- Interview by Thief12 (Carlo Giovannetti)
Fernando Chien is a Taiwanese-born stuntman and actor who portrayed one of Zhou Yong's henchmen during Season 6 of 24. Raised in Canada, Chien developed an interest in acting and then martial arts. Initially alternating between his stuntwork and acting, Chien has been focusing more on the latter recently.
Through his career, Chien has worked in shows like NCIS: Los Angeles, The Guild, and most recently The Last Ship, where he played one of the main antagonists. He has also appeared on films like Warrior, Red Dawn, Fast Five, and The Accountant. Wiki 24 interviewed Chien to know about his life and career, his experience filming 24, as well as his future projects.
The following session of questions and answers was done by email. The interview was posted on December 1, 2016. It also might feature some slight SPOILERS about the events of 24.
Wiki 24: You were born in Taipei, Taiwan. When and why did you move to Canada?
Fernando Chien: Yes, I was born in Taipei. My family had to immigrate to Canada shortly after I was born but I was too young to go so I stayed in Taipei with my grandmother and aunt. Later we rejoined my family when I was about 4.
W24: How did you feel about that change? Did it take some time to get used to Canada?
FC: I don't remember much but what was memorable was that during those years I didn't have much of a relationship with my parents since, to me, my aunt and grandmother were everything to me. Shortly after I arrived in Canada, my mother was pregnant with my younger brother and, as far as I remember, everything was as it should be. At that age you are constantly adjusting and learning so it wasn't from my knowledge anything drastic.
W24: What drew you to acting? Why did you decide to take that career path?
FC: You know, I always had quite an imagination as a kid, but as I grew up I felt I had to be something/someone more stable. You know, the typical Asian family pressures of being a doctor or lawyer. So I studied sciences which seemed more stable and, luckily, it came naturally to me. I do remember, when I was around 6, having quite an aptitude for arts but I slowly grew out of it as I searched for something more quantitative and definitive. I ignorantly thought the sciences were more secure as far as future, work, etc.
As I was finishing my degree in Biology at McGill University, I was feeling quite unsatisfied. I had worked my way into great grades and doing research that would propel me into a graduate program in genetics, but there was something missing. One day, I was walking by the arts building and they were casting for Gilbert and Sullivan's Pirates of Penzance. Up to this point, I had no previous training or experience in performance but I signed up, auditioned, and got cast in the chorus. It was the best experience I ever had. I had such a small background part playing a pirate, but I was athletic and was able to add something to the experience. From then I started looking into acting.
W24: How did your parents react to your decision to follow acting?
FC: My parents at first were anxious because it's probably one of the toughest fields to get into, much less being an ethnic minority, but they have been super-supportive. It really brought me actually closer them. I never realized how much they supported me until now.
W24: It says in your IMDb page that although you started Taekwondo and Karate as a child, it wasn't until your 20's that you took martial arts seriously. What sparked that interest?
FC: It was about the time that I was going through this revelation that I needed to be seen and heard. Up until this point, I was fairly invisible in my opinion; always in the backdrop. You see, Asians are often over-looked. Historically, we were a demographic that didn't cause problems, kept to ourselves, and were hard workers. You rarely see Asian immigrants perpetrating crimes, or making waves in a positive or negative light. We were practically invisible. Well, I knew there was a story in me, there was something of interest and of value. Martial Arts just came to me and I excelled at it. It was a way to express myself.
W24: That same page says you favor contact sports over performance martial arts. Which specific ones do you prefer?
FC: I have trained in many combat sports, but at this point in my life I prefer Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, mostly because I feel it's a martial art that anybody can participate in at a very high level, or even as a hobbyist. The lessons learned from it go very deep into psychology and spirituality (as most martial arts do), but because of the system, it is more accessible to everyone (i.e. you can compete and not have to take repeated strikes, and "tapping" or submitting is an option). So you can learn from and develop your skills in accordance to your ability and knowledge.
FC: Sensei Gene and Gokor were truly my mentors coming into the film and stunt business in LA. They were instrumental in teaching me combat sports, particularly judo. It separated me in my ability to perform as a stunt person at the time, being able to fall with precision and complete control. They are living legends.
W24: Since early in your career, you've been alternating between stunt performances and acting. Which one do you prefer?
FC: I prefer acting. I have pretty much walked away from stunts. Stunts was something I did cause I was good at it, but I didn't have the passion for it like many do. I love the people I have met in the stunt community, but acting is where my heart is at. However, it is far easy to make a decent, even lucrative career, in stunts than acting; especially as an ethnic minority. It is only recently that Asians and ethnic minorities are being cast in significant roles or roles of consequence. But even a few years ago, the only time you would have diversity is either in the stunt department or background.
W24: In that same line, have you ever find yourself being typecast or discriminated in the industry?
FC: Hahaha... as an Asian actor I am grateful to even be considered for any role; but yes, of course. I wouldn't say "discriminated", but certainly "typecast". But that stems from public ignorance and cultural perception.
W24: In another one of our interviews, stuntman-turned-filmmaker Christopher Leps has a similar attitude, saying that "stunt work was a means to an end"; that he used his work as a stuntman to help him put his foot inside Hollywood while trying to make it as a director and writer. Would you say the same about your work?
