Chris Pang on young love, family and breaking into the acting world

Chris Pang discusses drinking tea, martial arts, and first loves.

Occupation: Actor
Relationship status:
It’s complicated
Best known for:
His role in Crazy Rich Asians

With both parents martial arts teachers, Chris Pang and his brother would act out martial arts films.Credit:Eddie Jim

My maternal grandma, Linda, is a socialite and knows every Asian family in Melbourne. She loved to play mahjong with other uncles and aunties. They’d play in a dim-lit room with cigarette smoke filling the air. As a child I’d crawl around watching them. Every time I hear the loud clinking of mahjong tiles, I think of her.

My paternal grandmother converted a round tin of English biscuits into her sewing kit. As a kid, I never knew if I would find a biscuit or a needle and thread inside. I started drinking tea at a young age because of her. We’d sit together drinking tea and dunking our sugary biscuits.

My mum, Anne, and my dad, Barry, are both martial arts teachers. Mum is infatuated with kung fu and loved making me and my younger brother act out martial arts films. Through martial arts, Mum taught me when to be hard and when to be soft. She is the kindest person and very giving, but when she needs to put her foot down, she does.

“You get ideas about relationships from watching movies and have all these fantasies in your head of what it is like.”

Mum’s family was the first Taiwanese family to migrate to Australia, in the 1960s. She has kept all the newspaper articles written about them. There weren’t many Asian people when she moved to Melbourne. She dealt with all the racism through a sense of humour.

Being at an all-boys high school made it tough to meet girls. One of the girls from our sister school once asked my mates if I could talk. I was in year 11 and really embarrassed, and that pushed me further into my shell. I didn’t grow up around girls and was anxious around them.

I had my first kiss on a cruise ship while on a family holiday. I was 19 and started talking to a girl at reception. On the last night of the cruise, I asked what time she finished work and she told me to meet her. She ended up taking me to the staff-only area. We kissed under a clear sky filled with stars. It was beautiful.

My first serious relationship with a girl was when I was 19. We were drunk at a club and I kissed her. Next we were dating. I thought that was the rule then: once you kiss a girl, you date them.

I only got to chase someone in my second relationship, when I was 21. I loved that experience. You get ideas from watching movies and have all these fantasies of what it is like, then you get to act them out in your own life. We dated for a year.

I moved to LA in 2013 to focus on my film career. I am trying to figure things out with a girl now but doing it long distance is difficult. If my relationship was a Facebook status, it would say, “It’s complicated.”

When I told Mum I wanted to be an actor, she said it was the hardest thing I could choose. Many traditional Asian families wouldn’t have supported it, but she did. Mum pushed me to make my dream happen.

I spent time with Kiwi actress Rachel House while filming The Portable Door in Brisbane this year. She refers to me as her little brother. We became close and she helps me with my self-tapes [pre-recorded auditions].

I first worked with Malaysian actress Michelle Yeoh in 2014 on Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny. We were in NZ on set and got talking about fresh oysters. She asked me if we should get some. I didn’t call her, but the next time I saw her she asked me why I didn’t ring. I told her I didn’t have her number. I was so intimated. How do you call an amazing actress and ask her to get oysters?

We reconnected again in 2015 for Marco Polo and in 2017 for Crazy Rich Asians. That’s when I could go up to her as a peer, though one with more experience in the industry. I have always looked up to her.

Chris is a David Jones Spring/Summer 2021 campaign model.

This article appears in Sunday Life magazine within the Sun-Herald and the Sunday Age on sale November 7. To read more from Sunday Life, visit The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

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