Actor, Tina Jung, talks to Defective Geeks about taking on this intense role in Queen of the Morning Calm and the challenging topics the film explores. Learn more about her emotional and mental journey and read our interview with her below.
Queen of the Morning Calm looks so emotional, with a really unique perspective on life as a struggling immigrant and a woman of color– tell us about this movie and your character, Debra.
Queen of the Morning Calm is an empowering story about a young immigrant sex worker trying to break free from the cycles of poverty and abuse, all the while learning to be a more nurturing mother in the process. Debra has always lived at the mercy of men believing that things will eventually get better by staying silent and always doing what she is told. She is dragged along knowing she is unhappy with her situation but stays because she feels the need to take care and save others around her. In order to survive, she begins to trust herself learning that she is the only hero she needs in her world. Through her journey of breaking free from the labels that were put on her, she gathers the courage to take risks and fight back, she learns to take control, find her voice, and be her own savior from a world that turned its back on her. It is a story of emancipation, a lesson on self-love, and a discovery of self-worth.
How was it for you to play Debra and exploring the still somewhat taboo subject of sex work as your character? Did you learn anything while filming this movie and digging deep into your role?
It was the most challenging role I’ve played to date. First off, this story is close to the heart of the writer and director Gloria Kim, who spent the last 12 years working on this script. It’s a very personal story for her so I tried to make sure she was getting everything she needed from me emotionally, physically, and mentally. When I began to research the role, I dove deep into the world of sex workers and addicts and abusive relationships. I wanted to educate myself with the right materials and the right stories. I visited strip clubs, talked to some sex workers, read articles, and watched documentaries. You’re right that sex work is still a huge taboo in today’s society. Most people are quick to judge and shame them without knowing their side of the story and for some it’s not a choice. People turn a blind eye to it and these women’s voices remain unheard and considered less of a priority when it comes to helping them in certain situations, especially when it comes to children of sex workers. There’s not enough statistics out there of how many exist and how that has effected them psychologically, socially and emotionally. Everyone has a story and when we remove the labels, we are all just human beings trying to make a living in this world.
What was it like working with your young co-star, Eponine Lee, who plays Debra’s daughter? How did you two work through the more emotional scenes together?
Working with Eponine was such a blessing. She is incredibly sweet and funny and wise beyond her years. She knows how to read the room, she brings her A-game to every rehearsal and scene, she is always prepared, and extremely professional. I remember on the first day of rehearsals she brought her binder all ready to go and each scene was already highlighted, she wrote down her beats and actions, figured out her intentions, her objectives, what her character is supposed to be feeling and why, and she had all her homework done. She was incredibly prepared, she understood the complexity of the film and why it was the way it was, and wasn’t afraid to ask questions to work out a difficult scene. For the tougher scenes where I was in a certain mindset and what was needed of me was more emotionally demanding, in between takes she would just hold my hand staying in the moment with me. Eponine is an incredibly talented actor and I couldn’t have asked for a better co-star.
Was there any difficult moments for you personally while filming this movie?
I think staying in a certain mindset throughout shooting was particularly difficult for me. Since this is a heavy dramatic film with mature subject matters and deals with tough topics, most of the shooting as you can imagine required a lot of set ups, one-on-one conversations with the director, mentally and emotionally staying in the moment, and finding ways to get out of it once we cut. It was emotionally draining and required a lot from me as an actor and it was a lesson on learning how to find the balance and finding a process that worked for me in a safe way.
How do you hope people will respond to this movie after watching it?
I hope this film shines a light onto violence and abuse in relationships and the audiences are able to get a glimpse into the world of sex workers and their situations in their day to day life. This film is a story of survival and breaking free from a lifestyle that some women are forced into. At a time where women’s voices matter greatly and more and more women are speaking up for our rights and getting together to support one another, I hope the audiences can resonate with her story in their own way.
As a writer and producer yourself, how do you feel about the importance of movies like Queen of the Morning Calm and what they mean for representation on-screen? Do you feel the North American industry is moving in the right direction with making space for Asian creators and talents?
To have a strong female Asian character as a lead of a feature is necessary and important, especially when sharing her story to the audience. Diversity and representation is important, period, and I can’t stress that enough. The glass ceiling for minorities and people of colour in the industry have always existed for as long as we can remember but I feel that as of lately, a crack has been made in terms of getting more representation on screen and through the media. The industry is now slowly opening up to the idea of putting more and more of us on screen and it’s been a long time coming but at least we’re doing everything we can to speed up that process. We live in a world where diversity is the norm and I think reflecting that on screen is an obvious and natural choice. The stories that we see on shows and movies can be about anyone regardless of their race and the more the industry can accept that reality, the more we can see people of colour represented on screen and kids and audiences can see themselves through the screen. I’ve never seen someone like me on television growing up, it was rare, and all I had was Mulan and Lucy Liu to look up to. But now, if we are able to get more representation on screen, children today are able to see themselves growing up and feel like they belong and have more people they can relate to. I want to be able to give that to them, something we never had when we were growing up.
What would be your dream role or project one day?
While we’re on the subject of Asian representation, I’ve always been interested in playing Silk, aka. Cindy Moon, a Korean-American superheroine. She is a student in the same class as Peter Parker and is bitten by a radioactive spider around the same time as him possessing superpowers similar to Spider Man. Always down for kick-ass roles. Also, to be on a show like This is Us and Brooklyn Nine-Nine– or literally any show by Michael Schur, Dan Goor and Dan Fogelman.
Thank you so much for answering our questions today, tina! For our last question, if you could pick one superpower to have, which would it be and why?
Teleportation! Think of how much time I can save on transportation if I can get to one place to another in the blink of an eye. Plus, I don’t have to worry about getting stuck in traffic or be late, ever– bonus, it’s an environmentally friendly option too.
Photo credit by Tim Leyes.