As an Asian-Canadian, Samantha Wan is forging a path to inspire creatives within the entertainment industry and advocating for the importance of representation in television and movies. Her show, Second Jen, is a buddy comedy about two second-generation millennials who are trying to make it on their own in the big city. Find out more about her work below!
Hi Samantha, congratulations on your nomination for Best Comedy Series in 2019 Canadian Screen Awards for your sitcom, Second Jen! Tell us about your show and how you came about creating it.
Thank you! Second Jen is a sitcom about Second Generation kids and their crazy immigrant families. Two Asian Canadian girls moving away from home and experiencing all their adult-ing firsts together. It’s based around the lives and neighborhoods of my co-creator, Amanda Joy, and myself. We created the show because at the time we found there weren’t many developed roles for us as Asian actors. We created what we thought was a pilot (later we realized it was more 22 min short films) and then used it to pitch at the Banff World Media Festival. There we got the show optioned by Don Ferguson Productions and some interest from broadcasters. Skip over three years of stuff that is less exciting to hear about, numerous bible rewrites, pitches, and LOTS of waiting ( maybe a bit of crying, thinking the show was over, then it wasn’t, then it was…), Rogers Media picked us up for development and then series! We finished our second season last year and are super proud of the work. The nomination is the icing on the cake!
When you were creating the show, were you aware of creating Asian representation on screen? As an Asian Canadian woman in the industry, do you hope to advocate for more shows that feature diversity?
Absolutely, that’s why we created the show. My first auditions as an actress was to be a mail-order bride and a geisha. That didn’t seem like a good omen for my future. The more I worked in the industry the more I realize that representation was important because the media creates an image of what is beautiful and normal. So if you’re not part of that or you’re only seen as a sidekick, that kind of messaging works on your self esteem. How does a little girl learn to value herself if the world doesn’t show that value back? I became a really big advocate for diversity and I do what I can to help other diverse artist in creating their work in helping support each other in this community. I mentored for a lot of programs and tried to be very open and accessible to new artist trying to learn. I want to help make sure gatekeepers don’t have an excuse to say “well we couldn’t find someone qualified and diverse for the job”.
What kind of response where you hoping to receive about Second Jen? What surprised you about people’s reaction to the show?
I just hoped that people would see versions of themselves in the show. My favorite was receiving tweets from people saying “I’m moving out with my best friend next week, this is totally us”. We also had “wall squirrels” in the show, so instead of having mice living in your walls it’s squirrels ( a very common thing in Toronto) and it was very fun the amount of reactions we had to that on social.
What is it like working with your co-star, Amanda Joy? Any memorable moments on set so far?
Amanda and I started this series together when we were 23 and 24. So we’ve done a lot of growing up together and had a lot of our own ups and downs almost like siblings. It’s been interesting to realize that we’re different people now from when we started, and to see that growth in another person. Most memorable would either be the first time we pitched Second Jen at a pitching competition and were told by the judges that no one would be interested in seeing a show with characters like us, to then getting the series picked up three years later. Success is the best vengeance. Also going to our first upfronts at the Rogers Centre and running the bases ( Like the Blue Jays!… only much much slower). I never realize how big a baseball field is haha.
When did you know you wanted to become an actor and make films? What inspired you the most?
I started in theatre and really got into acting during high school. I finished all the possible acting courses in the first two years and then I started directing because there were no more classes for me to take! Then I went to the National Theatre school of Canada which is sort of our version of Juilliard. I’m fascinated by people and I often used acting as an escape and a way of understanding different situations. I had a lot of great teachers that made me fall in love with the art of storytelling. When I got into film I realized there was even more for me to play with using the camera and light and editing. Filmmaking just made me feel like I had more toys!
Tell us about your other interests outside of acting– you are also a martial artist and are trained to use all kinds of weapons! Way cool! How did you get into training as a fighter?
Thank you. Martial arts runs on my fathers side of the family. So I sort of inherited it. When I was old enough my father introduced me to my sifu, Master Sunny Tang. He took me in as one of his disciples and I’ve trained and competed with him for several years. I specifically study Wing Chun which was Bruce Lee’s original style. On the totally different note, I studied stage combat in theatre school. When I wasn’t cast the lead in on of our plays, I decided to make use of my time and learn how to be the fight captain. That’s how I learned how to fight with rapiers, daggers and broadswords, the more European weapons.
Do you hope to inspire future Asian Canadian/Asian American creatives? What kind of advice would you give to them if they want to get into the entertainment industry?
I would love to inspire another generation of Asian Canadian and American creatives. I would tell them this industry isn’t one that you can do as a side hustle. If you are considering this industry, save up money to give yourself a year (even a month) where all you do is your craft, then see how you feel. Especially Asian parents often say, go find a stable job and then do your art on the side. But that’s a way to maintain a hobby. You don’t know what’s possible until you give yourself a REAL chance.
Best advice I’ve been given? My father always told me any business takes at least three years to take off. I have found that timeline to be true. I usually try something for three years before I judge whether its working. AND.. Failure is inevitable. So Fail Hard. Fail Fast.
You are already a trained fighter, but if you could choose an additional super power, which would it be and why?
Teleportation! I’m LOVE traveling. I’m an explorer at heart. Some people collect things, I collect experiences. If I could go anywhere at any time, that would be my dream.