Transcript of the interview with actor
Garrett Wang

Best known for his role as Ensign Harry Kim on
The interview aired on Tuesday, April 14, 1998 at 9:30pm eastern
conducted by
Peter Anthony Holder
the evening talk show host on
CJAD 800 AM, Montreal.

CJAD: Hi Garrett, how are you?

GARRETT: Good. Thank you for the correct pronunciation of my last name also.

CJAD: Let's start off with that. Your last name is spelled W-A-N-G, and it's pronounced W-O-N-G.

GARRETT: That's right.

CJAD: Why is that, since you brought it up?

GARRETT: Basically W-A-N-G and W-O-N-G are both pronounced Wong. The spelling denotes what part of China your ancestors are from. It's more a regional spelling.

CJAD: This is what season now for Star Trek: Voyager?

GARRETT: We just completed our fourth season. We are currently on our summer break right now and we'll be going back the first of June to resume work on the fifth season.

CJAD: Is it getting easier with time? Are you comfortable in the role of Harry Kim, or is there still something to get used to, or are there still things to discover about Harry?

GARRETT: There are definitely more things to discover about Harry. The character must and should develop over each season. It's easier than season one. I'll tell you that. I'm much more at ease with the technical language, obviously. The dialogue. And actually, I would say, because of Star Trek, I tend to annunciate a lot better then I did before, because of all the difficult dialogue that we have. The character of Kim has grown up. He started out as the wet-behind-the-ears ensign....inexperienced. And now he has come into his own and there is definitely more ground to cover with the Kim character in terms of becoming more of an integral part of the crew.

CJAD: How did you come to the role?

GARRETT: I had a call from my agent who told me there was an audition and he thought I would be perfect for the role of Kim on Star Trek: Voyager. And I said, "okay, sure, I'll go, I'll check it out." I went to the first audition. I ended up having in total six auditions for the role of Kim, which in the Hollywood world, that's more than the normal amount. I would say some of the other characters went in twice, maybe three times. But for Kim I was seen six times, which was somewhat of a harrowing affair. It was a span of maybe two months where I was waiting to hear whether I had gotten the role or not. They searched everywhere from L.A. to New York, even in Canada for an actor to fill Harry Kim's shoes. After two months I was given the call that I was selected as Kim, which I guess pretty much changed my life from that point forward. I want to relate an interesting story for you. When I was told that I was going to be Kim, they told me that I had to go down to the studio and go in for my first fitting with the wardrobe department to get my measurements to be fitted in the extremely tight spacesuit that we have to wear. They said you have to get there at a certain time. At the time I was working at another job and I had to rush over. Driving into the parking lot, rushing into the parking lot, rounding the corner I had to slam on the breaks. Some guy was walking between the cars and I almost hit him. I looked up and it was Harrison Ford. Harrison was going to his premiere of, I think it was Clear And Present Danger at the time. One of those Jack Ryan type of movies. I think for a minute my life flashed before my eyes, because I started thinking about what would happen if I actually hit him, you know, and just the headlines next day. "Young Actor Maims Harrison Ford" or something like that.

CJAD: You said that character was already named before you got the part. He was Harry Kim on the page.


CJAD: So clearly the character was always deemed to be an Asian character, correct?

GARRETT: Yes, that's correct.

CJAD: Was that important in the fact that you are in this role, a role model to other Asian Americans out there. Was that in the back of your mind at all, knowing the following that Star Trek has?

GARRETT: No, it was purely just another audition for me. There wasn't any real weight to it at the time. Part of the reason is because I really didn't follow Star Trek as much as some other people had before I had the audition. I think if I was a diehard Next Generation fan, I may not have gotten the role, because I think I may have blown it up into something really, really big in my head. It was not until after I was on the show and I attended my first convention and going out in public that I realized the extent of the fan base that's out there.

CJAD: And what was that like, that first convention for you, realizing how rabid Trek fans can be?

