JAMES CHEN CHATS “TWD”, “FBI” AND LOOKING AHEAD TO 2019 0 193

With appearances in hit shows including Madam Secretary and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit under his belt and currently starring in The Walking Dead and new CBS series FBI, James Chen is becoming a more and more familiar name to TV fans on both sides of the Atlantic. Having trained at the Yale School of Drama and built up an impressive resume of work, acting and performing have been long established passions for this talented actor, with such passion evident in every role he takes on. With the holidays just around the corner, James spoke to ThisIsTheLatest about his early career, favourite projects and what he has lined up for the new year.

TITL: You’ve been acting on both stage and screen for a number of years now, having undergone training at the Yale School of Drama, but prior to that, growing up, did you ever have any other career ambitions or have you always been determined to find your way in the performing industry? 

James Chen: I definitely wasn’t aware of the performing arts universe growing up. I loved movies and had my absolute favorite TV shows, but the idea that it was a skill you could pursue and a job you could have wasn’t even on my radar. When I was younger, I definitely had a big imagination and loved drawing and creating, starting from when I was a kid the progression went something like palaeontologist, to doctor, to scientist. In undergrad, I was actually pursuing this biochemistry masters program to become a research scientist… and found out quickly that wasn’t at all what I wanted to do. After some years of exploring and performing, acting really became a clear love. 

TITL: You’re perhaps best known for your role of Kal in the phenomenally successful series that is The Walking Dead. Did you ever anticipate the reaction the show has had over the years and what impact has its success had on you both personally and professionally? 

JC: I didn’t, because when I started working on the show I hadn’t read Robert Kirkman’s graphic novels nor was I watching the show on TV at the time. So it was only slowly over the next couple years shooting on set, catching up watching previous seasons,interacting with fans, that I truly got a sense of how ride-or-die The Walking Dead fandom is! I think as actors, we’re always just putting in our 20 years to have our ‘overnight success’, so I think overall my job hasn’t changed much in that I’m still ploughing away and hustling at the industry at every opportunity. People definitely know me from the show more, so that’s been nice in that it’s a kind of short-hand for people to place you in the industry. Personally the show has been really fulfilling. To get to know and work with fantastic people in front of and behind the camera. That family dynamic has been very fulfilling. Love all those guys. 

TITL: What was/is it about the character of Kal that made you want to audition for the part? How is he different from any other character you’ve played before, and how do you feel he fits in with the dynamic of those around him? 

JC: At the time the audition, it was shrouded in secrecy and mystery, so no one knew who exactly they were auditioning for. I only knew that he was extremely loyal to his community. It turns out that audition was initially for the role of Jesus, but honestly can’t imagine anyone other than Tom Payne playing that role. When I booked the role of Kal, it was under a fake name, and so it wasn’t until I arrived at the fitting, that I knew exactly who I was playing and was able to do some research into him. I think as a character he’s really exciting – great fighter, fierce protector, first line of defense, deadly killer with a spear and knife, lives and mans a real life fort! I think what makes Kal different from other characters is the nature of the world he lives in, how much death and killing he’s seen and done. That’s just an everyday part of his reality. I think what make the Hilltop work so well is the teamwork that everyone there falls into. It’s run really efficiently, and everyone has their role. Kal’s is definitely more of a veteran soldier at the Hilltop and I would say those are his closest kin and co-workers at the Hilltop and among other communities as well. 

TITL: You’re also currently on screen in the latest series from Dick Wolf, FBI. Given the success of Wolf’s previous works, including L&O: SVU, which you’ve appeared in, just how badly did you want to be a part of this one? Can you recall your audition? 

JC: So much! I am not joking with you when I say Law & Order: SVU was one my favorite shows growing up.  I loved everything about it, the characters, the action, the drama of each case. So my time actually getting to work on that show and with Mariska and Chris and B.D. and the entire crew was incredibly rewarding. Getting a chance to return to the Dick Wolf universe is always an exciting and fun because of all those great memories. And it was also exciting to be there from the very first episode to create a new FBI world with everyone. I love working with all of those guys. My audition was pretty straight-forward… I was given audition material to prepare – it was when Ian is evaluating the burnt cell phone evidence from the bombing in the pilot episode. It was really fun to explore Ian’s expertise, wielding that technical jargon, but also his razor sharp mind and bit and the fun you can feel he’s having doing it all. 

