Starbase Indy, Thanksgiving Weekend 2009
Marriott East, Indianapolis
5pm Garrett Wang (Harry Kim - Voyager)
Garrett is a pretty good impressionist and opens up his Q&A session with an excellent impression of George Takei. During the next hour he does quite a few different voices, a very different guy from the Harry Kim we know.
This is his second appearance at an Indianapolis convention and we were there for his previous visit in 2004. He lived for a short time in Lafayette while his father was getting his PHD.
He had been doing some stage work when his parents confronted him about what he wanted to do with his life. He knew a lot of actors back then and knew that it was tough trying to make ends meet, paying rent, buying food etc. while training and doing auditions. So when his parents asked him, “What do you want from us?” he replied, “money, I need financial support”. They asked him how long he thought he would need this support and off the top of his head he blurted out, “two years”. Garrett thought they might agree, but only for a year or so. But they gave him the two years, saying that after that time he would have to pay them back in full.
So he was 9 months in to this time, and nothing. He was starting to get nervous. His plan was to get at least something within 18 months, feeling that if he had at least something to show for his efforts he could then get it extended if necessary. So he started doing commercial auditions. At that time you would just go into an audition and they would say “State your name, turn left, turn right, face the back” thank you, goodbye and that was it. He was about to give up on this when he decided to give it one last try after getting an audition for Burger King in Santa Monica. This was going to be his last try at this so he felt no pressure, he was relaxed, lighthearted when they asked him to read some lines. He read the line as a Burger King employee and turned to walk out. Leaving on his terms. When the producer shouted, “Stop!”. He asked him a couple of questions and offered him a T-Shirt. Two hours later his agent called, he got it.
After this, things started to go his way. Taking that same attitude he soon had 3 commercials booked. Then came one for Wriggly's Chewing Gum. On this occasion he was one of about 40 that got a callback and they brought them in 5 at a time. There were 5 chairs and Garrett got the middle one. The producer thanked them for coming back and explained that he was going to ask each of them a question which they were to answer in their normal voices. To the side there was a screen and he told them that behind the screen were the buyers, representatives of Wriggly's and they would be watching on a monitor.
So he went to the first person, a woman, and asked how long have you been in L.A.? She answered that, then to the second, a man, he asked what his hobbies are. Again the person answered in a normal voice. Then it was Garrett's turn, he asked him where he had lived in the states to which he replied, “California, Indiana, Memphis then back to California.”. Ah, Army brat, right? the producer replied. And right off the cuff, this wasn't planned, Garrett said, “No, my parents are Heroin importers and we've stayed one step ahead of the law.” Silence, everyone sharply turned around to look at him, a pause for effect then smiled. Everyone started laughing, he looked around and he could see the screen hiding the buyers shaking, they were in hysterics. He got the part.
So, for 9 months nothing, then he booked 5 commercials in one week. Including the Manhattan Bank and Kellogg's Rice Crispy Treats. It was some time later before they actually aired the commercials and he got a call at 11:30pm from his dad. Garrett told us that his father is a man of few words, his mother does all the talking, and then some. His father speaks with a very heavy accent and his mother speaks almost perfect English. “We just saw you, good Burger King boy”, his father said, very exited and proud. Then Garrett asked if his mother was there, when the phone was handed over there was silence. “Mom? You there? Did you see the commercial?”, then, “Yeah, Yeah, I'm here, yes we saw it, yes I'm proud of you, here's your father.” It was then that Garrett realized that Mother's always have to be right, even when they're wrong, they're right.
The Burger King commercial ran for 2 years and they pay you every time it runs so the money was coming in. Every year the actors are paid a holding fee to keep the commercial running and by the second year he was working on Voyager. So when they called his agent and offered the usual $2,000 he said, “No, I'm on Voyager now, ask for $10,000.” His agent was doubtful but shortly Garrett got a call back agreeing to the sum.
So it was 1 year and 4 months into that 2 year period when Garret paid back the loan. He wrote checks to his parents, a very happy time.
Garrett was then asked about practical jokes on the set. He told us he was never a really big joke puller, he was more the goofy kid on the set. He did relate the story of one of those long sessions when he, as Harry Kim, was on set during one of the many monotonous waiting periods. The combadges that everyone wears is stuck to the uniform using Velcro. So he went over to Tom Paris and pulled it off his uniform, took a few steps back and threw it at Tom, it stuck! So was born the combadge toss. They'd try and get further and further away from each other seeing how far it would go and still stick. Even Janeway got in on the game which people find funny because you wouldn't expect her to be that way.
They were told, on set, that the human characters need to underplay their emotions because it was the only way the aliens would look real. In the first year Janeway had to do hundreds of re-shoots due to too much emotion.
Then Garrett told us about Grip Tape, stuff that camera operators use. They would throw balls of this stuff around the set at each other. Harry, Paris and Tuvok would usually be the instigators of this. Garrett is not a good pitcher and there was one time when he threw a ball of this stuff and it veered passed its intended target, Tuvok, and hit Janeway on the side of the head. Harry ducked down below the console hopefully before Janeway saw who threw it. Waited a bit, then slowly looked over the top. There was Janeway waiting, with the ball of tape, to throw it back. Again something you wouldn't expect from the 'school mom' character.
