Born in the City of Angels, no one could have predicted that a future athlete, Rich Ting, would become an actor. As a fourth-generation Asian American, Ting found his passion for acting early in his life, pursuing a career in the industry after graduation. Although he began his career by starring in guest roles, he gained a lot of popularity when he appeared in HBO’s “Warrior” as Bolo and Amazon Prime’s “The Man in the High Castle” as Captain Iijima. This year, the audience could see Ting in “Partner Track” on Netflix, where he plays Carter Min, the carefree son of a multi-billion-dollar corporation owner.
Ting is an advocate for diversity and representation in the entertainment industry, and he has spoken out about the importance of telling stories that reflect the experiences of people from different backgrounds.
Ting’s engaging personality and thoughtful insights into the entertainment industry and his acting career made our interview an interesting experience. We discussed his roles in “Warrior”, “The Man in the High Castle”, and “Partner Track”. Additionally, Ting shared his thoughts on the progress made in recent years towards greater diversity and representation in Hollywood, and the work that still needs to be done to ensure that all voices are heard and represented on screen.
Looking at your acting career, one wonders how it all started. Was there a moment when you realised that acting was for you?
Rich Ting: Yes. When I was a kid, I really got the acting bug early. I just didn’t grow up in an artistic household. Instead, I was raised in a very athletic household, so I would say that my inspiration was probably Bruce Lee when I was around four years old. He inspired me to not only start martial arts at a young age, but I also saw him on TV and in videos, and that sparked my curiosity surrounding acting and performance. I grew up in the era of Bruce Lee and Michael Jackson, and I lived in LA, so having those two idols, I naturally enjoyed performing. I was very comfortable in front of the camera, and as an athlete, I was always kind of at the centre of attention. So, in some ways, that was my stage. I just never had the time to pursue it in grade school or high school just because of all my sports commitments. And then I played football in college, therefore, it wasn’t until after I graduated that I started really training as an actor, but that was just for fun; I never thought it would become a career.
Recently, you starred in Netflix’s “Partner Track” in which you portray Carter Min. You starred alongside Arden Cho, Desmon Chiam, and many other talented actors. Carter is a carefree spirit with his own agenda. How did you want to approach his character? Was there anything special about this guy?
Rich Ting: What was very great about Carter, and what drew me to him, was the specificity that the writers and producers gave him. He was the eldest son of a Chinese person, so he’s Chinese American, and that’s a big win for us because usually the culture and background of Asian characters aren’t specified. So, not only is my family Chinese, but I’m also the eldest son within a family that owns a billion-dollar corporation. I am the eldest of three brothers in my family, and I work for my dad and his corporation. I did go to law school, but I don’t practise law, and I went to Yale and not Dartmouth, and I am half Chinese American, half Japanese American. So, to see those characteristics and adjectives and qualifications used now, in the present day, to describe an Asian American character, was a huge win because usually we’re just presented as well-educated Asians in their 30s. So, the specificity was mind-blowing [for that show’s characters].
What was even more mind-blowing was that it was so relatable to me. I had the freedom to just jump in. From what the producers were telling me, we’ve never seen an Asian American character like Carter Min before. He’s so Americanised, he’s so qualified. I feel like a lot of us know this guy in real life, he’s like the rich son who must do his familial duty. He carries the responsibilities and duties of the eldest son of an Asian family, but at the same time, he really couldn’t care less. Like you said, he’s free-spirited and wants to have a good time, turning a boring situation into an entertaining one, and that’s his attitude and his demeanour.
There are some film and TV directors out there who enjoy giving their actors artistic freedom while filming. How much freedom did you get when you were portraying Carter? Did you often follow a script from A to Z, or were you allowed to improvise while filming?
Rich Ting: Georgia Lee and her writing partner, Kim Shumway, who was another producer, and Kevin Berlandi, who was one of the directors throughout the season, allowed me to have freedom. I had picked out certain scenes that I wanted to do differently, and they let me do it. They’re like, “You can go as big as you want or as small as you want”. And that creative freedom on any set is always much appreciated from my standpoint. And I love being directed; I love taking and getting notes at the same time. I like being very specific in my choices, so, if I’m going to choose something, I’m going to go 150% in that direction. Luckily, they loved every creative choice I made. They’re very, very supportive. Unfortunately, we got cancelled.
You gained popularity in the UK when “Warrior”, in which you portrayed Bolo, and “The Man in the High Castle”, in which you played Captain Iijima, hit the small screen. With both shows being successful, and with a healthy representation of Asian talent, what are your best memories from performing on these shows?
Rich Ting: Oh, wow, those are two very different characters. I did them back-to-back, which was very special because on one end, with “Warrior”, I felt like I was bringing to life my history, honouring my ancestors and my great-grandparents who came over from China and settled in San Francisco. I went to high school there [San Francisco], and to know that it was a homage to the man [Bruce Lee] who inspired me at such a young age was incredible. I never grew up thinking that I could do something to prolong Bruce’s legacy – I don’t know why or how someone could think that because he’s such a legend. You know what I mean? You would almost have to be a little demented, I think, to have that kind of confidence and arrogance. To do something globally on this level [Warrior], on this platform, was mind-blowing.