GARRETT: Well, my first convention it was wasn't dipping my toes into the pool, the cold morning pool. It was jumping in head first. That convention was in Minneapolis. Actually, I was filling in. Kate Mulgrew was supposed to be scheduled for that convention. She was sick, so I filled in for her at last minute. We premiered...the first episode of Star Trek: Voyager, I think, was January 16th and January 23rd, that weekend, was the convention. So it was only one show. Caretaker had aired. Showing up in Minneapolis, getting on stage, I walked through the doors and I was greeted by I think it was approximately 4,000 fans that were there that day, which blew me back. My entire body was shaking from just absolute shock. I was in shock for probably the first fifteen minutes that I was on stage. I just couldn't believe it at all. But it was fun and I've grown to really love doing conventions and I will continue doing them throughout my career.

CJAD: Again, the fans are very, very rabid and they're very opinionated. Either they love something or they hate it. There doesn't really seem to be an in between. Do you get much criticism or praise for your role or the show in general when you go to these conventions?

GARRETT: You know, the fans are definitely opinionated and they'll voice their mind, but I think for the most part there is tact involved. No one has really come up and said "I hate your character." I think 99% of the comments I've gotten or questions that I field are all on the positive side. Very supportive and in general the fans, they're very good fans.

CJAD: Since the show has been on the air there have been some cast changes. Some cast members of left, some cast members have joined the show. There was some talk that they might have planned to kill you off.

GARRETT: Well the original cast change....the very first cast change was obviously the Janeway cast change. We had Genevieve Bujold, who was set to play Captain Janeway. Actually she was Janeway for a day and a half I think, and she quit. After quitting, there was about a two week period where they were searching for another Janeway. At that point they opened the field up to not only women, but they started thinking, "well, maybe we should get a guy in here." At that point all the rest of the male characters on the show that were already cast, we were all waiting nervously, because we were thinking that they wanted to keep the gender ration the same and if they indeed did cast a male captain they would have to recast one of the other male roles as a female. So at that point I was thinking that if they had selected Kim as the one to change to a female, I would offer them the chance for me to be the Tootsie type of a character (laughter). If I could just play it as Suzie Kim, I'll do it. That was the first time. The second time, of course was when Jennifer Lien, who played Kes departed the show and they were searching for a new character. There was Seven-of-Nine in there. There was also some talk, some rumours of Kim departing the show and I really don't know the basis of those rumours in terms of where they came from, but obviously it's not true.

CJAD: Are you safe?

GARRETT: Yeah...(laughter) Am I safe?

CJAD: Will you last on the ship?

GARRETT: I think I'll last on the ship. I don't think there will be any warp core accidents with Kim in the engineering room.

CJAD: Because I know you received mail from your parents so you have to get back to them, right?

GARRETT: Mail from my parents!?

CJAD: On the show, you did get a message through.


CJAD: See, I pay attention.

GARRETT: That's true. You've got it down.

CJAD: Speaking of which, I noticed on the show that you have a little thing there for Seven-Of-Nine. Is anything going to happen there?

GARRETT: Well if she stops knocking me down and punching me out, yeah, maybe something will happen. If she starts respecting Kim for who he is, yeah, something will go down, but I think right now the romance that's been going on has been the Paris and Torres relationship. I think the producers and the writers are happy to stay with one relationship. They don't want the show to turn into a soap opera. So, in terms of seeing Kim and Seven getting together in the future, they might make references to it, but I don't think there will be a full out relationship until maybe way down the line.

CJAD: As a actor are you worried about being typecast in the role of Harry Kim, especially considering the show gets more popular with time?

GARRETT: It's in the back of my mind, but I think I'm more happy to play a character which isn't stereotyped. For me that's been a big struggle as an Asian-American actor, having to come up against a lot of different roles which happened to be very stereotypical. I've had auditions for, you name it, I've had it. All the different stereotypes you can possibly think of for Asian-Americans. The Chinese restaurant delivery boy, the Mafia member, the Chinatown bad guy. All these have those ridiculous fortune cookie accents. So more then anything, I'm just happy to play a role which first and foremost he is a Starfleet officer on Voyager, as opposed to being "he's the Asian guy." They don't play up to that.

