To be the GQ Breakout Star of the Year: Chris Pang

Aussie actor Chris Pang talks on recognition, representation, and responsibility as GQ’s Breakout Star of the Year.

Christmas came early for Australian actor Chris Pang, as he spends time in his family home in Melbourne, Australia, with a shiny new toy – GQ Australia’s Breakout Star of the Year award. 

“GQ is one of those publications you grow up thinking of as the height of anything you can do as a fashion conscious, modern man. To have done an article last year, then followed up with this is pretty ridiculous.” 

Photo Credit: Lucas Dawson

On GQ Australia’s diverse set of honourees, Pang recognizes a conscious effort in bringing diversity and inclusion to the forefront. Other award recipients were Zendaya and Jason Momoa, to name a few. 

This is a stark contrast from other recent award shows that can’t even get our names or credentials right (don’t worry Simu, we gotchu fam). 

The Charlie’s Angels actor reflected on what the award means to him: “Growing up, I never felt part of mainstream culture. I didn’t feel included, so it’s particularly nice to be recognized by GQ Australia.”

You can watch his acceptance speech here.

Photo Credit: GQ Australia

To be Australian

The idea of what it is to be Australian has been an uphill battle for Pang.

“People are always surprised when I open my mouth and I have an Australian accent,” he said.

When asking him where he’s from, to which he responds “Australia,” often people follow up with a common secondary question: “but where are you really from?”

“What that says to me is that I’m not Australian,” said the actor. 

“The idea of diversity and representation is to normalize the image [of diversity],” an opinion shared by fellow Aussie actor, Lee Shorten, of The Terror: Infamy.

Pang’s approach is to “tell people I’m Australian and let them figure out that being Australian doesn’t just mean being blonde-haired and blue-eyed.”

Photo Credit: GQ Australia

Lineage and legacy

Perhaps a more interesting alternative to the “where are you from?” question is “who are you from?”

Pang’s parents are martial arts school owners, which is not too far of a departure from Pang’s not-so-distant relative, Bruce Lee (yes, that one). The kung fu legend shared a grandfather with Pang’s dad. 

On his maternal side of the family, Pang is a descendant of Huang Nai Xiang, a Chinese revolutionary leader and educator who led 1000 people from Fujian Province in China on a treacherous hike through to Malaysia and discovered what is now Sibu, Sarawak.

And growing up, he was influenced by his father and grandfather, who he admired as role models.

“Your dad is always going to be your first role model, but the first person who took me aside and taught me how to dress as a gentleman and do my hair was my grand-dad,” proving that Pang really always was a GQ man in the making. 

Learn Chris’ hair secrets in our fun video interview with him and Hayden Szeto on the red carpet at LAAPFF this past May. 

And what does Pang think makes a legend in our generation? “Having the most followers on Instagram,” he said with a laugh. 

Although he admittedly isn’t into social media, when the 34-year old uses the platform, he does it intentionally. Recently, he took to Instagram to pay tribute to late Taiwanese-Canadian model and actor, Godfrey Gao. 

Photo Credit: Chris Pang, Instagram

“I’m living in Hollywood and surrounded by industry people, where people get caught up in work and life, but Godfrey was always one of those people who was always true to himself and pure,” he said.

“He was a genuinely lovely human being. He paved the way. He was a trailblazer.” 

Staying grounded with his mates

Pang is not the kind of person who will let his latest accolade get to his head (and his friends won’t let him either). 

“We [Australians] have a saying called “tall poppy syndrome” – when you’re being full of yourself, expect others to cut you down to size. We keep it real and I respect that in people.” 

Whether he’s in LA or back home in Melbourne, the actor can often be seen with a core group of friends and former castmates. He’s been spotted putting racing stripes on Reef Break’s Desmond Chiam’s car and walking the red carpet with Marco Polo and Crazy Rich Asians castmate Remy Hii (also recently in Spider-Man: Far from Home).

Photo Credit: Brendon Thorne

“It’s nice to have mates who care about you, who are sound themselves, and are aware enough to pull you in line when you stray off the path.”

More than that, he notes that the hardest thing about being an actor surprisingly isn’t the motivation – it’s juggling multiple things at the same time. “Having good mates to lean on is essential,” he said.

Upcoming projects

Chris Pang has been a crazy busy Asian. Earlier in 2019, he celebrated the global premiere of director Andrea A. Walter’s Empty By Design, alongside Osric Chau, Rhian Ramos, and Dante Basco. 

Photo Credit: Andrew Ge

It’s also just been announced that Pang will be going to Sundance for the first time in 2020 for the existential comedy Palm Springs, with J.K. Simmons, Andy Samberg, and Camila Mendes. 

A project in the works Pang is particularly excited about is Jason Katims’ unnamed Amazon pilot that showcases the daily life of three people on the autism spectrum.

“What makes it special is that people on the spectrum are actually cast in those roles. It brings a level of authenticity to the characters and you can’t otherwise have,” Pang shared. 

The role we look forward to seeing him in the most though, is that of a role model, driven by his passion for normalizing the Asian experience in mainstream Western pop culture.

“I have the opportunity to make a change. I’m very honoured to take that role and make the most of it,” he said.

“I don’t want another kid to have to grow up thinking that being Asian is a bad thing.” 

You can catch Chris Pang take a lesson in feminism (and ultimately get his butt kicked) by Kristen Stewart in Charlie’s Angels, now playing in theatres. 

Photo Credit: Nadja Klier

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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