Cover Actor Jimmy O. Yang attends the 56th Annual Cinema Audio Society Awards at the InterContinental Los Angeles Downtown on January 25, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Amanda Edwards/Getty Images)

Hong Kong American actor Jimmy O Yang stars in his first romantic lead role for the Netflix movie, Love Hard after a series of comedic supporting roles. He sits down with Tatler to talk about his memories of Hong Kong, the movie and online dating

From comedic supporting roles to romantic leading man, Jimmy O Yang’s time is here. The Hong Kong actor moved to the US when he was 13 years old and did a number of jobs to support himself, including stand up comedy which he still loves to this day. Like other immigrant stories, Yang initially pursued economies, hoping to work in a big company like Morgan Stanley but found interest in acting and gained roles where he became a frequent scene-stealer.

He started off as a guest star on the show, Silicon Valley and was quickly promoted to a series regular. What followed are a series of roles including his first dramatic role in Patriots Day, Bernard Tai in Crazy Rich Asians and  Dr Chan Kaifang in Netflix’s Space Force. Already establishing himself as a comedic actor, Yang ventured into chartered territory for his film romantic lead role in Love Hard. Both subverting the stereotypes of a classic leading man and highlighting Asian representation, Yang’s portrayal as Josh welcomes a new milestone in his career, ushering that it’s time to fall in love with him—if you haven’t already.

In this exclusive interview, Yang sits down with Tatler and gets candid about his memories of Hong Kong, being a romantic leading man for the first time and online dating.

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You were born in Hong Kong and stayed there until you were 13 years old. What fond memories of Hong Kong do you have growing up?

Yes, my childhood—they’re very fond memories. We went from a couple of different apartments, I think from Causeway Bay to Tin Hau Temple Road though. I grew up on the 20th floor so there was that memory of walking down the street able to get food everywhere—great barbecue, great, amazing food. I went to Pun U Association Wah Yah Primary School and I think that it’s a very prestigious school given that my parents had to put a lot of strings to get me in there.

And my childhood is just growing up just like a very normal Hong Kong kid. I grew up playing ping pong, soccer, learned violin and just have a lot of fond memories of Wah Yah Primary School and Victoria Park and of course, all the great food down the street right there.

Have you been able to visit Hong Kong often since moving to the US?

I want to come back more often but at the same time, there are so many other vacation spots that I want to go explore whenever I go somewhere. And of course now with the quarantine, it’s not quite possible which is sad. The only time I really spend a meaningful amount of time coming back was after Crazy Rich Asians. The layover was in Hong Kong and I actually flew my parents out so they spend the last week in Singapore with me and to watch the shoot and meet everyone. They’re very excited, especially to meet a megastar like Michelle Yeoh and everybody got a kick out of them being there.

And then, I went back to Hong Kong with them to show me some old restaurants that I used to go to, and things like that. I even get to reconnect with a couple of friends from primary school thanks to the power of the internet. They saw me on YouTube, I think for the Arsenio Hall Show or something, and then they looked at the name Au Yeung and went, “Oh, that’s very familiar” since not a lot of people have that last name. They looked it up and it was me and they reached out on Facebook. It is a very joyous week, getting to get in touch with some more friends and to go back to the old stomping grounds.

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You did a couple of jobs before you got into acting like stand up comedy and now you have your first romantic movie. What’s the transition like and how do you weave in all these together?

I don’t think I set out to intentionally do all these different jobs. I think it’s very Hong Kong of me. I studied economics and I was going to go into finance, which is also very Hong Kong of me. It’s one of the big ways to make money in Hong Kong, like working for a big company like Morgan Stanley so that’s what I wanted to do. Or at least what I thought I wanted to do but it’s what my dad wanted me to do so I studied that and then, I interned for a big company and I just didn’t like it. I guess I saw the opportunities in the US to pursue other things and there’s this saying here to pursue your dream, which is something my father didn’t really understand. For him, it’s like, “No, no, you just have to make money.”

But I quit the internship, much to his dismay. And I just found odd jobs. I sold used cars, I was DJ-ing at a strip club and I also worked at a stand-up comedy club and started doing stand up. I really didn’t think that was going to be a career or a real job that’ll pay money. For me, it was working for a minimum wage, I think US$8 an hour at the time for a couple of hours working the door and then they don’t pay me to go on stage even.

