Vivian Bang’s star is definitely on the rise in Hollywood. She currently stars on the hit TBS series Sullivan & Son where she plays the often overlooked sister Susan Sullivan. She’s already built an impressive resume with roles in series such as Sex & the City, House, Becker, Better Off Ted and How I Met Your Mother. She’s also starred opposite Jim Carrey in the comedy Yes Man and was also awarded Best Actress for the Asian American Film Lab short film, “Elizabeth Ong Is Missing.” She’s sits down with us to discuss her new series, her career, social media and so much more.
PCP – Was acting something you wanted to do when you were a child?
VB – I guess it was something I was doing my entire life! I was born in Korea, and I remember I was always acting in my room. But I never thought that being Asian American I could make a career out of it, or that it was a possible career choice. When we immigrated to the States, it was never something that was an option for me. My parents thought that actors were riff-raff and a waste. It was actually my teacher in high school. I don’t know what she saw in me, because I had never done a high school play or anything like that. She encouraged me to do this summer program for Governor’s Honors in Atlanta. You have to audition for it, and I was competing with all these kids who had gone to drama school, and somehow I got in. From there I learned about the theatre world, and that it could be a possibility to make a career out of it. After that, I auditioned for NYU and thought, “If I get in then it’s a sign, if not it’s no big deal.” I got in with a scholarship, and that’s basically when my parents disowned me!
PCP – Did your parent’s disapproval of acting motivate you even more?
VB – It gave me a sense of freedom, because I knew my parents had no expectations. It would be a miracle if I survived New York. Even though I had a scholarship, it was still very expensive with the cost of living, books, and stuff like that. My parents had completely disowned me, and I was working at places like Urban Outfitters. It was hard, but a fun time. It was easy because I didn’t have pressure from my parents. It was like I was doing something for myself, so yeah—in that way it was easier, but financially it was really hard.
PCP – Do you remember your first paying acting job?
VB – I think it was either Sex and the City or Hal Hartley’s Henry Fool. I was still in school, and we were doing these senior thesis projects and also doing a lot of avant-garde theatre. I was a big fan of Hal Hartley’s, and that was my first paying job. He got me into the union with Henry Fool. There was this video store in New York called Kim’s Video. I don’t know if it is still there, but they had this whole section on Hal Hartley films, and I watched them all. I found out he was casting for a film, and I think I sent in my photo and resumé. When I went in I was so starstruck! I think I went in and was like, “Oh my God! You’re Hal Hartley!” He’s a serious filmmaker—kind of a quiet artist—and he was taken aback when I was there, and with me being so starstruck!
VB – With Sex and the City I was working as an assistant to the CEO of a huge fashion company. During my lunch break, I went and auditioned. I got it, and I remember coming to work one day people asked, “Were you on Sex and the City?!” It’s so funny! I remember going in and, when you are first starting, you lack the know-it-all to be intimidated. My first day in we had the big table read with all the girls from the show, and Kyle McLaughlin was in the episode as well and he sat next to me during the read. I was so excited! I was a big fan of Twin Peaks. They were very welcoming on that show, and you could tell they really loved working with each other.
Then I remember coming to Los Angeles and I got a role on House. That was a completely different experience! I didn’t know, but Hugh Laurie is in character the entire time, and no one told me. I went up to him and said, “HI,” and he was just House. I was so taken off-guard because no one warned me that he was House all the time; I thought he hated me! Then I finally realized he’s always in character. So it’s different on every show in terms of how it will be on the set.
PCP – You are currently starring in the hit TBS series Sullivan & Son. Could you tell us a bit about the show and your character Susan Sullivan?
VB – Oh yeah… Susan. Poor Susan. She’s the totally underappreciated sister in the family. I think you have one in every family. The one that never gets any of the love or validation. She’s sort of the underdog, because Steve comes along and is the one who can do no wrong. I think most mothers in every culture are maybe the same but, for Asian mothers, their sons can do no wrong. Susan has always lived in the shadow of her perfect brother Steve. She’s always trying to prove herself by overachieving, marrying a doctor, and becoming an accountant. I think the endearing part is that she’s always at the bar and she stays around for the abuse! That’s kind of the story for everyone on Sullivan & Son; there are all these differences but everyone stays at this bar at their choosing.
PCP – Are there any similarities between you and your character?
VB – I guess we are both kind of annoying! I can relate to Susan in a way. I am not always Type A, but I can be. I’m always trying to fight controlling a lot of situations, and starting to let go a bit. It’s funny how Susan came into my life. When I auditioned for the part, it came at a perfect time in my life when I was learning hard lessons, and trying to let go and be okay with that. I remember when I auditioned for Susan, I laughed so hard because the whole pilot episode is about Susan trying to control the birthday party for her father. I so related to the character because it’s so funny how you can see that now, when you are trying to work on it and it comes to you in this form or art.
VB – It’s so much fun! All the guys are so fast and witty. They all come from a standup background. Then you have Christine Ebersole and Brian Doyle Murray, who come from an SNL background. So it’s crazy fun on the set! I think that when you are criticizing it’s also a way of addressing what everyone is thinking anyway and that’s in your face. I call it Korean American humor, because we have no boundaries and it’s pointing stuff out without worrying about political correctness. I feel like when you have that freedom, it does hit home and can be offensive sometimes, but at the same time it can create dialogue and point out the obvious differences. You can either laugh about it or address it further. It’s kind of weird to say, “You can’t say that,” or, “You can’t offend that person.” That’s why I really love working on the show.
