Gran Torino is an upcoming drama film directed by and starring Clint Eastwood. Eastwood stars as a racist Korean War veteran who catches a Hmong boy trying to steal his 1972 Gran Torino. The film features a predominantly Hmong cast and was shot in Detroit, a city with a high Hmong population.
Made for $35 million, the R-rated “Gran Torino” is the highest-profile movie to be shot in the state since Michigan passed legislation in the spring offering incentives to filmmakers. Eastwood and company worked in the area for 33 days during the summer.
Open casting calls for Hmong actors were held in Hmong communities in Saint Paul, Fresno and Detroit. All but one of the ten Hmong leads were acting in a film for the first time, as were many of the Hmong extras. For authenticity, Eastwood encouraged ad-libbing among the actors in the Hmong language. An authentic Hmong shaman was cast, though it was claimed his ceremonial scenes were made more exotic.
Controversy has already been brewing within the Hmong community regarding the accurate portrayal of the Hmong culture. Actor Doua Moua plays, Fong/ Spider, the antagonist role in the film as Tao Vang Lor’s older cousin. I sat down with actor Doua Moua on what hopefully will be his breakout role.
Doua Moua was born in Thailand to parents, Cher Tong Moua and Pang Chang. After 6 months the family immigrated to the United States. Moua grew up with a large family in Saint Paul, Minnesota. He has one brother and three sisters. He started off his career with singing in choir and school. He now resides in New York City and studies at Marymount Manhattan College while participating in off-Broadway and off-off Broadway plays.
ASIANCE: What have you been up to as an actor now since the wrap of Gran Torino?
DM: I’m always learning and experiencing, just observing what’s there. I like to listen and observe what’s happening in the city. I consider myself a young actor with room to grow.
ASIANCE: How did you become a part of the film?
DM: The casting director called me up. I had a good support group in my acting world and they kind of told me about this film. They contacted me to come audition. I was the first person to audition for the role; it’s hectic as well, I had to wait for a long period of time because they had to go around the States to audition other Asian actors so it was like a month and a half of waiting for the answer.
ASIANCE: I’ll ask more about the movie, but can you talk about yourself a bit, when did you originally move to the U.S. from Thailand?
DM: When I was 6 months old. So I grew up in Minnesota and am originally from there, then came to New York for college. I stopped school and focused on acting and work and that’s how I started out. I went to a college preparatory school called International School in Minnesota. I started off in music, singing in choir and then my teacher in high school and middle school as well kind of brought up the idea of acting and it kind of went into a spur of the moment thing to start acting and she opened my eyes to a different kind of performing.
ASIANCE: So you went straight into acting?
DM: Before graduating high school I knew I wanted to pursue this career. Being Asian your parents want you to be a doctor, teacher, nurse, per se, but I applied to a bunch of different schools and got into one in L.A. but I thought I would be kind of stuck because there was no bus or transportation there so I came here (NYC), packed my stuff to get ready for school out here.
ASIANCE: How long did it take to get your foot in the door? Did you just get an agent?
DM: I don’t have an agent but I have a manager. In the city it’s hard to get a really legit and good acting agent in the city but I started out with Ken Park who is still my manager now. He sent me to castings and after about a month or two of getting situated in the city it started to pick up.
Watch the Gran Torino trailer
ASIANCE: Do you still have much family in Thailand and will you go back there?
DM: Yeah, I mean family that I know because my parents tell me about them but I didn’t grow up with them. I still have family in Thailand and Laos. My father always wants me to go to Thailand but the career is so busy, waiting for the right audition to come along. For example Gran Torino was the right moment to start a new path in the acting world.
I just finished a film with Chris Maloney called Dirty Movie and also a film with Lynn Collins and Joseph Gordon Levitt – Uncertainty. They’re great people and I’m so privileged to be surrounded by them. This is kind of the big movie though and I want it to happen but am kind of scared too. You don’t really know what to say for the future. It’s getting Oscar buzz so it’s definitely exciting.
ASIANCE: So what was it like to work with Clint Eastwood?!
DM: Honestly, the first time I was on set with him, because I didn’t get a chance to meet with him and talk about the script with him, but, it was kind of weird. The first time I sat on set it was like, I was expecting more but at the same time not. Most other directors I talked with before. But Clint lets you just be a human being, real on film. That’s’ what he did. First day on set we just came in and I communicated more with the first Assistant Director but Clint Eastwood just kind of watching over. I feel like he’s like God watching over, observing (laughter). He just lets people do what they do. He’s a leader, I would say, he lets you make your mistakes and learn from it and if he doesn’t like it, he’ll fix it. But he likes to direct how he would be as an actor. So that’s how he lets you perform.
I don’t feel like a sexpot myself so I’d be flattered but I don’t know (laughter). I don’t think of myself as hot or good looking but thank you.
ASIANCE: He must have liked your work
DM: I hope so, I guess!
The role itself is a dynamic role I’d say. I’d went through it in real life but I wasn’t Spider/Fong. You could picture my older brother in real life as Thao and my cousin as my role in the film, Spider. Which I put into my character. I could relate to Fong, or Spider, because I understand what his mother and grandmother went through, because my mother went through it. But me personally, I didn’t do that to my cousin or anything like that, so (laughter)!
ASIANCE: Clint Eastwood seems to have brought his own unique discretion with the film regarding stereotypes in society?
DM: I think yes, he did. Because if you see it, there are still stereotypes. It’s supposed to capture the issues in everyday living. If you look around the city you see so many stereotypes going on. You do see a lot of Asian people in finance banking because they’re good at math, or read a lot. And we, as a society, stereotype them but we also see White, Hispanic, African-Americans in that area too. But as that society we still see it. I think in this film he does show that. Not in the sense of we know math but just showing the reality of what is happening in society right now. The film itself is an art piece of what society as this artist, this director Clint Eastwood wants society to become or to change. So I think it’s the right stereotypes to show to the audience this is happening, in this one town, not grouping all Asians together but it’s a politically run movie.
