Jason Chong got into acting almost by accident.
Boarding at a local Marist school, Chong found himself in the minority as a ‘city boy’ in a boarding school full of country kids. A failed attempt at an agriculture class saw Chong ordered to help edit the younger students’ cinema screening. “One of the brothers would sit there with the film and tell me where to splice the scenes,” recalls Chong. In the days of film, this required Chong to physically take to the film with a pair of scissors to remove the offending scene. “Looking back on it I mean it is sacrilegious! How could you do that to Steven Spielberg’s Jaws or Raiders of the Lost Ark?”
Unable to give the filmstrips up, Chong ended up keeping them in a shoebox under his bed and thus began his love of storytelling through acting.
He would later go on to study at NIDA in Sydney, but despite graduating from the prestigious school, he found that the roles being made available to him were quite limited. “In those early years, there wasn’t really any sort of opportunity, particular as a person of colour. I didn’t have any role models, I can’t remember another actor from my background in Australia.” Theatre was an easier frontier to break into, but Chong says the film and television market was harder to tap. “It took years for film to be a place where it was considered people like me were part of the conversation.”
Chong moved to Los Angeles, and started to get exposed to greater roles. He has just finished working on the Netflix series Marco Polo, and is now returning to Australia for the latest production by the Sydney Theatre Company, Chimerica.
Chong considers this latest project to be one of his most important roles, as the show features one the Company’s most diverse casts yet. “This is the first time that STC has had six Asian characters on stage together here in Sydney. For a lot of us it is a watermark,” he says.
Chimerica itself is based on the economic term employed by historian Niall Ferguson and economist Moritz Schularick, who both argue that the Chinese bail-out of the United States in 2006 has led to the two countries being inextricably linked. This tenuous financial situation is only furthered by a growing political and ideological dichotomy between two of the world’s superpowers.
This tension finds it way into the STC production, as the story centres around arguably one of the most recognisable photographs of the 20th century – that of a lone man, shopping bags in hand, bravely attempting to block the path of a column of tanks as they roll through Tiananmen Square in 1989.
With the action zinging back and forth between Beijing and New York across two decades, Chimerica is at once a riveting detective story, a witty commentary on media ethics, a meaty political play and a touching love story.
Chimerica runs from 28 Feb to 1 April. For tickets and more information see STC website