Profiles of Color: Mathilda Chua

Mathilda Chua is an actor/writer based in New York City. Born and raised in Singapore, she moved to the States when she was 19 to pursue a BFA at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, where she studied at both the Stella Adler Studio of Acting and Stonestreet Film Studios. After finishing up her studies, she began pursuing her career right here in the city. She has appeared in commercials for Conde Nast and Pearson and has had her plays accepted at the Midtown International Theatre Festival and the BMCC Writers-In-Performance summit. Other works include a staged reading with Third Eye Theatre Company's, Diary of a Gay Housewife, which premiered at MTC's Creative Center and is currently in development to be fully produced. 

When she's not doing any of that you can probably find her at the Angelika crying over a film/scouring NYC for Singaporean food/catching Pokemon.

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Name & Occupation?

Mathilda Chua, Actor/Writer.

When did you being acting? 

I've been doing it in school since I was 10, in school primarily. I think it really kicked off in high school when I just got a lot more involved and tried my best to do things outside school as well. 

How did you discover your love of theatre/acting? Was there a moment when you realized this was it for you?

I always loved performing, when I was younger I didn't really know what it was yet. When I was like maybe 16 or 17 that's when I realized, oh, this may be something I wanna do for the rest of my life. I always go back to this Oscar Wilde quote, "I regard the theatre as the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being." I think that's really true. 

How and why did you choose to come to the United States to study/work?

I've always loved the theatre scene in New York, and Tisch had a portal campus opposite my school in Singapore so I started doing research and knew that I wanted to come to the States to study. I also loved American cinema and television and would literally print out scripts from my favorite films and make my family and friends read lines with me, fast forward like 7 years later when I would actually be reading these lines in class, that was pretty crazy. Post-grad I just wanted to pursue my career here for as long as I could, but who knows what the future has in store.

What are your thoughts regarding current Asian representation in the US media? Do you think media coverage of Asian actors or Asians, in general, is biased in any way? 

Definitely! More often than not, the roles Asians get are blatant stereotypes, even if they’re not outwardly racist, they still fall into some category of being just the Asian dude (you won’t believe how many auditions I get that are literally like an Asian sidekick or the person who is really good at math) and it’s frustrating because so much of the time people don’t see that this is a problem. People are like “oh but being smart is not a bad thing/being a sidekick is pretty good”, yes true, but we are so much more than that and it’s annoying when we repeatedly fall into the same type of roles. And then not given the opportunity to break free from the preconceived notions so we will be repeatedly seen as the same thing. It's even worse when the role is so implicitly racist and people don't see that as a problem either. 

Could you share some of your experiences as an Asian actor working in the industry?

Yeah, I’ve had quite a few experiences, haha! There’ve been times I’ve been asked to do a very stereotypical accent for auditions and there would be no concrete reasons for why I had to do an accent other than a racist one. Like, oh that’s just how Asians should sound, that’s what we’re going for. It would be different if you’re portraying a character who would actually have that accent because it’s where they’re from/how they were brought up to speak, but if it’s just for a laugh/to portray a stereotype? No, not cool. Or I’ve actually been told during a callback that I couldn’t be as funny as a white actor and therefore I should just play to “my strengths”. Meaning, I should just be a stereotype again. Which is also not cool. On the flip side, there are times when you get called in for projects where you're not even reading for an Asian role, but a role that could be played by an actor of any color. Or even a really good story about Asians that are such a joy. Both those things are not that easy to come by so when they do happen, it’s pretty awesome. 

What do you think needs to change in the industry regarding the way Asians are being portrayed?

I think there just needs to be better representation. And I don’t think this just solely applies to Asians, I think the general treatment of actors of color just needs to be better. First of all, we need to eliminate white-washing, I can’t believe this is still an issue. And there needs to be less of an idea of having the “token person of color” in a project. Don’t just put us in projects because you think it would look better if it looks like you have a diverse cast, put us in because this is what the real world looks like. Let us play characters of substance, not just blatant stereotypes like the Asian girl with a purple streak in her hair. It’s 2018. That needs to stop. 

What are your personal goals as an actor of color, working in the industry?

Hopefully, that everything I just mentioned actually comes to fruition. I think, like all actors, we want to tell good stories, we want to be part of projects that mean something to us and to a greater audience as well. I think there’s so much room for that in the industry, to be honest, and there’s already progress being made. Bao, Pixar’s short that played before Incredibles 2, was about a Chinese immigrant family living in Toronto and it was actually directed by an Asian female. That’s progress in the right direction. Crazy Rich Asians too, which actually takes place where I’m from, and has several Singaporean actors as well. So the industry is changing, and I hope soon there are more places for other actors and actresses who look like me. 

Who are some of the Asian actors you look up to in the industry right now?

I think BD Wong is absolute dynamite, his play right now that’s playing at Atlantic, he’s just such an incredible actor. And to top it off he’s such a good guy, I have friends who are working on that show now and they tell me he’s just an absolute sweetheart. Sandra Oh, is just magic. I’m a huge Grey’s Anatomy fan, and Cristina Yang just broke so many stereotypes, and her new show now, Killing Eve, she’s just good in whatever she’s in.