I gotten the chance to talk with comedian, actor, writer and director Chester Tam known for his hilarious work on Youtube with The Lonely Island as well as various roles in films such as Hot Rod, Get A Job and Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping. Not too long ago I peeped out his Netflix distributed debut Take The 10 which he wrote, directed and starred in. The film was inspired by a real life event in which he wanted to attend a Wu Tang concert and had his car stolen in the process.
Growing up in New York, Chester is an avid Hip Hop head having been influenced by such 90's artists as Method Man, Biggie, Jay Z, Nas and more. Now living in California, he plans to continue expanding his movie career as well as pave a bigger road for Asian actors. I had the pleasure of speaking with C Tam on his recent film as well as his take on Hip Hop and more. Read along and please watch his incredible and entertaining movie "Take The 10" available now on Netflix.
First off congrats on your first movie and directorial debut. So "Take The 10" was inspired by an actual event in your life when you needed money to attend a Wu Tang concert so you decided to sell your car but the buyer had a fake check? Please elaborate a little on it.
I had bought a Lincoln Navigator because I wanted to stunt, but two days later I realized I wasn't gonna be able to afford the note. So I had to sell it, and the day before this Wu-Tang concert, someone contacted me on Craigslist about it. He said he was driving down from Central Cali the next day so he would be there by . I was weary about it but also hopeful because I needed to get out of this loan. The next morning I'm waiting for him, he texts me he's running late. It's Saturday, and the bank closes at . So I'm sweating, thinking he's not gonna make it in time. He comes down 10 minutes before the bank closes, hands me a check but it's written out to his name. I figured it's gonna be fine because he endorsed it. So I sign over the paperwork, and give him the keys. I go to cash the check, and they're like "this guy needs to be here because it's made out to him". It all worked out in the end but it definitely inspired the movie because it was one of those moments where I kept consistently doing dumb things and it could've went way worst.
How long did it take you to write the script?
Probably about 3 months to write the first draft. But it's changed so much from that draft because I would punch it up every year it didn't get made.
Did you ever end up making it to the Wu Tang concert?
Yes! Me and my friend Chris had to really jump the fence to get in. It was the last concert ODB performed and to this day it's the best concert I've ever been to.
You had Josh Peck attached to the movie for a while. He was in the acclaimed movie "The Wackness" which was heavily full of dope 90's hip hop. Is he a big hip hop head like you? Was he casted for that reason as well?
Josh is definitely a big hip hop head. I didn't cast him for that reason though. To be honest, I wanted the main characters to be like those people that you might not think like hip-hop but then they'll say something in conversation super subtlety about Mobb Deep, and you go "Oh, shit. I see you fam."
You're affiliated with Lonely Island, you've made many videos on youtube and even done acting in movies and television. Was any of this experience helpful for "Take The 10"?
Absolutely, shooting my own videos was the only way for me to learn from my mistakes. And then working with those guys I was always observing how they edited, picking up tricks here and there. I'm still learning, I just need more opportunities to actually do it.
The role of Jay in which you played wasn't originally intended for you, did that character change the minute you decided to play him? Was there any influence or inspiration from anyone that you based Jay on?
When I decided to play Jay, it forced me to rewrite his stuff. I wanted to fearless about being shirtless, wearing a thong, and having him be overly sexualized was important. And also now that he was Asian, I felt like him having a little bit of a chip on shoulder was interesting. So it changed it a lot from what I previously wrote.
OK lets talk hip hop. How important has music been to you in your life?
To this day, I feel like I'm musically a little handicapped because when I was young all I listened to was hip-hop, nothing else. I'm not like that anymore but hip-hop is always my go-to in my house.
You moved out from New York to LA after college. Seeing as the two coasts have their own different flavor of sounding hip hop, did your ear of music ever change from the switch?
I was talking to a friend about how the first time I came to LA and heard The Chronic, I actually understood the album better. In NY, I loved The Chronic but didn't quite understand the vibe completely, and you never will until you come to LA. But yeah, I appreciate the LA/West Coast sound a lot more since I moved out.
You grew up on 90's hip hop. Compared to today's hip hop, do you feel the music is evolving pretty well or is the game missing anything?
I love that there's rappers like Fashawn and then there's rappers like Desiigner. It's an exciting time for music, it just takes a little more effort to find those 90's inspired rappers but when you do it's very exhilarating.
In 2006 you made a video to a rap song you did with Kal Penn and spoke on a sequel to it. Is that still open to actually happening?
I'm still open to it, but our schedules are really hard to nail down. And when I say "our" you know who I'm really talking about. I'm talking about Kal if it wasn't clear.
Your Lonely Island boys have made huge success with their songs and videos, whats the possibility of working with them on song or two?
I think unless I become a very famous singer in the next year, chances are pretty slim. The cameos on their albums are always so insane.
Alright, if you had an opportunity to make a movie on any musical artist or group, who would you film about and what actors would you believe should play them?
Probably Prince. There's so much humor and mystery in his life, it would be such a compelling biopic. I think Lakeith Stanfield could be good for that role. I don't know if he can hit those high notes though
After your debut movie, whats your relationship like with Netflix? Are they open to working with you again in the future?
I haven't been back out to them since the movie came out but I really enjoyed working with Ian and Matt (my EP's). So on my end, I would love to work with them again.
Have you ever been recognized in public by fans and if so how did/does it make you feel?
It's been fun to have people come up to me and tell me how much they loved the movie or other things I've done. It's always validating, and I'm in constant need of validation because I'm a child.
Do you have any crazy hollywood story you can share?
I would but then I'd have to take your brain Ghost In A Shell style.
Were you happy with the release and promotion of the film as well as the critical reception?
Netflix doesn't do promo for smaller movies, so it was hard to get the word out by just us. I learned how important marketing is for a movie. I always knew it was intellectually but when you have such a big catalogue like Netflix, you can easily get buried without proper marketing.
The diversity in film and TV has been greatly wide in the past decade. Over the past 30 years we have come across a list of talented Asian comedians/actors including Henry Cho, Margaret Cho, Bobby Lee and Ken Jeong to name a few. Whats the importance to you and your career to continue to push more Asian roles in the industry?
For me it's never been just pushing Asian actors -- it's writers, directors, and producers. I started writing and directing out of necessity, and in it I've found so much fulfillment. We need more artists, and it's important to push creativity at a young age and not categorize it as "just a hobby". Also, hasn't TV and movies been more interesting since social media made networks/studios cast more diverse?
Do you ever feel like in todays world, Asians still get typed cast? (I mean Jodi Long's character in the TV show Sullivan & Son's was so annoying to me, like was it really necessary to have her speak that way? Like it was the only way to get laughs from an Asian woman. And the same goes for Indian roles as well, I feel Hollywood really preys on characters like that cause it'll get more laughs.) whats your take?
It's a work in progress. You watch Master Of None but you don't question why his parents speak with an accent? It's because he's trying to tell an authentic real story with multi-dimensional characters. The accent isn't the joke. We're still have a long way to go, but I think in the past few years we've made some real progress.
Speaking on your hilarious character of Richardson or even the Youtube video of you air humping and dancing around Jorma and Kiv while working, is that a role you plan on expanding and working on?
I feel like I've air humped enough to last a lifetime. I don't think people want more of that. They're probably scarred and trying to forget that for the past 10 years.
Whats next for you? What are you looking to accomplish?
I have a TV show idea that I wrote for myself that I'm so excited to get off the ground. I just really want to work on stuff that I'm excited about in any capacity. Take The 10 really fulfilled everything I've ever wanted to do. So I just want to keep doing that, learning more, and working with passionate people.