FYIG recently had the chance to talk to actress Annie Chen. Find out about her role on Designated Survivor, Grease: The Musical, and more inside!
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I was born in Taiwan and lived in Indonesia at some point in my childhood- I can’t remember when because my family moved frequently. I speak Mandarin fluently and moved to BC when I was 6 years old. I fell in love with dancing at 14, went on to graduate from theatre school, and soon after was dancing in many TV and movie productions, and for recording artists such as Lady Gaga and PSY. After enjoying some wonderful experiences in dance, I decided to transition into acting. I quickly picked up roles on shows such as ‘The Strain’, ‘Odd Squad’, ‘Private Eyes’, and ‘Designated Survivor’. Currently, I am starring as Frenchy in the Toronto’s production of Grease: The Musical at the Winter Garden Theatre. I am a dork at heart, and in my spare time, I like to watch Teen Titans and eat pizza.
Talk about your experience at the School of Toronto Dance Theatre. How did you transition from being a dancer to becoming an actress?
My experience at The School of Toronto Dance Theatre was similar to most people – it was intense! It shaped my work ethic, technique, and I was mentored by the best in the modern dance world. This training gave me a strong technical foundation, allowing me to pick up other styles quickly, making me marketable in the commercial world. Transitioning into acting as a dancer was not easy. For a long time, I would downplay my dance ability so that others would take me seriously as an actor. I sought out the best in the industry and trained for years taking all sorts of acting workshops, and private lesson. I am a big believer in consistently working on your craft and that we are never done learning. I started out auditioning for small roles and then eventually built my relationship with casting directors and industry creatives.
Is there anything that you learned from being a dancer that you could apply to acting?
Dance training gave me strong work ethics and discipline. Dancers go through literal blood, sweat, and tears. It also comes in handy when I get to do any kind of fight choreography and stunt work. It has helped me tremendously with physicalizing my performance on stage in Grease: The Musical.
You’re starring as Frenchy in Grease: The Musical. What was it like to play such an iconic character?
It is an absolute dream come true. Frenchy was my favourite in the movie that I watched as a kid. It has a been a wonderful journey getting to know her. My amazing director Josh Prince wanted to modernize all the characters but still keep the style and originality of the late 1950s. I was encouraged to approach my role from a place of strength and liberation (though often we don’t see those traits from women portrayed of this era). She has big dreams, is honest and isn’t shy about her desires to fall in love. It’s been truly refreshing and empowering to perform this character 8 shows a week!
What can audiences expect from this version of Grease?
Expect to fall in love with each character and be left wanting more! We are performing the original book and score by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey with original songs from the movie rearranged by the doo-wop king Phil Burton (Human Nature). I am absolutely in love with my cast and am proud of the diversity of casting within the Pink Ladies and our Sandy.
You also play Lily in Designated Survivor on ABC/CTV. Tell us a little about the character.
Lily works at the Oval in the west wing of the White House and is the personal aid of the President played by Kiefer Sutherland. She is a recurring character in five episodes so far.
What was it like working with Kiefer Sutherland?
It was surreal when we were rehearsing on set. He’s got a very strong presence, is unbelievably talented, and loves to play chess.
I’ve read that you recently took up archery. What prompted you to get into that?
It was really for my own well-being. I’m often asked what my hobbies are and what I do in my spare time away from work. The truth was I was constantly training my craft, researching roles I wanted to play or prepping auditions. Archery was something I had always wanted to do but I put it on the back burner. When I go to target practice it empowers me and allows my mind to switch gears. It’s something I can enjoy just for me!
Talk to us a little bit about Annex Cat Rescue and the Ontario SPCA and why you support these organizations.
Annex cat rescue is a 100% volunteer organization that looks after homeless cats within the Greater Toronto Area. They provide population control through trapping, spaying/neutering, and vaccinating in different colonies. I was responsible for feeding designated feral colonies. They also have a great adoption and foster care program. The Ontario SPCA offers the same kind of services just on a bigger scale and is not limited to only cats. They both do great work in taking care of abandoned and stray animals.
Do you have any advice for aspiring actresses and dancers?
Always go back to honing your craft because your performance and how you bring the text to life is the only thing you have control over. I used to carry so much weight into the audition room because I felt like I had to mold to exactly what I think casting wanted. But the truth is they probably don’t even know exactly what they want and things often shift and change gears. Having been on the other side of the casting table, I realized that so much of it has nothing to do with the actor or their abilities. So I go in, I offer my whole self and interpretation of the role, then as hard as it is, I walk away and let it be. It is very empowering and levels out the playing field in the room.
Tell the readers where they can find you online.
They can find me on www.msanniechen.com my Instagram and Twitter @annie8chen