Garrett then talked about some of the other fun things they did. Neelix, Armin Shimmerman, would walk around the set doing his fix-it guy impersonation. Walking around asking people if they wanted anything fixed with this pants pulled down a way so when he turned around and bent over he would show a classic plumbers butt crack. Then there was the scene early in Voyager where they had to all be in body suits laying on medical beds while they were being tested by the Caretaker. Women wore full suits, men just the lower half. When Tim Russ arrived for the scene he was wearing a robe. He told everyone he wanted to make an announcement. He tells everyone, very seriously, to please not laugh at him when he takes he robe off. Harry was thinking he may have some disfigurement, embarrassing birth mark or maybe scars so everyone was watching while he slowly opened his robe. Only half the set could see at first and they started laughing, then as he slowly turned to show the others the whole place started breaking down. He had stuffed his body suit with socks until his %^&* was the size of Iowa! “Oh my God, Tuvok always the prankster!”.
He was then asked about Genevieve Bujold, the actress that was cast to play the Captain on Voyager before Kate Mulgrew got the part. He related one of the first scenes where Genevieve walked around the bridge giving orders for departure, then sat in the captain's chair, closed her eyes and softly said “Engage”. Everyone else immediately thought “Oh, No” this isn't right. She also had problems with the way the director wanted her to play the part. And her French Canadian accent didn't work well with techno-babble which was hard enough for straight English people to say. She lasted a day and a half and quit. Garrett applauds her for not trying to push a part that she wasn't really suited for. It was a lot better to leave after such a short time than wait until the series was really under way. Then came a couple of weeks that made Garrett really nervous. They really wanted a female captain on this show but if they just couldn't find someone to play the part they would use a male lead. If this was the case then they would have to readdress the male/female balance on the bridge and get rid of one of the male characters. And Garrett was one of the last actors cast and had the shortest resume. He didn't want to loose the part, he even told them that if he had to be played by a female he could do that too, he would play Henrietta Kim, put on a wig, whatever it took! But within a month Kate Mulgrew took the part and when she did that first scene and said “Engage!” in her gravelly voice, they knew it was right.
I found the following video on YouTube which shows those early scenes...
Then the question came up of why Ensign Harry Kim had never been promoted, seven years and he was still an Ensign? In the regular military, after 7 years you could expect to make Lieutenant Commander. So he asked the producers this question, all he was told was “Someone has to play the Ensign”. He then told us a funny story about a time he was coming off a flight and waiting at the airport was a friend of his who had brought another Asian man to meet him. He thought it was just a fan who his friend had brought to meet him. His friend said “Hello, meet Harry Kim”, so Garret said Hello thinking he was just a fan. But his friend said, “No, you don't understand, this IS Harry Kim! And he used to be in the Military so when Voyager started he was Ensign Harry Kim.” They laughed about this and Garrett said, “So, we have a lot in common”, and the real Harry Kim said “No, no, no, I was promoted!”
Favorite moment about being on Voyager? Too many to choose from but he did tell us about one memorable time when filming in the Bronson Caves in LA. It was incredibly hot, everyone was complaining. Everyone moaning at how difficult it was. After an hour of this Neelix flipped out, screaming having a nervous breakdown, shouted at them all, “Shut Up! None of you is wearing a mattress on your head!” After that they all were quiet about it. Which brought him to a story of when he was in College and a car ran a red light and ran into him on his scooter. He was taken to hospital where he was in a ward with 3 beds separated by curtains. He was in the middle bed and to his left there was a guy moaning and carrying on about how much pain he was in. The doctors came and he heard that this guy had cut 2 of his fingers off with a powersaw, which made Garrett feel better about his cuts and scrapes. But then about 15 doctors and nurses came around to the patient in the bed to his right. This guy was very quiet, when asked how he felt just just said he was ok, no discomfort. The doctor commented that he had never seen anything like it. Turns out this guy had been using a chainsaw on a tree, had hit a knot or something hard and it had kicked back, span around and nearly decapitated him. Made the man into a human pez dispenser. Immediately the guy on the left shut up. Everything in perspective.
After Voyager Garrett was asked if he wanted to be part of “Of Gods and Men”. After 7 years of playing Harry Kim he wasn't interested in doing it any more. But they told him he would be playing a totally different character, so he said yes. The filming was done in an old warehouse, it was hot, trains were going by regularly and to top that there was a motorcycle convention in town. It was grueling but fun to play someone so different.
Garrett told us that he wanted to get into acting to change the stereotypical perceptions of Asians. He told them right at the beginning that he wasn't going to walk up to the replicator and ask for Chow Mein, he had to play the part as just one of the crew. He wanted to do his part to combat the racism he experienced as a child.
Disclaimer: These articles were created from notes etc. that I took at the convention and may not be exactly word-for-word.