By Rich Henrich
The inaugural Comic Con Palm Springs is about to launch August 26-28th at the Palm Springs Convention Center! This will be an incredible opportunity to geek out and be with Stan Lee, the Incredible Hulk, James Hong, Bob Gunton, Elpidia Carrillo, Holly Payne, Fred Williamson, Kellie Gerardi, a young woman selected to be one of the first one hundred people to colonize Mars and guaranteed fanboy favorite, Peter Shinkoda! Many will know Peter as Dai from Steven Spielberg’s hit TV show Falling Skies or most recently as Nobu from the Netflix’s series Daredevil. Whether you come for the art, the costumes, the film screenings, the insightful panels or just to see if you favorite celebrity is actually human, Comic Con Palm Springs is set to be an event to remember!
I recently had the honor of meeting up with actor Peter Shinkoda at his home in Los Angeles to discuss the upcoming Con, film projects and the state of race in Hollywood representation. Things got deep and then they got real. I think often times we see the celebrity and forget how much of a sense of responsibility they have about the influence of image and culture creation. It’s probably a stretch to say that all actors carry such a sense of duty but without a doubt, Peter Shinkoda shoulders the awareness of his portrayal of Asians in the mass media. His characters always seem to jump off screen and he manages to take even a minor character and make them so memorable that we often recall his moments on camera as significant story beats.
“I never came to Hollywood to be an “A-list” celebrity. I figured it would be hard enough to just get a role. I’ve exceeded what I thought would be possible,” says the former editor who studied engineering. “Now, I do feel that I need to be a voice for the Asians that look up to me.”
CV: Do you think Asians are portrayed properly in film and television?
PS: I think it’s rare. I love Breakfast Club and probably watched it twenty-five times but I can’t watch Sixteen Candles because the stereotype. I’d rather not see an Asian on screen than one that perpetuates a stereotype that is so terrible. When he enters a scene, you can actually hear a gong! That’s pretty racist! I have friends that tell me that Asian’s don’t have it that bad. Well, we are not portrayed realistically in the media. The women are usually hot and exotic and the conquest of a powerful white male but the roles for Asian men are usually weak, nerdy, and ineffectual.
CV: The face of America is changing. Do you think Hollywood is behind?
PS: Absolutely. We know that diverse casts make more money. Marvel does a pretty good job. I think comic books have always been ahead of the curve on social issues.
CV: Why do you think that is?
PS: Traditionally, comic books have not been taken seriously. It’s only been recently that they’ve been turned into films and TV shows that world wide success has put a spotlight on these story lines.
CV: I was just lecturing in Ecuador about the need for writers to recognize the need for a new type of Superhero, one more like Batman or Daredevil and less like Superman. As an actor who portrays these types of characters, why do you think the fans resonate so well with them?
PS: Because we are flawed but we still want to combat the injustices of the world. The marginalized are in the shadows because they are not allowed to come into the light. I have more fans in Latin American countries and in Asia. I’m not completely sure why that is.
CV: What’s important to you as an actor and specifically as an Asian-North American actor (Peter is from Canada)?
PS: Truth. I have to be truthful to the character and that character is Asian so, I feel that responsibility to be the correct representation of that, a voice for that. Black actors have been speaking out but Asian actors have been relatively quiet, Native American’s too. We all need to speak up because the world doesn’t look like a Hollywood set. We need to cast right. That part is easy.
CV: What are some of the challenges in bridging cultural and racial understanding?
PS: I don’t think it’s about diversity, I believe the conversation is about inclusion. I think writers really need to think about what they are writing and where their ideas of Asians are coming from. I read scripts and I cringe sometimes because the history and cultures of China, Korea, Japan, Taiwan…all of Asia is not understood or researched well. It’s important to get it right.
CV: We are in an interesting place in our history. You and I grew up in the 80’s and perhaps are the first generation to grow up with so many people around us that don’t look like us. We are seeing the melting pot. How do we change from ideas about what was to what will be?
PS: We have to stop “white washing” media. I think films like Blade Runner and Star Trek are masterpieces. We all have a responsibility to create content that contributes to the mental health and social health of our world. Sometimes, entertainment is just entertainment but it impacts the whole globe, the images and representations of people we put out there.
CV: Did working on bigger projects like Falling Skies or Daredevil make you more aware of the impact your role might have on someone?
PS: Absolutely. There are millions if not billions of eyeballs watching over the life span of a TV show or film. It made me very aware of myself, and the roles I choose.
CV: What can we learn from Superheroes?