But then, I really loved it. I loved the community and then one thing just led to another. From stand up, I got some opportunities to audition for some acting roles and I really seriously studied acting for a while and am still a student of acting. I started out with just one role, then comedic roles and then more and more drama. Now, of course, there’s Love Hard.

Speaking of Love Hard, tell us some of your favourite scenes from the movie?

There are so many great ones. I don’t know if those reading this have seen it but there are some really fun scenes like Nina Dobrev doing karaoke, us doing rock climbing or singing the Christmas carol duet with some new lyrics to Baby, It’s Cold Outside. A lot of people asked me, “Is that you singing? Because there’s no way that’s you.” Of course, that’s me singing! (laughs) I can sing a little bit, I do a lot of karaoke so that scene was really fun to do.

But I have to say, my personal favourite is the scene in the car. There was a lot of intimacy in that scene in the back of a car where Josh (Lin’s character) shows Natalie (Dobrev’s character) his old dating profile and that’s the big turning point, the emotional turning point if you will, where you realise that Josh doesn’t get matched not because he’s a bad looking guy or anything but because his profile isn’t that well set up which is funny.

But also, it’s that sense of self-confidence and you really see Natalie soften up and be more accepting of Josh. It’s that kind of scene where you’re almost like, “Oh my god, are they going to make up right there” because you don’t know since there’s just a lot of tension. It’s really where the emotional relationship turns within the movie so I love doing that scene.

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Love Hard centres around online dating. In general, Asian men have always found it harder to date online. How important is it to you that the movie address this?

Actually, the movie wasn’t written for an Asian actor in the beginning. And then when I was approached with the role, I think it was important that Darren Barnett’s character would be Asian also so you have the good looking guy as an Asian as well as the normal looking guy as an Asian so that that was cool. And yes, I think that’s real and there are statistics out there saying that Asian men and Black women are the least matched. I think from my own experience—when I used to do online dating but I have a girlfriend so I’m on apps anymore—but that was definitely a very relatable story.

With Josh, it’s like, “I’m not bad looking but why am I not getting matched so what’s going on?” And then, I see my very average looking white friends getting a lot of matches and it’s frustrating. I always had a thought—but I never did it—that maybe I should try and see what will happen if I put up a picture of a white guy and see if it’s really this that makes it work.

But also, I like that Love Hard wasn’t really hitting really hard on that. It’s just really about anyone, about a guy that has low self-esteem and is in a rut in his life and he has to learn to love himself and accept himself for who he is, which is something very universally relatable as well.

Tell us what’s it like working with Nina Dobrev for the movie. How did you work on your chemistry?

She’s really great. She’s a really talented actress who is also so fun to be with and nice. We shot this movie last September, during the pandemic so we had to quarantine for 14 days in Canada as this was shot in Vancouver. We couldn’t meet up and work on developing the chemistry but I was able to at least FaceTime with her and we just hit it off because we have a lot of mutual friends. And she just seems like a person I already hang out with and she’s just very professional and a very good person to be with at every scene. Emotionally, we’re there for each other as scene partners and the chemistry was just there. There’s something that just clicked and I will say that about everyone in the cast. They’re all wonderful.

Darren is such a wonderful guy. There was actually a great scene with Darren where we go hunting but that got cut out of the movie. That was really fun. And then, the times that I hung out with Heather McMahan, who played Nina’s best friend, and she was just so fun to be with. I think shooting something in the pandemic made us even closer because we were all we had, we couldn’t really go out and hang out with other people. It was a blessing in disguise and I think that really helped us develop a close chemistry.

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Everybody has their hang-ups and their insecurities but it’s important to love who you are because there’s somebody out there that will and should love you for who you are
Jimmy O Yang

What do you want viewers to take away from watching the movie?

That’s a big question but I just hope they enjoy it. I think the message is that there’s love out there for everyone, you just have to learn to love yourself. Everybody has their hang-ups and their insecurities but it’s important to love who you are because there’s somebody out there that will and should love you for who you are.

That’s why I love romantic comedies, especially watching romantic comedies when I was single—that gives you so much hope and love. I hope people get the holiday spirit going and walk away, joyful, happy and have a renewed sense of hope in the dating world.

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Love Hard is now showing, exclusively on Netflix.



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