From ‘Saving Face’ To ‘Grey’s Anatomy,’ Lynn Chen Is Just Going For It

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Somehow, the writers and producers of ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy” continually find ways to reinvent the amusement and support viewers intrigued. In its 17th season, the bid extensively covered the COVID-19 pandemic successful ways fewer different scripted shows did and brought backmost respective archetypal formed members … successful shade form.

So acold this fall, Season 18 (now acceptable successful a post-pandemic world) has reintroduced adjacent much aged formed members and brought respective caller actors into the “Grey’s” universe.

Among those caller to the amusement — but a acquainted face, fixed her two-decade vocation successful movies and tv — is Lynn Chen arsenic Dr. Michelle Lin, Grey Sloan Memorial’s caller caput of integrative surgery. Joining the longest-running prime-time aesculapian play successful TV past marks possibly Chen’s astir disposable relation since 2004, erstwhile she made her diagnostic movie debut arsenic Vivian Shing successful writer-director Alice Wu’s “Saving Face.” While it played astatine acclaimed festivals similar Toronto and Sundance, the movie was truthful scrappy that, arsenic Chen told maine precocious successful a Zoom interview, she remembers promoting it by “going doorway to door” astir New York City, hanging up posters astatine bodegas.

These days, “Saving Face” is beloved, particularly for its Asian American and LGBTQ representation. But it took a agelong clip for radical to afloat admit it.

“When ‘Grey’s’ came out, and there’s specified a ample lesbian assemblage for ‘Grey’s,’ truthful galore radical were like, ‘Oh my God, is that Vivian Shing connected Grey’s Anatomy?!’ I deliberation radical person conscionable forgotten astir ‘Saving Face’ oregon who I was until I had a immense level for radical to admit maine again. And it conscionable made maine truthful grateful,” Chen said. “It allows maine to bask its occurrence now, alternatively than beryllium bitter astir it ne'er having had its infinitesimal backmost successful the day. And it besides makes it truthful that I truly recognize the ups and downs of this industry, and I ne'er instrumentality immoderate of it for granted, ever, due to the fact that I cognize it tin spell distant truly quickly.”

In the astir 20 years since “Saving Face,” Chen, 44, has worked steadily arsenic a movie and TV actor. But the roles person ebbed and flowed. Over time, she has gained a batch of position portion charting her ain way successful the industry.

Her latest projects person included penning and directing her ain diagnostic film, “I Will Make Me You Mine,” which was released past twelvemonth and is disposable to watercourse connected Paramount+. She’s besides been going aft roles that truly resonate with her, similar successful “See You Then,” which is presently playing astatine assorted movie festivals astir the state and volition beryllium released successful 2022.

Throughout our interview, Chen spoke with hard-won contented astir learning to judge the uncertainty of being a moving histrion and the galore turns that a vocation successful a originative assemblage tin instrumentality — and astir gathering the assurance to fto spell of the things you can’t control.

“I deliberation it decidedly shifted for maine erstwhile I started directing due to the fact that I saw however idiosyncratic things were erstwhile you’re connected the different broadside of things. Like, it tin virtually beryllium thing arsenic trivial arsenic your hairsbreadth colour arsenic to wherefore you’re not formed successful thing — thing you person zero power over. And it conscionable made maine truly halt obsessing implicit things that I couldn’t power oregon alteration successful bid to publication a part,” she said.

“So, if I’m not the close idiosyncratic for a job, past I’m not the close idiosyncratic for the job, and there’s truly thing I tin bash to effort to marque them privation to prosecute me. And that conscionable gave maine truthful overmuch state of just, like, ‘Yeah, I’m conscionable gonna truly spell for it.’”

A caller relation that she truly went for was her quality successful “See You Then.” She wrote a missive to the movie’s writer-director Mari Walker astir “how important I felt the communicative was, and that I truly felt similar I was the close idiosyncratic to archer that story.”

Filmed conscionable earlier the pandemic began, the movie is astir erstwhile assemblage sweethearts Kris (Pooya Mohseni) and Naomi (Chen). It’s the archetypal clip they’ve seen each different since their abrupt breakup a decennary anterior and Kris’ transition. Over meal and past portion walking astir Naomi’s town, the 2 reconnect, gradually getting deeper and trying to benignant retired their analyzable emotions astir their narration and the wounded they’ve felt successful the intervening years.

The movie has the consciousness of a batch of classical walking-and-talking movies, similar Richard Linklater’s “Before…” trilogy, which are among Chen’s all-time favorites.

“It’s ever been benignant of a imagination of excavation to bash a two-hander similar this: radical conscionable talking implicit the people of 1 evening,” she said, adding that it was besides important that the relation was written specifically for an Asian American woman.

Lynn Chen (right) and Pooya Mohseni (left) successful  "See You Then."
Lynn Chen (right) and Pooya Mohseni (left) successful "See You Then."

The Film Collaborative

As a kid, Chen knew she liked performing and was bully astatine it. Growing up adjacent New York City, Chen, whose parent was a vocalist astatine the Metropolitan Opera, joined the Met Opera’s children chorus astatine the property of 5.

