In Justin Chon’s latest film Blue Bayou, amid the struggle to deal with an unfeelingly issued deportation order, tattoo artist Antonio LeBlanc (Chon himself) finds comfort in a kind Vietnamese-American customer named Parker. Played by Linh-Dan Pham in a heart-rending performance, Parker turns out to be more than just a stranger-turned-friend—she is the anchor Antonio needed when he’s deep in a storm directed to hurt the most vulnerable.
The French-Vietnamese actress became a name of note in her acting debut as the adopted daughter of Indochine’s lead Éliane Devries (Catherine Deneuve), Camille. Her appearance in Blue Bayou extends the presence of of-Vietnamese-descent creatives in 2021 which JumpCut Online has been following, including elements of Raya and the Last Dragon, Bố Già’s winning box-office run, Be Water nominated for an Emmy, and the action design of Marvel Studios’ Shang-Chi.
Our own Nguyen Le got to briefly interview Linh-Dan Pham, who shared with us about the process of becoming Parker and adding authentic touches to her character’s background.
Chào chị Linh Đan!
Oh! Chào em!
Let’s begin: On Facebook, you made a post saying that this role of Parker is “a gift.” Could you elaborate on that?
Well, it is a gift, first of all, because… I’m ashamed to say that I did not know who Justin Chon was! (laughs)
Before he got in touch with me, he emailed me one day and said that he would love me to play Parker, sent the links to his two movies, Gook and Ms. Purple, and the script, and let him know what I thought. And so when I watched those two films, I was just floored! Oh my God, this is such a talented artist, I want to be part of [Blue Bayou]. Then when I read the script, I was so moved and cried. To be part of such a meaningful project, an artistic project, is a gift. Secondly, I think, you know, female Vietnamese characters in American cinema are so rare that it is a gift for him to have consciously written that character to be a female Vietnamese. For him to have chosen me to do that—it is a gift.
From watching Justin’s past films, how did you prepare yourself for Blue Bayou?
I think Justin has a very independent way of filmmaking, and shooting, which is quite close to the French way, to be honest. The European way.
We’re not used to big studios. There’s a strong kind of auteur films in France, for instance. So, you know, I found that I could fit in, in that sense. But I could also see that he’s a very demanding kind of director—very much about raw emotions and being truthful. That’s why I felt like I have to be on my toes, on the ball.
To prepare for Parker, actually, you know, I unfortunately have experienced friends who survived cancer and sometimes passed away—sorry, I’m getting a little bit emotional about it because they’re not here anymore—it made me think a lot about them. One of the first things that I wanted to do to give them a tribute, to honor them, was to really shave my head. I thought that was the minimum to honor them when you have such a part.
And, to be honest, I was also worried about my American accent (laughs). So I had some coaching. I wanted to get that out of the way, I didn’t want Parker to have “Pidgin American,” you know, with an accent! I think nowadays, it’s very rare. It could squeeze things in a box when it shouldn’t be. You’re just either American or French, and you know, of Asian descent or roots, but you don’t have to speak like you don’t understand or have no English. It was very important for me to do that as well.
Thank you so much for sharing. It actually really took my breath away that when Antonio came to visit Parker’s family for dinner, I got to detect so much closeness to my experience, hearing Vietnamese being spoken or you being your parent’s translator… It’s just a good indicator that this is Antonio’s show, but then the story is really universal.
I agree! It’s very authentic, in the sense that I do that with my family. I mean, we don’t have, you know, the whole band coming, the whole picnic. But I meet up with my family when I’m in the same country [as them] every weekend, and we have big lunches, and then someone will always be singing some point. They’ll bring up a guitar, or if they have a karaoke machine we’ll end up singing. Or we’ll watch Paris by Night, stuff like that. (laughs)
Yes! Yes! Exactly!
And yeah, it’s universal, like you said. It’s about family. That’s why I think, you know, this movie is for everyone. It also sheds a light on this horrible thing about adoptees who are now being deported, which is a shocking event.
I agree, they are forced to return to places they have never known. And finally, some people they might hold this old-fashioned notion that, “Oh, here’s a Vietnamese person in a Hollywood role, but then the role is not glamorous, it’s not beautiful.” What do you say to that?
You know, glamour is nice, but it’s not everyday life. I think that films can be entertaining, but they also show you a piece of someone else’s life. And so I’m just very proud to be part of Blue Bayou.
Thank you! My cousins taught me to say this, I hope I got it right: Merci beaucoup.
Wow, that’s a perfect accent. Thank you! (laughs)
I’m blushing. Thank you!
And I’ll respond, “De rien.”
Blue Bayou is currently in theatres in the U.S. The film will be in UK theatres on Dec 3.