Hong Chau is drawing critical raves in Alexander Payne’s sci-fi film “Downsizing,” which opens Dec. 22. But the actress, who grew up in a Vietnamese refugee community in New Orleans, gained her widest early exposure playing a character closest to home — an immigrant, in HBO’s New Orleans-set “Treme.” She’ll next star in “American Woman,” about the Patty Hearst kidnapping. Chau studied creative writing in college but switched to film studies when her parents asked her to be more practical. “I chose film because it’s a trade,” she says. “I was wrong about it being practical.”
How did you develop your passion for acting?
I was dabbling in it initially as a way to burst out of my introvertedness. I must have found some strange sort of joy or fascination with it, because I stuck with it. But it wasn’t necessarily acting that turned me to film; it was wanting to be a part of the larger landscape. My first job after college was at PBS. I thought that I might work in the documentary world, doing something more solitary, behind the scenes.
Were you inspired by any specific actors as you transitioned to being in front of the camera?
Honestly, no, because there aren’t any Asian-American film actresses who are doing a lot of work in independent and art-house films that I could point to.
What cause is closest to your heart?
Public libraries were a huge source of comfort and joy for me when I was growing up. I still spend time there. It’s tremendous what they can do in terms of sharing information about different cultures, introducing different characters and educating people on history.
What are you obsessed with right now?
I’m really into ghost towns. I’ve driven cross-country the past few summers and I would stop at some ghost towns along the way. They’re like a microcosm of America as a whole. People come and build an entire place with the hope that they will succeed there. That touches upon “Downsizing” a bit because most Americans will never understand what it’s like to leave everything they know and love behind and start anew in a foreign land. In the movie, different characters end up in a new environment for different reasons, but for all of them, there is no going back. You see relationships evolve and how beautiful it can be.
Things you didn’t know about Hong Chau
AGE: 37 BORN: Thailand RAISED: New Orleans FAVORITE PLACES TO UNWIND: National parks: FIRST FILMS SHE FELL IN LOVE WITH: “Chuck & Buck,” “Boys Don’t Cry,” “Ghost World”