26:NEXT! THE GENUINENESS OF EMERGING ACTOR JON PRASIDA ON:AUTHENTICITY, ACCOUNTABILITY + AMERICAN TV
Continuing our 26:NEXT newcomer series, we had the best time chatting with Australia born actor Jon Prasida! As we explored his life in just 2x6 questions, one central realization kept ringing true: “Jon Prasida is a genuinely good guy”! Now onto his second season co-starring in the hit CW show ‘Kung Fu’ Jon seems to be navigating his new reality with equal parts playfulness AND perspective. Understanding the importance of his character’s multi-layered identity in today’s micro-macro social landscape, he aptly approaches & administers intent into the TOTALITY of his role. What a time as we chat: childhood, culture & comparable charisma of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson?
By: Corey Guevarra, Editor In Chief
Photography: Christopher Shintani
Wardrobe: Jordan Gross
Grooming: Kachay Dorsey
JON WHAT PART OF AUSTRALIA ARE YOU FROM? HOW WAS LIFE FOR YOU AS A KID GROWING UP ‘DOWN UNDER'?
I’m from Sydney! Specifically, I grew up on the North Shore/Northern beaches. Lots of days were spent renting out new release videos, hanging out at Manly beach with friends, and riding bikes to each other's houses. Fairly average upbringing in a suburban neighborhood. There are a lot of similarities that I found growing up Asian in a Western environment that I can relate to with my castmates. I know that a lot of first-generation children can relate to the moment where I first opened my packed lunch on the first day of school to be met by my mum’s lovingly made Mi-Goreng versus the Nutella sandwiches everyone else had. It’s a weird moment. I didn’t feel fully comfortable or felt like I ‘fit in’. But I made my mark, made some awesome friends, and learned to embrace my culture rather than be ashamed by it.
IS IT TRUE YOU GOT YOUR START IN THEATER? HOW DID ACTING SHOW UP ON YOUR RADAR AS A CAREER CHOICE?
Yes, my first role was for a church play in high school and I enjoyed it so much I decided to take steps to pursue it as a career. But prior to that, I came to the conclusion that I wasn’t going to be happy being anything academic. I had no passion for any of the subjects I was studying, so instead I put my focus into every extracurricular activity my school had to offer: debating, chess, basketball, soccer, squash, and eventually came across a sign on the noticeboard asking for students to audition for a play. No one else in my family had any experience with the industry so a lot of my learnings came from trial and error, and now somehow I’m on a CW show that’s being broadcasted all over the world.
HOW DID IT FEEL WHEN YOU STARTED BOOKING ROLES INTERNATIONALLY? WAS CROSSING OVER TO AMERICAN TV ALWAYS A GOAL?
It was quite validating booking my first American role, not just acting-wise and knowing that I am doing something right, but also that my accent is believable enough to fool people. Doing American TV had always been a dream. Australia gets access to a lot of American media. Growing up, our family would watch a show like Martial Law, or Rush Hour would be on, and we’d drop everything we were doing and just watch. Now I’ve found myself crying into the arms of a man who’s in both of those things we watched as a family and I pinch myself every day I’m on set (shout out Tzi Ma). To find a job that brings joy has its challenges, and pays the bills really is a dream come true.
WHEN YOU’RE NOT IN FRONT OF THE CAMERA, WHAT OTHER PROJECTS OR HOBBIES OCCUPY YOUR TIME?
Oh man, there are a few. I spend a lot of time playing video games. Most recently the Oculus Quest 2 has really gotten my attention. To play mini-golf in virtual reality with my friends in Australia, LA, or just across the road is a concept my childhood could not fathom. I also enjoy bouldering, which is like rock climbing but without a harness. I love playing basketball and anything basketball-related (LET’S GO CLIPPERS), and also I may have a slight addiction to sneakers. In terms of passion projects and things that I want to pursue regularly that aren’t hobbies, I also volunteer when I can (I used to volunteer every month) at ‘Vinnie’s Van’, where we drive a van into the city to help feed/ provide caffeine to the homeless and build relationships with the regulars. That’s something really close to my heart and is interesting to see the same afflictions of homelessness in Sydney happening in Vancouver as well. I’m humbled every time we go out for a run.
WE SEE THAT YOU’RE A ROCK CLIMBING ENTHUSIAST TO PUT IT LIGHTLY. (SECRETLY, YOU SEEM LIKE A PRO) ANY ADVICE FOR THE CLIMBING NOVICES OUT THERE?
Give it a go! You’re way stronger than you think. It’s a great combination of problem-solving and physical activity. Thank me later when you’ve found your new hobby. Also, talk to the people around you - the climbing community is so wholesome and inclusive, I’ve made so many of my close friends through the gym. The motto where I used to work in a bouldering gym was ‘Bouldering makes you happy', and I firmly believe this mantra to be true - shout out 9 Degrees Sydney!
YOU’RE CURRENTLY STARRING ON THE CW’S “KUNG FU”. FOR NEW VIEWERS, TELL US ALL ABOUT YOUR CHARACTER & HIS STORY ARC:
Ryan Shen is the brother of Nicky Shen. Whilst the main story is based around her, Ryan has his own life to lead. From finding acceptance and love from his parents for who he is, to experiencing relationships that lead to heartbreak, Ryan is the character whom the audience can most relate to. At the start of season 2, we find him moving on from medical school and continuing to be a leader at the community center. The relationship between him and his sister is nothing but love, which leads Nicky to have him join her on more of her adventures and sleuthing. On top of that, there’s a new line cook, Sebastian, at the family restaurant and Ryan may have a curious eye on him so watch out for that!
WHAT DID YOU DO PREPARE FOR THE ROLE OF RYAN WHO SHARES A DIFFERENT ORIENTATION FROM YOU OFF-CAMERA?