It was just this perfect storm – I was passionate about the story, the role, and my idol. I became very close with Shannon Lee, she’s like family now, literally. There’s so much trust that I don’t try to think of her as Bruce’s daughter because then it gets a little weird. I literally know her as Shannon, and she’s currently helping me with projects right now. I always say Bruce is the gift that keeps on giving – Season 1 of “Warrior,” playing Bolo, being with my amazing cast and crew, and all our great directors. It’s just something that continues to give to me, literally every day in different ways. In that aspect, I was able to honour my Chinese heritage, and then, a couple months after I wrapped Warrior, I started filming Season 4 of “The Man in the High Castle”, in which I play a Japanese captain.
That’s right. Could you tell me more about Captain Iijima? Did you have to look more into Japanese culture itself to portray that character?
Rich Ting: The irony is that my mom is Japanese. I’m also Japanese American, and I’m very close with my mom, so I think I’ve kind of migrated towards the Japanese side of my heritage more than the Chinese side because of it. Even though my dad is Chinese, he’s so American, and he didn’t raise us with any Chinese culture, so it wasn’t like I chose one culture over the other. It was easy for me to tap into my Japanese side because it’s very familiar to me. I also have a large extended family on my mother’s side, so my family’s Japanese culture was able to leak through. So, to go back and honour my Japanese heritage in “The Man in the High Castle” was very cool because in one year I was able to represent both sides of me: my Chinese side and my Japanese side. And I think the one thing that was awesome about “The Man in the High Castle” was that it was the first show that I was a huge fan of and that I was trying to get on every season.
When you look at that show, the whole Empire of Japan and the Nazi world are represented only by a few characters, which is kind of crazy, but it works very well. Every year, one Japanese guy, a key character, died and had to be replaced. So, basically, there was one spot available every season, right? I auditioned for Seasons 1, 2, and 3. And then, when the role of Captain Iijima came up, I was like, “Okay, this is the one”. I didn’t know it was going to be the final season. It was Daniel Percival, the showrunner and executive producer of our show, who auditioned me, which was great because I love it when the creatives themselves can audition you. It was very cool to get transported into this alternate universe that I was already a fan of.
I want to ask you, what do you think makes a performance more believable?
Rich Ting: I mean, it’s cliche to say, but honesty and truth. They always say the best acting is when it doesn’t look like acting. So, for me, every character that I’ve played and will continue to play, I must make it seem real, I can’t pretend. Of course, some people would argue otherwise, but to me, acting is all about showing transparency, honesty, and sincerity. And whether it is Carter, Captain Iijima, or Bolo, I take those notes, I take the creativity from the writers and directors, and I just go through this process where I make it me, otherwise there’s no foundation. There must be a foundation and a truth to all characters, and if there is none, it’s very evident right away that you’re not acting right.
A lack of Asian representation in the media is clear, and even if a person has an impressive body of work, they can still often be overlooked. How can we all do a better job at holding the industry accountable to make meaningful changes?
Rich Ting: I think the easy answer, which is way easier said than done, is that we must develop our own content. The reality of the situation is that we can develop content all day, but if the studios and the networks don’t approve it, then no one is going to see it. And the perfect example is that new show called “Beef” that’s on Netflix.
It’s all in English, it’s unaccented. I’m not Korean by blood, but my wife is Korean. I’ve grown up in LA with other Korean Americans. That show is very close to me because of all those scenarios. It’s very specific to the Korean American community in Los Angeles, but that’s just one demographic. Korean Americans in New York might be like, ‘Oh, we don’t get it’, right? I always say that Carter is one character, and Beef has a bunch of different characters, but all those guys can coexist in the same world.
The fact that this kind of content is finally getting out there for people to see is going to shed more light on [our community]. Netflix and other streaming platforms have been a huge asset for all of us because we get to touch on all these demographics. In the US, we have Asians in so many different demographics, and they all have their own experiences. The point is, we’re finally showing the differences, and I hope the world is recognising those differences. It’s all like I said, the easy answer to your question is we need to create our own content, and the irony is we can do it all day, but unless the studios are open to it, it doesn’t mean anything, so I don’t know, I don’t have an answer, or the answer is we just have to keep going.
So, what’s new when it comes to film projects? Are you working on anything right now?
Rich Ting: Yes. Do you know the executive producer, Dick Wolf? He does all the “Law and Order” and all the “Chicago” shows. So, I’m on his new show, it’s his first streamer on Amazon, and what he is doing now is trying to bring back the 30-minute drama segment. We currently have over an hour, an hour, or maybe 45-minute episodes on Netflix, and so on. But Dick Wolf is making that move back to 30-minute episodes. It’s another police drama where I play Sergeant KOY, the team leader of the Drug Enforcement Unit, and I don’t think I can really reveal who is who yet, but we just started filming in LA, and it’s been a dream because I’ve always wanted to work for Dick Wolf and alongside other cast members that I am not able to mention yet. It takes place in Long Beach, CA, so Southern California, and it’s going to be available on Amazon.
To me, this is one of the biggest projects of my career because of my own personal agenda. I’ve wanted to play the role of a cop and be under Dick Wolf’s umbrella. I’m very lucky and blessed right now, as I really love this character.
Written and interviewed by Maggie Gogler
Featured image © Petros Kouiouris