Tzi Ma had been working on the pilot of Kung Fu — the reboot of the cult 1970s series starring David Carradine — for a week in Vancouver before filming was put on indefinite hold due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
And like so many others, the prolific veteran Chinese-American character actor, 57, found himself in a forced hiatus. Holed up at home in Pasadena, California, he’d hoped to ride out the storm by devoting his downtime to a laundry list of personal projects.
At least, that was his plan.
“Because of this backlash, I’m like doing interviews every day, finding some ways to get the message out,” Tzi tells 8days.sg over Skype. “So now, I ended up having no time!”
This “backlash” he’s referring to is the surge in hate crimes against people of Asian descent caused by the misrepresentation of the COVID-19 from media and political figures.
“We had to vocalise our concerns, right?” he says. “It turned out to be a campaign that’s well-supported. It generated a lot of attention. I’m happy that the campaign but whether or not it would make our community safer, I won’t know. Time will tell. It’s a lesson on two fronts: one, for the public, and two, for the community. I think we as a community has to be vigilant.”
But that’s not the only thing Tzi is advocating: he’s also plugging the just-dropped Netflix movie Tigertail, a poignant ‘coming-to-America’ story written and directed by Master of None co-creator Alan Yang.
Tigertail follows the life of factory worker Pin-Jui (first played by Lee Hong-Chi and later Tzi), who leaves his life and first love behind in Taiwan to pursue the American dream, and ends up decades later a bitter divorcé estranged from his daughter Angela (Christine Ko).
Like The Farewell, Tigertail is a moving immigrant’s tale and Tzi is thrilled to be a part of both movies — intimate stories about Asian-Americans told by Asian-Americans. “I believe [having Asian writers and directors] are even more important than having us in front of the camera,” Tzi told us in an earlier interview last year. “Because without them, these roles will not be as rich and not be as plentiful — because they are writing it for us.”
And Tigertail could’ve have arrived at a more vexing time when Asians are being targeted by racist attacks. “I just hope that we present another look at how human we are: How we are as flawed and complicated as anyone else,” Tzi said in a Time interview. “As long as we’re getting that opportunity to share this immigrant journey, hopefully you’re going to have a better understanding of us.”
Here, the very avuncular Tzi tells us more about his experiences working on Tigertail (the title is the literal English translation of Huwei, Pin-Jui’s hometown), how’s he embracing his role as ‘Hollywood’s Go-To Asian Dad’, and his Oscar hopes for Mulan.