This is the first of my “Hanging out” interviews with the cast of THE FAMILY LAW. I will have more over the next few weeks!
So I had the opportunity in December 2016, to catch up with Fiona (Fi) Choi. Both of us are proud and I must say loud Asian Australians, and we caught up in Queens New York, on a very cold and snowing winter day. Ironic as it may sound that the both of us are proud Aussies but both happen to be living in the US and do the long haul commutes across seas and oceans and thousands of miles in an attempt to be at two places at once. We caught up in a quaint and trendy cafe in Queens and had a great conversation on everything about family, acting, diversity and identity.
One of the most interesting aspects about Fi is how accomplished and down to earth she is as both an actor/performer as a mother and as a person. If you do not know by now, Fi plays the elusive tiger mum Jenny Law in the Australian comedy/sitcom THE FAMILY LAW – by far one of the best shows on Aussie TV to date. I was lucky to chat with her and I was most interested in how much she resonated with her character due to shared experiences, as Fi grew up in a family who owned a Chinese takeaway restaurant in Melbourne and the character Jenny Law is based on the real life Jenny Law who was a wife/mother of a family where the Chinese takeaway restaurant was the bread and butter. In addition during our discussions we both learned how similar our experiences were growing up in terms of understanding our own identity and how we saw diversity in the media. One thing was definite: we were both passionate about our Aussie identities, and that allowed our bond to grow stronger, and our discussions a lot more robust.
Something many of you would not know about Fi is that since she was a child she has always wanted to be a singer/performer when she was young. Like most Chinese Australian kids, after high school she went the route to study Economics at Monash University ( which was exactly what I did, I must say, just a different tertiary institution). But throughout her tertiary studies, her heart and passion was in performing and she would take the jobs which was offered to her in this area, even if it meant skipping classes. Eventually she left her Economics degree and moved to Western Australia to study a degree in her passion which was acting. 6 months after graduation she landed the role of being an actor in the theatre production of Rent, and her career has taken off from there. I enjoyed listening and understanding Fi’s journey into the performing arts and one thing which stuck with me was her revelation that as an adult entering the acting world was the first time she realised that her being Asian impacted on her acting opportunities (initially) and it also opened her eyes up to how cultural diversity in Australian arts, film and TV was a big issue, and it was this which made her even more determined to make it, because she is part of the change which this country needs.
Fi tells me in our discussions:
Growing up, I didn’t really feel Asian and it took me being an actor to know how it felt to be Asian – you know being perceived different and the barriers we face. I remember the times at auditions being asked about doing a Chinese accent as well as other accents I didn’t know how to do – Vietnamese, Thai etc. But you know what? It is not just about being Asian, but it is also about being a woman or a mum which is not usually seen on screen.
I respect how frank and honest she was with me, and the other thing we were able to bond over was how we both married partners who were American. It really touched me when she said how she has pictures of her sons whilst she was on set filming THE FAMILY LAW Season 2, and how the character she plays, Jenny Law reminded her of her own mother, and the struggles she went through raising a family as well as helping Fi’s father manage the restaurant. Fi remembers coming home from school and straight to the restaurant preparing spring rolls, and this is why she plays her character with so much oomph, passion and conviction. She tells me:
My own family owned a Chinese restaurant and I spent my childhood wrapping spring rolls. When I cold read THE FAMILY LAW script, I got emotional and cried as I knew the who Jenny Law was because she reminded me of my own mum.
I am proud to know Fi and really get to understand the journey she has been on. She is now extremely accomplished and has since moved back to Australia to continue to pursue her acting career. After filming season 2 of the show, Fi has been inundated with many great auditions which were not playing towards playing a typical Asian stereotype and she has also been nominated for major Australian TV industry acting awards. Remember, Fi is a wife, a mother of two young boys and has really made it as an actor. I look forward to catching up with her whilst I am back in Australia, and I am so excited about THE FAMILY LAW Season 2! I feel our meeting was not just an opportunity to meet a great person, but I have also made a good friend whom I will have more catch ups with!
Images via Fiona Choi’s acting Facebook page