By Tyler Ham Pong, Film Columnist
And I don’t mean that in an existential “what is your purpose” sort of way — that’s a discussion for another column. I’m talking about branding, which is one of the most important steps in finding your artistic voice and being recognized for it. As an actor, I might analyze this question as, “what is my type?” Am I the motorcycle-riding bad boy, the lovelorn boy next door, or the comedic sidekick? If that question remains unanswered, chances are the casting directors and agents looking at my headshot won’t know either. Instead of getting cast, I’ll get cast aside.
Most actors are probably yelling, “but I’m all of those things! I’ve studied everything from Shakespeare to Sam Shepard.” That’s great, but no one is going to know that from the mere cursory glance that most actors are granted when being considered for a role. Even if it’s on my resume, resumes have the unfortunate reputation of being a myriad of half-truths. An actor has to know their strength and lean into it in order for people to see them as a complex character instead of a blank canvas. And that complex character needs to be visible in your headshot, your reel, your website, your social media — everywhere.
When I was in acting school, my teacher gave me an exercise meant to confront this dilemma. The assignment was to write down the names of ten characters that I would consider my dream roles. They could be from theater, film or television, but it could extend to novels, comic books, maybe even a character who’s the subject of my favorite painting. Thinking beyond the realm of how we digest media helps expand our understanding of character. It can also help us find ourselves in the lowest denominator.
Okay, here’s my list of top ten roles that I would kill to play:
Vicomte de Valmont
F. Scott Fitzgerald
You probably don’t need me to tell you the connection between all of these characters. They’re dark dreamers. Byronic heroes. Some could be villains if they weren’t so human. Nothing’s off the table if it resonates with you from a truthful place. And really, these characters are all over the spectrum — but side by side you see the similarities, or the “lowest denominator.” Ultimately, you have to find your through line; the element of yourself that you bring to every character. That’s your type. And instead of feeling pigeonholed, use it to bring a piece of yourself to each role. Because that complex character is your brand.
Tyler Ham Pong started performing at a young age, first appearing onstage as Lorenzo in The Merchant of Venice at the National Arts Centre in Canada. In addition to training at the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute, his New York City achievements have included producing Moony Mercury (theatre), producing the award-winning Two Days ’til Dawn (theatre), and producing the short film Sawaru, winning him a Best Actor Award at the AAIFF. Currently he’s based in Los Angeles, and you can follow him @tylerhampong or go to http://www.tylerhampong.com and www.killthepigproductions.com.