CJAD: And it's nothing you have to point out at all at anytime when you get a script or is it something that the writers are pretty even-handed with even from the get-go.

GARRETT: They were very even-handed, even from the get-go. All the way to the point of even wardrobe. I remember in one scene I was supposed to be wearing an off-duty ensemble and they actually picked a design which Picard wore, sort of as his...kind of like a nightgown thing, or whatever, but the way it was designed it almost looks like a karate gi, that folds over. It kind of looked like that a little bit. They called me up and had me come in and look at it and they said, "does this offend you in any way. We want to make sure that you're okay like this." I took a look at it, and to me it looked more like a Spanish bull fighter's uniform, so I said, "ah, that's fine! I'm okay with it." But if they had told me, "hey, in this scene you're going to be in the holodeck using chopsticks eating kimchi, with a side of chow mein (laughter), I think I would have had a little problem with that.

CJAD: Is there enough for all the characters on the show, for each actor to stretch their acting chops, so to speak. With a large cast on so many shows, sometimes you get people who are somewhat disgruntled or a little unhappy or feel they are left out. Do you find that there is enough emphasis on your characters and on other characters so that everyone is happy?

GARRETT: Yeah, on an ensemble show with nine characters, it's always going to be a bit of a juggling act to make sure that each character gets their due screen time or has their character develop to the next level and I think that that will always be something that will have to be worked on for the show. This season in particular....I had very little to do this season, and what ultimately happened in my favour is that there were probably about seven or eight episodes that ended up being short. Short meaning that after filming was completed, they found out that they were missing maybe three minutes, four minutes of time for the episode, and so they had to go back and reshoot and add some new scenes. It just happened that of those seven or eight episodes that needed new scenes, Kim was able to jump in the slot there and they actually wrote in my character in all the added scenes for probably 90% of those episodes that were short, so that's a good thing for me. But yeah, that's something that the actors always have in their mind, wondering when they are going to get their next big episode or what-not. But I always try to keep in mind that it's an ensemble show and it's a team effort. Sometimes you are going to get the shows that are gonna really focus on you and your character and sometimes you won't. But for the most part, the writers and producers have that in their mind to keep it even throughout.

CJAD: The original series went from television to the big screen. Next Generation went from television to the big screen. The same hopes for Voyager?

GARRETT: Sure, the same hopes are there. Whether or not that will happen, I'm not sure how they are going to do that. Of course when Next Generation went to the big screen, they pretty much went there as a replacement for the original crew, because more of age considerations. The original Star Trek members were getting up there in age and I think they decided to pass the torch more or less, whereas when we're done with our run of Voyager, the Next Generation guys won't be in that age range. They'll still be pretty fresh. If anything, what I would like to see is the entire run of Voyager still being lost in the Delta Quadrant and maybe making a feature film with all the characters on Voyager finally making it back to the Alpha Quadrant. I think that would be a nice selling point for that film.

CJAD: Is it an endless point at this situation, that Voyager can go on for as long as it can go on or is there a finite end to the series?

GARRETT: I don't know the answer to that. I really don't. I'm not sure what they are going to be doing with that.

CJAD: What about Garrett Wang outside of Star Trek.

GARRETT: Outside of Star Trek is very difficult. We film ten months of the year so we have two months of free time, and not really all of the entire two months. Each one of us, we try to do what we can. Robert Beltran played Hamlet last summer break, which was a good little stage performance for him. He did a great job. As for me, I was able to squeeze in a role in a film called One Hundred Percent, which is currently making the film festival circuit right now. It's going to be playing in the L.A. Independent Film Festival in April and that film is hopefully going to get distributed by a distributor soon and it will be out in your area.

CJAD: What is the film?

