The seemingly limitless vary of Hong Chau is on show in three movies this 12 months, in roles so totally different that they hardly appear the work of 1 actor.
In Darren Aronofsky’s “The Whale,” she performs finest pal and nurse to Brendan Fraser’s overweight shut-in professor, his most common customer and assertive caregiver. She desperately, unsentimentally prods him to get more healthy, to care about himself.
In Kelly Reichardt’s “Displaying Up,” Chau plays the idle landlord and artist colleague of Michelle Williams’ ceramics sculptor. She’s the mellower, extra profitable envy of Williams’ character, and but form of a daily companion.
In Mark Mylod’s haute delicacies black comedy “The Menu,” Chau performs the militant hostess at an unique restaurant who delivers among the movie’s most deliciously scathing strains. Within the ear of 1 buyer she whispers, “You’ll eat lower than you need and greater than you deserve.”
Her performances — every a stunning spotlight in concord inside an ensemble — differ a lot in look and method that you may’t assist surprise: Who, precisely, is Hong Chau? Is she, herself, like every of those characters? Or none of them?
Even for Chau, it’s not a simple query to answer.
“Perhaps my character in ‘Displaying Up’ as a result of she’s additionally an artist,” says Chau. “The sensation of: I’m not in competitors with anyone although the way in which that different folks view it makes you’re feeling this sense that there’s a race, or that you just’re not the place you’re presupposed to be. I believe with appearing or with Hollywood, there’s at all times this sense of being uneasy with the place you might be in life.”
Since beginning out on the David Simon HBO collection “Treme” and in Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Inherent Vice,” 43-year-old Chau has minimize a novel, generally mysterious path by present enterprise, selecting elements intentionally and seamlessly shape-shifting every time. “For a very long time, she was such an enigma to me,” Mylod says.
“Even earlier than I grew to become extra profitable, I by no means actually wanted to be amongst a bunch of actors or sustain with folks and have that in my thoughts always,” Chau stated in a current interview from New Orleans the place she was capturing Yorgos Lanthimos’ “And.” “It was at all times about myself and what I wished out of it, and the way I might do issues that felt proper for me.”
Chau’s efficiency in “The Whale,” which expanded in theaters nationwide Friday, has specifically been singled out for awards consideration. However a part of the fun of this season for Chau is how multidimensional it’s, one thing that may proceed into subsequent 12 months, too. Chau co-stars in Wes Anderson’s “Asteroid Metropolis,” due out in June, including to her enviable run with most of the prime American filmmakers. “Displaying Up,” which premiered in Could on the Cannes Movie Competition, will probably be launched someday within the spring.
For Chau, who was born to Vietnamese mother and father in a refugee camp in Thailand and grew up in New Orleans, it’s a destiny she by no means bargained on.
“Even to this present day, I’ve hassle saying that I’m an actor as a result of I wrestle with speaking about what my course of is,” Chau says. “There are actor-actors on the market who give these actually in-depth, super interviews about their course of. They discuss it in such a method that makes me really feel, ‘Perhaps I’m not an actor.’ I simply don’t assume that method in any respect.”
Chau didn’t develop up appearing; Hollywood was an unimaginable distance from her working-class upbringing in New Orleans East. Attending Boston College on a Pell Grant, she turned to movie research although, up till then, her solely actual movie training was watching the arthouse movies her brother rented.
“I positively have an appreciation for exhibition. How might you not, rising up in a metropolis with feathers and beads and all kinds of nonsense happening?” Chau says, laughing. “However when it comes to really seeing films, no. I grew up with out some huge cash so my mother and father by no means took me to the flicks. We by no means ate out. There was a lot that I slowly got here to find as soon as I left dwelling, as soon as I went off to varsity. After I was doing press for ‘The Menu,’ folks would ask about restaurant experiences and I’d assume, ‘Oh my God, I used to be and I’m nonetheless such an ungainly individual at eating places as a result of that’s not one thing I used to be used to rising up.’”
Chau’s first job out of school was an administrative assistant at PBS. A life behind the digicam appeared extra more likely to her, a mentality that’s translated to her appearing.
“Each time I take a look at a script, it’s extra from the mindset of what the filmmaker is attempting to perform,” she says. “That’s actually the one factor in my head. I don’t do it for me. I’m not attempting to have an out-of-body expertise once I do these roles. I assume I’m only a fan of the entire course of.”
That was additionally Aronofsky’s impression working with Chau, who landed the half after a self-taped audition she made a bit of reluctantly in the midst of the pandemic shortly after the start of her first baby. Aronofsky discovered that in every take whereas capturing “The Whale,” Chau would do one thing totally different, supplying him with an array of selections in modifying.
“Brendan joked to me the opposite day how on the finish of a bunch of takes, I’d be like, ‘Let’s simply do yet one more, Hong. Simply shock us, have some enjoyable.’ As a result of she would at all times do one thing genuine and actual however a unique tackle it,” says Aronofsky. “I do assume if she desires to direct, she will direct. She thinks like a director.”
Chau describes her course of uncertainly however higher than she says she does. “I assume I simply begin dreaming up a personality,” she says. “I begin to see flashes of one thing in my head as I’m studying a script when it comes to their look, the cadence of their speech.”
Generally, she says, that’s simple when the writing is sweet “and there’s a music to it.” “Downsizing,” wherein she performed a Vietnamese dissident with a prosthetic leg, was like that. “The Menu” required extra heavy lifting since her character was extra thinly sketched. Mylod had written the function with a big Scandinavian girl in thoughts however determined to open up casting prospects, looking for an “X issue” for his satire. “And he or she killed it,” says Mylod.
“It was initially very jarring for Mark,” says Chau, smiling. “I didn’t go so far as wished to. I wished to shave my eyebrows, and the compromise was that I’d simply bleach my eyebrows. And he was like, ‘Hong, you’re a restaurant supervisor. Why would you seem like that?’ As a result of she does!”
On “The Whale,” a lot has been manufactured from Fraser’s bodily transformation, requiring day by day hours of make-up and a big fats go well with. Chau’s metamorphosis was extra delicate.
“I requested for sure issues. I requested for tattoos for Liz. You don’t actually see them within the film in any respect,” Chau says. “However each morning I’d sit and get tattoos on each arms and the again of my neck. I don’t assume one other manufacturing would try this. And (Aronofsky) by no means requested me why. He simply let me have it.”
Greater than something, Chau appears to relish these interactions, piecing a personality collectively little by little, from the bottom up. “I really feel,” she says, “like I’m actually collaborating, you already know?”