This October, ABC Signature Studios and Marvel Television, are releasing an American web television series called Helstrom. This stand-alone story within the Marvel Cinematic Universe is based upon the Marvel characters Daimon and Satana Hellstrom.
The series features Tom Austen, Sydney Lemmon, Elizabeth Marvel, Robert Wisdom, June Carryl, Ariana Guerra, and Alain Uy. We had a chance to chat with the handsome and debonaire Alain Uy about the many facets of his life, as an actor, director, producer, and writer.
So let’s pull back the curtain and take a peek at the television industry’s “the one to watch”, Alain Uy.
You have a very interesting history. I read you were born in the Philippines and moved to L.A. with your family at the age of 6. What challenges did you and your family personally face as immigrants in the U.S.?
In many ways, our story isn’t too different from what most immigrants experience. The challenge of learning a new culture and learning a new reality presented the steepest learning curve for all of us. I remember living in our first apartment in Virgil Village in Los Angeles. The apartment couldn’t have been bigger than 500 sq feet and it had to house a family of seven. It was roach-infested and had a ton of bed bugs. It also wasn’t the best neighborhood. But my parents kept it all together. Sure, there were contentious moments where the challenges could’ve easily overwhelmed my parents. But to their credit, they were able to find a way to get through it all. They survived. Through their example, we learned how to persevere through whatever challenges that may present itself to us.
For me personally, the biggest challenge was understanding who I am in this new world. My identity was never in question when I was growing up in the Philippines. But when I started to go to school here, I was reminded of how different I was. I would be ridiculed for the food I would bring to lunch, how I pronounced certain words, and how I looked and dressed. When my family moved to Glendale, the student body at my school was made up of mostly white kids. That feeling of being an “other” was unavoidable, and that had lasting effects on me. There have been moments in my life where I was ashamed of being Asian and oftentimes I rejected my own culture because I wanted to belong. And there have been moments in my life where I celebrated my “other-ness” and wore it proudly. As if it were a badge of honour.
I also read that you went to Oxford. Tell us the story of how you developed your love for the theater and acting at Oxford.
Well, I have always loved performing as a child. My first love was dance. There was something about movement and expressing yourself through movement that I really latched on to. I was a really shy kid growing up and dance really opened the world for me. Sadly, I wasn’t able to pursue a career in dance because I got into a bad car accident. I couldn’t walk for 6 six months. A year removed from the accident, I found myself with an opportunity to study abroad in Oxford. By that time, I had given up my dream to pursue a career in dance and decided to study history for college. I think my spirit was searching for a new outlet because I soon discovered theatre while I was out there. I went to London one weekend with a friend and watched an Oscar Wilde play that blew me away. What dance did for me as a young kid, that Oscar Wilde play did for me as a young adult – it opened up a new world for me. That was the moment I knew what I would be doing for the rest of my life. Acting.
How did your parents feel when you told them you wanted to pursue acting as a career?
They were supportive. Of course, like most Asian parents they wanted me to have a back-up plan but they also didn’t deter me from pursuing it. I also feel like my parents always knew deep down that I was going to pursue something in the arts and entertainment industry. I think it should be mentioned that my 3 older brothers already wore them down by the time it was my turn to figure out what I was going to do with myself. They trusted me. They trusted that I would find a way to be successful at it. They taught me hard work, patience, and to always believe in myself.
In 2009 you started your business, Them Too Productions. What did you want to achieve with your own film production company?
I started the production company with Angela Calero. She’s an amazing photographer and an unbelievable producer. She also happens to be my wife and the mother of our 5-year-old child. We started the production company because I felt like I didn’t have any control of my own destiny, of my own craft. This industry had taught me early on that actors have very little power. Especially actors who are of color and actors who have been marginalised. I was just tired of not booking any roles and having nothing to show for all the work I have been putting into my career as an actor. In the beginning, all we wanted to do was find a way to make a living creating content that was appealing to us. I think our passion and our zest for creating visual narratives rang true to the people who eventually brought us on to develop some of their campaigns and projects. Eventually, we refined Them Too’s focus and pivoted into producing more narrative and scripted projects. What I want to achieve now is to produce more independent narratives that I feel are still underrepresented in the industry.
