East West Players welcomes back Joseph Daugherty to the stage of the David Henry Hwang Theater for their first show of 2013, Christmas In Hanoi, a comedic ghost story which follows adult siblings Winnie and Lou as they journey with their Irish Catholic father and Vietnamese grandfather to reconnect with their Southeast Asian roots a year after their mother’s death. In addition to guest spots on Brothers & Sisters, Roommates, and The Young And The Restless, Joseph stars in the independent film Red Lodge. StageSceneLA recently had the good fortune to catch up with Joseph, whose 2008 performance as Kama Hutchins in EWP’s Voices From Okinawa won him an Outstanding Lead Actor Scenie.
Hi Joseph. It’s exciting to have you back at East West Players! The last time I saw you onstage you were Joseph Kim, now you’re Joseph Daugherty, your résumé indicates you speak fluent Korean, and in Christmas In Hanoi you’ll be playing a mixed-race Irish Catholic/Vietnamese character opposite Elizabeth Liang, who’s got her own fascinating multiracial, multicutural back story. Can you talk a bit about your family and how your background has informed your performance in Christmas In Hanoi. I imagine that it must resonate with you.
Yes, in fact being biracial has definitely informed my performance. The character I play, “Lou,” reminds me of myself in my early 20s, in that like Lou I had an awakening of my ethnic background during college, and upon graduating went back to my father’s country, Korea, to get “in touch with my roots,” as Lou states in the play. Like my character Lou, I have one Caucasian parent and one immigrant Asian parent. So I made the choice for Lou’s back story that he dealt with all of the identity issues I faced as a younger man, namely wanting to identify strongly with both my cultures but perhaps feeling a bit on the sidelines at times.
Lisa and I have a wonderful dynamic in the play as feuding brother and sister and I really could not have asked for a better co-star to develop the complexities of sibling rivalry. We have, in fact, compared notes on what it means to be biracial in America and I think we would both agree that while at times this could be confusing in our youth, we both now relish our cultures and roles as “ambassadors” who can bridge the gap between two or more cultures.
The two siblings in Christmas In Hanoi reconnect with their roots on a trip to Vietnam with their Irish Catholic father and Vietnamese grandfather. Have you spent much time in Korea and if so, does Winnie and Lou’s experience ring a bell for you?
I spent five years travelling in Asia after college. I resided mainly in Seoul, Korea, as it was a goal of mine since childhood to learn how to speak Korean. However, I also got to experience many other cultures while based there. With my Canadian-Korean friend and French-Korean friend I explored the Great Wall of China and also learned something of their cultures vicariously through them, which proves my point that as members of a mixed race community our existence has ripple effects on others around us. We not only explored the Chinese culture together but we exposed each other by default to American, Canadian, Korean and French subculture by way of association. It’s fascinating to me from an anthropological point of view and proves the point that no two cultures can live within proximity of each other without affecting the other. This has been proven in every region and every culture of the world at all points in human history, whether through language, agriculture, warfare, trade etc.
I also was blessed in that I got to experience: Singapore, Australia twice, Japan four times, Thailand four times, the Philipines, Malaysia, Italy twice, and Israel. I also bicycled from Seattle to Washington D.C. in forty-seven days and the entire coast of Ireland. The world is so fascinating to me.
Though I identify strongly with “da Maine-ers, ayuh…,” alas I am a simple country bumpkin born in Kentucky and raised in West “by God” Virginia.
Growing up, how did you first get interested in acting?
I think my siblings instilled in me a love of the arts and acting in general. Because I was so much younger than my siblings, they were often left with the task of babysitting me as my father was a busy surgeon and my mother ran his office seven days a week.
So it was your siblings that really set you on the artistic path you’ve taken?
Exactly. My eldest brother would make me memorize and recite “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufock” by T.S. Elliot from memory for fun, and though at the time I resented it, it gave me a profound understanding of the poetry at the age of ten. My sister took me to my first play which was Prelude to a Kiss and I fell in love with the stage. My other brother took me to see the musical H.M.S. Pinafore and would make me build art collages at home. Eventually this inspired my love of the visual arts and would lead me to study art at Bates College. So I guess it makes sense that I never became the 9-5 corporate success guy. I started down the wrong course with my favorite authors Edgar Allen Poe, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Guy de Maupassant. I suppose I read the classics with as much voracity as I read my beloved comic books.
Christmas In Hanoi is your return to the stage exactly five years after making your EWP debut in Voices From Okinawa. I can see from your list of credits that you’ve been keeping busy doing film and TV work. What made you decide to take the theatrical plunge again after half-a-decade away from the stage?
I simply love the stage unabashedly. The magic of theater is that it’s there for a second then gone forever, unlike film. Theater feeds my soul, while the lights and controlled nature of TV and film sucks me dry.
