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In my last post, I shared some images of a project I did with David Chin and the process he went through in getting a new tattoo. This week, I’m taking a closer look at the life of a working actor you’ve probably seen more than a couple times, perhaps without even realizing it.
For the second part of this series, I took some portraits and updated David’s headshot at his home in Vancouver BC. All images were shot on Ilford HP5 Plus 400 film, with a Zeiss Ikon ZM rangefinder and Zeiss C Sonnar T* 50mm f/1.5 ZM lens.
I also sat down with David to pick his brain about his background, his unlikely path to becoming an actor, and why he seems to be so damn good at everything he tries.
Let’s get the basics out of the way. Tell me a little bit about your professional background.
Well, I’m really a big nerd. I have a degree in classical civilization from McGill and Concordia, because I love history and archaeology…. and Indiana Jones. So I also have a degree in social justice education and became a history teacher. I’ve worked mostly in international schools and private schools at the secondary level. I’m also writing two books, I paint and sell my art sometimes, and I am an actor.
How did you become an actor? From what I understand, this wasn’t necessarily the career you aspired to.
A friend asked me to help him with an audition. It was a commercial and they needed me to come in with a group of people to be his friends. I can’t remember whether it was the director or his agent, but they liked me and wanted me for the job. I felt bad taking work away from my friend and declined the offer on principle. But his agent kept after me for a while and I finally gave in. Reluctantly. I have jokingly referred to myself as the reluctant actor, but I’ve now been in a few TV shows, a couple of films and over 70 commercial campaigns in the last 5 years.
Lucifer was cool. I got to do a scene with Rebecca de Mornay. And I worked with Carey Tagawa and Karyn Kasoura on Man in the High Castle. So that was all pretty amazing. Rebecca was the ultimate sex symbol of the 90’s when i grew up, and Carey was basically the only Asian man on the screen in my childhood. Karyn Kasoura is a great director and I loved Fight Girl and Aeon Flux, a remake of my favourite animation, so working with her, even if briefly was a real experience. I did a day on Legends of Tomorrow and my part was very small, but I got to spend the whole day chatting with Victor Garber and he’s just a great guy. We talked about politics, history, love and Alias, which again he starred in and is my all time favourite TV show from my childhood.
You have a strong appreciation for photography, cinema, and other artistic mediums. What do you love about them, and what inspires you?
Story. Story is at the center of everything I love. History, art, photography, film. If there is no story, there is no point. I feel like as a culture we have lost our story tellers and in doing so we are losing our history and identity. I think a lot of people today feel a dissonance with the world they live in and part of that is a lack of self awareness. Stories help people understand themselves and where they come from. In some ways they also help you find where you want to belong in the world. And stories need to be colloquial. They need to be your family’s stories, stories from your village, your clan, your people. When we try to identify with superheroes and larger than life portrayals of ideal beauty and brawn, we end up with skewed perception of reality, which always comes up short. And when people get used to the idea of superheroes saving the day, they tend to think they cannot save themselves. And to me that’s a real tragedy. I see too many people just waiting for their lives, instead of plunging into the fray and living. All art for me, that tells me a real human story, that speaks to our basic truths, inspires me to live and create.
From spending some time with you and speaking with some of your peers, I’ve noticed that you excel at a lot of different things and have a variety of interests. I’d love to hear about your process in terms of how you go about learning something new.
Just a lot of failure. I prefer fucking something up a dozen times, rather than reading the instructions. It makes the end result more mine, and ownership is important. When my son complains that something I make him do is hard. I always say that things that are worthwhile are always hard, and things that are easy usually aren’t worthwhile. I taught myself archery, how to farm my lawn, how to paint, build and restore furniture, how to spearfish. I also like learning with people, so i did an unofficial stage with an amazing friend of mine and he taught me all about sourdough and baking bread. I like to make my own wine, cider, and beer. I collect fruit from the neighbourhood in the summer and use local ingredients. At best it was delicious, at worst…. explosive. Ha. But no one has gone blind yet or been injured. I almost lost an eye to an exploding cork after putting too much sugar in batch of beer, but as you can see, I can still see.
Getting to know someone beyond a surface level is always fascinating to me. Chin is particularly interesting in that his profession is very ego driven, but in conversation he’s incredibly humble about where his success has taken him so far. He’s far more likely to talk your ear off about the great run he had with his lovely dog Murph than he is to mention anything about his many Superbowl ad appearances. On top of that, he’s an open book with a healthy allergy towards small talk. In a time when the lust for insta-fame is rampant in our culture, character traits like these are a breath of fresh air.
You can follow David on Instagram, and see some of his recent ad work below: