Harry Shum Jr.
Born in Costa Rica and raised in San Francisco, Harry Shum Jr. is now an International star. Currently based in Los Angeles, the American actor speaks to The Laterals about his adaptable mindset. Now 33 and married, Shum can be seen starring alongside martial art veterans Michelle Yeoh and Donnie Yen in Netflix’s upcoming sequel to the 2000 hit—Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. A fast rise to success, Shum also appears on Freeform’s TV adaption of The Mortal Instruments novel series as the immortal High Warlock Magnus Bane in Shadowhunters.
Were you always content with the move from Costa Rica to San Francisco?
To be honest, I didn’t really know what was happening. I do remember hating it at first because it was all foreign to me. I barely spoke english and everyone looked completely different in my eyes. That was the first time that I learned about the idea of adapting. My parents put me into Chinese school after regular school so I could catch up with the other kids. It was very difficult adapting but I wouldn’t change a thing. I’m proud to have a unique story.
So you’re living out in LA now, right?
What did you learn? What was surprising? Any funny culture gap experience?
Learning to assimilate to the American culture was a school in itself. From how to properly greet someone to not eating with your elbows on the table. I had two different American experiences. The Immigrant culture and American-born culture. The first being other Chinese kids who’s parents were immigrants. That wasn’t too hard to adapt to because other than the language, my parents made sure to keep me in tune with Chinese etiquette, food, and manners etc... But for the latter, that was a culture shock. I moved twice as a kid and ended up in the Central Coast (San Luis Obispo) where I learned that you can call people older than you by their first names and eating junk food wouldn’t get you in trouble. A funny culture gap was the idea of spending the night at friend’s houses. My parents could not understand that concept as I was always the kid that got picked up by 7pm while all my friends spent the night eating ice-cream and watching movies.
What was your very first job?
I was a cashier at my parents hardware store at 8 years-old.
Having trained as a dancer, do you feel that the kind of discipline helped prepare you for approaching your work as an actor?
Definitely. My mindset was to always work harder than others so then what may seem hard later will actually be much easier. I’m not sure if that made sense. But essentially as a dancer, I would push my boundaries to the point of exhaustion. It’s been a beneficial attribute to approaching my work as an actor.
Shadowhunters is set to premier this January! Were you always a fan of The Mortal Instruments series?
I never read the books before being casted. Now I’m kind of mad at myself for not getting into them earlier. It’s a fascinating book series!
Could you tell us a about your character, Magnus Bane, and how your approach differs from the film series?
Magnus Bane is the immortal High Warlock of Brooklyn. He’s half demon and half mundane (human) that possesses the skill to conjure warlock magic. I haven’t had a chance to watch the film but I drew a lot from the books sprinkled with my own interpretation.
It must have been inspiring to play alongside Michelle Yeoh and Donnie Yen in the next Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. Are you a martial artist yourself? How much training did you have to go through?
It was truly a dream to work with Michelle and Donnie. I might have had a few inner fanboy moments when I met them. I am not a martial artist but had to go through intense training when I was casted. I had a combination of weight-training, wushu, stunts, fight choreography and wire work everyday for about 3 weeks.
What’s the one luxury or indulgence you couldn’t live without?
The World Wide Web.
Has there been any one film in particular that’s helped you feel that you’re on the right track in terms of your career?
That’s a hard question to answer. Every project I work on makes me feel like I am on the right track because I’m getting paid doing what I love to do. I view each film and show I get to work on as a small dent in the universe that hopefully makes some sort of impact to someone somewhere. So I guess in a way, whatever current project I’m working on reminds me that I am on the right track.
Production Assistant: Danny Ramirez
Special thanks: Stan Brooks & Kelly Tomlinson.