How did you come to work with Pharrell Williams, The Chainsmokers, Steve Aoki, Pitbull, Drake, Jay-Z, Beyoncé, Kanye West, Questlove & Lauryn Hill?
One of the biggest clients, we had for Them Too was a hospitality group called Hakkasan Group. We were hired to produce a lot of their early marketing and commercial campaigns for several of their properties. One of the bi-products of that business relationship was having access to some of the talent they were working with. Through them, I was able to build relationships with some of those artists and their reps – Steve Aoki, Pharrell Williams, Tiesto, etc. – because of the trust that was formed during our work with that client.
What do you see in the future for, Them Too Productions? And why did you call it, “Them Too Productions”?
When Angela and I were trying to come up with a name for the production company, we were just trying to be silly about it. We figured it doesn’t matter what name we come up with. It will eventually have its own brand recognition once we start putting in the work. My brother, Alekhine, came up with the name while we were all driving back to our house one day. We had a good laugh about how random it was and Angela and I decided to call our company Them Too. We’re constantly reading scripts that are being submitted to us. We’re also constantly developing our own projects as well. What I see in the future for Them Too is more present in the narrative and scripted world.
Around the world, the Pinoy community is very close-knit and supportive of one another. I was so happy to hear that you worked with comedian Jo Koy. How did that alliance come about?
We met Jo Koy through a mutual friend of ours during the first few years of Them Too’s existence. When Jo saw the kind of work we were doing at Them Too, he wanted to bring us on as producing partners. We ended up developing some amazing content together – like that mockumentary The Truth Behind the Mask that Jo starred in alongside The Jabbawockeez. Those years we spent with Jo were amazing and we learned a lot about comedy. It is not a surprise to us how bright his star is shining right now. He continues to shed light on new developing artists, lifting them up for the world to see.
You seem to be one of the hardest working actors in Hollywood. You have worked alongside actors like Vince Vaughn, Colin Farrell, Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Jennifer Aniston, and Reese Witherspoon to name a few. As an Asian-American actor do you feel that there are more opportunities and better roles now in film and TV?
Absolutely! Compared to how it was when I was first starting out, we’ve made some significant strides. We still have a lot of work to do. It is so exciting for me to see people out there who are willing to do the work to keep pushing this movement forward. There are some amazing and uncompromising writers out there that are developing stories that are told through the Asian-American perspective. We need to continue to support them.
Tell us about your character Chris Yen in Marvel’s upcoming thriller-drama series Helstrom.
In many ways, Chris Yen is the polar opposite of me. He is always in control, well put together, and is extremely organised. I can only dream of having those characters because I live in chaos. We first meet Chris as Ana Helstrom’s business partner, or shall I say, her partner in crime. He also becomes her surrogate brother in her chosen family. He is easily the voice of reason in this dynamic but finds himself at crossroads when Ana’s world starts to envelop him.
I had such a fun time playing this character and working on this series. I learned so much from working with such an unbelievable cast. It was like I kept leveling up every time I finished a scene with Sydney Lemmon and Robert Wisdom. It’s easily one of the darkest roles I have ever played and I can’t wait for everyone to finally watch it when it premieres in October.
I also heard through the grapevine you are an avid gamer and League is one of your favourites, when do you even have time to play? And can other gamers find you on Twitch?
I am!!! It’s funny. One of the things I’m developing is a drama about the indie gaming industry. Hopefully, I will get a chance to finish the script later this year (fingers crossed). But YES! I am absolutely a gamer. I can’t say I am as avid as I once was before we had our kid. I try to find some time late at night when things are quieter and I have fulfilled all my duties for the day. I am going to keep my Twitch account anonymous for now *laughs*.
Alain Uy definitely seems to be rising to the top in the entertainment industry. His company, Them Too Productions’ candid approach to industry standards is opening up the door for more diverse content, and we can’t wait to see what is in store!
Photo Credit: Storm Santos