TITL: For those who haven’t seen the show, how would you sum it up and what part does your character Ian play in it all?

JC: FBI follows the case work of agents in the field and at the joint operations command as they race to solve the most high-stakes, national security threats of our time. Assessing crime scenes, tracking down key witnesses and evidence, gathering intel on our suspects and using the latest technology to combine it with evidential analysis, we try to connect all the dots to arrest those behind these threats. Ian Lim is part of FBI’s CART -Computer Analysis and Response Team – and handles any electronic tech involved in any case’s physical evidence, surveillance, etc. to keep the team on pace with tracking a suspect or bring us that much closer to making an arrest. Ian is a genius and he’ll be sure to tell you all about it.  

TITL: Of all the shows you’ve starred in over the years, could you pick your favourite? Do you have any particularly fond memories of times spent on certain sets?

JC: I think I’ve immensely enjoyed my time on each project for different reasons. But I recently had a great experience on Madam Secretary playing an eccentric billionaire whose hobby was racing cars. A day spent on the race track in a jump suit jumping in and out of a race car with such a fun character was incredible. As was my first day working on The Walking Dead… when we saw Hilltop for the first time, climbing up those practical walls and ramparts, grabbing and brandishing those very real spears, and heaving open those massive doors…that was surreal. 

TITL: If you could appear in another TV show, past or present, which would it be and why? 

JC: Wow… too many to choose from! Breaking Bad has been one of my favorites for a long time, with absolutely amazing writing, characters, and acting. To be a part of that world and have scenes with Walter White would be incredible. On another Vince Gilligan theme… I grew up loving The X-Files and would love to be part of a paranormal plot line with Detectives Fox Mulder and Dana Scully…I’ll have to look them up in the database next time I’m on the FBI set!

TITL: You’re also a rather regular feature on the big screen with credits in films such as “The Amazing Spiderman” and “Front Cover.” Do you find working on films any different from working on TV shows, and do you have a preference for one or the other?  

JC: Sure… TV moves quite quickly and the storytelling format is about 50 minutes. Film can be 90 minutes to over 2 hours and – depending on the film – the pacing and development can be that much more drawn out. I think traditionally film affords the opportunity to take the time and really go into character depth, which is what I’m really interested in. But this golden age of television has been blurring those lines and getting to explore a character over several seasons is really exciting. I think it would really have to depend on the project. 

TITL: What can you tell me about your new film “Fluidity”? 

JC: Fluidity is about the intersecting lives of 10 millennial as they struggle to navigate their identity and sexuality in this fast-paced, high-tech world. At those speeds and levels of convenience, love, relationships, desire, sex… can all start to lose clarity and blur. This is a story about how we’re all surviving in that wild jungle.

TITL: This might be a hard question, but what’s been the highlight of your professional career so far?

JC: This summer I was simultaneously recurring on 3 different shows:  Netflix/Marvel’s Iron Fist, CBS’s FBI, and AMC’s The Walking Dead. That was a place I never thought I’d get to, and I’m encouraged by the ever-increasing awareness to inclusion and diversity of the industry that things will only continue to get better.

TITL: Are there any other upcoming projects you can tell me about or are you just focusing on TWD and FBI for now? How’s your schedule for 2019 looking?

JC: I’ve had some great opportunities to stretch the comedic muscles and play with some absolute rock stars. I’ll be opposite Tracy Morgan on his show “The Last O.G.” as well as slayer queens themselves, Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson, on “Broad City” — both airing spring 2019. I’ve also been writing more recently and hope to have a couple passion projects developed later next spring as well.  

TITL: Given how tiring shoots for shows such as TWD can be, how do you unwind after a hectic filming period? Is there a sport you like to play or vacation spot you most like to visit? 

JC: Ooh I love this question! I’ve began a journey in MMA earlier this year, and I find that an amazing art-science-meditation-fascination hybrid for me. I’ve been trying to get back to Beijing or Shanghai for the longest time, but the schedule has yet to present an opening. I’ll just have to shoot a project there!

TITL: Finally then, given how cut-throat the performing and acting business can be, what advice would you give to aspiring actors/actresses? What one comment or piece of advice do you often find yourself reflecting on at difficult or stressful times that helps keep you motivated? 

