By Amir Rizvi
Paul Leach is a Korean-American actor, writer and director in Los Angles. He recently wrote and directed his first feature film which he also edited and scored. An impressive feat, unless you realize that Paul also wrote, directed, scored and choreographed an original musical in college that was immediately invited off-Broadway. So with all this performing and writing talent, why haven’t you heard of him yet?
Paul Leach walks in the room with an easy smile. With the half-beard so popular in LA right now, tight jeans, fitted grey v-neck and and a body toned from the gym, he looks every bit what a matinee idol, breakthrough star should be, and he’s Asian.
Paul sits in the chair next to me and orders a green tea.
Paul: Green tea’s supposed to be good for you, but I’d honestly rather have the coffee.
Dipo: You don’t drink coffee?
Paul: I do, I’m just trying to look like I don’t.
Dipo: (laughs) So you’re Korean right?
Paul: Yes. Korean-adopted.
Dipo: Tell me about your background in the media.
Paul: I went to conservatory for theatre and music.
Dipo: Conservatory, that’s serious.
Paul: (laughs) it’s more common in the New York scene, but in LA, there aren’t many trained people. But yeah, it was hard work, but I loved it.
Dipo: Have you seen the results of that training in your footprint here inan Asian-American perspective?
Paul: (sighs) Not at all. In the theatre world, I’d play leads, because theatre is much more open to diversity, but suddenly when I came to LA, there were no roles for me, I was suddenly “Asian guy #1” and I had to either do karate or speak with a thick accent. I had this conversation a few months ago with a friend of mine who’s a pretty big personal manager. I told him how any Asian role that comes through, IF there are any, is a stereotype, either a nerd, a martial artist, basically an archetype, the same thing that happened to blacks in the 60s. Viola Davis’ husband, who’s also an actor, used to complain to me about the archetypes he’s faced with, and I’d just think to myself, “Man, you’re lucky you’re not Asian”.
Dipo: So by archetype do you mean racist?
Paul: How many male Asian roles do you see that AREN’T nerds, the bad guy, or the comic relief?
Dipo: None really.
Paul: Right. Beta roles. When I told me friend the manager this, we were at his office at the time, he didn’t believe me, so he turned around at his desk and went through the breakdowns.
Dipo: To clarify, the breakdowns are the listing of auditions for TV and film and what they’re looking for.
Paul: Correct. He looked through and then turned back to me and quietly said “You’re right. I’m sorry”. It just suddenly hit him. I mean, whitewashing right now is a huge controversy, but there’s a deep problem here. In a time when everyone is so big on diversity and changing traditionally white roles, like Jimmy Olsen inSupergirl, Nick Fury in the “Avengers”, or Johnny Storm in the last “Fantastic Four” to name a few, but not only are none of those roles given to Asians, but the few roles that actually are SUPPOSED to be Asian, are taken away from us. I sit around during pilot season and my friend are going out several times a week, and I go out once in two months.
Dipo: So you mean the roles taken away from Asians like “Ghost in the Shell”?
Paul: “Ghost in the Shell”, Emma Stone’s role in “Aloha”, TildaSwinton’s role in “Dr. Strange” to name a few. Here’s the thing though. You would NEVER take a black character and make them white. There would be an outcry of racism. So why then is it okay with Asians?