Hong Chau didn't plan on becoming an actor. She studied film at Boston University and planned on pursuing a career in documentary filmmaking. But after landing roles in Treme, Inherent Vice, and the off-broadway drama John, Chau had her breakthrough performance in Alexander Payne's sci-fi comedy Downsizing. In 2019, Chau played the hyper-wealthy futurist Lady Trieu in the critically-acclaimed HBO series Watchmen.
Currently, Chau can be seen in the Amazon Prime anthology series Homecoming. She reprises her role as Audrey Temple, an assistant at the shadowy Geist Group who rapidly ascends the corporate ladder. Homecoming's entire second season premieres on Amazon Prime on May 22nd.
Recorded remotely during the coronavirus pandemic, NPR's Ask Me Another host Ophira Eisenberg and house musician Jonathan Coulton talk to Chau about researching tech billionaires for Watchmen and her Homecoming character's unusual rise to power.
Later, Chau plays a game where mundane things that shouldn't be movies are adapted into movie trailers.
On Researching Tech Billionaires For Watchmen
"We have so many, oddly. The interesting thing is that they're all men, so the fun thing for me to imagine was, what would it be like if she were female? Would anything change there, or is there something universal about somebody who is maniacal in their drive? There is something universal about that type of person and there's something genderless about it."
On Homecoming's Second Season
"My character is introduced towards the end of the first season, but I knew going into it...that my character Audrey Temple would return in the second season. For me, when I was filming it, I felt very uncomfortable because I didn't know why I was doing what I was doing. They didn't have a season two charted out yet. They just told me, in general, 'your character is gonna come back and take over the company.' I was like, 'Okay!'"
JONATHAN COULTON, BYLINE: This is NPR's ASK ME ANOTHER. I'm Jonathan Coulton. And here's your host, Ophira Eisenberg.
OPHIRA EISENBERG, HOST:
Thanks, Jonathan. It's time to welcome our special guest. She recently appeared in the HBO series "Watchmen." And you can catch her in the Amazon series "Homecoming." It's Hong Chau. Hello.
HONG CHAU: Hi.
EISENBERG: How are you holding up?
CHAU: I'm good. I've eaten 40 pizzas in 30 days.
COULTON: That sounds right.
EISENBERG: You know what? That's funny you say that because I normally kind of - I don't eat a lot of pasta, and I don't eat a lot of pizza. And yesterday I had pasta for lunch and pizza for dinner. And I was like, this is the amount I've eaten for, like, in a year in one day.
CHAU: Yeah. Yeah, it's - I think it'll come back to haunt us.
COULTON: Probably true.
CHAU: But I'm not really worried about that right now.
EISENBERG: Yeah. Yeah. Right. I know. It's like the least of anybody's worried - how you feel better.
CHAU: Whenever the industry, whenever Hollywood does start back up, like, prior to this, I would always have that moment of realization of panic whenever I actually get a job is when the costume department calls and asks for my sizes.
CHAU: And I'm just filled with so much regret.
EISENBERG: Is there ever, like, a little bit of lag time that you can be like, I'll tell you what I will be? Like, do you ever...
CHAU: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. These are my measurements in, like, two weeks from now when we start actually filming.
EISENBERG: My husband is obsessed with comic books - always has been - and graphic novels. And he's obsessed with the "Watchmen" series. And, of course, you are in that series as Lady Trieu. Were you familiar or are you a fan of the book, the graphic novel?
CHAU: No, I am not well versed in comic books or graphic novels. And when I got the call from my manager that Damon Lindelof wanted to meet with me for the show and then he started to explain that it was called "Watchmen" and it was based on a comic book, I think I audibly groaned.
CHAU: No. Of all things, why that? But, I mean, really, that was just my - I guess own prejudice because I haven't seen anything that has been adapted from a comic book that really has held my interest or, you know, seemed like it was something other than a live-action cartoon. And, you know, "Watchmen" the series from Damon Lindelof was not that. It became almost immediately apparent four pages into the first script. So I definitely took that meeting.
EISENBERG: Right. So in your mind, you thought, oh, I'm going to have to be wearing, like, a purple spandex suit and...
