Hustle and Heart: The Lee Shorten Story

After leaving Australia for Canada in pursuit of a career in film, the “Man In the High Castle” actor reveals that it’s finally an exciting time to be an Asian actor.

Actor, director, producer, writer, and former lawyer; Lee Shorten is a man of many talents. But like many who chose unconventional career paths — especially ones in film and entertainment — he had to thoughtfully plan out how he would communicate that to his parents.

Prior to turning 30, Shorten told them he would take a year-long break and travel to Canada, before returning to his life as a lawyer in Australia, “knowing full well that it was not what I was going to do at all.”

“Truth is, I didn’t tell [my parents] I was coming here [to Vancouver, British Columbia] to be an actor because I thought they would freak out,” Shorten told Cold Tea Collective, ahead of the Vancouver Asian Film Festival where his award-winning short film, J’Adoube, will be screened.

Born in Korea and adopted by Caucasian-Australian parents, Shorten didn’t know what he wanted to do after graduating high school and felt immense pressure from his parents and teachers to either become a doctor or lawyer (sound familiar?). He chose the law route rather than medicine — because it was “easier” — but that didn’t stop him from pursuing a different path after five years of practising law in Australia.

“It’s funny because everyone told me, ‘You have white parents, you must’ve been okay!’ but they’re oddly Asian-stereotyped,” he said.

Since moving to Canada, Shorten has landed a number of roles in film and television, including his most notable performance as Sergeant Yoshida in Amazon’s “Man In the High Castle”, which features a largely Asian cast including seasoned actors Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa and Joel De La Fuente.

Most recently, J’Adoube won best short at the Mighty Asian Moviemaking Marathon film competition in Vancouver.

“For a lot of those guys, they’ve probably been the only Asian on set for forever, so to get the chance to mentor some younger Asian actors, it’s like we’re finally getting there,” Shorten said.“Working with them was phenomenal. I learned so much and owe them a great deal.”

“It’s an exciting time to be an Asian actor because for the first time ever, there’s more conversation about opportunities for Asians. We’re starting to see more Asians in non-Asian roles, just occupying normal characters; you don’t have to play an Asian guy.”

That being said, the 34-year-old noted that it’s more competitive as an Asian actor: “Even when I first started, I remember most of the older actors I met told me I had to be 10-times better than your non-Asian counterparts to be on their level. I always compare acting to sports; you can be naturally talented at soccer or hockey or whatever, but you still have to hone that skill. Acting is the same, but unless you’re constantly sharpening that knife, you’re not going to build those tools.”

Though it can be challenging to land non-ethnically-specific roles as an Asian actor, Shorten feels strongly about putting his craft first.

“If I learned another language, it would definitely open more doors, but a part of me wants to resist that because I shouldn’t have to,” he said. “Michael Fassbender didn’t know martial arts. Philip Seymour Hoffman didn’t speak 10 languages; they were just respectable character actors.”

To hear more from Lee Shorten about his hustle and heart as a working actor, check out our two-part video interview series below:

Hustle and Heart: The Lee Shorten Story – Part One

Hustle x Heart: The Lee Shorten Story – Part Two

Shorten’s award-winning short film, J’Adoube, will screen at the 22nd Annual Vancouver Asian Film Festival on November 4th in Vancouver. Check out Shorten’s film and our picks for the festival here.

Follow Lee Shorten:
Instagram – @lcshorten
Twitter – @lcshorten
Facebook – @lcshorten
IMDB – Lee Shorten

Video Credits:
Producer: Natasha Jung
Videographer: Christopher Cho
Second Camera: Mike Chong

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