( ENSPIRE Feature ) Asian-Australian Actor Derek Siow Shares All From Representation in Hollywood to Love for Retro Games
ENSPIRE Contributor: Keegan Kerns
Despite the difficulties posed by the Covid pandemic, Asian-Australian actor Derek Siow has continued his work, appearing on shows such as The Fear Index and new films like All the Old Knives. It’s representative of his ability to adapt to new environments as he’s pursued his career in acting, moving from Melbourne to London to pursue a wide variety of roles. Though each area has its own culture, Siow’s love for cinema has made the ultimate goal in every place the same, giving him something consistent to pursue. Because of this dedication, Siow has been able to receive roles in works such as Angel Has Fallen and Zero Dark Thirty, and his presence in the industry continues to rise to this day.
Derek Siow’s success is also important for its ability to increase representation in the film industry, which has traditionally been exploitative and racist towards minorities or does not show them at all. As an Asian-Australian actor, his success in roles such as in Zero Dark Thirty and All the Old Knives is important for representation, especially in a way that avoids other issues such as tokenism.
ENSPIRE talked to Derek Siow about some of his experiences in the show business industry.
What inspired you to act and your love for cinema?
When I look back at it all, I think the moment that inspired me to act was when I was given the opportunity by my fifth-grade teacher to play Superman in our school play. That experience has just always stuck with me. Also, growing up I was really lucky to live near a cinema so my friends and I would go most weekends. We’d play arcade games before and after the movie, so I always associated the whole cinema experience with having fun.
You’ve recently finished shooting The Fear Index and All the Old Knives, as well as appearing in projects such as Angel Has Fallen and Zero Dark Thirty. Which of your projects has been the most enjoyable to film, and which has meant the most to you?
Honestly, I’m very grateful for the journey I’ve had so far. I’ve had the opportunity to work with some very talented people, and I’ve learnt so much over the years. Each project comes with a different lesson and experience, so I really don’t have a favorite. It’s all shaped me as an actor, and they’ve all meant a lot to me.
Traditionally, there has been a lack of representation of Asian characters or simply racist depictions of Asians in the film industry. Is this ever on your mind as you pursue roles, and if so, how do you hope the industry changes, and what do you think your role can be in that change?
Most definitely. When you pursue a role, you ask yourself, “How can I make this believable, and how would this person be in real life? How would this person think and behave in the given situation and in the given scene?” When you’re presented with a very bland, unoriginal depiction of a character that falls into one of the typical stereotypes, of course, it’s on your mind, and you want the industry to change so that these depictions are more true to how people are in reality. So hopefully, my role in that change will be to represent onscreen how we really are in real life and give visibility to the other sides that traditionally haven’t been shown.
You’ve gone from Melbourne to London throughout your acting career. Do you think each city has a unique culture when it comes to acting and the surrounding industry?
Each city definitely has a unique culture. With my hometown Melbourne, we’re known internationally for the Australian Open and Formula One Grand Prix, but it’s also very well known for its theatre, performing arts, music, and culture. And the Neighbours TV series is filmed there. In Australia, most of the filming locations are within the country because it’s such a large country, but with London, its surrounding industry in Europe, so it can be filmed there, too. And with that, there are a lot more projects and consequently much more variety.
How has working through the Covid pandemic affected the projects you’ve done recently? It seems incredibly difficult to gather and create an entire film or show during these times; did you feel hesitant to pick up jobs at the time, or were you able to adapt to the changes a bit more smoothly?
In the UK, we’ve had it very tough when it comes to Covid, so I like to be cautious. On all the projects I’ve done recently, I’ve had to quarantine and test, so this has had a major impact on the production length, and logistically everything is a lot more difficult. For example, a flight that’d usually takes a couple of hours becomes a whole day if there are no direct flights. Essentially, there’s much more checking, testing, and paperwork that I’ve had to adapt to, and that’s just how it’s been over the past year.
Finally, for a lighter question, you’ve talked about your love for the 80s/90s movies and retro video games. Could you list one of your favorite movies and one of your favorite games and tell us why they’re special to you?
Dangerous Minds. When I first saw it at the cinema, it was like no other movie out at the time. I was in high school and could relate to some of the topics and was also really into the soundtrack. And for video games, Double Dragon 2. It was one of the first games I ever owned on the original NES, I’d play countless hours on it, and it was probably the first beat ‘em up game I ever played.
Overall, despite the severe difficulties with the film industry, especially for Asian representation in cinema, Derek Siow has managed to persevere and help provide that much-needed representation. At the same time, he’s still grounded, enjoying cinema from past decades and playing retro video games. His ability to combine a dream to work in the film alongside the good cause of representation is a trait we should all seek to replicate. Of course, finding hobbies to help him relax, whether it’s Double Dragon 2 or watching old classics, isn’t too bad either.
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