Hayden Szeto on his family’s legacy and what it takes to make it

Audiences first fell in love with Hayden Szeto in the new coming-of-age classic, Edge of Seventeen, and they’ll have plenty more reasons to keep the love affair alive with his new 2019 projects, Come As You Are and Tiger Tail.

Upcoming Projects

Szeto reflects back on how Edge of Seventeen was an especially important part to have booked in his career.

“It was the last audition before my visa expired, I was going to go back to Canada,” Szeto said. “Then, I booked the part and was able to get a green card.”

The audition came about in a very traditional way for him.

“You get sent an audition, you show up, and you do it.”

He describes Edge of Seventeen as a John Hughes movie. A girl navigating through high school and figuring out who she is, like many coming-of-age stories, he feels the movie is relatable and well executed.

He plays Erwin Kim, who is an admirer of the leading lady, played by Hailee Steinfeld. Erwin is a character he wishes he were in high school.

“My personal experience, those girls were the toughest to approach and impress,” he said. “The mysterious ones, the ones who didn’t have many friends. A lot of guys in high school don’t talk to those girls because they’re afraid. For Erwin to be able to handle those girls, props to him. Those are the girls you fawn over but are too intimidated to speak to.” 

Photo: Natriya Chuna

He proceeds to explain how she wasn’t written as a likeable character, but she was still trying her best.

“It goes to show you that all the characters don’t know what was going on with the other characters, and in the very end you find out that they didn’t know each other at all,” he said. “That’s a real testament to how life really is, you can’t go around judging people from just one interaction.” 

Hayden will also be starring in a new film Come As You Are a story of three disabled young men who drive to Spain to visit a brothel that caters to people with disabilities.

“I get to play the Asian-American character coming from a traditional Asian-American family. I am more excited to see that on screen than anything else. I really think we need to see that dynamic because we get a lot of solo Asian characters in stories, and you don’t get to see the families as much.” 

Last but not least, Szeto gave us a brief about Tigertail.

“To me, the story is about how our parents’ generation affects ours. How we are brought up in a household, then we go to North America and we butt heads, it’s about navigating that. America is the world’s greatest social experiment like, can we all live together?” 

A Lineage of Artists

Szeto grew up in a household of artists. His father is a painter, his mother a ballerina, and his sister a makeup artist.

“I didn’t realize it until my later teens,” he said. “I grew up in Richmond, British Columbia, which is very specifically a Chinese-Vietnamese city. Having Chinese-Canadian friends, I started realizing how much of a black sheep I was. My friends have parents who had regular businesses in Hong Kong, the dads being businessmen, and the mother usually a housewife.

“I grew up with a dad who was always working from home and drawing pictures, my mom was a real estate agent. I had two very hard-working parents.”

He explained how his friends would drive him home, and they would always want to come inside to meet his dad.

“My grandfather was also one of the top painters in China, my great grandfather before him was one of the greatest sculptures and poets.”

He also may have the artistic background that the rest of his family inherited.

“I used to hold my pen like a paintbrush, and I didn’t correct this until the ninth grade. I remember my classmate taught me how to hold a pen, and I still hold it wrong to this day. I hold the pen too close to the paper, so I cast a shadow on whatever I’m writing.” 

Photo: Natriya Chuna

Stay On Your Toes

Szeto grew up as an athlete, he was his own boxing coach and lived by a rougher life mantra: “Get your life together. There are so many distractions and ways to be destructive, don’t say nice things to yourself. Say things that’ll get you on your feet. You can’t raise yourself soft, this life is hard.” 

While growing up, movies like Young and Dangerous were very popular for him and other Chinese-Canadians. Inspired by one of the characters, he even dyed his hair blonde.

Photo: Natriya Chuna

Szeto reflects on a time in Hong Kong when he bumped into a Hong Kong gangster by accident.

“He brought me into a photo booth, he shut the door and stood across from me, then he hits me and walks out. I just remember hating feeling powerless.” 

He proceeded to learn Muay Thai boxing, where he learned to defend himself. 

When Novelty Becomes Normalized

Szeto predicted where he feels Asian actors are going next: “I believe we’re headed to normalization. Asian-Americans being in movies shouldn’t be something new that we keep talking about. The second we stop talking about it as a novelty is when it becomes normalized. That’s the goal of equality, it looks great where we’re going now.” 

He gave the example of his friend Lana Condor, from To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, and how she is inspiring young Asian-Americans who want to pursue acting.

He left us with words of advice for both acting and in life: “If you’re an Asian-American and you’re thinking about being an actor, you need to ask yourself why you want to be an actor. Is it to become famous? Is it for money? Because you won’t get there if that’s your objective. Like anything in life, you have to love what you’re doing at the end of the day. A lot of people that I know who have fortune and fame, are not happy. You need to have a reason to pursue your fulfillment. For life? Don’t let trivial things ruin your day.” 

Photo: Natriya Chuna

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