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Interview with Various Broken Trail's Cast Members

US ASIANS: Were there similarities of working on “Broken Trail” - as compared to your respective experiences in past TV and movie projects?

GWENDOLINE YEO: Working with stars like Kiefer Sutherland, Rutger Hauer and of course, working with Robert Duvall on Broken Trail, to name a few -- there is an immediate respect to the craft. There is genuine passion and patience that the quality of the work is most important. Discovering actors who work that way, which is the way I work also, is nothing but joy. This is the similarity. That on every set, you give homage to the actors who take it so seriously, almost to a fault, as you do--and relish the moments you have with them because when someone calls action, you get so excited because you know there is genuine truth to discover here, in that moment, in that scene, with this person & yourself. TV or film, whatever the medium, the pursuit is always the truth and I have been so lucky to have worked with the best actors, directors with a tremendous work ethic and passion for this business and the craft. (Editor's Note: Ms. Yeo's TV projects include "Desperate Housewives," "24," "General Hospital," "Grounded for Life," NYPD Blue," JAG," "The OC" and "Judging Amy" - Her film projects include "Seventy-five," "Night Skies" and "The Magic of Ordinary Days")

CAROLINE CHAN: Broken Trail was different from all film experiences I’ve worked on, I have never been so royally treated in my life until I came to Calgary. The best tip I ever received was: “don’t act..just feel it.” Mr Duvall told us that and I truly believe it made us all better actors. (Editor's Note: Her credits included TV Projects: Discovery Channel's "Before We Ruled the Earth" & "So Weird" - along with movie projects such as "Fetching Cody" and Disney's Santa Clause 2").

OLIVIA CHENG: Not at all. Not only is every project and set different, but everything I’ve done leading up to Broken Trail were just bit parts and day player roles. I’d walk onto set for a day and just take in what I could for that short amount of time. It was always fun but it just doesn’t compare to spending three months of your life living on set and creating a fully realized character. I can’t describe how much Broken Trail was a life changing experience for me and no matter what happens next I’m so thankful to be a part of it. (Note: Olivia's part TV projects includes CBS's "Christmas Blessings," Family Channel's "Mentors," CBS's "Hollywood Wives: The Next Generation," TNT's "12 Days of Christmas" and "Word of Honor" - her past movie projects include "Shanghai Noon" and "The Great Goose Caper")


US ASIANS: Considering that you are known for your hip-hop/culture reports, what did you do to complete the transition of having the ability to work with top actors such as Robert Duvall?

OLIVIA CHENG: My experience in front of the camera as a media personality helped me little as an actor. They’re two entirely different crafts and all they have in common is that a camera is involved in both. I really had no clue what I was doing on set half the time. It was frustrating but I’m thankful because all my mistakes and the overall experience ultimately forced me grow as an actor. You can’t get better without falling flat on your face a few times.

Bobby Duvall didn’t mind my inexperience though because he loves finding actors who are raw and natural. He just encouraged me to roll with it and always told me not to over-analyze everything.

I tend to think things to death and Duvall and the others taught me to trust my emotional instincts instead. Plus, when you’re working alongside an actor like Duvall, his ability sets the tone for people around him and it elevates everyone’s performance.

I learned that acting is really about reacting to the scene’s given circumstances and that the most important thing to do is to stay open to what’s happening around you so the camera can capture your genuine reaction to events. Anticipating another actor’s lines or reactions is the worst thing to do. Duvall basically drilled it into me that acting is just listening, doing, and keeping it truthful.

VALERIE TIAN: The cool crew I met on 'Broken Trail' and on other Canadian sets were equally genuine, down to earth, and real. There are some productions out there, where I don't think it's necessary if a director for example, acts like a jerk in order to achieve a good product. I think the tension would stunt the confidence of your team to do a good job for you. (Editor's Note: Valerie's past TV projects includ Russell Wong's "Black Sash" and ABC's "The Days" - her past movie projects include "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants," "Bob the Butler," "The Wake of Death," "X2 - X-Men United and Disney's Santa Clause2")

US ASIANS: Could you share what experiences/interactions (via instructions from the director, research, etc.) provided the most help in communicating what the author/director wanted on the screen - also, what was the funniest/silliest moment on the set?

CAROLINE CHAN: Walter Hill is a great man with a big heart. Usually, directors would just ‘direct us’ and we actors would listen. However, Mr. Hill wanted to hear what we felt for the scene and compromised to give the most effective scene possible. Mr Hill has a lot of patience. Mr. Duvall was really our uncle. I remember the first night I arrived in Calgary, all of us had no idea what the cast and crew would be like. He invited us for dinner and as soon as I saw him, he gave all of us a huge teddy bear hug. By the end of the night, we were all dancing the tango and having an awesome time. He always took us out for dinner or have ‘tea time.’ Mr. Duvall truly spoiled us. I was so sad when the film wrapped! The best instruction was to not act and just feel it.

VALERIE TIAN: When I wanted to hide my regularly huge feet to create an illusion of bound feet, I used my imagination and decided to tuck my feet upward into my baggy pants, causing me to walk on my heels instead. To gain a better idea of the hobbled walk, my mom was able to describe to me how her grandmother walked with bound feet. I don't recall just one specific occurrence being like the silliest moment in the COSMOS on set. Everyday was funny because everyone in the entire production had a sense of humor. The moments were more in the things we said and joked about with each other.