ASIANCE: The way you describe his directing, is this what sets him apart from so many other directors?
DM: The camera operator Steve Campanelli, one night he told Bee Vang, the actor who plays Thao Vang Lor, and me a story, we were staying in Michigan and some were wondering, so “did we do a good or bad job’? Because with Clint Eastwood you’re kind of always wondering and wanting good feedback instantly to get that satisfaction but even in Million Dollar Baby Clint doesn’t say a lot to Hillary Swank. So she asks Steve, “did I do a good job?’ and Steve was like, “yeah do your thing, he loves it.’ Also on set Clint says to the producer that he likes actors to live the moment, be spontaneous, not over-think it. When you’re too technical and over-think it, you’re blocked. For example, I was driving my car in the film and I was trying to drive it in a straight line but it’s hard with all the camera men, yelling out the window, driving backwards, and I swerved the car by accident and kept the scene going but Clint Eastwood loved it and they kept it in the scene, which I found out about later and it is awesome.
ASIANCE: Did the cast and crew hang out while filming in Michigan?
DM: All the actors did hang out! Every night we went to Smokey’s room (the gang leader character in the movie) and play video games, hang out. Last week in the city, I hung out with the other actors. We do fun things and hang out.
ASIANCE: How have you been spending your time before the anticipated opening?
DM: Just working. Because honestly the first month I got back I was like, “something grand is going to happen’ but again, you just wait through the month and reality hits you back. You still have to pay the bills, still just have to be humble about it and keep at it. I make mistakes and learn from it. You shouldn’t regret it, just keep on living. I’m a person who likes to experience everything. And when I learn it, I know it and love to talk about it.
I surround myself with good and bad people. I mean, in a good way. I keep telling everyone there are four types of people you meet in life, people who love you and believe in you, the acquaintance where you stay together for a while, the person you encounter in the street and then you have the bad negative people. But all these four types make you who you are. It’s realizing the fact that you have to accept everybody and this will make you stronger and help you realize your vulnerability. Even though I’m 21, I feel older. In Asian years or in the Hmong culture they expect you to be married earlier, you know.
ASIANCE: What was it like in Minnesota and the representation of Asians in the media?
DM: I don’t know because Minnesota has a populated community of Hmong people. Living out here in NYC I can sometimes feel like an immigrant or outsider within an outsider population. But in Minnesota you do hear about the population. Like my cousin is a Senator there, you see her in the local news, I think there is a dramatic change just in 2007, 2008 people start writing that into their scripts. And New York has so many different representations of Asian culture in different areas like all the culture here. I love New York City.
ASIANCE: And you’ve been in NYC, hanging out?
DM: Yes, I do whatever. Like tonight I’m going to see a friend’s comedy show and it’s a big competition. I started drinking wine again so I’ll drink wine, go out and hang with guys and friends and girlfriends. Sushi, St. Mark’s. I just do my laundry in the Bronx where I live now but usually hang out in the city or Brooklyn, do whatever my friends are doing. I don’t pay attention to where I’m going as long as the train can get me there. Soon I think there will be more press or phone calls, preparation.
ASIANCE: Are your friends be surprised by your new fame?
DM: No not really, because I feel like they feel an energy from me that I may be “somebody’ in the future. The people who I surround myself with believe in me and will still be supportive after the fame, success. Because you never know if you’re going to be part of Hollywood or this entertainment world there could be a bad review or something that breaks you down. A lot of my friends are humble and just feel whatever happens in the next three months, they will still be with me.
If I could live in New York City all my life instead of going to California I would do it but you just have to surround yourself with a group of people but I’m a human being and make mistakes.
ASIANCE: Do you want to travel?
DM: I want to go to Europe. I really do. I haven’t planned it out in my head but I want to do a backpacking thing to Spain, Madrid, Rome, England, France. I always experience United States but I feel like I want to go overseas and experience different cultures. I might go to Thailand with my dad this spring.
ASIANCE: What happens if you become a Hollywood sexpot?
DM: I would be flattered. I don’t feel like a sexpot myself so I’d be flattered but I don’t know (laughter). I don’t think of myself as hot or good looking but thank you.
ASIANCE: So do you think you’ll be a guest at the Oscars?
DM: I hope I do! You have to be invited to the Oscars and the film itself is getting buzz so you never know what’s going to happen, there’s competition like Brad Pitt’s new film, and The Reader with Kate Winslet, but Clint believes in the people he works with. He’s really loyal and believes in his actors and at the end of the day, it’s a dream come true. Eastwood is the good person and right person to tell this story about the Hmong culture or Asian culture. Even if we’re Hmong or Chinese, Japanese, Taiwanese, etc., we all have experienced what this film is trying to convey. The only thing that sets us apart is the language we all speak. What this film touched is race issues not just Asian but Hispanic, African American. It’s what we see society is going through now, through a white Caucasian perspective not Clint Eastwood but the character he plays, Walt, so it is very interesting film. I feel like since 2008 there are so many more Asian faces on film, Aaron Yoo, Brenda Song, also a Hmong actress, and other Asian actors who are making a mark saying it’s time that scriptwriters include us in their script because we’re part of the everyday life, the society too.
ASIANCE: So what day does the film come out?
DM: December 12th a Friday – Selected Theatres
December 17th a Wednesday – Limited Release in NYC, LA, and Toronto
January – Wide Release
ASIANCE: Thank you so much and you are very admirable. It was so nice to sit with you…
DM: Honestly, I really appreciate it. It’s been great meeting you, thank you for your support and “admiration’… ““
For more information on www.thegrantorino.com