‘21 and Over’ Star Justin Chon on ‘Twilight’ & Why YouTube Can’t Compete with Movies [INTERVIEW]

21 and Over

Justin Chon has become well known in Hollywood as none other than Eric Yorkie, the Asian-American human in “Twilight.” Yes, I knew you’d remember him, you guilty “Twilight” fan you! Now with the last of the “Twilight” movies behind him, Chon is back auditioning throughout Hollywood and fresh off the press tour from his movie “21 and Over.” In the movie, Chon stars as Jeff Chang, a straight-A student who is surprised on his 21 first birthday by his best friends who then convince him to go out for a beer. In a night that is supposed to only involve one drink — if I had a dollar for everytime I heard that — the guys end up drinking their ways through multiple parties and bars, in a night that leaves Jeff Chang in a red bra, a teddy bear glued to his crotch and a medical school interview and hangover awaiting him in the morning.

It has been a long road for Chon, who began auditioning for pilots when he was a 19-year-old student at USC. After 11 years in the business, Chon has worked his way up from being an extra around the studios to leading-man status. His passion lies in being able to create the “movie theatre experience” for others through both his acting and directing of his own work. Though he repeated numerous times that he is an actor first and foremost, Chon also acknowledged the power of his YouTube channel in providing him with a creative space for his comedy sketches and short films. In a visit to NMR, Chon talked about his role as Jeff Chang, the benefits of having a YouTube channel as an actor and his belief that nothing can replace the thrill of going to the movies.

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When did you first start working on “21 and Over”?

Justin Chon: It’s been about a year and a half.

Did you originally audition for the part?

Yeah, I was shooting “Twilight,” and I was in Squamish, Canada and my agent pitched it to me. I don’t usually like auditioning while I’m shooting something else, so I was like, “I don’t know about it,” and he’s like, “You have to read the script. It’s funny. It’s the writers of ‘The Hangover.’” So I read it and I loved it, so I put myself on tape, then I came back, I read with the producers and directors, then I came in with a chemistry read with Miles and Skylar. Then I got it.

What have been some of the most memorable parts of the last year and a half for you?

I wrote and directed a movie over the summer in Hawaii, so I’ve been doing post-production on that, so that’s taken up pretty much most of my time. But in terms of excitement, I went to Paris half a year ago for a “Twilight” signing or something. I guess that was exciting.

Is the “Twilight” mom phenomenon real? The “Twilight”moms are out there, and they’re coming for you?

Yeah, what I said on Conan that was a real story. Yeah, “Twilight” moms are cool. They pay my bills. Yeah, for real, they pay my bills, dude. But yeah, I guess life is just exciting in general! Yeah, I’m pretty stoked on life! Life is cool!

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How has it been transitioning from being in “Twilight” as part of the back ensemble to being in the forefront of “21 and Over”?

I mean, I’m just an actor, so whatever part I get, I’m just an auditioning actor. I’ve been doing it for 11 years, so whether it’s the lead or supporting or whatever, it’s all the same to me. It’s just a different kind of work schedule. I’ve played leads before; I did a movie called “Crossing Over” with Harrison Ford, Ray Liotta, Ashley Judd, Alice Eve, Jim Sturgess, Alice Braga. It got shelved for like three years, and then the Weinsteins just put it out for like two weeks and then pulled it. I guess the director and the producers got in a big fight, so that was my other experience as a lead.

Did you relate to your character in “21 and Over”?

Jeff, yeah for sure. My parents aren’t overbearing at all; they just kind of let me do whatever, so they are pretty lax and open, so that wasn’t very similar. But yeah, I do like to drink. I like alcohol a lot; it’s my best friend.

What was your 21st birthday like?

I was in South Korea studying abroad, and I got really drunk, and then my friends just ditched me. They propped me up against this pharmacy door, and I woke up, and it was raining. My shirt started off white and ended up black, and I just walked home, and people thought I was a bum. Pretty awesome, yeah.

That is a very unique, slightly sad story.

Yeah, it was very sad. That’s why I don’t like telling it, because during this whole press tour  people keep asking me what’s my 21st birthday. I always tell that story. I don’t know what else to say because that’s the story, and it’s always such a downer.

During the press tour, any crazy groupie stories?

No, I don’t have groupies. I wish. Shit, that’d be awesome.

What are you working on now?

I just got fired from an NBC pilot, so that happened. I was supposed to play a male nanny who sleeps with all the substitute teachers and divorced moms, but apparently after I auditioned six times and pretty much had signed my contract, they thought I looked too young, so I got fired. I was up for a few other things. I screen test for other pilots, and I didn’t get any of those. Now I’m up for something really big, but I won’t find out until next week about that. I’m still doing post-production on my movie, been directing a lot of short films recently, so I have one that I already shot that I’m doing post on. It’s kind of complicated when you have a money commitment, commitment to people who like invest in your shit, and then when you want to do stuff for yourself. Yeah, I also own three clothing stores, so I’ve got to get back to work there. It’s called The Attic — I have one in the Gaslamp in San Diego, I have one in Buena Park and one in Alhambra. That keeps me pretty busy too.

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What is your upcoming movie about that you directed?

