Q: What is it like working on bigger projects like The 100 or Shadowhunters, versus smaller projects that are more intimate or personal?
Chai: I come from a kids show that was filmed on the Gold Coast, probably about ten years ago now, called Mako Mermaids. And for Australia at the time, it was pretty big, but it was absolutely huge to me as my first professional acting gig. And speaking to other actors about their start, getting onto something like that straight up isn’t necessarily common. So it was a massive opportunity, to kind of get started and dive straight into a pretty decent sized show in Australia.
And then going from that to The 100… That was a whole two, three, four steps up in terms of size. The set was huge- it’s filmed in Vancouver, and they have this space dedicated to building the fictional city of Polis. So a lot of the location stuff is in this city that was built specifically for the show. Actually, I think it was taken over from Firefly, which was an older show, sci-fi show from back in the day. So it was a real city, not a green screen. And I just remember stepping foot onto the set going, “I’ve never seen this, this is insane”. It was quite intimidating. I come from a small town, and I was super humbled by all of it, thinking “Am I really allowed to be here?”. Over time, that does kind wear off, and then you just go to work. But it’s just certainly a privilege to have so many resources dedicated to creating something for you to produce your art.
Q: You have the chance to literally bring stories to life. How does that feel?
Chai: I used to be a pretty big reader. I love reading, mostly a lot of philosophy and fantasy. Nowadays, unfortunately, I’m pretty behind in terms of reading stuff I want to read. But I get to read a lot of amazing scripts that are sent to me, and I like creating characters that are challenging. Whenever I get a script with a super complex character, I get really excited, but I also have that fear of being unable to do a character justice. I know that it’s just something that I have to do, and it’s great that I get to challenge myself every day, because that’s what helps you to grow and hone your craft. Plus, it’s fun!
Q: Do you have a favourite character that you’ve played; someone who is dear to your heart?
Chai: I’ve read Journey to the West, which is what the Monkey King that I play in The New Legends of Monkey is based off. There are Z is one of them. So, Goku is basically actually a lot of different shows that have come about from that story. I grew up loving DragonBall Z, which is also very heavily influenced by that tale. I actually sort of embodied Vegeta for the first season of The New Legends of Monkey, and Goku for the second. I’m a bit of a fan, so that for me was hands-down the best, most fun job I’ve ever had. And I hope not, but maybe ever will. It was one of those gems that you rarely find in this industry. There’s always going to be different types of gems, but this to me was basically living my childhood dream. And that is awesome. Not everyone gets to do that.
Q: What have been some of your best moments on set?
Chai: The New Legends of Monkey was a pretty big production and had a lot of money involved to create a beautiful world for the story, but they didn’t treat it like a huge machine like you usually get on major budgets. I felt that it had the perfect combination of professionalism and the freedom of creating art.
Working on Shadowhunters was amazing. I could talk about it for hours, honestly. I loved the genuine family feel that was created on that set, because that doesn’t happen very often. It was just so comfortable. We had a lot of fun shooting every single scene. You would naturally get this real laughter, this real kind of comedy that just shone through, because we’re so relaxed with each other. And the leads, Cat (Katherine McNamara) and Dom (Dominic Sherwood), they really cared about the source material and about their colleagues. And because they cared so much, that trickled down into everybody in the cast and crew. It created such a beautiful working environment.
I remember the first day that I arrived on the Shadowhunters set, I came in ready for my screen test, and they both got up out of their chairs and came over to me to introduced themselves. They made such a massive effort to make everyone feel welcome, and they really succeeded.
Q: Are there any recent or upcoming projects you’d like to highlight?
Chai: I just finished filming a sci-fi series in Chicago called Night Sky. It’s just come out on Amazon Prime. It’s a really beautiful and heartfelt story that’s kind of wrapped in a sci-fi element. That was a dream job. I got to work with J.K. Simmons and Sissy Spacek… Working with phenomenal, Oscar-winning actors that are veterans in your field is just so amazing. I got to learn a lot from how they approach scenes. I’m currently working on the second season of The Newsreader down in Melbourne. And that’s another dream job, honestly. I feel so lucky with the gigs I’ve landed.
Q: Finally, do you have any advice for aspiring actors that you’d like to pass on?
Chai: If I could rewind time to speak to my younger self, I would just say have fun with everything that you do. Find the beautiful moments, the middle moments, because they are what count the most. Look at the specifics and the details. Don’t be afraid to dive deeply into your characters. Without sounding too cliché, the deeper you go, the better… Because that’s where the beauty is!