Asian Australian actress Fiona Choi has carved her own acting career and thriving in the roles she is cast to play on Australian television and on stage. But why wouldn’t she be, considering she has an extremely diverse body of work to show for. I remember back in December 2016, I caught up with her in New York (where she was living at the time) and it was then that she mentioned to me that it was time to move back to Australia full time and pursue her acting career and return to her bread and butter which is singing and acting on stage. Almost 3 years later, and all I read about her is all the awesome roles she is playing in both TV and theatre back in Australia.
Since the end of The Family Law, which went for 3 seasons, Choi who played the eccentric dragon lady Law matriarch “Jenny Law”, has gone on to do big things including getting back to theatre with The Lady In The Van & Golden Shield, singing for the production of Dragon Lady: The Many Lives & Deaths of Anna May Wong at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival as well as being cast in a number of roles on Australian television shows.
” Since The Family Law ended earlier this year I’ve been able to achieve my goal of finally getting back on the stage with The Lady In The Van & Golden Shield, both for Melbourne Theatre Company. Another goal was to sing again, so premiering Dragon Lady: The Many Lives & Deaths of Anna May Wong at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival was immensely satisfying. It was wonderful to see so many “The Family Law” fans come along who never realized I started out in musical theatre. I’ve also gotten to guest star in a bunch of fabulous Australian television: Utopia, The Letdown, My Life Is Murder, Secret Bridesmaids Business, as well as continue my role as Cindy in Mustangs FC – a completely opposite type of Tiger-Mum to Jenny Law“, Choi states.
Playing Anna May Wong is a huge deal and to ensure she is portrayed in the best way possible is not something which can be learned overnight. Choi states that playing and singing cabaret as Anna May Wong was both intimidating and also an honour in Dragon Lady: The Many Lives & Deaths of Anna May Wong , and says creating a tribute to a legend was something she and show writer Helen Yotis Patterson have discussed over many years.
She was a true pioneer – carving out a film career at a time when no-one was looking for ‘exotic’ performers at all. Her tragedy was that the flagrant racism & miscegenation laws of the time (which deemed it illegal for 2 people of different races to share a screen kiss – even if one of them was in ‘yellow-face’) made it impossible for her to become a true Leading Lady in the West. Then when she tried to make her mark in China, they shunned her for being too brazenly American. She spent her career/life trying to find her place between the two worlds, never quite fitting into either. I can totally relate to that as an Australian actress with a Chinese face, despite all the advances we’ve made since her time, says Choi.
In addition to playing a great Anna May Wong, Choi was also cast in Melbourne Theatre Company’s production of “Golden Shield” by Anchuli Felicia King which really tackles the issue of the firewall and censorship in Mainland China. What made this production unique was that it was performed in both English and Mandarin and had majority non white actors on stage which is a huge thing for Australia.
Golden Shield was significant in many ways, and I hope the beginnings of a trend in the programming of Aussie mainstage theatre – an exciting new work with global themes written by a brilliant young playwright, Anchuli Felicia King, that was beautifully supported, both creatively and financially by the MTC & its NextStage Program. It had a majority non-White cast, some of whom spoke exclusively in Mandarin. It was fast-paced, transportive and provocative: demanding the audience to keep up. Plus, for me & the other Asian-Australians in the cast, it was an unprecedented joy to be able to embody the nuanced, messy, meaty central protagonists usually reserved for Caucasian actors. I have a feeling the opportunity to shine in Golden Shield will be a springboard for many of us. And certainly I continue to be moved by the countless young Asian folks who come up to tell me how inspiring it was to feel so connected to the characters & language & themes they saw on stage.
So after a busy 2019, what is coming up for Choi? During our interview she mentions that she can’t wait for 2020 and all the projects and roles she will be involved with. One thing which is already on the books is her being involved with Benjamin Law’s play, “Torch the Place” which focuses on compulsive hoarding and will be debuting in 2020 at the Melbourne Theatre Company. I asked Choi to talk a little about this production ( or whatever she could say) and whether any part of her is also a hoarder,
The Melbourne Theatre Company is producing Benjamin’s first play, and it’s gonna be an absolute riot! It’s about 3 grown children who descend upon their childhood home in order to convince their mother that her hoarding is a problem that needs to be cleaned up! I will NOT be playing the outrageous Mum (yes, I’ve officially retired the Jenny Law accent), but instead the uptight, control-freak eldest daughter Theresa (nick-named Saint Therea) who attempts to guilt-trip everyone else into carrying out her agenda. I think Theresa’s bossiness and impatience will come naturally to me, but I am quite messy and disorganized in my own household so that aspect of her will be a challenge. I’m not quite a hoarder, but I do love to collect things!
Finally in the spirit of “Being Asian Australian”, I asked Choi about her views on the state of cultural representation and visibility in Australian media and whether things have or are changing,
Aaah… I think we are getting there, but certainly there is further to go. I look forward to the day when having a balanced mix of colours/backgrounds both onscreen and behind the scenes is just a given and doesn’t even need to be pointed out. I look forward to the day when I won’t feel such immense anxiety or pressure that any project with “diversity” has to succeed or it will be the last time we are given a chance…
Busy times ahead for this awesome Asian Australian trailblazer. One thing which amazes me about Choi is her tenacity and her determination to play roles which represents authentic voices and stories. Can’t wait to see what is installed for her in 2020 an beyond.
Header image via SBS and other images provided