JADYN WONG: With the given circumstances for Chinese girls in America, research through the Internet confirmed many of the stories that were heard in relation to the 1849 era. Writer, Alan Geoffrion left us to explore the authenticity of the scenes he incorporated; it was an environment where I was encouraged to contribute ideas to the inner workings of a scene. On top of that, Walter Hill, facilitated a creative space that emphasized a lot of freedom – it was literally where we would come up with our own concept of how a scene would work and then bring his expertise.

I have this image in my head of when a particular scene was being shot and once the director called cut, there would be these Chinese girls dressed in costumes pulling out dance moves of modern day. You had to be there.

Gwendoline & Thomas
US ASIANS:  What do you feel were some of the many things (i.e. security, love, etc.) that your character ("Sun Foy") had in common with Tom Harte – despite the language differences – that prompted her to stay?

GWENDOLINE YEO: People during that time were not petty. Issues were not "am I pretty this morning" or "how come he didn't call me back?" The issues during the Old West were of life and death. They were of survival. I think both Tom Harte and Sun Foy at the end of the day could have been alright alone. They probably expected to be alone, if not dead. But more powerful than a language barrier is the power of action. And her admiration of his protection of her, his gentleness with his horses and respect for the land prompted her to help in any way she could with her actions of sewing on a button because his shirt was ripped, or her action of staying away, because she thought it was the right thing to do. Responsibility to her younger "sisters" as it were always outweighed her own need to be loved. And at the end, knowing her two "sisters" that were left were safe with Nola Johns, for the first time, probably ever, she chose for herself, and not for the responsibility of another.

US ASIANS: What scene most accurate portrayed the soul of Mai Ling – your character?

CAROLINE CHAN: Mai Ling is a very innocent but curious little individual. The scene that I believe that best portrays Mai Ling was when “Uncle Print” was giving us numbers. It shows the childlike innocence of my character who struggles to place trust on a cowboy from a completely different culture. The number scene demonstrates a pivotal point with the relationship between the Chinese girls and “Uncle Print.”

Alan told us "I am an old white guy, if you have a problem with a scene, let me know." He appreciated our input. He doesn't know our Chinese culture or even the female mind. One example of the collaborative effort is when Print Ritter, the Duvall character, is trying to make first contact with the girls so they know he is a friend. Duvall can't understand them, so he numbers them off. One, Two, Three, Four. As the girls talk, they realize what he is doing. "He's numbering us. You're number one, two, three, four." I told Alan that phonetically, the word four sounds like death. Fh instead of Th makes a difference. We added a little scene to explain that. "I don't want number four. I don't want to die," we had the girl say. The Asian audiences will understand; our superstition is very strong. (Olivia Cheng)

US ASIANS: Donald, was your character ("Lung Hay") based on a real person, if so could you share some details told to you by the producers/writer/director and/or through your research?

DONALD FONG: Lung Hay is not based on a real person, I believe. The costume of my character was authentic and represented that period of time.

US ASIANS: In scenes that required non-verbal communication, what research did one do to bring the greatest accuracy to the scenes?

CAROLINE CHAN: Whenever I’m acting, I’m always in character. Expression between the characters is vital and I believe that a dialogue is only a small part of acting. As long as you’re feeling it, you’re doing it. Broken Trail demonstrates how language is expressed through the body and facial expression rather than the spoken language itself. It is the science of self-imposed emotion which comes into play.

JADYN WONG: Emotion is the key to communicating; having text definitely facilitates communication and understanding, but what carries the text is our emotion. Emotion does not require words. Because of the language barrier both on screen and off screen, non-verbal methods were the only approach to communicating. So, observing behavior and body language were essential in understanding other character’s intentions.

US ASIANS: As "Ging Wa" - were there stories, past historical characters/background, experiences, etc. that you found and/or was provided by the producers that helped you create your character?

VALERIE TIAN: My mother is a college teacher of Chinese literature and history so she helped educate me. She supervised my dialogue and actions to assure its historical accuracy. The foot-binding fascinated me so I sometimes didn't realize when I pulled all nighters Googling away to find out more. I think thats why I was enthralled when reading this script because I loved the thought that every character had a story, they're all still mysterious to me.


US ASIANS: Could you share what makes your character different than the other Chinese girls - considering that your character was the only one that was hobbled by her bound feet? What strengths and/or weaknesses did your character bring to the story?

VALERIE TIAN: Bound feet indicated that a girl was from a family of middle class or above. In Ging Wa's circumstance, her family probably had gone through some disgrace or misfortune for them to have resulted in selling her. I think Ging Wa is an endearing, defenseless girl and the fact that she has to depend on others due to her handicap, makes the other characters protective of her. A hardened man like Print Ritter has sympathy for Ging Wa, so he shows her a way to be free of her feet by teaching her how to ride a horse.

To Continue the Interview, click HERE
Visit the below-listed links for additional information on the various subjects that were discussed during the interview
American Cast Bios "Bound Feet" (Valerie Tian) Background Resources Community Issues
Community Support Current State of AA Women Suicides Diversity Donaldina Cameron
Gwendoline Yeo's Music Views Historical Footnotes Insights Behind the Characters Introductions
Iris Chang Lasting Impressions Parting Thoughts Personal Backgrounds
Project's Beginnings Project's Historical Research Review of the Program Role Models
Telling the Chinese Immigrant Story Why Show Biz? Working on the Set Working with Robert Duvall

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