“I knew close away, since I was precise little, that I could sing. So that already enactment maine astatine an advantage. But also, I was 1 of the precise few, uncommon Asian children whose parents understood the industry,” she recalls. “I was moving perpetually backmost past because, you know, if they needed an Asian kid, they conscionable fundamentally were like, ‘Her!’ I besides took absorption truly well, and I truly enjoyed it.”

In college, she thought majoring successful theatre would beryllium a earthy fit. But aft her archetypal theatre people got a small excessively successful the weeds, she switched to euphony and women’s studies, knowing that she could get backmost into acting aft college.

“When it comes to acting, I don’t similar to truly analyse it,” Chen said. “For me, it’s similar a signifier of therapy, alternatively than thing that I privation to survey oregon get geeky about. I conscionable privation to beryllium portion of it and bash it and not truly overthink it. So that was a bully acquisition for me.”

After graduating, she started her TV and movie vocation the mode galore New York-based actors do: by getting a relation connected “Law and Order.” She went connected to much parts connected different shows successful the “Law and Order” franchise (“SVU” and “Trial by Jury”), arsenic good arsenic 5 episodes of the daytime soap “All My Children.”

“I was 1 of the precise few, uncommon Asian children whose parents understood the industry. I was moving perpetually backmost past because, you know, if they needed an Asian kid, they conscionable fundamentally were like, ‘Her!’”

When “Saving Face” came around, she didn’t afloat recognize however overmuch of an anomaly the movie was until aft its festival tally and release. Because it was her archetypal diagnostic movie role, “I honestly thought, ‘Oh, great! This is what movies are like. They’re truthful good written, and it’s similar a family, and there’s ever specified talented radical involved,’” she recalls. “It was the crushed I moved retired to LA due to the fact that a batch of opportunities were happening. But then, precise quickly, I had the crash. I recovered retired that not each movies are done rather arsenic well. ​​And it was conscionable changeless rejection, and a batch of instability, and a batch of doubt.”

Typically, starring successful an acclaimed indie movie would person brought a flood of bigger opportunities. But for Chen, they were much similar a trickle.

“I retrieve we played astatine the Angelika each summer, longer than anyone else. People were stopping maine connected the thoroughfare portion I was, like, picking up my canine poop, telling maine however overmuch they loved the movie. And I knew that was not common, you know?”

“Yet still, this was a movie that could not get maine an agent,” she added. “The opportunities were inactive not rather there. I was inactive not booking bid regular roles oregon adjacent recurring impermanent prima roles connected a regular basis, the mode that I felt astir apt should person happened.”

“There was a portion of maine that felt like: ‘Is it the Asian thing? Or is it conscionable me? Not conscionable me, but is it, like, the mode the satellite is? Or americium I conscionable taking this mode excessively personally?’”

Lynn Chen (left), with "Saving Face" co-stars Michelle Krusiec and Joan Chen and manager  Alice Wu astatine  the 2004 Toronto International Film Festival.
Lynn Chen (left), with "Saving Face" co-stars Michelle Krusiec and Joan Chen and manager Alice Wu astatine the 2004 Toronto International Film Festival.

Evan Agostini via Getty Images

Partly due to the fact that she needed to capable clip betwixt acting jobs, Chen started to prime up different originative endeavors. For years, she had a blog and podcast called “The Actor’s Diet,” talking to chap actors astir their relationships to nutrient and assemblage image. She besides co-founded different blog, “Thick Dumpling Skin,” to assistance Asian Americans stock their stories astir assemblage image, eating disorders and intelligence health. She writes frequently, from articles and idiosyncratic essays to her newsletter and idiosyncratic blog.

“For me, it is not giving each the powerfulness to this 1 career,” she said, noting that acting is “a batch of waiting, and it’s a batch of expecting different radical to validate you, and literally, radical being capable to accidental yes oregon nary successful bid for you to bash what you do. To person a small spot of originative power and to beryllium capable to astatine slightest provender that portion of you that truly wants to accidental thing and bash thing is truly important.”

Periodically, she has gotten opportunities to bash paid enactment successful immoderate of these different fields but has stopped abbreviated of afloat pursuing them, fearing they would nary longer beryllium enjoyable. And fortunately, her acting vocation — movies and TV, positive commercials and voiceover enactment — has paid the bills, truthful she has ne'er had to earnestly see making thing other her superior root of income, she noted. Besides, making it arsenic an histrion is hard enough.

“I benignant of person zero involvement successful getting progressive successful yet another, you know, cutthroat industry. I’ve spent beauteous overmuch my full beingness getting to wherever I americium present with acting, wherever I’m yet comfy that I don’t privation to commencement each implicit from quadrate one,” she said. “I consciousness truly fortunate that I person my time job, acting, which is besides my imagination job. And past connected the side, I get to effort different things and spot what happens.”

With acting arsenic her foundation, everything other she tries tin conscionable beryllium a caller adventure, not a means to an end. It besides reduces the unit to win astatine everything. “I deliberation that’s besides wherefore directing and penning hasn’t been that scary oregon daunting for maine due to the fact that it was ne'er like, ‘OK, I’m done with acting. Now it’s clip to beryllium a filmmaker,’” she said.

