B.D. Wong: Breaking the Barriers

Hollywood always offers successful actors cheesy stuff to play," says Tony winner B. D. Wong with a knowing sigh. "That's dangerous for an actor, because then you're basically selling yourself out." Though Wong says he has no intention of doing that, he's the first to point out it's an uphill battle to break the Tinseltown mold of Asian stereotypes. "To most producers in Hollywood, breaking through the racial barrier is having an Asian actor play, oh, a computer nerd."


Wong, who broke a few sexual stereotypes when he played a man disguised as a woman in love with another man in the Broadway hit M. Butterfly, admits he's not deceiving himself into thinking that his gangster part in the new comedy film Mystery Date will open any doors for other Asian actors.

"When I took the part I realized the character was patterned after other 'Chinese Mafia' roles, like the one John Lone played in Year of the Dragon: you know, the guy comes in wearing a double-breasted suit, his hair slicked back, smoking a cigarette. In order to assure myself that I wasn't going to upset my community--which is a huge responsibility to me--I gave my character a Brooklyn accent and tried not to make him too slimy. I worked to avoid casting stereotypes in last year's The Freshman, as well. It's important to try-- how else will things change?"

Wong says the role in M. Butterfly left him an odd legacy: "I have a hard time watching films and not thinking how I would play any part, whether it's a man or a woman. Having done M. Butterfly, I'm conscious of the choices women make with their clothes and makeup on screen," he says, adding that to his practiced eye, "Meryl Streep is wild in her choices. She's a magician as an actress. I'd love to go eating with her, or take her bowling, which are my two favorite hobbies. Can you see Meryl at the lanes?" he laughs. "You could say, 'Bowl like a Czech now,' or, 'You're a lower class Italian housewife now, go out and bowl like one!' "

Craig Modderno