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OC Register recognizes Justin Chon!

March 1, 2009

source: OC Register

‘Twilight’ actor tackles Hollywood from Irvine

Justin Chon appears in the immigration film ‘Crossing Over’ with Harrison Ford.

By RICHARD CHANG
The Orange County Register

Justin Chon is a rarity for a twentysomething actor working in Hollywood. He still lives in Orange County – Irvine, to be specific. And he still lives with his mom – and likes it.

“She was getting kind of lonely, so I keep her company,” said Chon, who appears in a new movie being released this weekend, “Crossing Over.” He plays a Korean American high school kid who immigrated to the U.S. as an early teen.

“I love Irvine,” said the University High School graduate. “That’s my ‘hood. I went to USC and used to come home every weekend. It’s in my comfort zone.”

Chon, 27, an up-and-comer in the business, may be best known for his role as Eric Yorkie, a human high school student in the vampire teen blockbuster, “Twilight.”

To date, the film has grossed more than $367 million worldwide, according to boxofficemojo.com, and it hasn’t even been released on DVD yet.

When the young Korean American actor auditioned for and got the part, he didn’t know it would turn out to be the juggernaut that it is.

“It was just like any other audition,” he said. “Once I got hired, I was pretty excited, because it would possibly be a trilogy. It seemed like a young, hip kind of thing. But I had no idea how big it was going to be.”

Yet, as filming started and he saw random people hanging out on or near the sets, he began to get a sense of how popular the Stephenie Meyer novels were.

And when he saw the screaming crowds full of teenage girls at the premiere screenings, that’s when the sheer fanaticism for the books and the movie hit him.

“It just amazed me. I was surprised to see people camped out for two days to get a spot in front of the carpet. People already knowing my name. I was really surprised.”

A LATE START

But Chon hasn’t always been a recognizable name and face. In fact, he didn’t start acting until after he graduated with a business degree from the University of Southern California.

He enrolled in a two-year acting program, giving himself that amount of time to prove he could make it in the business.

His first role was in a TV series called “Jack & Bobby,” where he played a high school kid dressed in a toga.

After that, he worked with Disney, doing a few pilots and TV movies. He wound up working alongside Brenda Wong (“The Secret Life of Zack and Cody”) in “Wendy Wu: Homecoming Warrior,” a hit on the Disney Channel.

One role led to another, and then he landed the part in “Crossing Over,” which he actually filmed before appearing in “Twilight.”

A series of semiconnected immigration stories, “Crossing Over” also stars Harrison Ford, Ray Liotta, Ashley Judd, Jim Sturgess and Summer Bishil, who starred in “Towelhead” last year.

“It touches on a lot of different aspects about the struggles that noncitizens go through,” Chon said about the movie, which is playing at Regency South Coast Village in Santa Ana. “It’s spread out across the board, what people’s different struggles are. A lot of people – they get angry. They’re angry about illegal immigrants taking jobs. (This movie) puts a face on those people. It’s not only illegal people here. There are people genuinely trying to do it the right way.”

Though he didn’t act when he was a child, Chon was not completely oblivious to the vocation. His father was a well-known actor in South Korea when Justin was between 10 and 25 years old.

“I grew up watching my dad’s black-and-white films,” Chon said. “My parents were always supportive of me, in terms of expressing myself artistically. Art, musical instruments, singing – whatever I did, they were just really supportive.”

Nonetheless, they were concerned that their son would face difficulty making a living as an actor.

“They were worried, because of the stigma with acting in Korea – it’s hard to make a living. They were worried that I was going to starve or something.”

That’s why he pursued business in college. He hasn’t totally let that go: He co-owns two clothing stores called the Attic, located in Buena Park and San Diego.

‘WHAT’S HAPPENIN’, HOT STUFF?’

Growing up, Chon didn’t see a whole lot of Asian faces on TV or on the silver screen.

“In the ’80s, there weren’t a whole lot besides Jet Li, Jackie Chan and Long Duk Dong,” he said, the latter a reference to the bizarre, fresh-off-the-boat stereotype featured in the 1984 comedy “Sixteen Candles.”

But over the years, more Asian Americans began appearing on-screen, and Chon took notice.

“I saw John Cho when he came out in ‘American Pie,’ and he wasn’t playing a stereotype. I thought, maybe it is possible.”

Now, Chon is among a group of young Asian American actors who are trying out for all kinds of parts, whether they’re ethnic-specific or not.

“It’s really awesome. We all kind of feel each other’s pain, we’re kind of in the same club. No one’s really bitter. Everybody’s happy. It’s a really a good time for Asian American actors to show their potential.”

Though he is getting more audition callbacks and has signed to star in sequels two and three of “Twilight,” Chon doesn’t think he’s made it yet.

“I don’t think I’m a star. I just love to act. I’m not thinking I’m even close to where I want to be.”

Contact the writer: 714-796-6026 or rchang@ocregister.com

Also view story at MSNBC.com

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