TIFF Rising Star Ellen Wong wrestles with family expectations to follow acting dream
Wong plays Fortune Cookie on Netflix's GLOW, a series about female wrestling in the 80s
A must do for Ellen Wong when she arrives back home in Toronto from Los Angeles is the most Canadian thing you can imagine...hit up a Tim Hortons.
"I get a coffee and I always say with a little bit of hot chocolate...and that's always the start of Toronto," Wong told Our Toronto host Marivel Taruc.
Ellen Wong is back in her city as part of the Toronto International Film Festival's Rising Stars program, which recognizes young Canadian talent.
"To me, I'm really excited to be back in Toronto on Canadian ground and to be celebrating Canadian artists and to be with a program that is so supportive and encouraging of its emerging talent," Wong said.
She is also one of the people who will be honoured at the fifth annual Birks Diamond Tribute to the Year's Women in Film, which will take place on Sept. 12 at a private event at The Spoke Club in Toronto.
"I want to be more a part of the Canadian storytelling landscape...I'm also learning about my voice outside just being an actor," Wong said.
The Scarborough native recently landed a role on the hit Netflix series GLOW, where she plays one of 14 female wrestlers. Wong had past roles as Mouse on the Carrie Diaries, the prequel to Sex and the City, and she played Knives Chau in the 2010 cult classic Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.
"It is a show about a group of beautiful misfits coming together and sharing a journey in this world of female wrestling in the 1980s...it's a unique show that celebrates individuality," she said.
It was a role she was scared to play at first, because of the stereotypes associated with playing a wrestler nicknamed Fortune Cookie. Wong is Cambodian-Canadian.
"Learning more about the wrestling world also brought a lot of ease and comfort, knowing that I was playing a stereotype to make a comment on it and it was all through humour and it was done responsibly and with a lot of awareness," Wong explained.
Wong said the creators of the show, the majority of which are women, sat down with all 14 lead actors to learn about their cultural backgrounds to develop their characters.
"That's rare. That doesn't always happen, so there definitely was a true awareness and need for truthfulness in the show," she said.
It's the first time Wong said she has worked with a mostly female cast, an environment she has embraced.
"It ended becoming the most encouraging, nurturing environment that I've ever worked on," Wong said of her cast mates and crew.
Wong didn't initially feel that kind of encouragement from her parents, who she says weren't supportive of her acting career at first. Wong's parents left Cambodia as refugees and came to Canada.
"My parents were very scared of failing. They didn't want to see me go through the hard journey of being an actor, when to them, we are in a country that has so many other resources and jobs that would be considered stable and secured," Wong said.
Finding insight during Cambodian trek
Wong went on a backpacking trip across Cambodia, which she says gave her new perspective on her parents' fears.
"For them [Cambodians] it's about surviving meal-to-meal and making sure there was a roof over their head," she said.
"I realized where [they] came from — and knew that I was also very lucky to be born in a country and a part of the world I could dream and fail and still be okay."
Wong came back from her trip and realized she needed to talk to her parents.
"It took me a while to understand what my journey was and the fears were my parents' fears and that it didn't have to be mine and that times were changing and that it was possible to do what I wanted to do."
She was able to express to them that she wasn't going to give up her dream of acting, which they finally accepted.
"Now they only say supportive and encouraging things and I feel like they are my lifeline for my work."
With files from Marivel Taruc