My movie, okay, let me pitch this! My movie is called “Man Up.” It’s about a 19-year-old kid who gets his Mormon girlfriend pregnant. She doesn’t think he’s fit to be a dad, so she breaks up with him and leaves him. His parents find out, so they kick him out of the house, and he’s forced to move in with his stoner best friend who tries to teach him how to become a man and be a good dad. And the stoner friend’s reasoning is I’ve had all the most horrible dads in the world so I know what not to do. It’s pretty much “Bill and Ted,” but more retarded, more dumb. Mixed with quirkiness of like Wes Anderson. It’s very stylized; we have a very strong color palette. And the backdrop is why I shot in Hawaii. So the backdrop is Hawaii, a lot of our music is like late 80s, early 90s inspired. She got the editor from “Bill and Ted”; he edited it. We’re in post-production, so we’re almost picture-locked, and we are starting to do sound mixing and all that cool shit.

So you also have your YouTube channel on top of all of this. What do you enjoy making for your channel?

YouTube is just a hobby. I’m not serious about it whatsoever. I’m first and foremost an actor, and I’m friends with some YouTube people like KevJumba and Ryan Higa. Those guys are my homies, so they kind of just convinced me to start YouTube, but it’s definitely not a priority in my life, that’s for sure.

Do you think there is a benefit to having a YouTube channel as an aspiring actor?

Yeah, in a way, because you can promote what you’re doing. But also the quality of work that I put out on YouTube is not representative of me as an actor. It’s just literally just sketches that I just think of. Some people put a lot of time into it, but for me it’s just an outlet for when I’m really bored and want to be creative, to put something out without really even having to think about quality or any of that. Yeah, I think it can be beneficial. If you want to be a serious actor, I don’t know how beneficial it is if you want to be like Sean Penn or something. I think there is this interview with Edward Norton where he says, “The less people know about you, the more you keep the magic of filmmaking.” I do think it does sort of destroy that a little bit when people know you too well, and they see you in a movie role and it’s not as interesting or surprising. I have noticed that people are like, “Oh yeah, he made it from YouTube,” and I’m like, “What are you talking about? I’ve been acting for 11 years. I’ve been making a living as an actor for like nine years.” It’s funny for them to think like I started from YouTube and I only started my YouTube channel like two years ago. So that’s funny.

What was the first thing you ever auditioned for?

I auditioned for “The Shield.” I auditioned for the show, and it was like literally “The Shield” is what created the channel FX. Before FX, that network was shit, and then “The Shield” brought this really gritty television. Television has really progressed over the last few years, and there is so much great television now, but back then it wasn’t. And cable networks were kind of looked down on, like to be on a cable network show like FX or TBS, but now it’s like FX is one of the top cable networks. They have amazing shows, but “The Shield” is kind of what started that whole thing because it was so gritty, kind of dark and great television for a cable network. That was my first audition. I didn’t get it though. I thought I got it though. I walked out of the audition being like, “I totally booked that!”

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What is your dream job?

My dream job would be to just to continue working. There is not really a dream job, just working with any of the directors that I’d love to work with. I think that would be a dream.

Who would you love to collaborate with?

The list is infinite. Actors and actresses I would love to work with: Mark Ruffalo, I would love to work with Crispin Glover, I would love to work with Ken Leung, I would love to work with Sam Rockwell, Steve Zahn. Actresses, I don’t know. That list is very short. I don’t know why.

Would you like to direct more of your own films or continue working solely as an actor?

Yeah, I would love to direct more. It’s definitely a passion of mine. I just don’t think I’ve earned it yet. Anybody can say they’re a director, but they say to even start understanding acting takes 15 years. I’m sure it’s the same for directing, so it would be very pompous of me to say I’m a full-fledged director. Yeah, I would love to gear myself towards that direction in the future.

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You’ve been a part of both the communities of traditional and digital media — how do you see them complimenting or clashing with one another?

Well, for me, digital media, that’s not my career; digital media is just a plus. My feet are fully in traditional media. I do think that digital media is very powerful, but I mean at the same time, it’s hard to compare a movie that’s being made by a studio for $300 million to — there is not really any digital media that’s making movies for the internet that’s of that caliber yet. I think it will eventually get there, but I think it’s a long ways off. I don’t think you can replace the experience of being in a theatre, of going out and having dinner and going to the movies, getting popcorn, sitting in the audience with other people. I don’t know if that will go away anytime soon. I think digital media is just more accessible because people don’t have to leave their house, but there is something to be said about watching a movie on a 30-foot screen. I hope it doesn’t go away.

When you’re not running around shooting and working on films, what do you like to do in your free time?

Just chill. Eat good food. Go to the beach a lot. I like to drink, and I like to make short films and stuff like that. It takes a lot of energy to do stuff like that, lot of manpower.

My last question: On all your social media accounts, you talk about really wanting to be a Parisian homeless man. What’s the story behind that?

I love Paris! Well, a house would be nice, but the idea of being a Parisian homeless man in the spring or the fall is very enticing to me ‘cause the weather is nice and being homeless you have no other responsibilities but to feed yourself and to find a place to sleep, and Paris is amazing, I love Paris. Been there like 10 times and I just think it’s a great city. Their priorities are life comes first and work comes second, and I like that. And the food is so amazing, really awesome people. People think that French people are very rude, but I just feel like they’re rude if you’re being kind of cocky foreigner. Like I wouldn’t like if some French guy came here and was being like, [in French accent] “Oh, Americans very shit.” I would be like, “Fuck you, go back to France then.” It’s the same thing, because American people — I love America — but you know, Americans will go to other countries and be like, “It’s so much better in America. We have this,” and I mean, I’m sure they’re sick of that. But I love Paris. Paris is awesome.

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