Interview: Kathy Uyen -- ‘Passport’ to stardom

Interview: Kathy Uyen -- ‘Passport’ to stardom

Armed with talent and spunk, Vietnamese American actress Kathy Uyen finds a welcoming spotlight in her ancestral homeland
Kathy Uyen
Kathy Uyen

It’s 4am when Kathy Uyen calls from a hotel room in Hanoi. She’s shooting a new film, and with these being some of the most intense weeks of production, this is the only time she can squeeze in an interview. But even sleep-deprived, Uyen is surprisingly cheery, saying, “My schedule is a wee bit crazy right now -- in a good way, of course!”

Life has been a whirlwind ever since the American-born actress packed her bags for Saigon to star in “Passport to Love,” an acclaimed romantic comedy directed by Victor Vu. Uyen plays Tiffany, a police officer and single mother in California who’s wooed by a student from Vietnam, a man she booked for a DUI.

For her performance, she earned Vietnam film industry's Golden Kite Award. The film debuted in Vietnam earlier this year and opened in select U.S. theaters on Oct. 9. Uyen chatted with CNNGo about her character, her favorite Saigon spots and what it’s like to shoot a gun.

CNNGo: In "Passport," you play a brazen police officer who’s not into playing games. Can you relate to your character?

Kathy Uyen:

We have a different energy. Tiffany has a lot of weight on her shoulders. She has a child and works in law enforcement. She had to grow up really fast. I’m more optimistic. I like to joke around a lot, laugh a lot. And though I’ve had my share of relationships, I don’t think I’m as jaded when it comes to love.

She’s blunt and confrontational. She nips things in the bud. I’ve always hated dealing with drama. She inspired me to be stronger.

CNNGo: What helped you prepare for the role?

Uyen:

I learned how to shoot a gun! I knew a police officer and we went to the shooting range. It was really freaking scary. I was scared I would shoot the bullet and it would bounce back and kill me. For the first half hour, I just watched. Finally, I decided to do it. It was so hard to pull that first trigger. But after a few times, I got the hang of it.

I was shocked. I didn’t think Vietnam would accept me so quickly. It was such a nice recognition. It made me feel like I was in the right place.
— Kathy Uyen

CNNGo: What led you to start acting in Vietnam?

Uyen:

 I was an actress in Los Angeles when I auditioned for “Passport.” I had worked with the director, Victor Vu, on his previous film, “Spirits.” Though I had done several indie films, it’s tough in L.A. There aren’t many roles for Asian Americans, let alone Vietnamese Americans. I wasn’t planning on staying in Vietnam after the film, but I kept getting more work.

CNNGo: How does acting in Hollywood compare with acting in Vietnam?

Uyen:

 In Los Angeles, films obviously have bigger budgets. There are trailers and gourmet food. Vietnam, not so much. You’d be lucky if you’re shooting in a place where there’s air conditioning. It’s much more guerrilla style. But that’s not to say that Vietnam can’t produce quality films. Every year, Vietnamese cinema gets better and better.

CNNGo: Tell us about your latest project.

Uyen:

 The film is called “Fool for Love” and it’s directed by Charlie Nguyen. I play Mai, a lounge singer who dreams of becoming a famous singer. A bathroom attendant at the hotel where she performs goes to great lengths to fall in love in her.

CNNGo: What are some of your favorite hangouts in Saigon?

Uyen:

 I like Cepage (Lancaster Bar, 22 Le Thanh Ton) for happy hour drinks with friends. It’s a classy, sophisticated place. Sandals Restaurant (The Sailing Club Boutique Beach Resort, 24 Nguyen Dinh Chieu, Ham Tien, Mui Ne) has amazing entrees in a warm atmosphere. They have Moroccan-style lamb and Australian-style steak. It’s very fusion. And massages in Vietnam are great. I like going to Jasmine (20 Thi Sach, District 1; tel. 08/827-2737) for massages and facials.

CNNGo: How’d you feel when you found out you'd won a Golden Kite Award this year?

Uyen:

I was shocked. I didn’t think Vietnam would accept me so quickly. It was such a nice recognition. It made me feel like I was in the right place.

Michelle Woo is a journalist and blogger, whose work has appeared in USA Today, The Arizona Republic, Detroit Free Press, Orange County Register and on CNN.com.
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