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Making a Career Out of Passion: An Interview with Award-Winning Korean-Canadian Actor, Tina Jung

Tina Jung is an award-winning Korean-Canadian actor, writer, and producer. Best known for her roles in Suites, Kim’s Convenience, Make it POP, No Sleep Till Christmas and more recently Queen of The Morning Calm, she has wanted to pursue a career in acting for as long as she can remember. The Avenue24 team sat down with Tina for an interview about her latest role, and the challenges and progresses in the entertainment industry.

Acting has been something that's always been an aspiration for you. Was there ever a breakthrough moment where you realized that this was the career for you and that you wanted to focus on it full-time? 

The big breakthrough moment hit me in high school. I was doing a Sears Play Festival and my family came to see it. I was delivering a monologue when I had an out of body experience where I saw myself on stage and told myself this is what I want to do and I couldn’t see myself doing anything else. From that moment on, my interests had become a passion and I wanted to get serious with it and turn that passion into something greater. That’s when I wanted to make a career out of doing what I loved so I auditioned for theatre school to take it step by step.

What has been your greatest lesson or piece of advice that has been helpful as you’ve grown in the entertainment industry? 

Get used to rejections and don’t take it personally. In this industry, you’re going to hear more “no” than “yes”. When you’re starting out it’s hard to hear no and you begin to doubt yourself and question all things you think you’re doing wrong but you soon realize that not being cast in something has nothing to do with you. Sometimes it comes down to things outside your control but it’s never personal. As long as you keep up with your craft and offer your best in the room, you’ll hear that yes if the part fits you. Never take rejections seriously, it’s all part of the job.

Aside from acting, you’ve also ventured into other areas of the entertainment industry such as producing and writing. Is there one area of the entertainment industry you enjoy the most? 

I think acting will always be my true love. I enjoy everything about it, from the preparations to research and rehearsals to performing. I'm always learning and constantly discovering new things about acting and the techniques of it. Writing and producing is still new for me in comparison to acting where I’ve been doing it all my life, however it’s just as exciting and there’s always something to learn from it as you dive deeper into each area of the industry. I hope to get into directing as well at some point in my career. The more hats I can wear, the better. I love to challenge myself and constantly educate myself in this field. There’s so much to learn.

Let’s talk about your new captivating feature film Queen of the Morning Calm. Can you give us a brief synopsis of the show? And the character you're playing?

Queen of the Morning Calm is an empowering mother-daughter story. It’s a story about their survival from a continuous cycle of poverty and abuse and trying to belong in a world they can’t seem to fit in. I play Debra who is a young immigrant sex worker who was forced into a lifestyle from a past she had no control over. This film is about her journey to find freedom, to find self-love, and to discover self-respect while trying to heal from a past that only makes her stronger. It’s also a story of emancipation while learning to become a more nurturing mother in the process.

This new role as Debra is something you’ve never played before. What about the script resonated with you and why did you decide to pursue it further? 

The script was very raw. Nothing was sugar-coated, it was just hard facts about the hardships of her life as a sex worker dealing with poverty and abuse and the self-discovery of finding herself in this world. It was a challenging script and I wanted to uncover more about the character that had so many layers to her and had questions about her the more I kept reading. I questioned her choices, her thoughts, her actions, and tried to figure out her reasoning behind each decision. The more I kept peeling away the layers of this story, the more beautiful it became as a whole once you go on that journey with Debra through her point of view. As a reader, I was drawn in and I wanted the audience to feel the same level of emotions watching her as I had when playing her. Discovering Debra’s story for the first time is a real treat and I think everyone should go on this journey with her.

What did you learn about the subject of sex work through this role that you feel a lot of people aren’t aware of? 

Most of the women who are in this line of work are doing it just to make a living. Everyone has their own story regardless of what kind of job you have. For some women, it’s not a choice and are forced into it by their partners. Often girls get into this line of work at a younger age when they feel like they don’t have a lot of control of their life and especially when they are vulnerable. A lot of them are more emotionally abused than physically which is just as concerning in the long run.

Your character faces a lot of really deep and emotional challenges throughout the film. Was it difficult tapping into the character? What would you say was the most challenging part of playing Debra? 

I spent a lot of time discussing with Gloria Kim (writer, director, producer) about Debra and her world prior to filming the movie. It wasn’t so much difficult tapping into the character as it was to get out of the mindset which was also the challenging part of playing the role. The script deals with a lot of intense scenes that are emotionally demanding because the character goes through many hoops and challenges throughout the film. I had to learn how to find the balance of being equally invested in the character as much as knowing when to come out from it and clear my mind from time to time.

What did you enjoy most about filming your role in “Queen of The Morning Calm”? 

Getting the chance to meet and work with so many wonderful people in the industry. We had a really solid cast and crew working hard for this film. I loved the dynamic we had as a team.

Switching the focus to diversity, with stories like Queen of The Morning Calm being showcased at major events like the Canadian Film Festival, do you think the film industry is taking greater strides towards becoming more inclusive? 

Absolutely. First and foremost, I think it’s important that platforms like the Canadian Film festival are interested in sharing the stories being told by diverse filmmakers. All stories are worth being told and the more voices there are the better it is for all of us to be educated with what is happening around us today. Diversity is reality and diversity is key in having more content that is relatable to all audiences. I think the industry and film festivals around the world are really pushing in the right direction to be more inclusive.

Throughout your career in the entertainment industry, what has been the most rewarding moment so far? 

To be able to play a variety of characters with different personalities, jobs, relationships and looks all have been so rewarding. That is what I find so charming about this job. You get to play such colourful characters and have the freedom to create and collaborate endlessly. There’s never a dull moment in this industry.

Where would you like to see yourself in the future in terms of your career? 

Officially moving down to LA and making more films that are critically-acclaimed with artists I admire and look up to as well as to continue writing and get into directing. I would love to win an Academy Award one day. I’m putting it out there!

Lastly, are there any projects that you are working on that you can tell us about?

My next project will be a video game. I can’t share much about it just yet but I am very excited because it’s a medium I’ve never done before. Again, you’re constantly learning in this industry so I’m ready to experience this for the first time.

Rapid Fire

Name one thing you consistently do to prepare for a day of filming? 

First I create a playlist suited for my character. Then for the duration of the project, it’s the only thing I listen to. Listening to music prepares me to get into their mindset and mood.

If you weren’t an actress, what do you see yourself doing professionally? 

Astronomer. Other than acting as a kid, I was huge into space and NASA and there was a period of time I wanted to work there. I’m still big on astronomy.

Who is one person that you would love to co-star with? 

Sandra Oh.

I saw that you enjoy cooking, what’s your favorite dish to make? 

Rosé pasta. Tip: use spicy Italian sausage for a kick to balance the creaminess of the sauce.

What is one place you’ve traveled to that you would highly recommend visiting? 

Mexico is beautiful. The food, the culture, the music, just everything, I highly recommend.

What advice do you have for our readers and your fans amid the COVID-19 situation we’re facing right now?

Stay home! Find ways to stay creative. Try a new recipe, bake that bread, FaceTime an old friend you kept pushing to go out for coffee with, try home workouts, hang out with your pets, read that book you’ve been meaning to, write that script you’ve been thinking about, do a cover of that song stuck in your head, try that makeup tutorial you were too scared to wear outside, have a fun indoor photoshoot with said makeup, organize your messy desk, binge watch that show everyone is talking about…Staying productive is important but so is spending time for yourself and opening up to all the things you wish you “had more time” for in the past.

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