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Chin Han on ‘Skyscraper,’ Filming in Asia, and Joining the Academy

Let’s be real. You’ve seen this actor before. He’s that Asian guy who played in that blockbuster movie. No, he played that actor in that other film. You’re right. He’s been in all of them.

Ng Chin Han, known simply as Chin Han, is a face you may recognize in blockbuster films like The Dark Knight, 2012, Contagion, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Independence Day: Resurgence, Ghost in the Shell and now, in this weekend’s Skyscraper. The actor is no stranger to the Hollywood life, but also stays true to his Singaporean roots.

Chin Han was also recently one of 928 inductees invited to join The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences governing board in an effort to increase diversity and also honor him for his success in Hollywood.

We got to chat with him on the phone about his work on Skyscraper, what his invitation means to him, and why Hollywood is opening its doors to Asia.

NOC: Congrats on Skyscraper! How does it feel working on what looks to be this generation’s Die Hard/Towering Inferno?
CHIN HAN: It feels terrific. I think that these are all movies that I grew up with as well. I think the stuff that inspired [director] Rawson [Marshall Thurber] was the same things that I enjoyed growing up. There were these big disaster movies like Towering Inferno, Earthquake, Poseidon’s Adventure, and Die Hard, obviously. Rawson is a big cinephile and fan of this movie, so I loved being a part of this. You know, this movie that has all our favorite elements from those movies.

Obviously, everything is filmed inside a studio and was very well protected. How do you personally feel about heights and the tall buildings surrounding the movie?
The heights! You know,  I’m not a fan of heights for one thing. I think in preparation for the movie, I went to one of the highest peaks in Vancouver. Just to get a sense of what it was like. That peak was about 3,500 feet up and it was very high. That was a great education for me, in terms of what we were looking at. Even though, we were pretty safe shooting on the sound stages. Still, the stuff that they build within the sound stages could go up to three or five stories and people had to be suspended from them. We had to work within that kind of structure. Obviously, on a movie this scale, there are a lot of precautions taken. All the action in there is real.

I want to talk a little bit more about your character. Your character is a rich, successful billionaire who made the choice to stay in the building despite having a fire and disaster around it. Can you tell us your character’s mindset was throughout the movie as they took pride in being the tallest building to the destruction of it?
I think the character is a visionary and he has dreams of the perfect Utopian city that is self-sustaining and reaching for the heavens. That is his idea. With every visionary, there is a belief and hubris as well and that is where he runs into problems. In that respect, even when the buildings starts growing in fire, he is supremely confident that all the fail safe measures will kick in and the building is not in any danger. It is like a vertical Titanic movie where man tries and his ego blinds him into things he hadn’t thought of before. That’s what happens in this film. Obviously, when he finds out what has happened, he takes the steps to redeem himself. Then he does. He takes steps to redeem himself.

I know you’re a fan of disaster films. Do these kinds of movies ever freak you out? After your films — like this one and 2012 — are you more cautious and aware?
Yeah. It just makes you more aware. In 2012, the tsunamis were happening and I was really afraid of tsunamis from that movie. This giant wave going over the Himalayas. Then, with this particular movie, I think even when you’re in the Ritz Carlton Hong Kong, which is 120 stories high, your senses become heightened and you become aware of where the exits signs are and you become much more cognizant of the fact that you are really up 107 stories up in the air and you become a little more paranoid. The same goes for [the movie I did] Contagion, I didn’t want to touch anything even when I was in the hotel room for months.

I’d like to say congrats on joining the Academy. You definitely deserved it. You honestly have been in everything. I loved what you said on your Instagram about it How did it feel when you received the letter? How important was it for you, as an actor, to be invited to the Academy?
It felt surreal because growing up, I think the two things that I would never miss were the Academy Awards and the World Cup soccer, which is happening right now. So, those two things. It felt surreal when the invitation came in. Obviously, I feel very honored to be part of this and be in the company of such incredible actors that I grew up watching. Moving forward, the next thing that is exciting for me is that now we’re part of the community that includes other Asian actors — whether Asian American actors like John Cho, who was invited last year or Asian actors like Donnie Yen and Andy Lau, who were invited as well. We might be able to move the needle in terms of what gets made and how we are represented in global cinema and Hollywood movies.

I wanted to ask about that, because Asia is going through a Hollywood BOOM right now. Everyone wants to film in Asia. What do you think makes the Asian market so appealing to Hollywood now?
There are two things. If you were cynical, you’d say because there is a huge market. There are a lot of attractive financial media relations to be had. I think beyond that, sure, these movies costs a lot to make and that is taken into consideration, but also what the market in the respective box office. There also is another element that people are starting to pay attention to the narratives and to the stories that came out of this as well. They are finding it resonating [with them]. They are finding it interesting, original, and, I think, that is part of the interest as well.

Hong Kong is a wonderful place to film, as well as Singapore, where you’re from. What makes Hong Kong such an idea place to shoot? Also, would you ever like to go back home to Singapore and shoot there too to showcase that culture?
Hong Kong has a very interesting landscape. Not only is it dense, but it’s uneven as well. It is also surrounded by water. I think that the density combined with the natural landscape and the existing buildings and skyscrapers like the Ritz Carlton. It lends itself very easily to the idea that we can create a five story building in the middle of that. The city itself is right for that kind of construction, so I think Hong Kong was the ideal place for Skyscraper. Secondly, there is just so much talent in Asia and in America. Asian American talent is so skilled. I am so thrilled when I see Asian Americans on the screen, whether it’s Brandon Lee or John Cho or Sung Kang, it’s just always fun to see. Whenever there are Asian stories, whether it is in the U.S. or in South Asia, or where I am from, which is Singapore, or Malaysia, Indonesia, or Thailand. I would be more than happy to support those productions.

Thank you so much for chatting with us, Chin Han. We are looking forward to seeing the movie again and see you more!

Skyscraper opens in theaters on July 13th.

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