James Hong

Actor


The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation Presents

02:26

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About
About this interview

In his two-and-a-half-hour Archive interview, James Hong talks about his career as one of the most recognizable Asian-American character actors, discussing his experiences appearing in such TV series as: The New Adventures of Charlie Chan, Kung Fu, Hawaii Five-O, Seinfeld, and The Big Bang Theory. Additionally, he speaks about his featured role in the film "Blade Runner" ("I just do eyes"), how he came to write the story for an episode of Bachelor Father, and how his casting in the miniseries Marco Polo was a career highpoint (having initially lost the role). 

Hong describes how little has changed for Asian-American actors in terms of the kinds of roles offered. He notes portrayals, however, in which he either played the role in a non-cliche way (such as a guest role on Dragnet) or worked within the role to create a full-bodied character (such as in the feature film "Black Widow"). Hong also talks about his agent Bessie Loo, who was Hollywood's main agent for Asian-American actors. Stephen Bowie conducted the interview  in North Hollywood, CA on April 27, 2010.

"I'm sitting here that James Hong of 1954 to nowadays and I don't see much change in my lifetime. For some reason the Asian Americans are still cast into little slots, little pigeon holes. If you look at TV and the movies the roles are still very gimmicky, it's a novelty, the roles are not really principle characters in the American walk of life."

Highlights
James Hong on quitting his civil engineering career to pursue an acting career
01:40
James Hong on being complimented by the producer of Kung Fu, and on the kinds of roles he played on the series
01:19
James Hong on how little change he's seen in the types of roles offered Asian-Americans in his lifetime
02:04
James Hong on his approach to the role of the maitre d' on the classic Seinfeld episode "The Chinese Restaurant"
04:21
James Hong on playing a rare non-Asian-American-cliche part on Dragnet, per Jack Webb's instructions
01:08
Full Interview

Chapter 1

On being born and growing up in Minneapolis (and spending some time as a child in Hong Kong); on his parents; on listening to radio shows; on appearing on the radio contest show "Stairway to Stardom" and winning second place; on organizing shows during his years in the U.S. Army
On his comedy team "Hong and (Donald) Parker"; on appearing on You Bet Your Life; on quitting his engineering job to pursue a career in entertainment; "breakthrough" film roles in the '50s
On cliched roles offered to Asian-Americans that were "novelty" parts; on how he approached his role in the feature film Black Widow (1987); on impressions he did in his early days as a comic, including James Cagney and Edward G. Robinson
On auditioning for the Fireside Theatre episode "Bamboo Cross" and experience with director John Ford; on an incident with his Blood Alley director William Wellman; on stars Lana Turner and Lorne Greene; on his agent Bessie Loo, who represented Asian-American actors
On appearing as a regular in The New Adventures of Charlie Chan; on shooting in Europe; on J. Carrol Naish's portrayal of Charlie Chan; on getting fired when he missed a cue
On a non-cliche part he played on Dragnet; on a guest-starring role on The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin; on the vast number of TV productions during the '50s-'60s at Warner Brothers; on acting groups he got started

Chapter 2

On leading a temperate lifestyle; on appearing in an episode of Sugarfoot, directed by Robert Altman; on Raymond Burr's technique for reading cue cards; on Have Gun - Will Travel star Richard Boone's acting technique
On a "one take" scene he did with George Takei on MacGyver; on his experience filming the feature film "Blade Runner" and the role he played ("I just do eyes"); on running into George Takei when both he and Takei were auditioning for Sulu on Star Trek
On appearing on Kung Fu; on working with David Carradine; on criticism of Carradine's portrayal of Caine; on other Asian-American actors Hong worked with, including Keye Luke; on his favorite roles on Kung Fu; on the set of Kung Fu (redressed from "Camelot"); briefly on his guest role on All in the Family; on I Dream of Jeannie's Larry Hagman
On his experiences on Hawaii Five-O; on star Jack Lord

Chapter 3

On the TV movie Pueblo, where he played a particularly effective scene with Hal Holbrook; on how he came to co-write the story for an episode of Bachelor Father
On his approach to the role of the maitre d' on the classic Seinfeld episode "The Chinese Restaurant"; on meeting John Huston (on the set of Chinatown)
On appearing on The X-Files and The West Wing; on the pleasant atmosphere on the set of The Big Bang Theory; on the treatment of Asian-American actors; on the number of roles he's played in his career
Shows

Adventures of Rin Tin Tin, The

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James Hong on a guest part he played on The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin
01:26

All in the Family

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James Hong (briefly) on his guest appearance on All in the Family
00:43

Bachelor Father

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James Hong on how he came to co-write the story of an episode of Bachelor Father
03:59

Big Bang Theory, The

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James Hong on the pleasant work environment on The Big Bang Theory
01:30

Dragnet

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James Hong on playing a rare non-Asian-American-cliche part on Dragnet, per Jack Webb's instructions
01:08

