of the week and since it’s on a Monday that I’m writing this, I’d have to say “Chinatown”… as my “serious” answer.
In truth, though - there’s one movie I’ve seen more than any other in my life and that’s “Robin Hood: Men In Tights”. It was the first VHS I ever bought. In fact I took it to ‘show and tell’ at my school when I was 7 and we watched the whole thing in the space of two classes (Thank you, Miss Hay!). Mel Brooks is a genius and I’m pretty sure I grew up subconsciously wanting to be Carey Elwes - either as ‘Robin Hood’ or Westley from ‘The Princess Bride’. In fact, I should probably start trying to grow that Errol Flynn ‘tash for ‘Movember’ this year.
(View the published article on Backstage Magazine’s website here.)