FC: Yes, I agree. In my opinion (and it's ONLY my opinion) stunts is one of the more accessible careers into the entertainment industry. It is probably the most lucrative across the board, in that I mean, the average stunt person can make more money than the average actor. When it comes to the highest levels, of course acting salaries are much higher, but the mean average of stunt performers wages is higher than the mean average of actors salaries. You can be a stuntman to make money, but if you are acting as a means to make money... good luck. You better go get a side job that you are comfortable making a career out of, LOL.
W24: How did you get your role on 24?
FC: I auditioned for it.
W24: Were you a fan of 24 before working on it?
FC: Yes, I was a huge fan! It was a thrill to have the opportunity to be a part of that show.
W24: Any particular favorite moment or character from past seasons?
W24: How would you describe the overall experience of working on 24?
FC: The experience was amazing. I got to sit at Chloe's desk in CTU!!!
W24: Are you still in contact with anyone?
FC: I run into Ian Anthony Dale once in a while but other than him not really.
W24: Any scene that you thought was particularly demanding, whether it was physically or dramatically?
FC: Nothing particularly demanding. We worked long hours and, of course, with all the action there are always many moving parts. On top of that, it was TV so they move really fast. Trying to fit so much in during a normal workday, without the luxury of hours of rehearsals and prep was challenging, but they get it done.
W24: Any funny anecdote or memorable moment during your time on the show?
FC: OMG, yes! This is quite long. So on one of our biggest days, where we are taking CTU hostage, I was asked by (stunt coordinator) Jeff Cadiente to come to set immediately before my call time to work out some action that Jack Bauer had to do. I came straight from my trailer and I had not even changed yet. I get to the set and the director is there, and the coordinator, Jeff, asks me to jump in and work out some choreography. So I take my jacket off and throw it in the corner. We begin choreographing, and slowly the background begins to arrive, other crew, etc. There were so many moving parts, between camera, set and angles and actors; it took quite a while.
Finally, Kiefer [Sutherland] shows up and we are all working this out with all the gunmen and the hostages. They sit me at Chloe's desk, and I am thrilled but now we have been trying to work this out for almost 2 hours blocking and haven't even got our first shot off. Everyone is working hard and it is quite loud. Well, Kiefer had to do his dialogue which was a lot, and block the movement and remember the fight, and the noise was just too much. He stops everyone and says "Please, would every one just be quiet for 10 minutes! We have to work this out! It's been over 2 hours and we haven't even got our first shot!". The set goes dead silent. Everyone goes to their first positions and they start the scene.
On action, all of a sudden there's a music coming from a little ways off. It is a familiar 70's funk tune. The entire room starts looking around wondering "What the hell is that?". I start thinking "Oh boy, someone is going to get in trouble!!!". Then I realize the tune is MY ringtone from my cell phone that was in my jacket that I had taken off 2 hours ago, and is sitting in the corner! Now I am sitting in the middle of the set, with hundreds of crew and actors around me, and everyone is wondering "what the hell that noise is?!". I sheepishly stand up and say "I'm so sorry" and walk around the desk past Kiefer and Jeff Cadiente. As I walk past Jeff, he looks at me with a smirk "Embarrassing!". Yep... I make the walk of shame to my jacket and turn my phone off. It couldn't have happened at a worse time. Luckily, as I walked back the director, who knew I was there before my call time to help and didn't even have a chance to change, smiled and said "Cool ringtone!", LOL!!!
W24: Kiefer has a reputation of being quite intense and serious during shooting. How did he react? How was it working with him?
FC: Yeah, Kiefer is hella intense, but the irony of it happening right after he had put his foot down was almost comedic. He didn’t blow up cause he also knew I had been there all morning, and the jacket had been there even before he arrived. It was an honest mistake.
Great working with him. A true professional. It’s always about getting the best out of everyone.
W24: Do you know why you weren't credited in the show, despite having a fairly prominent speaking role?
FC: Hmmm, I wasn't? I dunno. I'll have to get after my agents about that! I was new and who knows. I don't do this for credits.
W24: In recent years, you've been getting more high-profile roles in films like Red Dawn and Fast Five, and shows like The Last Ship. How do you feel about this?
FC: It's been a long road. I feel like I've worked my butt off, and have been equally blessed to have been given these opportunities to be a part of these stories. I hope that I continue to have these opportunities to tell these stories and share a little bit of an experience of our humanity.
W24: I saw an interview on YouTube for Asians on Film where you go on detail about how you "developed" the character of Wilkes in Fast Five and his backstory. Is this something you do for every role?
FC: Yes. You have to know who you are. If I was to ask you what you had for breakfast today or where you grew up, you would know. It would be true. It would permeate who you are, what you do and how you do it. It makes you unique and specific and truthful. It's what we do as actors. To create a world beyond the words. To give life and experience that life in front of the camera. So to do this you need to create the circumstances, influences and beliefs of who you are in the story. Then the audience can experience it through those "lenses" and share them with you. Isn't that why we go to the movies? To live vicariously through the actor and find a little but of ourselves in the story.
W24: What is the next step in your career? What projects do you have in the near future?
FC: I just had a small part in The Accountant, and currently just taking meetings and studying my craft.
W24: Finally, any particular director, actor or actress that you dream of working with?
FC: I'd love to work with David Fincher, Ben Kingsley, and Rebecca Ferguson or Jessica Chastain. Mind-blown!
W24: Thank you so much for your time. We wish you the best.
FC: Thanks, Carlo.