Ladies and gentlemen, I am going to share an epic tale. About a guy from New York with a dream. Now of course, we all have dreams. We all have aspirations of being something more bigger than ourselves. But if we don’t work hard to pursue our dreams they are just dreams. They continue to become figments of our imagination that remain in constant limbo. Daniel Trinh’s love and passion of acting of becoming an actor wasn’t just a dream. He made that dream come to life.
Since Daniel started his acting career in 2007, his body of work has gained him both national and international recognition. Daniel’s past film and TV works include: Lonely Joe (2009), a guest role on the IFC comedy sketch comedy television show, “The Whitest Kids U’ Know (2009),” a supporting role in Chino y Nacho ft. Don Omar music video for “Dentro de Mi (Within Me),” Real Men Wear Pink (2011), Won Tong Baby! (2012), Community Service: The Movie (2012) and a New York State public service announcement commercial just to name a few.
Daniel’s goals are not only to be recognized on a global level for his acting talent and win numerous awards, but to also break Asian stereotypes that are set in TV and movies. He wants to show he can play any role that is given to him and not be only defined by his ethnic background.
I talked with Daniel to learn more about his work ethic, goals, and much more. So take a journey with me if you will into a mind of a very dedicated and talented individual.
#1: When did the acting bug bit you and you started to gain a strong interest in acting?
I always had an interest in it, but I give the most credit when I was getting my masters degree (Daniel went to SUNY Albany in New York). I grew up very poor. So I’ve always kind of like worked really hard. Well basically I’ve always wanted to do it but I didn’t know anybody. Growing up poor, you know what I mean, its not the smartest thing to do when you got nothing to back you up. Like if I didn’t make it I can’t exactly rely on my parents or anything like that. So I kind of ignored it, but when I was trying to get my masters degree, I was struggling really bad. I was a good student. I wasn’t like the smartest guy but I did my homework. I did what I was supposed to do and I got decent grades overall.
My masters [degree program] was kicking me in the ass. I was like: “Oh my God! How the hell am I gonna make it through this?” And I was busting my ass for so long. When I was going to school, I was working and everything. So just picture yourself really trying to make it in life without resorting to stealing or drug dealing. You are trying to do it the right way. You are struggling. Then I can just remember going outside of my campus and looking out in front of the library going: “Oh my God!” you know? I put all this work in and I’m not going to be happy no matter what I do. So I busted my ass for years and years. Working, saving money, not doing anything stupid, and always being a mature guy about everything. I knew that at the end of the day, I was still not going to be happy getting a job and basically trying to make a living just doing things that I don’t want to do.
I took a long look and I realized that I had this hidden passion. And despite where I came from, despite not having a lot, I didn’t want to make excuses about why I didn’t want to pursue my goals. I was just like: “You know what? Fuck it! I’m going to give it a shot!” Because I am not going to spend my whole life working my ass off, doing more work than anyone I know, just so that I can grow up and be unhappy.
So I was like I am going to make it happen somehow. That’s when it really hit me. When I realized that dreams are worth fighting for. If you ever read my bio, I pretty much write: “Dreams are worth pursuing for and fighting for.” So I am living proof of that.
#2: Every actor has a process to get them into each character they do to bring out the best of the person he or she is trying to portray. What is the process you go into to completely immerse yourself into each character you present to the audience?
When I was little, I always had a fascination of trying to understand people. So I spent my life trying to figure out how people think as kind of like a defense mechanism. There is a long story in why I did that but basically I always wanted to understand how people think. So I kind of did my own psychological observation on how people react. As I got older and smarter, I discovered that this was in fact true. To a certain point people live by patterns. You know what I mean? You know how there are certain stereotypes and some of those stereotypes are basically true. I really focus on that. I try to pick a pattern.
So whenever I am doing a character, they [casting director] tell me to describe a certain person, I try to picture somebody who that reminds me of. And I basically mimic that person to the best of my ability. I pick up body movements, the way they think, their goals in life, what they do day by day; their strengths and weaknesses. I really try to picture them in making myself the character, at the same time too, I also try to do a little something for the camera to make it look more appealing. So its a combination of mimicking somebody that I think fits the bill of what they are talking about and doing what I think looks good on camera.
#3: So far you have done commercial, comedic, and dramatic acting. Is there a particular kind of acting that is your favorite or do you hold all of them as great opportunities in showing your talent?
Well I do have preference. Ideally I like to do all of them because I want to be known as someone who is very versatile and be respected in my ability to portray different characters. You know a really good actor that can do what he can do. At the same time my biggest draw out of every category would be drama. Mainly because as you think about it, if I asked you who’s the best Asian drama male actor, I guarantee you that the general public is not going to be able to name one easily. Because there really isn’t any. I want to fill that void. Its a role that you don’t typically see an Asian person do in unless if you are watching obviously oversea dramas which I’m not counting that. Its something that is unknown. Its something that is a great challenge if I really believe that I can do something. I can’t think of a better goal to reach for than to be respected in that category. Its a way of showing diversity. Its a way to fight stereotypes. Its a way to give a new dimension to the word “Asian.”
That holds really dear to me because its like I’m always about showing people that its not about where you come from, its not about what people think you are, its about how you define yourself. I just want to be treated like an equal person. So the drama thing really draws me. If you think about an Asian male role typically its martial arts or comedy. Its not anything else. So drama is like that one category no one hits. I really want to do my best to be that person who really spearheads it. That’s why drama means so much to me. It shows people that I can act. Drama acting it takes a lot of talent. It can also break stereotypes. It is a tougher goal to reach. So its a combination of many reasons why I prefer drama.
#4: Do you have a role so far in your acting career that you would consider a memorable piece of work?
Yes. I believe it was my first film and acting role ever (Daniel played a Deputy in the Drama/Horror/Mystery film “Lonely Joe” in 2009). This would be my biggest accomplishment that I would never forget.
Daniel’s scene clips from Lonely Joe : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NneauNWte7k&feature=share&list=UUbNvAZnoXdN7oJge0GUibKA
The reason being I wasn’t really expecting to be able to get a film role starting my first year of acting. I started my acting career in 2007. Lonely Joe was a film that I really didn’t think was a big budget — well its not a big budget film. But for a indie film it had a good budget. I didn’t think something like that existed only a couple of hours away from me.
When I applied for it, I was learning the business, and then I discovered what the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) was. That movie was done under the the Screen Actors Guild. It was a union film. So it was kind of a big deal. It didn’t have a lot of famous people. It had a couple people who had worked on bigger projects. The role itself had some Asian people in it, but there was only one Asian role. There was no speaking line and the rest of them were like extras. If you are a real actor, eventually extra roles aren’t considered real acting roles. They really are just more like a supplement for your income or just to get the experience. But a real actor doesn’t go extra anymore.
I was thinking: “Okay ,well I was probably going to get the Asian role” because I don’t think they were going to give me any other role. I remember auditioning and really kind of impressing the people there for whatever reason. The one that I really wanted to get was the lead role. At the time I knew I wasn’t going to get it, because I felt like they were going to get someone famous and a girl. That’s what ended up happening. The person was more famous , she was female, and she was attractive.
I wanted to get a role that wasn’t Asian. Not that I’m ashamed of being Asian. But its just kind of like: “Oh you got the role because you were Asian.” I really wanted to show off my skills. Some people would be happy getting any role but they don’t care why. I wanted to do it the respectable way. I wanted to be like I did it, I got it because I am a talented guy and I worked my ass off. I remember going to the first audition it was this improv and I made an impression. They called me back and I did the second audition. The role I believe basically implied that it was a deputy role. The way I saw it I felt it was a white guy that was like a younger cop kind of deal pulling over the main actor. The word “deputy” kind of implied that you are from a small town. So it would make sense to me to be a white guy. It made sense that somebody would be in their 20’s or early 30’s. Maybe even middle-age. If you think about it a cop can be anybody. But for a deputy or a sheriff you typically think white guy.
In the audition, there was a bunch of older white guys reading for that part. What made it even more challenging, they came from the area that typically had deputies or something along that line. So these guys had the right look and age for it. And here’s this one guy, who is an Asian guy, auditioning for the same role. I honestly didn’t think I could get it. I seen them act and I talked to them. I really deep down was like: “I don’t think they are going to pull it off. I really don’t think they have the skills to pull it off.” I read it and its like to me you really had to be a asshole. I’ve gotten pulled over enough [by police] to know how to be an asshole. I’m just like, I don’t think these guys can be assholes. They were giving bad acting. They were just overdoing it or they weren’t giving that fear that I felt the role needed.
When I auditioned for it I was just like: “You know what? I can’t change their mind, but I am going to give them the best damn performance ever!” And I went in there, I did my thing, thinking, “I’m probably going to get the Asian role.” But I know for a fact that I was the best out of all those guys. I was fighting hard to get the white role because I wanted to say, “Look, I’m so talented that I am going to be able to break their mind and make them hire an Asian guy for a white guy’s role.” Not saying I have anything against white guys, but you know its just something respectable of getting a role that they didn’t originally want your race to play.
I got nervous for a while. I was going through all sorts of emotion. And then I got the phone call saying, “Yeah, you got the role.” I got an email to confirm it. I was just so happy because it was a paying role, my first film role—I want to say its my first acting role, and I got a white guy’s role that I beat everybody who had a better look. I went in there, did what I had to do, and ended up getting that role. It was such a wonderful experience because I worked on a legitimate film set. Its something that I hold dear to me. It wasn’t a comedy. I got to play more of a dramatic role. It wasn’t the most dramatic role possible but I played it straight. I wasn’t doing a lot per se, but you could see the performance on the subtleties of what I did. And everyone who watched that clip was impressed. Its very touching to know that people were impressed by watching that two minute clip.
#5: What is the most important thing you’ve learned as an actor that will help you as you continue your career? I know you talked about having a strong work ethic which is one of them but is there another additional thing or—
I learned — Well— I don’t know — I can’t say as an actor per se, but as a person who is trying to pursue their dreams and goals I’ve learned through life that:
A. If someone doesn’t have a passion towards something, don’t expect their best work. It sickens me when everyone says: “Well I work — I did my best.” I really hate when people say that because I guarantee you most of the people who say it have not done their best. They try. I’m not saying they didn’t try but to say “your best,” saying that’s what you are capable of? That is a very strong word. I think people really underestimate that. What I’ve learned is you can’t do your best unless your heart is in the game. You have to treat yourself like your life is secondary compared to your goals. That’s what I honestly believe in. If your heart is in the game, that goal is more important to you than your life. That really helps me understand how people think. This is one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in life. So usually when someone says, “Oh hey! We should work together!” or “I need you to help me out,” I look for that. If their heart is not in the game, I question how well the project is going to turn out because they are not fighting for it. They are not willing to take a bullet for it. And that tells me something about the end product.
I also learned that life isn’t always the way people portray it to be. There are a lot of images and perceptions. What I learned that about life is pretty much not what you see, but what makes sense. I don’t fall for image anymore. I don’t fall for the bullshit. I see it for what it is. By doing that I take a lot of drama out of my life. I learned that sometimes you have to see things for what it is and not for what you want it to be. You have to really understand how to look at things in an objective way and not in an emotional way. Those are some things I have learned from my experiences in life that I will never forget.
#6: Name five facts about you that people are surprised to know.
#1: I grew up with a really hard life in a very unhappy environment. If you met me in person, I am really down to earth. People would be surprised that growing up in an unhappy environment in the past effects me now.
#2: I am a sucker for cuteness. But I think people know that already. I prefer a small puppy versus a big dog or kitten over a cat. When I see a baby, I always have to stare at the baby. I think they are adorable. I’m not a very — what do you call it? You know a lot of guys like to show like they want a pitbull and stuff like that. I don’t want that. I prefer cute over machoness. I am a guy but at the same time I am not a wimp. I can be a very tough guy but I have kind of like a split personality. If I am working out or taking care of business, I am a fierce warrior. But when I’m like being myself, I am a silly guy. I like cute little things. I go awwww a lot. I really do that in real life.
#3: I am a big thinker. I am really good at thinking of the bigger picture. I don’t usually show my smartness a lot. When there is a situation and stuff, I can think in a calm way to figure out the best strategy of handling a situation. Like if we were in a bank and the bank got robbed, I be focusing on how to take the bank robber down. That’s just the way I think. I wouldn’t be like the kind of guy that would get scared — I mean I would experience fear obviously. But I wouldn’t let that control me. So I would always try to handle the situation and eliminate the issue. I’m a problem solver kind of guy. You rob a bank, I am going to try to take you down! When there is an issue, I will be in leader mode more than being a follower.
#4: I am a sucker for food. I eat a lot. People who ever seen me eat, I eat a lot. I prefer healthier foods, but I’m a big food person. You could put some amazing meal in front of me, I am going to eat seconds and thirds. I don’t have a sweet tooth. Another thing is that I don’t drink at all. I don’t have any urge to drink alcohol. I find it kind of a waste.
#5: I only took one acting class during my whole life. I got an A in the class. Everything that I learn about acting comes from mimicking and self-study. I did not go to school for acting in any way shape or form.
#7: Who are some of your favorite actors (old or new) that you are a fan of or want to work with in the near future?
Hugh Laurie. The way he portrays House is just amazing. And he’s British so the accent thing really impresses me. Hugh Laurie is definitely a strong actor that I feel like I wish I could perform at his level. Ever since House came on, his performance got him recognized quite a bit. He’s good at what he does. He’s played the role that I want too. I would have loved to play House. I am good at what I do, but I got to say, do you think I can perform at his level as House? I don’t think so. I would do a good job, but I would not be the best guy. If I lost to him to an audition, I would respect that.
Tony Shaloub. He plays Monk and I thought his performance was really good on that show.
Tony Shaloub and Hugh Laurie would be two actors that I would love to work with. I like their performances, they are good at what they do, and to work with them I’m hoping some of that talent rubs off on me.
#8: What inspires or motivates you to keep pursuing your dream?
I value my goals more than I value my own life. That’s pretty much it. So this isn’t a hobby. This isn’t something that I decided to do for fun. This is something that if I don’t accomplish it my life it has no meaning.
#9: Where do you see yourself in 10 years in your acting career?
Winning awards, making a difference in society, and showing people that hard work pays off as long as you put your heart and soul into it. Making some really amazing changes by breaking down stereotypical breakdowns like all that crap about Asian people. Really just trying to help people see reality versus what they want to believe in. Within in 10 years, I would like to produce my movie that I want to show the world. I am currently writing still and it will take forever for me to finish. I would either like to start producing or have the script written down by then. I will do every single thing on set. This is a passion film. I’m still writing the story on it. It will have a AMBW (Asian Man/Black Woman) storyline to it. The movie is about what I learned about life. Its about life basically. Stories that I have heard about other people. What makes us strong, what makes us weak, the bullshit that we go through, the system versus what should be done, political, and religious. Its a very well thought out film. When you watch it you understand what life is all about. That’s the goal that I am trying to reach before I die. So in 10 years, I would like to at least finish the script for it or I would like to at least have the movie produced. Realistically, I think I am going to be an old man when I finish it.
#10: Is there anything you want to share with the readers or your fans about any upcoming projects to look out for?
I am in talks with a person about doing behind the scenes work on a major movie. The movie has to get funded first, but basically I am going to be a Production Supervisor on it. Its actually the guy that I got the Lonely Joe film role from. I developed a relationship with him. I helped him out with some of the aspects of the project. He wants someone he can count on. Someone who knows what he’s doing. A person that knows how to get the job done. He contacted me about getting involved. As soon as the film is done, I am going to be working on a major movie that will have a big budget. So this is going to be like a really big break for me. If the movie does well, it will be like a trilogy. Most likely I will be involved in working on the trilogy. So that’s something in the works. I don’t know when its going to land, but I really believe that the film is going to get funded at some point. And I am definitely going to get a role in that film. That will definitely get me closer to that goal to get my name out there more.
I would like to thank Daniel for allowing me to interview him. It was a pleasure. I wish him much love, success, and happiness in the future. Dreams can’t run unless you put them into motion people. If you have a strong mindset and the willpower you can do anything you want to do. I need to take mental notes of what I just typed right now. I have dreams you know. I want to put into action. I just have to stay consistent with it.