Recently, we got to talk to Ken Leung about the debut season of HBO’s finance drama, Industry. Having played supporting but significant parts in everything from Lost to The Sopranos, X-Men: The Last Stand to Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Industry showcases a side of Leung we have never seen before, an intense bat-wielding banker who barks orders at subordinates while also having a heart of index-traded gold and dialogue thick with impenetrable trading lingo.
As the series’ debut season concludes, we at The Cultured reflect on our conversation with Leung on his experience on Industry. Fortunately, we were beyond joyful to find out that the 50-year-old actor is nowhere as scary as Eric as his razor-sharp wit shines through our 13-inch laptop screen and well-worn earphones. However, do not let that fool you into thinking that the veteran actor is any less experienced when it comes to his own craft. In this interview, Ken Leung tells all.
Does Ken Lueng the actor share the same intuition as Eric when it comes to finance?
Many people have asked me that. [Laughs] It’s funny because if you knew the truth, you would think it was hilarious how little I know about finance. There was a time when I used to think that the people who are in finance, they are in it because all they care about is making money, and it’s just numbers, numbers, and numbers.
I didn’t really give it much respect — but now I do, because I realise it’s so much more than that. It’s so much more than just money. There’s imagination, there’s creativity, and it opens up a whole world that I never respected enough to pay attention to.
What were the biggest challenges you faced as an Asian American actor?
I’m asked about that all the time. For 25 years. And I go through phases, you know? In the beginning, there really was an attempt from my end to answer, and say ‘oh I do my best’ and so on. And I still got asked the same questions. So it’s like wait, they’re not asking this. It sounds like they’re asking this question, but it’s not really what they’re asking about.
The question, in essence, is really “are you happy yet? Is this enough for you? Do things need to get better for you to be happy?’ Maybe Asians, should we be quiet now? Should we stop protesting? Should we stop clamouring for representation now?” And if that’s the question, I’m not the one who should answer that, it’s the audience. Is the audience happy with the representation out there? If they are, who am I to say any different?
Myha’la Herrold, who plays Harper Stern in the series, who is a protégé of sorts to Eric — does this dynamic carry over to your professional relationship off camera?
Kind of, If she didn’t look so young, and I didn’t know that she was as new as she is, I wouldn’t think that she was new at it. She has incredible poise and is a very disciplined actor. She’s very serious, and she’s also up for anything, and ready to play.
As far as the mentor thing goes, she likes the idea of me being her mentor. Partially, I think, it’s for the show. And partially it’s just our friendship. So sometimes she’ll text me ‘oh I’m worried about this or that, talk me through it’, something like that. I think she does that not because she needs it but because she likes that relationship. I think that she’s okay, I don’t think she needs my advice, she just likes it, because it’s kind of become our relationship,” said Leung of 24-year-old Herrold.
In the pilot episode, as Harper Stern scores her first big win, Eric turns to her and uttered the words, “Do not forget this moment”. As an actor, what was your first unforgettable moment?
Wow, what a great question. I’m going to say it was the first time I was in L.A., it was for a small film called Red Corner, and I’ve never been in a film before at that point in time. I remember riding around the lot with a cast mate, a Chinese actress from Mainland China, in a golf cart. There we were, driving around the lot in a cart, and if you turn around, you see can see the fake streets. That was a “do not forget this feeling” moment for me because, if you are lucky, you may get used to it one day. It was a lot of firsts for me.
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