JC: Focus on what you love about acting, remembering why you ever wanted to do it in the first place as opposed to anything else. That will connect you to the source of your passion and keep you true to your mission amongst all the distractions.  

FBI airs Tuesdays at 9/8c on CBS and will return in the New Year. The Walking Dead returns to AMC on February 10th. You can keep up to date with James on Twitter and Instagram. Header photo credit: Ryan West.

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DOREEN TAYLOR TELLS ALL ABOUT HER OFF-BROADWAY SHOW “SINCERELY, OSCAR” & LOOKS TOWARDS A VERY BRIGHT FUTURE 0 114

Doreen Taylor is no stranger to dreaming big. With two music and performance related degrees under her belt, an array of theatre production credits to her name and a successful career as a solo artist, she’s ambitious and not afraid of people knowing it. After her production “Sincerely, Oscar”, which she created and produced herself, had a successful run in Philadelphia last year, the show has now moved to New York and is currently undertaking a 14 week run at Theatre Row, Off-Broadway. In between shows, Doreen kindly took the time to chat to ThisIsTheLatest about the creative process behind the show, her memories of opening night and where Sincerely, Oscar might go in the future.

TITL: First of all, for those unfamiliar with you and your background, can you just give a little insight into your music and performing career? 

Doreen Taylor: I’ve been performing for many years now, and having earned myself degrees in both opera and voice performance, I consider myself very fortunate to have been a part of some fantastic theatre productions including Robert Ward’s The Crucible, in which I played Abigail Williams, and Christine in Phantom Of The Opera. In terms of my music, I released my first album Magic back in 2012 while my latest album Happily Ever After has received great reviews and is to hopefully become an Off-Broadway musical in the next couple of years.

TITL: You’ve been pretty busy lately with your off Broadway show, Sincerely, Oscar, after a successful run in Philadelphia last year. How does it feel to know you’re working on the same streets and around the same venues as some of the biggest and most popular musicals and shows in the world? 

DT: It is pretty surreal. One of the very first musicals I starred in when I was just a kid was “42nd Street” and now here I am all these years later starring in my very first show I have written in an iconic theater on 42nd STREET! It is pretty amazing how life can just come around full circle and give affirmations that I have been on the right path all along. I guess the most amazing part is that the shows that we are honoring by the great Oscar Hammerstein all opened on Broadway within one mile of where we are performing “Sincerely, Oscar” now. That is a pretty humbling feeling!

TITL: You created and produced the show yourself – what is it about this particular show that made you want to bring it to life in the way that you have?

DT: It’s weird… I was busy working on my mainstream Adult Contemporary music career writing, producing and performing my own music and this opportunity came out of nowhere at a music video premiere that I was hosting. I was lucky enough to meet the grandson of Oscar Hammerstein and his lovely family at this event and we instantly hit it off. I felt a strong calling to use my talents to bring recognition to Oscar and help honor this iconic Broadway legend. I created the previous iteration of the show and debuted it in Philadelphia and we did so well that I wanted to bring it to the heart of Broadway. I worked for over a year and a half developing “Sincerely, Oscar” and am so proud at the finished product. It is truly like my child and I feel as though I have nurtured and loved it every step of the way.

TITL: Did you have any prior creative/production experience prior to this or was this project something you felt so passionately about you just had to give it a first time try? 

DT: I always have had a hand in producing my solo mainstream concerts that we have toured around the US, and even some of my music videos, but this is the first time I have written and produced something of this colossal size and importance on the theatrical stage. I feel so lucky that I have been given such a great opportunity right out of the gate!

TITL: Can you talk me through the creative process for the show? Where did your first ideas come from and how did you expand them over time to the point you realised you could make your thoughts and ideas a reality? 

DT: I think the most incredible achievement in the creative process of this show was the way we created the role of “Oscar Hammerstein” himself. Early on, I got it stuck in my mind that I wanted to do something unique and totally “out of the box” for his character. I had just visited Las Vegas and caught a Michael Jackson tribute show at Mandalay Bay where they had created Michael as a hologram and he interacted with the other performers. It blew me away and never quite left me. I wanted to be the very first to bring this technology to the NY stage and I never really let go of that idea – even when others said I was crazy! And now, here we are, being the very first production ON or OFF Broadway that has used this 3d holographic technology in a theatrical production. It is really quite stunning and impressive and I am so honored to be the one to pave the way for this new technology. Sure, there has been some blow back from purist critics who don’t believe in bringing this kind of technology to the theatrical stage- but I have news from them—like it or not, it’s coming and “Sincerely, Oscar” is living proof of it. You can’t stop progress.