PS: I feel that we can learn about good vs. evil but also about leadership and responsibility. I can say, I’m fine; I’m doing ok but what about the future. I don’t want to see a group of Asian kids beating up a white kid anymore than I want to see a group of white kids beating up on an Asian kid. World peace requires everyone to work together to improve current conditions and strive for better.
CV: This weekend fanboys (and girls) will converge in Palm Springs. What do you like about doing Cons?
PS: Well, I will be doing a Daredevil panel. It’s always great to share stories and meet with fans. I think the comic cons provide a forum for fans to interact with their favorite actors and see that we are real people. I really like to talk with fans. Sometimes people can be shy about approaching others or me at the con. Don’t be shy; I want to talk to you. I think these opportunities are really important especially for any of the actors that don’t get the marketing push from the studios. This allows us to build up our fan base and market our work, too. If you are not regular cast, there isn’t any marketing to push you. You gotta do it yourself! It’s like campaigning or something…I have to win over my fans one by one. I want to give every fan quality time. They matter a lot to me.
CV: Are you a fan of this genre or did you grow up on comic books?
PS: Oh, absolutely! I loved Indian Jones when I was growing up and yeah, a lot of comics and of course, I’m a Stan Lee fan. Through the years, I’ve developed a lot of friends through the various conventions. Many of the people I call friends now, I was once just a fan of and even a little embarrassed to approach them.
CV: Even though you have an established career as an actor you are shy?
PS: I think it’s about growing up a fan and still being in that state of mind. It’s important for self-esteem I think when you can meet a celebrity. It allows you to know that you can achieve dreams.
CV: The Incredible Hulk said the same thing when I interviewed him.
PS: It’s true. I remember every celebrity I’ve ever met and every autograph I ever asked for. There is something special about that interaction and I know it help build my self-confidence, to believe I could be an actor, too. It’s not like looking up into the clouds to see God or on a screen and feeling you are removed from that reality. You get to see a real person who made it! It’s a step closer to greatness. At least that’s the way I saw it. If I could see and meet the people that I watched on screen then maybe it could be possible for me to be on the screen, too.
CV: Did you ever attend a Comic Con growing up?
PS: Are you kidding? Con’s are so much fun! I love them! I’m still a fan, too. I remember telling my mom that I would skip school if she didn’t let me go. I would skip school. Whether she said yes or no, I knew I had to go.
CV: What books are you reading?
PS: Clifton Collins gave me this book called Prison Ramen. It features all these recipes from celebrities that served time. Danny Trejo has a recipe in it! I haven’t tried it but it’s supposed to be pretty good. I need to finish the book but how do you finish reading a cookbook?
CV: What projects do you have coming up?
PS: I have this project with Marc Goldberg, the wrestler. It’s called Maxx Yeager: Black Ops. It’s funny; we talk about stereotypes and prejudices. I feel bad for saying this. That dude is a lot smarter than I expected him to be!
CV: You think because he’s a beast of a man he doesn’t have a brain??
PS: (Laughs) Well…yeah, kind of! His parents are doctors. His dad is. He’s really well educated and understands the business really well. I have a lot of respect for him.
CV: I’ve heard rumor there is something else that is coming down the pipe.
PS: Well, I’m not sure what you are talking about but I have my fingers crossed for this other project. It’s BIG and definitely something the Comic Con crowd will love! I just can’t talk about it yet.
CV: Come on, Peter! The fans want to know!
PS: No, I can’t. I don’t want to jinx it and definitely don’t want to say something too soon. It’s going to be a big deal.
CV: What advice do you have for those wanting to pursue dreams, entertainment or otherwise?
PS: You have to be smart and work hard. Know the business you are getting into and be yourself. A lot of people told me what I needed to do or how I needed to act. They still do now but I didn’t get here by listening to them or anyone. I have good people around me and of course I listen to their advice but even my friends tell me sometimes, I’m too intense. I just have to be me. I think everyone needs to just be who they are. It’s hard, it’s not easy and there is a lot of sacrifice. Go for it!
CV: Thank you for taking time today. The conversation was really illuminating. I’m glad you shared your thoughts. I look forward to seeing you at Comic Con!
PS: Thank you. I appreciate the interview the way you did it. I’ll be there Friday. See you then. Come by the booth.
Comic Con Palm Springs will feature a host of comic book artists, pop culture icons, film and TV celebrities along with Cos Players, panels and more fun than should be allowed in the August heat. Check out www.comicconpalmsprings.com for all the up to date information on this family friendly event!!!