GARRETT: One Hundred Percent. It follows the lives of three young guys. Buddies who grew up in Venice, California, which is a suburb of Los Angeles. Kind of an artsy community. It's more of a comedy, I have to say. I play a young, struggling actor in the film, who ends up getting a big role in a big film, but the things that he has to do that he goes through are against his principles and he finally has to come to a resolution within his own mind of how to deal with it. It's unique in that all the main characters, all the leads in the film are Asian-American actors. But obviously it does have a universal appeal. The target audience being a youth audience. It's very hip, very funny and a very exciting film. I'm glad to be a part of it.

CJAD: Do you still find it's difficult in the United States for a film like that with an entire Asian-American cast to break into mainstream?

GARRETT: Yeah it is. That's one of the problems we're having right now in getting a distributor. A lot of people are looking at it and saying, "oh we love your script, we love your actors, but where are the Caucasian actors, where are the Caucasian leads?" There's that fear of "will it make any money?" "Will it be able to transcend?" And I think really, if a story is strong and the characters are good, it really doesn't matter what the skin color is. I think it will definitely go, but right now there is definitely a lot of hesitancy on the part of Hollywood to fund or to green-light projects which star Asian-American actors. I mean, right now you're seeing an influx of Asian national, like Hong Kong directors, you know, John Woo and a couple of other noted Hong Kong directors that are out here right now directing. And also you have actors such as Chow Yun-Fat, he's been an institution in Hong Kong forever, playing the lead in Replacement Killers. But you're not seeing Asian-American actors or Asian-Canadian actors that were born in Canada, born in the U.S. headlining a film, and that's probably the next step to break through. Hopefully...I think what it will take will'll take an Asian-American director who is able to finance a film on his own and get it distributed on his own and make a ton of money on his own. Once that happens, that's when Hollywood takes note, because really, Hollywood is not prejudiced towards any color or ethnicity. They really only cater to the color of green. If your project makes money, everyone's going to jump on the bandwagon. Hollywood is more of a community of followers then of innovators. Once you show them it can be done, then the floodgates will open.

CJAD: Well it sounds like you have a good game plan. You've got Voyager to keep you busy, and you've got other projects you are working on. Was this where your career was headed when you first plotted it out, or did you just let the chips fall where they may?

GARRETT: Actually, at the same time that I heard that I got the role of Harry Kim, I was also in line to do two different films. I was hired to do a small part playing the younger brother of the lead in Mortal Combat and also a lead in a film called Glory Days, which was a film about five young guys, college guys, up in Santa Cruz dealing with life. Interesting in that film, which was probably four years ago, Ben Affleck was the lead. The character that I was supposed to play was the co-lead. French Stewart from Third Rock From The Sun, was also one of the stars of that film. Matt Damon had a 30-second scene in the film where he didn't say anything. Matthew McConaughey had a one-minute scene. So you had all these really big, huge Hollywood players that were in this small independent film and I turned down both films to do Voyager, so if Voyager didn't happen, I think that my career would be more a film oriented career right now.

CJAD: And you don't mind being a television star?

GARRETT: No. I think nowadays it's much more of a blur. I mean you have film stars doing TV shows. You have TV personalities doing films. It goes back and forth. I mean, for awhile there was always that group of actors who would say, "well, I aspire to do film and I'm not really a television actor," whatever that meant. I think what's important for me, what motivates me is I want to be able to play characters that are non-stereotypical. I want to be able to show people that I'm not a stereotype and also that I can be just as guy-next-door as anybody else, or hero as anybody else. Those are characters that you don't really see when it comes to Asian-American males in films and TV today.

CJAD: Well we enjoy watching you as Harry Kim on Star Trek: Voyager and continued success doing that. Tell us again the film you have. The title is...

GARRETT: One Hundred Percent.

CJAD: We'll look for that, as the saying goes, at a theatre near us. I thank you Garrett for talking to us.

GARRETT: Thank you.

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