TITL: Were there ever any days or times that you questioned or doubted what you were doing, or were you 100% committed to?

DT: Every. Single. Day. It would be weird if I didn’t occasionally doubt my creative choices- especially when you have to deal with ridiculous opinions from people who are afraid of the technology or of the advancement. But at the end of the day, I wouldn’t have changed anything and I am so proud at what has been created. I sometimes sit back while I am performing in the show and absorb the incredible audience response and feel a huge sense of pride that I am here and I am able to live out this incredible dream!

TITL: How did you bring the production’s cast/crew together? Were/are they friends of yours or did you put out a casting call? When did you know you’d found the right people for each part of the show? 

DT: A little of column A, a little of column B. In the case of my gifted director, Dugg McDonough, we had worked together years ago in several productions at Temple University as well as Des Moines Metro Opera Company. I immediately thought of him when I was creating this show and asked him to return to collaborate on this project. As for the rest of the cast and crew, most were hired from referrals and casting. One of the hardest parts of creating any new production is finding the right people to work on it. I can honestly say that in all my years of performing professionally, I have never worked on a show where I truly like and respect every person that is there. This is the first time I can say that. We have become like a family and we all look out and protect each other. It is a really wonderful thing.

TITL: What can you recall of the infamous opening night? Were you nervous or just buzzing and raring to go? 

DT: It went by SO fast! I can say that I am a little nervous before every show I do. That never really goes away and I am actually glad that those butterflies are there. I never get complacent or “phone in” a performance. Every show is like opening night to me. The party was a blast and we really had one amazing night celebrating this great success together!

TITL: Given that Broadway is typically considered to be more of a man’s world, how proud does it make you feel to know you’re proving yourself to be just as good as your male counterparts when it comes to putting on a successful production? 

DT: To be honest, I still feel there is a lack of support and respect for women creators/producers in this industry. While it is admittedly a lot better, there is still a great deal of work that needs to be done. I am really honored to be a strong woman voice out there creating good, commercial theater in an otherwise male dominated industry. It is so sad that in this #metoo era we don’t embrace more female voices attempting to create on the theatrical stage but I think there are more of us out there that will brave the storm and keep pushing the boundaries, regardless if we are always embraced or not while we do it! However, that being said- women need to start supporting women colleagues in theater more. Sad to say that some of the harshest critical voices out there are from other women. That has always baffled me. Trying to blow out the candle of another does not make theirs burn any brighter.

TITL: What advice would you give to anyone out there who has an idea that they’d love to see brought to life on a stage such as one on or off Broadway? What traits might you say they need in order to keep pursuing that idea/dream until it becomes reality?

DT: I would say that dreams can come true and I am living proof of that. However, set your sights with reasonable goals. Start small. Test the waters. People don’t usually wake up one morning and decide to have a show open on Broadway next week. It takes a long time of work, dedication, financial support and most of all- thick skin, to navigate this industry. There will be enormous sacrifices that will need to be made and there will be a lot more tears than laughs at times. But after all that is said and done, there is no greater joy than to see your creation brought to life by fabulously talented people each and every day and I truly feel blessed to have this opportunity.

TITL: Finally then, now that Sincerely, Oscar is proving to be a hit, have you thought about any other productions you might like to work on, or is all your time and energy focused on this for the time being? 

DT: Right now I am focusing on this limited engagement run at Theatre Row in NYC, but I would be lying if I said I am not looking to the future for what is next. I believe we have even bigger and better things in store for “Sincerely, Oscar” coming in the near future. Maybe it will be a national tour, maybe an international tour, or maybe a residency in Vegas? There has been a lot of buzz as to where this should go next… and right now the sky is the limit! I am just excited to see where this remarkable journey will go!

For more information on Sincerely, Oscar visit the official website. You can also keep up to date with Doreen via doreentaylormusic.com, or by following her on Twitter and liking her page on Facebook. Her latest album Happily Ever After is available now. Header photo credit: James Jackson.