PCP – Do you enjoy shooting the show in front of a live audience?
VB – I love shooting in front of a live audience. We actually shoot twice with two difference audiences. We shoot one at 3pm, and we try to do that one as fast as possible with the multi-camera. We try to do it like a play from start to finish, so you get the rhythm of the episode and what is relating with the audience. That way we get notes from the writers, and sometimes they do rewrites right on the spot. Then we do the second show at around 6pm, and that is the main shoot in front of another audience. That one we have time to stop, get close ups if we need them, and things like that. It’s so great to get a barometer of what is working and what is connecting with the audience. It brings on a performance high when you film in front of an audience. I can’t even describe the energy that you get from an audience. I come from an acting background, not a comedy background, so it’s new to me. I am not used to doing things and getting laughs immediately. I think it’s a fine balance of reading the audience’s energy, but also not totally depending on the audience.
PCP – Rick Brown asks, “How hard is it to go from one scene to another if you are still laughing from the previous scene?”
VB – Oh my God, it’s really hard. Sometimes we crack each other up so much it’s hard to focus and get ready for the next scene. It’s like a workout for the actors because we are on there trying to make it work and trying to make it funny. For single camera shows, sometimes you don’t even rehearse. You get on stage and they start shooting, hoping you have the material ready. On our show, the moment we get our script we do the table read, and after the table read we go straight to the studio and we are blocking it and rehearsing it like a play. We have a week-long mini-play that we do every week. Many times in front of the audience you try so hard not to laugh, you just crack up and you feel terrible because the pressure is on. They are trying to get the episode filmed. It’s impossible not to laugh sometimes because people on the show are so funny!
PCP – Your character and her mother on the show are very funny together. What’s it like working with actress Jodi Long?
VB – That relationship is very close to the relationship with my own mother. I mean, I know she loves me, but the amount of abuse you see on the show is close to my real life! It’s something that you get use to and you take the positive from it.
VB – I think the whole auditioning process for films is easier. You usually audition once on tape or meet with a director, then you get the job. For TV you audition, then you audition again for the producer, then again for the network, then again for the studio. I feel with television there are a lot more people with opinions. For me, I feel there is a lot more pressure with TV as opposed to film, where I have a lot more freedom. The directors can see if I can bring what they need and, when I am there to work, they sort of leave me alone to do my thing. I love working in film, but sometimes with television you have the studio breathing down your neck, and sometimes while you are working you are very conscious of that fact. In terms of that, I feel like the pressure is on. Don’t get me wrong, they are both very fun. In terms of the work, it’s about the character and who I relate to. Some characters I relate to more, and I guess that makes the process different and fun every time. If I am speaking generally, then I feel like I have a lot more freedom with film, more creative control without the writers being there.
PCP – What was it like working with Jim Carrey on Yes Man?
VB – He’s so talented. The funny thing is that I thought he would be a huge goofball from watching all of his movies, but when you get on set he’s really serious and professional. It’s only when the camera is on is that he is on! Off camera he’s really serious and quiet. He’s very serious about doing his comedy. It was a lot of fun working with Jim. It’s funny, it was a challenging role for him because he had to speak Korean in the film and he didn’t know it at all. By the time we finished, his Korean was excellent. He’s a really hard worker. You can see why guys like Jim make it in the business. They have a great work ethic. Jim was always the first one on set and always ready to go.
PCP – How involved are you with social media?
VB – I am just learning and trying to catch up with Twitter! I feel like as soon as I learn that, something new will come along. Honestly, I don’t quite know what it is yet. I am going to need some time to reflect on what it is. Definitely in the beginning I had an aversion to it. I just literally joined Twitter and Facebook when I started the show. It would be a place that fans of the show could share dialogue with me, and that I don’t mind. You have a voice, which is positive, but there can also be a downside to it as well. For me, I am not used to it, and I am learning about it. I’m trying to figure out how I am going to use my voice. I will say that it is kind of neat to have that voice, and it can be very powerful.
PCP – You’ve done television, theatre and film. What is your definition of success?
VB – For me, my definition of success is very modest. I think if you can have consistent work in the field that you love to do, that is success. So much of our time is spent at work, so I want to enjoy what I do.
VB – Yeah—I would say don’t do it! Make sure it’s definitely something that you want to do. It’s such a difficult profession. I would say you have to just enjoy doing it, no matter what. You have to be okay with doing this forever and not getting monetary validation or recognition for it—because it’s definitely not about that. A lot of it never really has to do with your talent. Even when you do land a part, once that job ends you are starting from ground zero again looking for another job. It’s very inconsistent. I’ve seen to many people come out to Hollywood and completely lose it. It’s like no other job that I know. You always have to prove yourself. It’s constantly changing with social media and reality shows. You have to know that you can’t go into it for the money or recognition. If you are okay with just having a side job and being able to make this your passion, but doing it without needing anything back from it, then do it. If not, then forget it.
We would like to thank Vivian for taking the time to sit down and chat with us. Make sure you tune in every Thursday night at 10pm EST for her new series Sullivan & Son. If you are interested in finding out more about Vivian, check out the links below!
Vivian Bang Official site click here
Vivian Bang Twitter feed
Sullivan & Son Official – page