Hello Asia editor Johnny Au chats with Australian actor John Luc about his debut full feature film SUCKER. Known to audiences as the YouTuber Mychonny, John has transitioned onto the big screen in this adapation of Lawrence Leung’s one man stand up show SUCKER. Starring veteran actor Timothy Spall and Australian actress Lily Sullivan, SUCKER is a coming of age story about the ancient art of the swindle and the truth about love. Johnny chats to John about playing the character Lawrence and the experience on his first feature.
Hi John! Congratulations on the film SUCKER. I believe its your very first full feature movie role. I hear the producers of the film were chasing you for four years to play the role of Lawrence? Why did it take so long?
Thank you very much! I hope you enjoyed the movie. I got the script over four years ago and the producer Robyn Kershaw (Kath & Kim, Looking for Alibrandi) contacted me through my YouTube inbox which no one does anymore. She invited me to come down to the office and do a reading with the director Ben Chessell and I got the role. And then I didn’t hear about the film for four years!
Is it normal to not hear from the producer or director for four years after you were promised the role?
Let’s just say for Australian films and also for Asian Australians who is playing the lead it might take awhile. The writer of SUCKER Lawrence Leung had the script written twelve years ago so it was being circulated for a long time. Lawrence could’ve sold the movie to the US but the stipulation was that a white person has to play the lead character. Lawrence was pretty adamant that the lead has to be played by someone with an Asian background. And finally after twelve years for the them the movie has come to life.
Tell me a little about your character Lawrence? Was it challenging to play a 17 year old?
As you know we Asians do look naturally young and I don’t grow any facial hair so that really helps! So I played the role of a 17 year old as a 23 year old which was fine because I can get away with it. Playing the character itself was tricky because I am a YouTube idol and my material is usually Asian stereotype comedy, exaggerated stuff so it was a shock for my fans to see me play a straight character like that. But the thing is after the film was shown around Australia the response from my fans have been really positive and I feel like I’m maturing from a YouTuber idol to an actor.
By the way I love your Japanese accent in the film!
Thanks! I usually specialise in Chinese accents so that was all acting! I had to learn it for the role. Japanese accents are tricky though. I sound like the commentators in ‘Iron Chef’ every time I do it!
Did you do anything specific to prepare for your role in SUCKER?
Acting wise I didn’t have any lessons beforehand. The producers didn’t give any specific instructions on how to play the character so I could play Lawrence the way I wanted to. Other preparations would be the card tricks and the sleight of hand which was all real – no CGI! Lawrence Leung taught me all the tricks and it took me a good two months to learn them all. The poker chips sliding between my fingers took me a month and a half to learn. I’ll have hundreds of chips on the floor from practicing.
Did you actually watch the one man cards – comedy show SUCKER from Lawrence Leung that was the basis for the movie?
No I didn’t as the show was about ten years ago and there was no film footage of it. I was looking for it as I wanted to see what the show was like but I haven’t been able to track down any footage. I think it’s actually good I didn’t get to see the show as I could interpret the character the way I saw it.
What advice did Lawrence Leung give you during the making of SUCKER?
Lawrence Leung was on set watching the production but most of the advice came from the director Ben Chessell. Lawrence was there to offer moral support.
What was it like to work with Timothy Spall as the Professor and Lily Sullivan as Sarah? Timothy has worked on just about everything!
Working with Lily Sullivan was so much fun. She’s an amazing character, such a fun person to be around. I really enjoyed working with Lily. With Timothy Spall it was amazing to work with a veteran actor. It felt like I was getting a free masterclass in acting and the chemistry was great because Timothy knows what he is doing. I was bouncing off that and made me a better actor. Timothy is a hilarious guy – he’s so much fun off screen and he keeps things light. But once the camera is rolling he’s on point and bringing his lines perfectly. A true professional.
Timothy Spall has great stage presence doesn’t he?
Yes he’s charismatic and steals the screen. Dammit Tim! (laughs)
Do you think working as a YouTube artist has helped you transition to acting on the big screen? What’s been some of the challenges?
It did because back then I was working behind a camera in my bedroom with all the freedom in the world to say what I wanted to say and do whatever I wanted to do. Whereas in a movie shoot there could be upwards of forty people watching you so it can be nerve wracking. But YouTube and comedy has really helped me progress, especially stand up comedy as I did that a few years ago to get out of my comfort zone. So those experiences really helped me personally when it came time to shoot the movie. All my nerves were gone by then and it was just focus on the acting.
What do you want the audience of SUCKER to take away after watching the film?
For my fans I want them to really enjoy the film and have a laugh. I get a lot of my fans asking me how they can become a YouTuber and how they can get into the entertainment industry. There’s a lot of kids out there and especially Asian background kids who follow what their parents want for them. That’s pretty scary as that was my parents wanted too. When I told them I was doing comedy they were like no! You are not going to get anywhere with that. You have to study and you have to go to university etc etc. I want kids to know there’s another way if you really want to follow your dreams, passion and that cheesy stuff! (laughs) Hosting your own video on YouTube can take you to the big screen. You can make it!
Do you think its getting easier for Asian-Australians to get roles in mainstream cinema and TV? Ten to twenty years ago I wouldn’t have dreamt that a lead character of an Australian feature film would be of Asian decent.
Back then definitely not but now it is really starting to come out with shows like SBS’s The Family Law. However I still feel it is quite challenging even with a movie like SUCKER. It’s hard to get press, it’s hard to sell the movie and for me it’s hard to find future roles. I’ve done only a few auditions since SUCKER so it is still a challenge. But we are getting somewhere so that’s all that matters.
Do you feel like yourself and people like Lawrence Leung and Benjamin Law are pioneers in this movement of Asian background talent in Australian entertainment industry?
Of course with veterans like Lawrence and Benjamin they are the pioneers in getting more Asian talent in the industry. Lawrence is the reason why I got to work in this movie to begin with. I’m not sure if I can considered a pioneer but the other two definitely are.
What was your favourite part of SUCKER?
Everything! I love filming and caught the acting bug and didn’t want it to end. But my favourite scene is flicking my mate Tom who plays Jeremy in SUCKER. The scene was the exam room where I flicked him in the eye with a rubber band. We’re not supposed to aim at an actor’s eye but the one shot that was used in the film was the time I got him in the eye. The reaction was actually a real reaction! It was hilarious on set when it happened.
I actually really enjoyed the cinematography of SUCKER. The Australian countryside is beautifully shot in the movie.
Katie Milwright shot those scenes and what I loved about them was they are not your stereotypical Australian countryside. It is the real countryside and it is visually authentic.
How is the Mychonny YouTube channel going? Any exciting plans for the channel in 2016?
It’s going well. The viewership is going well and always getting new subscribers. I’m working on a new sketch comedy online for 2016. Its called The China Boy Show so look out for it. Its stand up comedy and I’m working with another comedian called Tien Tran. I love stand up and sketch comedy and this web series brings it all together. Look out for it!
Download SUCKER now at suckerthemovie.net or iTunes