LX MASON TALKS “DRINK ME GOODBYE” AND FUTURE ASPIRATIONS 0 53

Having earned considerable attention and a strong following on the back of his debut single “I Don’t”, which to date has been streamed more than 35,000 times on Spotify alone, the latest song by Florida born artist Jon Davis, AKA LX Mason, addresses the desperate attempts so many people make to forget long-term relationships. With plans for an EP in the pipeline, LX Mason chatted to ThisIsTheLatest about song-writing inspiration, his thoughts on social media and his long term artistic goals.

TITL: What makes LX Mason different from all the other acts out there? What’s your unique selling point?

LX Mason: I think I’m unique in the sense that I’m an African American pop artist who isn’t doing R’n’B or rap, but I don’t think that defines me. I think we’re all just out here trying to make what’s true to us. So my unique selling point is, I’m me. Get to know me a little.

TITL: Is there a particular story behind your new single “Drink Me Goodbye”?

LXM: Of course! My songs are a way of coping with things that happen in my world, so you can always count on there being some type of story. I had a falling out with a really close friend of mine years back, and it wrecked me for a little bit until I bounced back. However, I saw from a distance how that person was trying so hard to forget me and I’d say that was the part that hurt the most. We eventually mended things but if we’re being honest, a lot happened during that time and it hasn’t been the same. 

TITL: How did you come up with the concept for the video and is being creative in that way something you enjoy? 

LXM: I LOVE directing. For some reason I always have. And since I was a little kid, I’ve always loved music videos. I bounced some ideas off of my mates, and my co-director Jason Denison. We wanted to portray a story of the depths that someone has to go to in order to forget someone and actually recreate these happy memories but without the other person being there. 

TITL: In terms of your lyrics and general song-writing from who or from where do you find most of your inspiration?

LXM: Real life situations inspire me. There are some pop artists whose writing I definitely appreciate – Julia Michaels, Lauv, Lennon Stella to name a few – but I try not to let that influence my writing because I want to be as authentic to the story, and the emotion, as possible. 

TITL: How easy or hard do you find the song-writing process? Can it depend on the subject you’re wanting to write about or your frame of mind at the time? 

LXM: Yeah definitely depends on what song I’m writing. And if my head isn’t in the right place for it, I have to really push past everything that I’m feeling to get a song out. 

TITL: Is there an EP or album in the works?

LXM: I’m working towards an EP! But definitely a couple more singles out first. 

TITL: Do you have any performance or tour plans you can tell me about?

LXM: At the moment, it’s all about the writing and recording. But things could definitely change, and I’m always keen to perform.

TITL: If you could put together your dream show with four bands or artists, living or dead, who would you choose and where would you play? 

LXM: WHOA. Uhm. I would completely disregard genre and just have a really selfish line-up of people I love. 

TITL: Given that your debut single has already achieved in excess of 35,000 streams, what are your thoughts on social media? Are you someone who believes it to be a powerful and necessary tool in your business, and society in general, or can there be/are there downsides to being so “online” all the time? 

LXM: There’s no question that the abuse of social media has had an effect on mental health. We’ve seen it, and Instagram/Facebook has done a little bit of work to improve it for the user, but I don’t think it’s there just yet. I think there is an aspect of it where it is effective for business, and societally it does increase your world a bit – I’ve met some wonderful people through social media. But if -or when – it crashes, it wouldn’t bother me. Half the time whenever I post something I think about my caption for half a second, post it, and throw my phone across the room because I don’t care. 

TITL: What does the rest of the year have in store for you? 

LXM: More music! Releasing some more of my own, as well as writing for other people’s projects and potentially featuring on some tracks as well. 

TITL: Finally then, given how “full” the music industry is now with both new and established talent, how do you plan to make yourself stay current in the years ahead? What are your long-term aspirations as an artist and where do you see the music industry going/ being in terms of its shape and longevity, as time goes on?

LXM: I think, more importantly, I want to stay true to myself. If that’s current, then great. What’s “current” changes so frequently that if I were to base my artistic identity in that, I wouldn’t know who I am anymore. My long term aspirations is to get where I want to go making the music I want to make whenever I want to make it. I think for the music industry, there’s more of an inclination towards independence and honesty in music that can bring people the music they want to connect to. 

Check out the video for “Drink Me Goodbye” below and for more information on LX Mason, visit his website, give his page a like on Facebook or follow him on Twitter.