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Interview with Damien Nguyen from "The Beautiful Country"

Damien Nguyen Talks About Taking on His First Lead Role

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Interview with Damien Nguyen from

Damien Nguyen and Bai Ling in "The Beautiful Country"

© Sony Pictures Classics
Damien Nguyen on Relating to His Character in “The Beautiful Country:” “I wouldn’t say it was too hard. I think that some of the emotions this guy goes through are universal in most walks of life. You know, you take away the grander things like a big car and a big house and fine dining and all that, you break it down to the core and people still want the same thing. They want to find a place where they belong and feel appreciated and loved. And without that, then how can you say, ‘I don’t have a good life but I want a Mercedes,’ if you don’t have the basics, the things that we find are essential in life?”

Growing up, I think that making that move from Vietnam to the US kind of helped me relate to the character a lot. Being different and being different at a young age, you are very aware of how people treat you – the way they talk to you, the way they look at you. The way they behave around you because of the way you look or the way you dress or the way you talk.”

Were the Filmmakers Looking for an Unknown Actor?: “No, not necessarily. I actually heard that some people felt really uncertain about the possibility of me taking a lead role because of my inexperience, because I didn’t have a resume. Because the budget wasn’t huge and by doing so they didn’t want to risk me being inexperienced and causing problems in production, causing problems in filming.

I think it was more importantly left up to the director because he saw my audition piece and was able to meet with me. Thank God it was enough to give him security to know that he felt that he hired the right person.“

The Pressure of Being in Every Single Scene and Carrying a Film on His Shoulders: “I would say it was more intense at the beginning because of my inexperience, because I didn’t have the luxury to have a lot of projects under my belt. By the end of it it was like I figured that I had the character developed well enough that regardless of what we were filming that day, I could take it to where I needed to go. But no matter what you plan and what you have set up in your mind, there’s so many other factors that come into play and you can’t foretell what those factors are until you’re on set and the camera’s rolling. Whether it’s the other actors having a good or bad day or one of the animals that was supposed to do a certain thing doesn’t do exactly what it’s supposed to do, or does something unexpected, and you just go with it.”

Damien Nguyen on the Most Challenging Part of “The Beautiful Country: “The most challenging part was I’d say towards the beginning because I’m not fluent in my native language, Vietnamese, and trying to pull off him being this person who was raised in this little village in the countryside in this country halfway across the world from here… I wanted people to believe that I was this person and had struggled through these trials and the suffering and the way that people treated me and that I fitted in with my environment. I was very focused on that and it kept me up many sleepless nights trying to figure out how I can make that believable.”

Learning to Speak Vietnamese: “I didn’t have to learn the whole language but the director was [adamant] that I try to get the pronunciation of the words as authentic as possible. He assigned me a speech coach where I’d spend hours every day just doing conversations with people on the streets and such to build that.”

On Combating Stereotypical Characters: “I wish I had that luxury but I can’t say I do. I’ve auditioned for anything. Anything that lands in my lap. It’s just one of those things when you’re a struggling actor or artist you don’t have the luxury of picking and choosing what you want to do. Whether it’s completely correct or whether it’s completely stereotypical or whether it demeans you, it’s not even an option. What comes your way you’ve got to take it and run with it and do your best job.

It’s frustrating sitting in a room when there’s 12 guys in my same kind of demographic – same height, same build, same kind of look – all going after a store clerk who has three words in a show or a movie and thinking, ‘Wow, I’ve got to really bring something out in 3 words that they’ve never seen before.’”

Damien Nguyen’s Background: Since “The Beautiful Country” is Nguyen’s first feature film, he’s new to the spotlight and therefore not that much is really known about the up-and-coming actor. So what does Nguyen want to tell audiences about himself?

“I pretty much grew up in Orange County. California boy. I was born in Vietnam. I left it when I was about 3 – almost 4 years old. Pretty much made Orange County my home up to 7 years ago when I made the trek up to LA. For the most part I was just living life as a Southern California boy, going to school, doing everything most guys do. I enjoyed sports and surfing. I played a lot of basketball and surfed.”

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