Interview with James Kyson Lee + Lynn Chen

Some of the best moments in White on Rice revolve around the relationship of Ramona (Lynn Chen) and Tim (James Kyson Lee), while it's not the center of the film I couldn't help but want more of their scenes, hopefully we'll get to see them pair up again.

The following are clips from our chat about White on Rice, music and what it takes to make it in the biz.

On what drew them to the project:

Lynn Chen (LC): To be perfectly honest it was an opportunity. An opportunity to act in a leading role...that’s what drew me to it.

James Kyson Lee (JKL): I had worked with Dave one time before on his first feature and had got to know him a little bit and when I read the script I felt like it had a lot of charm. The characters are relatable, unique and there’s a lot of quality to it. That’s how I came aboard.

On how they prepared for their characters:

LC: For Ramona I talked to a bunch of my friends who are graduate students just to see what the graduate student life was like because it wasn’t something that I experienced firsthand. And I really didn’t understand it. So I got to know just how much studying and how much work went into it and the process of graduate school. I listened to songs from childhood, not childhood, high school. Songs of my first love that we shared to get back into that nostalgia period of my life.

JKL: Tim was actually based, semi-based, on a real guy who is a very talented musician. So the first day we got to Salt Lake City we all went to Guitar Center and I bought my first guitar (which was an acoustic). And I got to meet the real Tim and spend some time with him and even got some guitar lessons. It was fun to try and write my own songs in the hotel room, even though they didn’t make any sense, trying on that side of the character.

On how they used music to “get into character”:

LC: Sometimes I’ll just put on my headphones and listen to music, to kind of zone out of everything and focus until it’s time to shoot.

JKL: Yeah, it’s a big element for me. I’ve always sort of tried to use that as an connection to the character, especially since Tim being a musician in this film and an aspiring band member/singer it was a big element for it. I try to sort of listen to the music that the character would be drawn to…that’s sort of how I remember when I look back on my life. There are different songs that mark different phases that you’ve gone into.

On what music they're listening to now:

LC: I really like the new Regina Spektor album that just came out. And, you know, it’s funny in the last five years I haven’t really been discovering new music as much as I did in college where I was discovering a new band or artist literally every other day. And it seems like nowadays I mostly listen to things that I listened to in college and I haven’t really branched out. Regina Spektor is an artist who I’ve really been drawn to and I’m gonna go see her perform actually in a few weeks.

JKL: I was in Vancouver earlier this year and I found a really good band from Halifax, Nova Scotia called Wintersleep that I really liked. And also Zee Avi, I’ve been listening to her for the past month or so. I’m really kinda diggin’ her vibe.

On what inspires their creativity outside of acting:

LC: I have a food blog that I started about three months ago with a friend. And I found that it’s a really good way for me to use photography, writing, every single day. And it’s kind of like a job now at this point, doing the blog every single day and discovering new blogs. I find that it helps keep my mind creative without directly having to do with acting.

JKL: I do some improve here and there. It’s a playground for me to try out some new stuff. Sort of fly your free flag, if you will, try some outrageous stuff without having the fear to fail, I guess. And umm...I think sports and music are my way to unwind.

On what actors/directors they’d like to collaborate with:

LC: I would love to work with Spike Jonze, I think he’s amazing. He’s my dream director. But I would also really love to work with, I’m good friends with Mike Kang, who directed The Motel and another movie called West 32nd. I would just love to have the experience of working with somebody who I really respect and who’s also my friend. I’ve never had that experience before.

JKL: I’m drawn to guys like Charlie Kaufman, who just seem to be in their own world but they’re brilliant in many ways. And the actors that I really respect are the people who just disappear into their roles. Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Daniel Day Lewis.

On “feeling like you’re in your own world when acting”:

JKL: I really enjoy trying to live out the life of a character in different ways. You know, that’s sort of the fun part of an actor’s journey. It does take work and afterwards you’re left with a lot of emotions that you have to sort out, slowly let it dissipate. I guess that’s the complexities of it. I feel like a lot of projects you bring some aspects of yourself into it but sometimes you get a chance to go through a transformation and I find that satisfying.

On the vibe of the set of White on Rice:

LC: Because we were on location and a lot of us were from Los Angeles. It was pretty much a bonding experience for a lot of us. We would travel together and spend days off together and explore the city together. And everyone who was there, there were family members, there were friends and everyone really wanted this project to do well. And everyone was there for the same purpose and you could definitely feel that every day when you were working.

On big budget productions versus independent films:

JKL: There's something about being on a project from beginning to end…it might be harder to put together some of the lower budget or independent films but I think it’s that much more satisfying because it is such a collaborative effort.

Advice for aspiring Asian-American filmmakers:

LC: I would say perseverance, having a good support system and tapping into the community which is a strong one. And having a life outside of this business.

JKL: I agree. I think it’s really important that we find ourselves as’s such a subjective thing, so much of who you are is involved with it. I think it’s something that you should only be in it if you really love it and you’re passionate about it. It’s a craft, so it takes a lot of work and you have to respect that. And at the end of the day I think it’s important to kind of find who you are and the rest will sort of take care of itself.


White on Rice is now playing in limited release in Los Angeles, Irvine, San Jose, and San Francisco. For info on upcoming showings visit


glimmer said...

i loved the answer to what helps get into character thing. :)

Karen said...

It's always interesting to find out actors approach their characters.

deb said...

Nice interview ,looking forward to the movie.