Interview: Gavin Kawin Lee Anxious to Truthful Storytelling in UNBROKEN BLOSSOMS

East West Players world premieres Philip W. Chung’s Unbroken Blossoms June 30th (w/previews beginning June 27th

By: Jun. 20, 2024
Interview: Gavin Kawin Lee Anxious to Truthful Storytelling in UNBROKEN BLOSSOMS
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Interview: Gavin Kawin Lee Anxious to Truthful Storytelling in UNBROKEN BLOSSOMS

East West Players world premieres Philip W. Chung’s Unbroken Blossoms June 30, 2024 (with previews beginning June 27th). Jeff Liu directs the cast of: Gavin Kawin Lee, Ron Song, Arye Gross, Alexandra Hellquist, Conlan Ledwith, Paul Dateh, Ty Aldridge and Valerie Rose Lohman. Gavin took some time from rehearsal to answer a few of my queries.

Thank you for taking the time for this interview, Gavin!

What cosmic forces brought you to this world premiere of Unbroken Blossoms?

There are a number of factors that can be essentially simmered down to timing, including, having had the opportunity to work with the director, Jeff Liu, in the past. But from a cosmic perspective, I think this particular play is so impactful given the timing of its release, during a period in which our society longs for these difficult and nuanced subjects in theatre. The desire and support by audiences is a huge factor at this moment in time—the timing couldn't have been any better for me as well. 

Had you worked with any of this play’s cast or creatives before?

Yes, I've worked with Jeff Liu before in a workshop of a play, Half of Chopsticks, by Stephani Kyung Sun Walters at Boise Contemporary Theater. I've also worked with fellow actor Paul Dateh, the understudy for the role of James and Moon, on the last play we did together, Tacos La Brooklyn, written by Joel Ulloa at LATC. And while this is my first production at the East West Players' theatre, I've worked on two co-productions with them including the aforementioned Tacos La Brooklyn and Hannah and the Dread Gazebo by Jiehae Park at The Fountain Theatre

Were you familiar with any of Philip’s previous works?

I've had such a prodigious experience reading and performing this play that I can't wait for the opportunity to become more familiar with his work! He's an incredibly talented playwright, creating an immersive experience for both the actor and audience, which is such a challenge for any writer, yet Philip seems to navigate it with ease.

What would your three-line pitch for Unbroken Blossoms be?

Have you ever felt a deep desire for something that seems so far out of reach?

This is a story of fearlessness, displacement, hate and love. My character is a Chinese immigrant who grew up in America with an unyielding passion for truthful storytelling of the Chinese experience even though, in 1919, it could have gotten him killed.

Interview: Gavin Kawin Lee Anxious to Truthful Storytelling in UNBROKEN BLOSSOMS If you were to submit your character James Leong on a dating site, what qualities of his would you list?

I would certainly emphasize his passion, drive, and kindness as these traits are the essence of his character. He is also confident but respectful, intrepid by nature, but keenly intuitive which makes for pretty solid boyfriend material. 

What flaws would you definitely leave out?

His cynicism. Although it is a strength, James’ passion can also get to the point of impulsivity, which can be a dating red flag for some. Mostly, I think James’ cynical manner may be initially perceived as a turn off if you don’t get to know him beyond a dating profile.   

In an alternate universe, under what circumstances and in which venue would the characters you’ve portrayed (Jung in Kim’s Convenience, Dang in Hannah and the Dread Gazebo, Cock’s M and V.C. from The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel) interact?

They would probably meet in a dive bar circa the 1980’s and form an early version of a K-pop band.

Do you have any interesting stories working with Al Pacino in Pavlo Hummel you can share?

While I personally had little interaction with Mr. Pacino, I did learn a lot about how to be engaging during table reads. Mr. Pacino is affable and had a certain kind of swagger that came out during the table read. He was gregarious, telling jokes, and generally seemed to enjoy the process which fostered a pleasant atmosphere, especially for up and coming actors.  

Did you always want to become an actor?

Oddly enough, I can say that I realized my dream later in life compared to many actors with whom I’ve worked. Growing up, I’d never seen a play or been to the theater, and the only experiences I had with acting were from a few high school skits based on dance or comedy. While I certainly enjoyed performing and ‘the stage,’ so to speak, I never actually considered being an actor until my late 20’s which may come as a surprise to some. While I feel that the acting bug has always latently been in me, finding my true passion has been a beautiful journey that will continue, whether it be in theater, film, or TV, regardless of my age.  

Interview: Gavin Kawin Lee Anxious to Truthful Storytelling in UNBROKEN BLOSSOMS Who were your acting idols growing up?

Given my response to the previous question, predictively, I didn’t have many acting idols growing up. If there was a movie that I liked, it was largely due to the actors in the film so I can say that great actors have always caught my eye even if I didn’t know exactly why I liked them at the time. In a way, the actors I liked had a lot to do with my initial love of film and TV before I ever thought about being an actor.

Has it been easier to go out for non-Asian roles than when you started?

Yes, in general, there are a lot more audition opportunities for Asian actors now. In theater, I go out for traditionally non-Asian roles but not much for TV and film, so that hasn’t greatly changed from the beginning of my acting career. However, I’m optimistic about future opportunities for Asian actors playing non-Asian roles as audiences seem to care more about the content of the stories than the ethnicity of the actors nowadays.  

Is there a theatrical role you would love to sink your acting chops into?

The answer to this question is actually a dichotomy between the roles I love to play as an actor, and the roles that I think are important to play as an Asian-American actor. For me, the most gratifying roles are the ones that are hands down the most challenging to play; many often involve complex, complicated characters who appear to be something they are not. However, I also feel strongly compelled to play roles that will help change the ordinary societal perspective of the “romantic leading man” who is not typically Asian.

What’s in the near future for Gavin Kawin Lee?

What I can say is that I think one of the most refreshing things about being an actor is that you never know if your next big role/opportunity is right around the corner.

For tickets to Unbroken Blossoms through July 21, 2024; click on the button below:


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