So it must be exciting to be back onstage again.
At the end of the day, I’m just glad somebody gave me the honor to act, that they felt my abilities were compelling enough to watch and gave me their undivided attention.
One of your TV guest appearances was on Brothers And Sisters as Phil, aka “the guy with the bad bow tie eating a Danish.” What was it like working on my very favorite (and most-missed) drama series ever?
Wonderful! I worked with Rob Lowe on set and David Paymer who directed me. They were both brilliant each in their own way. However, my favorite part of the work was getting to know Denis O’Hare.
Great actor! I got to see him on Broadway in Sweet Charity opposite Christina Applegate. Tell me more!
He was such an interesting cat, and like me shared a love of travelling. He had just gotten back from a trip to India and I picked his brain for all the details. What is fascinating to me was at the time though I didn’t know who he was, he really was so friendly and easy-going. Then I saw him several weeks later on screen with George Clooney in Michael Clayton and his performance floored me. He was perfection and his career has blown-up since then with True Blood (yes I’m a fan I admit). His subtext choices were so utterly clear and well-motivated. Denis remains one of my favorite actors to this day. I guess rubbing elbows with these actors/directors I really respected showed me that I was on the right path with acting.
Red Lodge, available at Amazon.com
More recently you starred opposite Richard Pierre-Lewis in Red Lodge, one of the best LGBT indies I’ve seen recently, and one I highly recommend. How did it feel getting to play THE pivotal role in this very entertaining film?
Red Lodge was such a joy for me to do because I like to explore finding the arcs of different characters. It was also a double-plus in that both Rich and I were able to defy stereotypes to some extent.
How do you mean?
By that I mean that as a straight man, I was honored to play a gay character. But also my character defies typical “leading men” choices in general. Rarely do you see an Asian as a romantic lead.
What was it like filming in the Montana snows?
Montana is gorgeous. I made some really strong friends while there and want to go back for skiing at some point.
Here’s a question I posed to Lisa Liang when I interviewed her a couple years back and one I’m curious to hear your answer to as well: “Do you see your multi-ethnicity as a plus, a minus, or a non-issue when you go out on auditions?”
Tough question. Sometimes it can be a plus, but also a minus. If they’re casting for a “Korean” character I will never even be considered even though I speak better Korean than a lot of full-blooded Korean actors. I just don’t look Korean enough for casting director’s tastes.
What about for non-Asian characters?
If the role is for Caucasian or ethnically ambiguous it can be a blessing, since I can grow a beard or get a haircut to look more one way or the other. Lately, I’ve even begun learning Russian and was brought in to play a Russian thug by director Albert Hughes on an upcoming project to be announced.
A stint at the Kirk Douglas or Ahmanson would be nice. Also, being on stage at the Geary in S.F. Fuggedaboutit…that’s the most beautiful stage I’ve ever seen.
And what about TV and film work?
TV and film-wise, I would really like to increase the role of Asians as leading men on television as well. I deeply respect how actors like Morgan Freeman, Denzel Washington, and Jamie Foxx have transcended racial boundaries.
So you’d like to see yourself doing the same as an Asian-American actor?
Yes, this is my goal for the Asian actor, to transcend all racial boundaries. You rarely see the Asian guy get the girl, make the kill, or do the pratfall. I want it all. I want to defy every American stereotype for the Asian man that I can. All I need is the chance. I could see myself playing Caucasian, Latin, Russian, Tartar, ethnically ambiguous, you name it. I’ll just keep studying and perfecting my craft till the proverbial “coach” taps me on the shoulder and puts me in the game with 10 seconds on the clock. Then I’ll let loose with a 6-pack of whoop ass. Boo-ya!
One final question: What are the three best reasons for L.A. theatergoers not to miss Christmas In Hanoi?
First, it’s truly funny. The last three plays I saw at large venues I was bored to tears … and I’m an actor!!!
Second, it’s truly groundbreaking in that it’s a “ghost story” theme. I don’t know any plays like it out there. It’s not a gory, gross kind of horror but more of an intellectual ghost story reminiscent of the movie “Ghost Story” starring Fred Astaire, Douglas Fairbanks and John Houseman, my favorite horror of all time). I was truly so blessed and honored that writer Eddie Borey and director Jeff Liu asked me to play one of the leads.
Lastly, it’s in Little Tokyo. The area is undergoing so much gentrification and the food is amazing. Best ramen hands down. You can also enjoy a peanut butter mochi ball, or get some mean Korean BBQ next door to the mochi shop. I could put on ten pounds in a day here. So good!
It’s been great talking with you Joseph! I can’t wait for Opening Night of Christmas In Hanoi!
Thanks, Steven. See you after the show!