Anthony Brandon Wong has had a lengthy career, which has seen him working on major productions like The Matrix films, Haywire, NCIS, and Glee. It's only with The Family Law that Wong has had the opportunity to be a leading man.
On his final day of shooting the second series of The Family Law, SBS Guide spoke with the actor about his experience of working on the show.
It seems like you have the most difficult task on the show as you need to be seen as a likeable and loved member of the family unit, but not so endearing that you’re welcome in the home, particularly in the shows first season. From your perspective, how do you project both sides of that character?
That’s a good question - Danny is a traditional, old-fashioned Chinese man and he expresses his love for his children and his then-wife through hard work and providing. That is really his language of love. He has the best of intentions. He’s just not raised in such a way that he knows how to be intimate on an emotional level. For a man like Danny, he’s not trained in that way, so he can be heavily criticised for not being affectionate enough, not emotionally there enough for his kids, but he’s working his guts out in season 1 at the restaurant to make sure his kids have a fantastic life. I find him to be an incredibly likable guy and he’s accused of a lot of things by Jenny who is quite a demanding presence in the show. She really wants this and that - and fair enough. But he’s doing the best he can. I don’t think he is at all the black sheep of the family. All through season one he has done everything he can to keep that marriage together and to be a good dad. But it’s just not enough for Jenny. They got married very young, so she’s trying to work out what she needs as well.
Are there certain people in your life who you have looked to for inspiration for the character?
Well, I’ve met the real Danny and the real Jenny, so I’m drawing a little bit from the real world people. I also observe certain characteristics in Danny and Jenny from my own parents, although my own parents are still together and very much still in love. The real Danny and Jenny got divorced decades ago. There is a certain aspect of the hard-working dad who provides for his own family in my own father, although my own father is actually very affectionate and open than the character of Danny. But Danny is learning to do that through the two seasons and he’s getting better and better at it. The shock of the divorce in the first season has set him on a path to self improvement. In season two we’re going to see quite a different Danny.
Because the show resonates so much with viewers, in your own life, how have your friends or family related to your role in the show?
I’m getting an overwhelmingly positive reaction and so many people from different backgrounds are saying: “That’s my family. That’s the embarrassment my family cause me; that’s the love I feel in my family; those are the cringe moments”. I hear those comments from people with different ethnic backgrounds. It’s been amazing. We expected Chinese Australians would relate to it, but we were delighted to see Anglo Celtic background families were saying it was their family. I feel great about that.
I think most migrant families relate to it…
Yeah, and those issues of divorce and moving on after, while balancing work and family time are very universal. People have really plugged into it.
What is it about the show that you connect to?
I love that for one of the first times in my more than 30 years in this industry, I get to play a lead character who is written with dimension, complexity, and depth rather than being relegated to a peripheral role in a show. It’s rare for Asian Australian actors to be able to take a lead role in a TV show until recently. Now, around the world, we’re seeing shows like Fresh Off The Boat in America, and UK and Canadian shows about Asian families. So, it’s a recent phenomenon that Asian actors are getting lead shows made in the west. I also genuinely adore all the people that work on this show. Both the actors who play my family, but also the crew and supporting actors as well. We truly get on like a house on fire. We also socialise with the real Law family. We went to yum cha in Sunday. It’s become a second family working on this show. It’s so easy to act with them, because the affection is real.
Working with a younger cast who are looking up to you - how have you found that experience?
The kids that play Michelle and Tammy and Benjamin are an absolute delight. If they were brats, it could be a nightmarish experience. But they’re really professional. They come prepared; they’re really good actors who are naturally talented; they listen; and they’re a delight to be around. I love those kids. I love that I get the fantasy of being a dad. I’m not a dad in real life, so to have all five kids call me “Dad or Daddy”, I get to be a dad without having to raise the fees for their private schools, change nappies, and do hard work. But I get to be a dad on the set.
Have the kids checked out your previous film works, like the Matrix films?
They’ve all done a little bit of stalking on IMDB, so they are aware of the different roles I’ve played. Just yesterday Trystan, who plays Benjamin Law, sent me a Facebook message saying “I’m learning so much from you, Dad”. I think he is so impressive in terms of carrying the show. He’s 15 now and to have a 15 year-old carrying a show is amazing. I really admire what he is doing.
I have to ask you about this. In 2011 you were in the film Haywire. Working under the direction of Steven Soderbergh, does that ruin you for all other directors?
[Laughs] Well, it certainly was a highlight. A wonderful man who is very personable. Smart and a beautiful, unforgettable experience. Also, in that film, to get to work with Channing Tatum and Antonia Banderas, and Gina Carano. That also sets a standard. I’ve had the good fortune to work with a lot of great directors, but Steven is definitely up there. On Family Law, Ben Chessell has stepped in and done a great job of taking over the reins from Jonathan Brough - he’s been a delight to work with. His direction is really specific, which I love. I’ve been very blessed with directors.
One of my great memories of working with Steven Soderberg was sitting in a car in Barcelona and Steven raving about his experience of coming to Sydney to direct a play for the Sydney Theatre Company and how much he loved the Australian experience. I’d jump at the chance to work with him again.
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The Family Law returns to SBS on Thursday 15 June at 8:30pm. You can watch the show from the very beginning now on SBS On Demand: