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Jamie Chung has been working steadily since 2003, but she never felt like she belonged until her career-defining role as Ji-Ah on 2020’s Lovecraft Country. Now that she is eight months removed from playing a seemingly benevolent Korean nurse who is secretly possessed by a kumiho, Chung is able to recognize the impact of her most three-dimensional role to date and what it means to her life and career. She not only conquered her fear of speaking Korean, but she was able to reconnect with her family in a way that was therapeutic for them both. Overall, Chung knows that Lovecraft was a turning point in more ways than one.
“I’ve always lacked a lot of confidence knowing that I come from a reality background, knowing that I went to college for economics and not for theater, and knowing that I started from the very bottom as an extra on multiple different shows and movies,” Chung tells The Hollywood Reporter. “I always felt like I was an imposter, and that I didn’t belong and was going to be called out. And it wasn’t until I worked on Lovecraft that I really found the confidence in my ability…. I was able to do so much in just one hour of television than any role in my entire career.”
In February, Chung was cast on Showtime’s Dexter revival with original showrunner Clyde Phillips back at the helm, and she can’t help but share her excitement for what Dexter fans are about to receive.
“In essence, it’s exactly what Dexter fans want,” Chung reveals. “The character of Molly Park is so fun and vibrant. And true-crime podcasting is a fairly new medium in terms of true crime, and introducing that into Dexter’s world is another threat to revealing his identity. So it’s been really fun.”
In 2011, Chung co-starred in Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch for Warner Bros., which Snyder refers to as the first film he had to “radically” reimagine in order to be “more commercial.” But after the groundbreaking release of Zack Snyder’s Justice League, Snyder has also shown interest in revisiting his director’s cut of Sucker Punch, and Chung is quite confident that there’s a lot more material to share.
“[The theatrical cut] is PG-13, but it feels like such an R-rated movie. And I think that’s one of the reasons why they altered the story,” Chung recalls. “It’s been so long, but there would’ve been a lot more detail. Each scene would’ve been extended by 10 minutes. We shot the hell out of that movie, and it was so fun. My character was the pilot, but I do know that the fighting sequences were much longer. Gosh, it felt like we trained so long for them. That whole experience in itself was six months, so there’s got to be more out there.”
In a recent conversation with THR, Chung also discusses shooting her new heist comedy The Misfits with Pierce Brosnan in the Emirates, as well as her upcoming reunion with Snyder on Netflix’s Twilight of the Gods animated series.
Starting with The Misfits, what was shooting in the Emirates like?
Oh man, it was pretty wild. It’s interesting being in such a new country because everything felt really new. But it was pretty fantastic and very eclectic. It wasn’t scorching hot yet, so we were still able to enjoy the outdoors. But everyone was so welcoming and so kind. So it was lovely.
When you saw the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, did it blow your mind even more that Tom Cruise ran down the side of it?
Yeah, it was pretty nuts. We got caught in a tiny sandstorm, but it was nothing like Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol. (Laughs.) But it was pretty rad to see that building in person and to know that Tom Cruise did his own stunt. He’s a beast.
How do you build a character like The Misfits’ Violet? What’s the basic process to figure out who she is?
With every character that I play, the question that serves the character the most is: What makes this person tick? Why is this person doing what they’re doing? I got a little bit of backstory of who the director thought this character was, but then you take it even a step further and you really fill in all of the spaces in between the lines in order for it to feel full, robust, layered and complicated. But it starts with the script first, obviously.
Well, if I’m ever forced to defend myself, your character taught me a valuable lesson about the Adam’s apple that I won’t soon forget.
(Laughs.) It’s the most sensitive, yeah. It’s even more sensitive than certain areas. When we were deciding what to do with this character, we discussed the most effective ways of defending herself at her size and weight. We used a lot of jiujitsu and momentum because she is so small and she needed to take down men that are twice her size. So we certainly played to her strengths, and that was a conscious decision in terms of style for Violet.
Is Pierce Brosnan’s particular aura as strong as ever?
Oh my goodness. I heard so many great things about this man prior to working with him, and he lived up to every expectation. He’s just so dashing, so handsome, so charming, so engaged and so thoughtful. I mean, he steps into a room and you’re like, “Wow, he is a movie star.” (Laughs.) He’s enchanting, and he’s still got it.
Before each job, do you often worry about people not measuring up to your expectations?
It’s more just like, “I hope they’re not a fucking asshole,” you know? (Laughs.) Are they going to hold up production? Are they going to treat people like shit? If anything, I’m most terrified to act in a scene — and it’s happened before — where if they’re just not feeling you, they can make your life on set pretty miserable. So that’s something I’m always afraid of, and life is too short to work with assholes. So I wasn’t nervous about Pierce because of his reputation. He lives up to his reputation, which is very kind. So there is that deep-seated fear, but I think Hollywood has done a pretty good job of weeding out the assholes from working again — or limiting the amount of projects they do. But yeah, I’m still deathly afraid of working with a nightmare. (Laughs.)
What typically happens when you and your scene partner have completely different techniques?
With someone like Jonathan Majors on Lovecraft Country — or any of the castmembers on that show for that matter — they’re so devoted to living in the moment and being present in the scene. They are such givers when it comes to their acting. So that’s what you want, and that’s what you hope to work for because everything else fits into place. You’re there to do your job, and everyone else is there to do their job. And everyone is putting in 110 percent. And then the opposite of that is someone who cares nothing for you. They don’t believe you, they don’t have faith in your ability, nor do they want to work with you. So they won’t be present, and off camera, they’ll be looking at their phone. They also won’t bring it when it’s your turn or your closeup. They’ll find ways to sabotage you or make you feel so small. And that’s happened to me one time in the past; it was mortifying. And I really lost my confidence because it just takes you out and makes you feel horrible. So I think there’s two very different scenarios of what can happen on a set, but I’ve experienced both. (Laughs.)
So you’re on quite a roll right now. Since you just mentioned Lovecraft Country, what does that show mean to you now that you’re eight months removed from it?
It’s still one of the best roles of my life. As I’m reading material out there, you realize a lot of shit gets made. (Laughs.) But that’s what the audience wants, I suppose, and that’s what studios kind of back. But I think it’s quite rare when you read something on the page that really speaks to you, that really moves you, that really has something it stands for. And then, while you’re filming it, it still feels that way. And then, once it’s finished, you still feel that way. So, at every level of preproduction, production and postproduction, your feelings haven’t changed about the project. So Lovecraft Country is just one of those that I’m still in awe of the bravery that it took to make something like that. I’m still in awe of the people that came on board to make the vision happen, as well as the tone and the storytelling. So it’s rare that all the pieces fit so nicely together where nothing is forced. I don’t know if I’ll ever get a role like that ever again. I hope I do, but it really starts with an interesting, fantastical, engaging story.
The last year, in particular, has been horrific for Asian Americans. Have you ever thought about a potential series that explores that experience in a manner that is similar to what Lovecraft did for the Black experience?
Wouldn’t that be amazing? I do believe that there are projects in the works, but to take such a big swing like that, I really hope someone takes a stab at it. But they’d really have to have a clear vision. They’d really have to trust in their intuition and not back down if a studio objects to that vision. And to my knowledge, that’s kind of how it went down with Lovecraft. Misha Green really had to fight for her take on her story. She didn’t budge, and that’s the creation that we got, which was a big swing. So it could’ve been a big swing and a miss, or they could’ve gone the safe route. But it’s bold, and that’s because of the creator, Misha Green.
You were also cast in the Dexter revival. How’s that experience been going?
The experience has been great. It’s the original showrunner, Clyde Phillips, who showran seasons one through four.
That announcement was music to every Dexter fan’s ears.
(Laughs.) Yeah, in essence, it’s exactly what Dexter fans want. The character of Molly Park is so fun and vibrant. And true-crime podcasting is a fairly new medium in terms of true crime, and introducing that into Dexter’s world is another threat to revealing his identity. So it’s been really fun. (Laughs.) Really fun.
Years ago, Clyde said what his ending would’ve been had he remained in charge of the show, and it was pretty intriguing to say the least. So I’ll be so curious to see if he sticks to it or not. Either way, we’re in good hands.
Yeah, I think he sticks to his word. He’s also one that does not budge when it comes to his vision. (Laughs.) So I think he’s going to do exactly what he wants to do. Eight or nine years ago, I did an interview where I was asked, “What would be your dream role?” And I mentioned, “It’s sad because it’s never going to happen with Dexter coming to an end, but just to be on a show of that calibre — and with that talent — would be a dream.” So I guess I was really putting it out there.
I watched Sucker Punch for the first time a couple months ago, and for whatever reason, I was completely on the same wavelength. So I really enjoyed it.
Oh wow. That’s wonderful.
And lately, there’s been a lot of talk about Zack Snyder’s director’s cut. While I’m sure it’s longer, what would that look like in your estimation?
Oh man. I do know that if Zack had it his way, it wouldn’t be such fictional monstrous characters. [The theatrical cut] is PG-13, but it feels like such an R-rated movie. And I think that’s one of the reasons why they altered the story. It’s been so long, but there would’ve been a lot more detail. Each scene would’ve been extended by 10 minutes. (Laughs.) We shot the hell out of that movie, and it was so fun. My character was the pilot, but I do know that the fighting sequences were much longer. Gosh, it felt like we trained so long for them. That whole experience in itself was six months, so there’s got to be more out there.
And you and Zack just reunited for Netflix’s animated series Twilight of the Gods. Have you recorded your parts yet?
Yeah, for the Norse mythology. I did, and it was so lovely playing with him. It was such a different take on the character, Hel. So I was so honored that he would reach out and hire me for this because it’s nothing like I’ve ever done before. And it was really fun to go very dark for this role. What a delight. And animation has no limits, right? So it’s really fun to see his interpretation of this character. I cannot wait to see the final product after they explained how the visuals of this show are going to be made. So it was very fun, and I have finished recording all of my scenes and episodes.
Do you perform voiceover with more inflection than you would in live action?
Yeah, I had way more flavor, and one of the joys of working in voiceover — which I’ve been able to unlock these past two years — is really finding my voice. I did not go to theater school. It’s not something that I worked on. But the more I continue to work on voiceover and animation, I’m able to just work that muscle. So it’s been really, really fun. It’s a new creative outlet, but it’s also something that I can really hone in on and continue to grow.
Dave Bautista recently told me that he can’t stand when he’s referred to as a “wrestler turned actor,” and that he hopes that label disappears sooner rather than later. And when I was prepping for your interview, I had forgotten where I was first introduced to you, which shows how you’ve successfully shed the “reality star turned actor” label. So I’m curious as to when you first felt validated as an actor. Was there a turning point that stands out?
Oh yeah, of course. And it’s only pretty recent. I’ve always lacked a lot of confidence knowing that I come from a reality background [The Real World: San Diego], knowing that I went to college for economics and not for theater, and knowing that I started from the very bottom as an extra on multiple different shows and movies. I always felt like I was an imposter, and that I didn’t belong and was going to be called out. And it wasn’t until I worked on Lovecraft that I really found the confidence in my ability because I was given a role where I was able to dance, sing and play pretend within the character. It’s so meta. I was able to speak in a different language. I was able to have such a robust and full storyline wrapped up into one episode. I was able to do so much in just one hour of television than any role in my entire career. The turning point would be Lovecraft, yeah.
Is Lovecraft the most therapeutic job you’ve ever had?
It’s helped me overcome my fear of speaking Korean. In my career, I’ve tried so hard to be American, as I’ve played the token ethnic role. But Lovecraft was the first time I really embraced my Korean culture in my work. So it was very therapeutic. It also allowed me to reconnect with certain family members, and I was able to talk to them about a war that they never really talked about openly. So it was very therapeutic for our entire family, really.
The Misfits is currently streaming on Digital and VOD. Lovecraft Country is also available on HBO Max.
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