Tzi Ma on “Tigertail” and Fighting Prejudice Amid COVID-19

Tzi Ma Tigertail Tzi Ma in Alan Yang's "Tigertail." (Chen Hsiang Liu/Netflix)

Welcome back to More of a Comment, Really…, a weekly interview podcast hosted by Clint Worthington! Every episode will feature interviews with actors, filmmakers, producers, and more, giving you the skinny on the latest films and TV.

Just last month, in the early stages of America’s encounter with the coronavirus, Chinese-American actor Tzi Ma had a haunting encounter in his neighborhood grocery store: someone shouted “you should be quarantined” from a passing car. It was a shocking example of anti-Asian bigotry that drove him to spearhead a social media campaign called #WashtheHate, in which Ma and other Asian-Americans share their stories of anti-Asian prejudice, particularly in a time when people of Asian descent are being unjustly blamed for the COVID-19.

But of course, Ma is more often (and rightly) recognized for his decades of work as an accomplished character actor, from films like Dante’s Peak and Rush Hour in the ’90s to his recent boom of work in the 2010s and beyond in Arrival and The Farewell. In writer-director Alan Yang‘s Netflix drama Tigertail, Ma gets one of his most robust and complicated roles to date: Pin-Jui, a Taiwanese-American man and first-generation immigrant looking back on a life of sacrifice and dreams deferred.

Tzi Ma Tigertail
Tzi Ma and costar Joan Chen in “Tigertail.” (Chen Hsiang Liu/Netflix)

It’s a gentle, dynamic role befitting Ma’s acutely sensitive instincts, deeply humanistic while recognizing Pin-Jui’s frustrated flaws. He’s at once of a piece with (and starkly different from) the other types of emotionally wounded Asian dads he’s played in recent years; but this time, he takes center stage, and his pain is the film’s central focus. Ma runs away with that focus, and it contributes to some of Yang’s most assured work.

On the day Tigertail premieres on Netflix, The Spool sits down with Ma to talk about the film, the responsibility of embodying an analogue for the filmmaker’s own father, the complexities of “Facebook acting”, and the importance of tolerance and community amid the isolation and division of coronavirus.

(More of a Comment, Really… is a proud member of the Chicago Podcast Coop. Thanks to Overcast for sponsoring this episode!)

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