The best way to bring authenticity to a character is by bringing yourself into it. I remember when I got the callback for the audition, I made the decision to not make any drastic changes to what I had put down. Why fix what wasn’t broken? A couple of weeks later I’m in the Shen family home with a lab coat on as Ryan Shen and I’m thinking, was there more preparation that I had to do for this? But the reality is this, Ryan is more than his orientation. He’s a doctor, a loving son, a community leader.
If I could be real with you for a second, I get a lot of interview questions that touch on this subject matter, and they’re all worded in a similar manner of tiptoeing around what everyone wants to ask. How do you act gay? The answer is you don’t. There is no ‘gay’ way to act. It’s as ridiculous as asking how do you act ‘straight’? Or even, ‘could you just act more Asian?’. What does that even mean or look like? Whilst there are tendencies and traits we recognize to be ‘gay’ or ‘Asian’, those things do not represent the entire demographic. The reality is that I prepared for the role of Ryan the same way I would approach the role of a straight character; in that, his orientation should not define his personality, but rather, compliment it.
" with the LGBTQ+ community, I hope that my portrayal of Ryan has provided some empathy to persons going through such a pivotal life stage, and has accurately represented the struggles that LGBTQ+ youth go through when struggling with their sexuality and identity. It’s a privilege to bring those stories to life".
IN SEASON 1 RYAN’S LOVE INTEREST IS JOSEPH AN AFRICAN AMERICAN MALE, PORTRAYED BY BRADLEY GIBSON WHO DOES [NOT] IDENTIFY AS STRAIGHT IN REAL LIFE. THOUGH IT’S ALL SCRIPTED TELEVISION, HOW HAS IT BEEN NAVIGATING THE REACTIONS AND CONVERSATIONS THAT HAVE LIKELY ARISEN FROM YOUR ON-SCREEN UNION & IT’S MORE INTIMATE SCENES?
I also get asked this question a lot and I feel that most people want insight onto how a straight actor and a gay actor may come into conflict with their sexualities when portraying their characters on screen - especially when doing intimate scenes - but honestly, working with Bradley was an incredibly comfortable experience, and the audience and fan reaction of us coming together have been nothing but overwhelmingly positive. Bradley and I work really well together and we had our own conversations throughout the show so that we both felt comfortable and proud of the story we were forging; we both felt the responsibility to tell this story right. I feel that I have the responsibility in my role to accurately portray Ryan’s experience of coming out, being proud of who you are, and discovering your sexuality in a way that I will never be able to fully comprehend, and Bradley being able to give his insight on his experience was truly valuable and provided more insight into Ryan’s character for me. He’s also just a killer guy, and an absolute legend of a person, so there’s also that.
HOW DOES IT FEEL BEING A PART OF BRINGING ON SCREEN REPRESENTATION TO TWO DIVERSE CULTURAL GROUPS IN TELEVISION?
It’s a real honor to bring these stories to life and to be making an impact on the representation of Asian-Americans as well as the LGBTQ+ community within media. I feel the show does a beautiful job at inviting the audience in and exploring ideas that need to be expressed with more nuance than has previously been highlighted. It’s the small details, I think, that make me the proudest of this project. The added details such as the members of the Shen family removing their shoes before entering the house; adding MSG to their restaurant dishes; the constant switching between dialects that many bi-lingual families face. These small details I feel provide a nice gateway into the everyday lives of Asian-American culture and bring me much joy when I see these small things represented on screen. Similarly, with the LGBTQ+ community, I hope that my portrayal of Ryan has provided some empathy to persons going through such a pivotal life stage, and has accurately represented the struggles that LGBTQ+ youth go through when struggling with their sexuality and identity. It’s a privilege to bring those stories to life.
I’M ALWAYS IN AWE WHEN ACTORS SEAMLESSLY PULL OFF FOREIGN ACCENTS & DIALECTS. WHAT’S IT LIKE MAINTAINING YOUR CHARACTER’S TONGUE AS YOU FILM THROUGHOUT THE SEASON?
It’s actually a lot of fun; while I always wish I could have my Australian accent in roles, sometimes having to adopt an American accent can be a way of enhancing my interpretation of the character I play and delving deeper into who they are. Rather than playing how I naturally would approach something, I then have to look at the script and say well, hey, how would Ryan, born in San Fransisco, say this? How would he approach this line? Does he have mannerisms that I can incorporate that are separate from mine?
That being said, it certainly is a challenge, especially as Kung Fu shoots in Vancouver, Canada, and so we are surrounded by the Canadian accent all day. The urge to say ‘sorry’ in full Canadian drawl is strong! [LOL]
WHAT CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT SEASON 2 OF KUNG FU?
Season 2 of Kung Fu brings us back to the justice-hunting, butt-kicking hero that is Nicky Shen, who has a new enemy to defeat and new challenges to overcome. You’ll just have to wait and find out what season 2 has in store for you all but, I can tell you, it’s a wild ride. I can say that there’s possibly a new love interest in the dashingly handsome new line cook who has his eyes on Ryan - but you’ll just have to tune in to find out!
WHO IS YOUR DREAM ROLE/CHARACTER? & IF YOU WEREN’T ACTING, WHAT ELSE COULD YOU SEE YOURSELF DOING AS A LIFE PATH?
I think anything that lets me explore new avenues of acting, something that really challenges me. I’ve always admired the charisma and confidence that Dwayne the Rock Johnson brings to his wrestling - that would be an incredibly fun role to play. Plus, we’re almost twins in appearance, so that would obviously be the most natural choice of role [smile]. Perhaps in an alternate timeline, I’m a Dwayne the Rock Johnson professional lookalike.