With her first two movies Hong Chau has achieved more than most other actors do in their entire careers.
Not just because she has worked with two of the greatest directors in American cinema, in the shape of Paul Thomas Anderson on “Inherent Vice” and now Alexander Payne, but her turn as Ngoc Lan Tran in Payne’s “Downsizing” has turned her into a bona-fide awards season contender.
In fact, Chau has already picked up Golden Globe, Critics Choice, and Screen Actors Guild nominations, and there are destined to be many more where that came from over the next few weeks. Earlier this month, and before she'd recieved these nominations, I spoke to Chau about “Downsizing,” specifically the awards season chatter that had immediately greeted her performance.
“It doesn’t affect me at all,” Chau declared. “I recognize that a lot more goes into that discussion than just whether a person is talented or if the material is worthy of any sort of accolade. It’s a messy conversation that has a lot of ins and outs, and I recognize that. I feel like I have won by just getting to play this amazing woman in this fantastic movie.”
Chau insists that working with Payne was a dream, especially as she’d admired his work for so long and the story was “original, creative, and weaves together so many topics” that she cares so deeply about.
“Hopefully we’re not preaching at anybody,” Chau remarked. “There’s just a lot to unpack. Alexander Payne makes films that reward repeat viewings, though, so you keep on getting different perspectives and revelations each time.”
“Many people have different interpretations of the movie, which I don’t necessarily agree with. Then whenever I tell them what I saw they are shocked. But all that means is that we have something really special on our hands.”
So what did Chau first connect with when she read the script for “Downsizing”?
“I really admired the really intelligent observations about the immigrant experience. We get to see that through both mine and Matt’s characters, as they are labelled quickly as ‘others’ and then repeatedly face prejudice.”
“Most Americans just don’t understand what it’s like to leave your country, leave everything behind, and arrive at a foreign place where you don’t have a support system, and are lost.”
“We only see immigrants as hard-working folks, but we don’t know anything else about them. And they’re not curious to learn. This movie cares about the invisible, the exploited, the marginalized.”
It also helped that Ngoc Lan Tran was “the complete opposite to all of the female characters” Chau had seen written before.
“They’re usually daffy, or insecure, or waiting around for a guy to do something. That’s not Ngoc Lan Tran. She doesn’t wear her femininity on her sleeve, she’s direct, doesn’t suffer fools, and knows exactly what she wants and goes after it.”
Chau also believes that “Downsizing” needs to be experienced in a movie theater, especially as it “talks about our shared love of humanity.” She’s more than aware of just how tricky it can be to put bums on seats, though.
“We are in a very different landscape and climate for movies. A lot of people are binge watching television shows, and questioning whether they even have to go to the movie theater.”
“That means we need to put movies in the theaters that appeal to people other than comic book reading adolescents. That’s certainly a market. But there’s a whole under served group of people that are just dying and hungry for really intelligent and thoughtful films.”
“Downsizing” is certainly that, and you can appreciate it and Hong Chau’s incredible performance when it is released into cinemas on December 22.