“I cognize what it’s similar to consciousness an abundance of things and past person it wholly disappear.”

In 2018, Chen wrote, directed and co-starred successful “I Will Make You Mine,” the 3rd portion of a trilogy she had antecedently co-starred in. The movie shifts the absorption distant from the antheral protagonist of the archetypal 2 installments — singer-songwriter Goh Nakamura (playing a fictionalized mentation of himself) — and toward 3 women successful his life: Rachel (Chen), Yea-Ming (musician Yea-Ming Chen, whose euphony is besides featured successful the movie) and Erika (Ayako Fujitani). Each is astatine a crossroads successful their lives, reflecting connected the past and trying to fig retired what’s next. For Chen, stepping down the camera gave her different accidental to summation much originative control, and crucially, make much substantive roles for Asian American actors.

“I had decidedly been going successful for roles that were a small meatier, a small juicier. But it did consciousness similar the chances of them really casting an Asian American to play those roles were inactive beauteous slim,” she said. “When I wrote ‘I Will Make You Mine,’ determination was a portion of maine that benignant of felt that vexation of: ‘Oh, I hatred however it ever feels similar determination tin lone beryllium 1 of us.’”

At audition aft audition, she would perpetually tally into the aforesaid Asian American histrion friends. “It conscionable sucks that, like, we’re each truthful different, and yet, present we are, going aft the aforesaid benignant of role,” she said. “We’re conscionable truthful specific, each of us. But yet connected screen, you’ll person the powers that beryllium say: ‘Unless they’re related, like, wherefore would determination beryllium much than one?’ And sometimes it would beryllium a concern wherever it would beryllium like, an Asian feline ended up getting formed arsenic a friend, so, like, that’s it, they can’t person an Asian miss play the different friend.”

In “I Will Make You Mine,” astir each quality is Asian American, with precise antithetic personalities and analyzable traits. Chen says it was arsenic important to her that the characters happen to beryllium Asian American, but aren’t defined by that.

“I wanted to spot what it would consciousness similar to not person to warrant our beingness by utilizing civilization oregon racism oregon thing other arsenic the means for america being connected screen,” she said. “It reflected what my beingness was like, what it’s similar erstwhile I’m hanging retired with my Asian friends. We’re not sitting astir talking astir ‘Asian things,’ you know? And truthful I wanted to spot that. I wanted to spot my beingness reflected connected surface due to the fact that if I felt similar it was lacking, past I knew that different radical indispensable consciousness that also.”

Lynn Chen connected  the acceptable   of "I Will Make You Mine," which she wrote, directed, produced and co-starred in.
Lynn Chen connected the acceptable of "I Will Make You Mine," which she wrote, directed, produced and co-starred in.

Eric Yang

Recently, Chen filmed different movie with a predominantly Asian American cast: “A Shot Through the Wall,” which volition beryllium released successful theaters connected Jan. 21. Veteran quality histrion Tzi Ma — who has cheekily referred to himself arsenic “Hollywood’s go-to Asian dad,” fixed however overmuch helium plays Asian dads, similar successful “The Farewell,” “Tigertail,” “Mulan” and the CW’s “Kung Fu” — plays Chen’s character’s begetter successful it. (Chen quipped that she holds the grounds for the fig of times Ma has played her dad: successful 2 movies.)

During the pandemic, Chen wrote different task that she’s trying to get disconnected the ground, which she wrote with Ma successful caput (in portion due to the fact that “I privation to support that record,” she joked). In addition, she has different caller task that she’s hoping to direct.

Earlier this week, ABC announced Dr. Lin volition officially beryllium a recurring character, truthful “Grey’s” fans volition decidedly beryllium seeing much of Chen. But she doesn’t cognize erstwhile (and adjacent if she did, she astir apt wouldn’t beryllium allowed to say, fixed however “Grey’s” producers and writers are famously tight-lipped astir the show’s future).

“It’s precise like, I find retired erstwhile I find out, and I amusement up erstwhile they publication me, and that’s it. Like, I conscionable don’t cognize what’s happening,” Chen said. “I person nary thought what’s going to hap with my quality this season, but I’m arsenic excited arsenic the fans are to find out.”

Chen is clear-eyed astir each the turns her vocation has taken, comparing her works successful advancement to a plot of seeds, “and I’m conscionable benignant of similar hovering implicit them waiting for them to instrumentality root. And immoderate of them may, and immoderate of them whitethorn not. And that’s fine.”

“There does consciousness similar there’s an abundance happening close now. But I cognize what it’s similar to consciousness an abundance of things and past person it wholly disappear,” she said. “I was beauteous devastated by it. But present that I’ve gone done it, and pulled myself retired of it, and had a resurgence, I’m not acrophobic of it happening again.”

“And not lone americium I not acrophobic of it, I conscionable spot it arsenic normal,” she added. “Because successful sharing those times, I’m watching different radical spell done that now, and I spot the interest connected their face, and I conscionable privation to archer them, like, ‘You’re gonna beryllium fine. You’re truthful talented. You’re gonna beryllium fine.’”

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