Tobias C. Wong talks “Here Lies Love,” his early acting career

By Alexander Tsebelis

Photo: Billy Bustamente
Photo: Billy Bustamente

In many ways, Tobias C. Wong is living every acting school graduates’ dream. No, he’s not on Broadway or on an MTV series. Even better — he’s at The Public, playing the DJ in David Byrne and Fatboy Slim’s Big Beat musical “Here Lies Love,” about the rise of First Lady of the Philippines Imelda Marcos. WSN sat down with Wong in the mezzanine of his theater to discuss the show, his life and that weird first year out of acting school, which, for him, ended with getting this role.

“One week after graduation,” Wong says, “the job to work [the front desk at the Stella Adler Studio] came up, so I took it.” The people at Stella Adler, where Wong had studied, were particularly sensitive to the flexible schedule of an auditioning actor. In his free time, Wong, like many young actors, spent his time working on “weird indie web series, net-whatever, the next this-or-that, experimental workshops for new musicals,” but none of his acting experience that year was paid. It was important, however, to keep his creative muscles flexing, and that included playing with his band (which doesn’t have a name) and working on small projects.

Born in Los Angeles, Wong grew up in Hong King, Singapore, Shanghai, Michigan, and South Korea, before landing in New York for undergraduate acting school. Despite the extensive list of places Wong called home, he still managed to have the kind of high school theater experiences that are common to acting students at NYU, including an appearance in “Once on This Island,” which Wong considered, in hindsight, both startlingly typical and unconventional for an American school in Shanghai. (In a certain way, “Once on This Island” is an inverse of “Here Lies Love,” about a girl on a tropical island who disunites her people.)

Wong first thought he would be pursuing roles and working part-time jobs for the next ten years. But after a year of going to auditions and “not really hearing anything,” Wong finally got a role, in “Here Lies Love,” which he hopes will lead to more work. His next steps are the same as those of many young actors: getting representation and getting new head shots.

And what would he say to himself a year ago? “Every actor is gonna play the role they’re supposed to play… Relish every creative opportunity that you have. I think of all the weird little things I did just to get experience, and I’m so thankful for that.” It sounds a lot like what they taught him at Stella Adler, that “Our growth as actors is synonymous with our growth as human beings.”

Alexander Tsebelis is a contributing writer. Email him at theater@nyunews.com.

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