Most screen actors’ CVs run a fairly similar course; training and studying, some student films, a few adverts, a couple of decent short films, maybe a music video or two and perhaps an unnamed role in a TV show. 22 year-old British-Chinese actress Linda Louise Duan’s career has been a little different. After studying mime her first production was the huge new Marvel film ‘Doctor Strange’, while she has chosen to do the smaller projects later.
Ahead of the UK release of Doctor Strange this week, Linda sat down with Gorilla to chat about her unusual path into film, the value of a diverse skillset and her views on Asian stereotyping in the media.
Gorilla: Let’s start at the beginning, how did you get into acting?
Linda: During the summer before I was meant to be starting an architecture degree at the AA (Architectural Association School of Architecture), I went to a week’s mime course and was asked by the teacher if I’d considered pursuing mime as a career. I was surprised but he told me about other schools and believed that I should continue studying it. It was scary but I had felt at the back of my mind that I didn’t really want to study architecture. So, I studied 2 years of corporeal mime in London.
Mime isn’t exactly what people think it is, it’s really just physical theatre. Theatre is great and I love moving so that’s what I wanted to specialize in at the time. Also, I’m British-Chinese and I think physical theatre transcends language barriers, which I find really important. I then went to study in Paris at the Ecole Philippe Gaulier. It’s an intense theatre school and Philippe is a kind of theatre guru.
G: What was your first professional production after you finished your training?
L: Doctor Strange. I play Tina Minoru and while the character isn’t huge, she’s great for Marvel fans that know her story. My involvement had to be such a secret at the beginning that I couldn’t really use it to forward my career, so I decided to make small films. I was approached to get involved with Sinners, which was filming in Colchester using local actors and venues. Jamie Weston is a local director and we had friends in common. It’s a cult detective story and it’s still in pre-production. While it’s only a 20-minute film, it’s taken months to film because of issues such as budget constraints.
During Doctor Strange I had my own trailer and was brought food, on the set of Sinners I was making food for other people and making sure everyone was treated well. You can’t leave people cold and hungry! Either way, I think you should treat every production as if it is large-scale.
G: So how did the Doctor Strange opportunity come about?
L: I was in Israel on a project and I got the call asking me to audition. I wasn’t told what it was and initially I asked if I could just send a tape seeing as I was so far away. They told me with some hesitation that I could and when they sent the NDA document over I saw that it had the Marvel logo on it. I then booked a flight back to London to do the audition. For a while they didn’t actually tell me that it was Doctor Strange, there was a code name and it was top secret. I actually didn’t even know what Doctor Strange was at the time but this production got me interested in Marvel. Once we were told what it was I got the comics to do my research and it opened me up to the comic book world.
G: As a British-Chinese actress, have you experienced any Asian stereotyping in casting?
L: Well, I feel like I have found my niche. The roles I get put forward for are ‘action girls’ because I can also do martial arts so that makes sense. Although once I got put forward for a casting for a Chinese masseuse and they obviously wanted a Chinese accent, but the Hollywood expectation of a Chinese accent is very stereotypical. At least, my parents and the Chinese people I know don’t have this Hollywood-style Chinese accent. I haven’t had to play a role with a Chinese accent yet, but I would have to work with the director to find an accent that’s not stereotypical.
If I become successful in this industry, then accurate representation in the media is something that I really want to push. I want to be a good role model for Chinese girls growing up. When I was growing up I had Barbie dolls with blonde hair and blue eyes and that’s what my perception of beauty was because that’s what I was exposed to. I remember going to bed wishing I had blonde hair. I want to see more characters like Mulan. She’s a great rounded female Chinese character and you don’t get many of them. You get the side characters that are there to tick boxes but there’s a lot more to Mulan’s character. You see her family issues and she’s a feminist. She’s a badass bitch!
G: Do you think you’ll always focus on acting or do you have ambitions to get involved with areas such as writing or directing?
L: I have some ideas for a feature film. I feel like the domestic Chinese household hasn’t been explored in the Western media. Chinese kids often have a lot of pressure from their parents, who in turn had pressure from their parents, and I think they go through a lot. It’s a topic that’s dear to my heart and I’d like to explore it in a drama. Chinese parents might not realize that they put unneeded pressure on their children but when they see it portrayed in a film with realistic characters hopefully it will wake them up to the other side of the story. Telling these untold stories is what drama is for.
G: Your career has got off to an amazing start. What advice do you have for aspiring young actresses?
L: I’d say don’t get fixated on film and the film industry. I was approached when I was more in the theatre world so I think your skills are very important. If it wasn’t for the combination of my martial arts and acting I wouldn’t have got the role because they were looking for an Asian girl that could fight and act and I ticked all the boxes. I’ve also trained in horse-riding and I’ve had more action training and all these extra skills make you stand out from the rest. There are so many actors and actresses in the world, you need these extra things.
Stay humble and don’t get too hung up on social media because it’s not as important as people think it is. It’s good to self-promote but some people overdo it and it can be more off-putting than intriguing. I think you should maintain some level of mystery, as well as your own unique personality. Making things and being in things and networking are a lot more important than social media.
Also there’s a lot of jealously in the industry, especially among girls. Women can be really nasty to each other but we need to stick together and help each other. People need to understand that if you help someone they might do the same for you, and there’s no need to be jealous. I always call my friends to see what they’re doing and I go to see them perform. It’s not really a competition and casting is so subjective. There’s no need for bad blood. Be level-headed, be nice and celebrate success.
Dr Strange is out now.