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[Expat] 'King' caught between cultures
Latest Updated by 2007-04-10 14:48:47

PAUL NAKAUCHI grew up not thinking of himself as much of an Asian.

Born in Los Angeles, California, in 1960, to parents of Japanese origin, he first began to learn the piano at 10 and has been passionate about singing since high school.

"I played roles in musicals in high school and went to California State University Northridge to study music," Nakauchi said.

His parents, like other Asian parents, had hoped he would become a doctor, a lawyer or an engineer. But later they gave him their full support after seeing his talent and passion for music.

"At the beginning, I was a little bit shy. But with practice, I gradually feel more comfortable and enjoy acting on the stage, say, in front of an audience of 2,000 people. Being in the show biz will teach people to be confident, be yourself and be natural."

The 47-year-old Nakauchi is in town to perform in the Broadway musical "The King and I," a show he has performed in a dozen other theaters previously.

"The audience here may be familiar with the story. But I hope to bring them something new through my acting," he said Saturday during a rehearsal break.

When Nakauchi started his career in the early 1980s, there were few roles for Asian actors.

"Even today, the show biz is much Caucasian-oriented. Only three to four percent of the roles in musicals, TV shows or movies want Asian faces. It's easier for Asian women to find a job, and much harder for men."

Even "The King and I," which tells the story of a Thai king, used to be performed by Caucasians.

"They wanted to hire star-level actors to attract bigger audiences, and few Asian actors were famous enough."

Now, as show biz bosses explore the Asian market, they hire actors that are more of Asian origin, like Mira Furlan, the Korean-American who plays the character of Danielle Rousseau in the popular TV series "Lost."

"That's good news. People are considering giving Asians fully realized characters rather than stereotyped roles now. Not all Asians are martial artists, or the deliverymen - Chinese laundry or restaurant thing."

Had he known the truth earlier, would he still have gone for it?

"Being young and naive and not really knowing about the business, you go into it thinking you're going to be the breakthrough performer."

Nakauchi had felt the drive to learn music and become an actor.

"I call myself lucky. I am doing what I love to do and making a living out of it. When young Asian-Americans ask for my opinion, I will say to them 'go out and do it,' since you have that dream and passion. Many people quit, if they cannot get hired for too long. You know, the thing is, to take it or leave it."

"I grew up in Northridge (California) and among mostly Caucasians," he explained. "So my identity was more Caucasian-oriented."

"It wasn't until I really started getting into theater and getting cast in productions of 'The King and I' that I started to realize that yes, I am Asian, and yes, the kind of roles that were going to be offered to me would be Asian roles."

Nakauchi had hoped to sing operas after graduation, as he felt he had the voice to do so. He used to sing operas in competitions when in college. But he found jobs doing musicals, and voiceovers for cartoons and commercials. He also had some minor roles in TV shows and movies.

"Ironically, there is not much singing in 'The King and I.' I hope I can sing really great songs in the future."

In 1996, he joined the cast of "The King and I" as understudy for Hollywood star Lou Diamond Phillips. He also toured the United States with "Miss Saigon" and has appeared in television's "ER," "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine," "Murphy Brown" and other programs.

He also performed on Broadway as well as at London's West End, and played a part in the 2005 film "The Great Raid," which are creditable considering that finding work alone is an achievement for an actor of any ethnic persuasion in the United States.

Editor: Wing

By:Li Dan Source:Szdaily web edition
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