Falcon Crest

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James Hong on how Lana Turner arrived on the set for Falcon Crest
00:22

Fireside Theatre

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James Hong on his experience on the Fireside Theatre episode "Bamboo Cross," directed by John Ford
03:18

Have Gun - Will Travel

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James Hong on Have Gun - Will Travel star Richard Boone's acting style
00:52

Hawaii Five-O

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James Hong on his experiences appearing on Hawaii Five-O
05:18

Kung Fu

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James Hong on being complimented by the producer of Kung Fu, and on the kinds of roles he played on the series
01:19
James Hong on Kung Fu star David Carradine
00:40
James Hong on the storyline of Kung Fu
01:06
James Hong the criticisms of David Carradine's depiction of an Asian character on Kung Fu
01:58
James Hong on his favorite roles on Kung Fu
00:38
James Hong on how the Kung Fu set was a redressed one from the film "Camelot"
00:33

MacGyver

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James Hong on shooting a single take once with George Takei on an episode of MacGyver
01:53

Marco Polo

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James Hong on the thrill he got when his agent Bessie Loo called to tell him he was cast on Marco Polo
02:32

New Adventures of Charlie Chan, The

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James Hong on being cast as the number-one son on The New Adventures of Charlie Chan
01:55
James Hong on J. Carrol Nash's eye pieces to make him appear Asian for The New Adventures of Charlie Chan, his irritability (and drinking), and how he came to get Hong fired 
03:52

Perry Mason

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James Hong on Raymond Burr's technique of reading cue cards
01:26

Pueblo

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James Hong on an effective scene he played with Hal Holbrook in the telefilm Pueblo
02:48

Seinfeld

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James Hong on his approach to the role of the maitre d' on the classic Seinfeld episode "The Chinese Restaurant"
04:21
James Hong on playing "nothing" on Seinfeld
00:36

Star Trek

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James Hong on running into George Takei when they were both interviewing for Star Trek's Sulu
01:33

Sugarfoot

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James Hong on working with Robert Altman on an episode of Sugarfoot
02:25

West Wing, The

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James Hong on the difficulty in memorizing lines when he worked on The West Wing
01:24

X-Files, The

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James Hong briefly on guest-starring on The X-Files
01:14

You Bet Your Life

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James Hong on his TV debut as a guest on You Bet Your Life
01:45
Topics

Comedy

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James Hong on his approach to the role of the maitre d' on the classic Seinfeld episode "The Chinese Restaurant"
04:21

Diversity in Television

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James Hong on how little change he's seen in the types of roles offered Asian-Americans in his lifetime
02:04
James Hong on the cliched/novelty roles offered to Asian-American actors
00:30
Actor James Hong the criticisms of David Carradine's depiction of an Asian character on Kung Fu
01:58

Minorities

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James Hong on how little change he's seen in the types of roles offered Asian-Americans in his lifetime
02:04
James Hong on the cliched/novelty roles offered to Asian-American actors
00:30
Actor James Hong the criticisms of David Carradine's depiction of an Asian character on Kung Fu
01:58
People

Robert Altman

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James Hong on working with Robert Altman on an episode of Sugarfoot
02:25

Lauren Bacall

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James Hong on an incident he recalls in which Lauren Bacall stood up to director William Wellman on the feature film "Blood Alley"
00:53

Richard Boone

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James Hong on Have Gun - Will Travel star Richard Boone's acting style
00:52

Raymond Burr

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James Hong on Raymond Burr's technique of reading cue cards
01:26

David Carradine

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James Hong on Kung Fu star David Carradine
00:40
James Hong the criticisms of David Carradine's depiction of an Asian character on Kung Fu
01:58

John Ford

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James Hong on his experience on the Fireside Theatre episode "Bamboo Cross," directed by John Ford
03:18

Lorne Greene

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James Hong on his affinity for Lorne Greene
00:45

John Huston

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James Hong on meeting John Huston (on the set of "Chinatown")
01:00

Bessie Loo

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James Hong on his agent Bessie Loo informing him he'd been cast on Marco Polo
02:32
James Hong on how his agent, Bessie Loo, got her start
02:01

Keye Luke

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James Hong on legendary Chinese actor Keye Luke's growth as an actor
01:42

J. Carrol Naish

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James Hong on J. Carrol Nash's eye pieces to make him appear Asian for The New Adventures of Charlie Chan, his irritability (and drinking), and how he came to get Hong fired 
03:52

George Takei

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James Hong on shooting a single take once with George Takei on an episode of MacGyver
01:53

Lana Turner

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James Hong on how Lana Turner arrived on the set for Falcon Crest
00:22

Jack Webb

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James Hong on playing a rare non-Asian-American-cliche part on Dragnet, per Jack Webb's instructions
01:08

William Wellman

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James Hong on an incident he recalls in which Lauren Bacall stood up to director William Wellman on the feature film "Blood Alley"
00:53

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