CHAU: I just - not - it's not even the costumes because I, you know, I grew up in New Orleans. And I love a good, loud sequin and feather ensemble (laughter) on a Tuesday afternoon. But I guess I just am always wanting to play a human being, an actual person as opposed to sort of a loud cardboard cut out.
EISENBERG: Yeah. And your character, Lady Trieu, is described as a rich futurist. And I read that you actually did some research for - researched tech billionaires as to help inform your character.
CHAU: Yeah. We have so many, oddly, to sort of choose from.
CHAU: And - but the interesting thing is that they - they're all men. And so the fun thing for me to imagine was what would it be like if she were female? Would anything change there? Or is there something universal about somebody who is maniacal in their drive?
CHAU: You know, I mean, there is something universal about that type of person. And there's something genderless about it.
EISENBERG: So, you know, let's talk about "Homecoming." You play Audrey Temple, who, when we meet her in Season 1, she's - I would say, like, an unassuming assistant at this company. But slowly, with some self-interest mixed in there, rises, becomes more and more powerful by the end of the season. Now, for people who right now are catching up on a lot of television that they weren't perhaps able to earlier in their year, you know, just tell us a little bit about what "Homecoming" is about.
CHAU: Well, "Homecoming" the TV show is based off of what they call a podcast, but I think it's more of a radio play.
EISENBERG: That's right.
CHAU: And it's about how we put our faith in corporations without really being able to have any sort of checks and balances system. So that's the first season (laughter).
CHAU: And my character is introduced at the end - towards the end of that first season. But I knew going into it before I even signed on for that first season that my character, Audrey Temple, would return in the second season.
EISENBERG: Oh, you did know.
CHAU: They just told me in general. They were like, just trust us. Just trust us. In general, your character is going to come back and, like, take over the company, and I was like oh, OK. OK. I mean...
COULTON: What's my motivation? We don't know.
CHAU: That seems very strange because she's just the receptionist, but OK. I'll go with it.
EISENBERG: Right. Right.
EISENBERG: So speaking of having to go with it, we have a game for you. Would you like to play a little ASK ME ANOTHER game?
EISENBERG: OK, great.
EISENBERG: This is exciting. So you were in the movie "Inherent Vice" which was adapted from a Thomas Pynchon novel, and the HBO show "Watchmen" was based on characters from that graphic novel.
CHAU: Oh, and also the film "American Woman" was based on the novel "American Woman," which was shortlisted for the Pulitzer when it was published.
EISENBERG: See, you've just added another justification...
EISENBERG: ...For what I...
CHAU: Susan Choi. Oh, can I plug Susan Choi?
CHAU: She has a book that just came out called "Trust Exercise." It just won the National Book Award.
EISENBERG: Oh, wow.
CHAU: Hey, NPR people. You like to read.
EISENBERG: Get on it.
CHAU: Check it out.
EISENBERG: So unlike all the fine written material that you are used to being able to access as adapted into a script, there is a lot of written material out there that no one has bothered to adapt into a big budget Hollywood film until today. Jonathan and I are going to - we're going to bring you trailers for film adaptations from the most boring writing materials out there.
CHAU: Ooh (ph).
EISENBERG: Your goal is just to guess what our fake film trailers are based on. Like, think...
EISENBERG: ...The phone book, a utility bill, et cetera. Here is your first one.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
EISENBERG: Legend tells of a box. In the box, what looks like a tiny piece of paper. The paper unfolds to many times its size but can never be refolded. It tells of a magical pill, a pill with a 99% success rate if administered orally daily and stored at room temperature. One ring of pills to rule them all.
CHAU: Is this instructions for birth control?
EISENBERG: Yes. That's right.
EISENBERG: Birth control pill instructions. Well done.
EISENBERG: We're supposed to...
CHAU: I don't know why but I felt, like, very scandalous.
COULTON: No, we're not supposed to talk about birth control.
EISENBERG: Well, that's why we said it to...
CHAU: Hong, what year is it? It's 2020. Women can talk about birth control pills openly.
EISENBERG: I know. I know.
COULTON: All right. Here's the next one.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
COULTON: The rules are simple. The blade is sharp. Handle with care. Always put the lid on the jar before operation. Do not use outdoors. Follow the rules and get a smoothie. Break the rules and risk personal injury or damage to the appliance.
CHAU: Yeah. I am very scared right now.
EISENBERG: I know. Every good horror movie soundtrack should have a wind chime.
CHAU: I think I heard him say smoothies...
CHAU: ...So I'm going to say, is this the instruction pamphlet for a blender?
COULTON: That's exactly right. You got it.
CHAU: Or a Vitamix (laughter).
COULTON: Or a Vitamix. We would've accepted Vitamix. Yeah. That is correct.
EISENBERG: Why can't you use it outdoors?
COULTON: I don't know. I think maybe they just don't - it's not rated. It's an electrical appliance. They don't want you...
COULTON: ...Out there when it's raining. It's dangerous.
EISENBERG: Right. Like, a twig might fly in it. That would ruin everything.
EISENBERG: OK. We have a couple more for you. Here's your next one.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
EISENBERG: It was an unlikely romance - three cups of oats, one cup of raisins. But with the help of their friend, 1 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour, they come together to make something great. Starring John Boyega as a half cup of granulated sugar, Rita Ora as one teaspoon ground cinnamon, Michelle Yeoh as one teaspoon vanilla and Tilda Swinton as two eggs. Based on the writings of the Quaker Oats company.
CHAU: Oh, gosh. I lost track of what was going on.
CHAU: I was trying to imagine all of these humans as (laughter) - as the little ingredients, and it was just like a little Fruit of the Loom commercial with these people in there.
COULTON: Yeah. Tilda Swinton as two eggs is an image...
EISENBERG: Oh, yes.
COULTON: ...That I cannot get out of my head.
EISENBERG: Just so you know, she OK'd that.
CHAU: This is something to do with oatmeal. Is it like instructions for oatmeal raisin cookies?
EISENBERG: It's exactly that.
EISENBERG: It is exactly an oatmeal raisin cookie recipe. Yes.
EISENBERG: Yes. The cookie - the most disappointing cookie, I would say, to accidentally eat.
CHAU: Oh, Ophira. No. No. No.
COULTON: No. I like an oatmeal raisin.
CHAU: We're going to have to fight. No, they're my favorite kind of cookies is oatmeal raisin.
EISENBERG: I feel like I'm happy if I know ahead of time.
CHAU: How can you expect a different kind of cookie? Aren't they - aren't they very obviously oatmeal raisin cookies?
COULTON: That's true.
EISENBERG: I feel like sometimes they put them on a plate with chocolate chip cookies and kind of mix them around.
CHAU: But Ophira, they look completely different from each other (laughter).
EISENBERG: I think when I'm putting cookies in my mouth, I do not use my eyes.
COULTON: You go pretty - you move pretty quickly. Yeah.
COULTON: This is - this is the last one.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
COULTON: In 1990, the Internet was chaos. Without a standard Markup Language, the power of the World Wide Web ended up in the wrong hands. Every time the good people of Earth tried to create a website, the 404 demon broke broke their links and severed their connections. And then he came along - to command, to streamline, to close tags with forward slashes, to make websites that were SFW, to create order in an Internet many said was beyond saving, to expect the unexpected. Who is he? He is the hidden code.
CHAU: Oh, gosh. Umm...
COULTON: This is a hard one.
CHAU: This is. Is it HTML code? Or...
COULTON: (Laughter) Yeah.
EISENBERG: Yeah (laughter).
COULTON: That's exactly what it is.
CHAU: Because I was trying to think - wait, has there been, like, another programming language that has come along that I don't know about?
COULTON: You're giving us way too much credit.
EISENBERG: Yeah, probably.
COULTON: HTML is exactly right.
EISENBERG: That is correct. Amazing.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
EISENBERG: I mean, yeah, that was perfectly written for you, I believe, because...
COULTON: You got them all.
EISENBERG: ...It played into all of your strengths. Thank you so much for joining us.
CHAU: Thank you.
EISENBERG: You can see Hong Chau in the new season of the Amazon series "Homecoming." Season two is out right now. Thank you so much for joining us, Hong.
CHAU: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.