Widely known for her role as Dr. Michelle Lin in Grey’s Anatomy, Lynn Chen began singing at The Metropolitan Opera House when she was just five years old. Her feature film debut as Vivian Shing in Sony Pictures Classics’ Saving Face won her the title of “Outstanding Newcomer” at the 2006 AXAwards. She has been a ubiquitous presence in the film festival circuit—including Sundance, Toronto, Tribeca, and SXSW. In 2017, she won “Best Actor” at the NBC Shorts Fest and a talent holding deal with the network.
Lynn was featured in Variety’s 2020 “Power of Women” Issue for her directorial debut I Make You Mine, which she also wrote, produced, and starred in. The movie earned a 100% Rotten Tomato Rating and was an Official Selection of the 2020 SXSW Film Festival.
Lynn has produced, directed, and hosted non-scripted content for outlets like BuzzFeed, Tastemade, Hello Giggles, and ISATV that have seen over 40 million views. She founded the blogs/podcasts “The Actor’s Diet” and “Thick Dumpling Skin” (the first site dedicated to Asian-Americans and eating disorders). She has been featured on NPR, Cosmopolitan, and Marie Claire Magazine and has been a speaker at various colleges (Stanford, Dartmouth, Wellesley), conferences (WonderCon), and festivals (Disneyland California Adventure Food & Wine) for her acting work and body image activism. Lynn has been an Ambassador for The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) and Miry’s List.
In the compelling drama, A Shot Through The Wall, Lynn is Grace Tan, sister to Mike Tan (Kenny Leu), a Chinese American police officer accused of shooting a black man. The brother-sister relationship tightens as Mike wades through his profound guilt while attempting to navigate the complicated worlds of media, justice, and racial politics. In this one-on-one interview, Lynn reveals her feelings about the film as well as some insights into her acting career.
What drew you to this powerful film?
Lynn Chen: The film was brought to me by audition. It was definitely something that stood out for me. Just given the subject matter and that it would be filmed in New York City. I’m in Los Angeles so whenever I have to travel for something, I always take that into consideration. I remember thinking, wow, this is such a powerful film. But I wasn’t sure if I was ready for it or the audience was ready for it. It was actually shot five years ago and, ironically, it took this long to come out.
Did you audition for the role? If so, what was that like?
Lynn: I did two scenes. One was the dinner scene where they had to hire a hand double to chop the veggies. I was terrible at chopping (laughs). The second scene was my monologue where we’re talking about Mike. The monologue was originally very long—almost a page and a half. It was challenging because we were in the flight pattern of these jets. I believe the President was in town that day. We’d have to stop in several times. It ended up being chopped up quite a bit.
You worked so well with Kenny Leu. Do you have a brother?
Lynn: I do have an older brother. He definitely wouldn’t have paid for my lawyer (laughs).
Can you go into your favorite scene?
Lynn: I think the scenes that involve food. I remember the scene where the families come together and they’re getting to know one another. It’s that weird awkward dance where the in-laws meet for the first time. It was really difficult to get Tzi Ma and Kenny Leu to stop eating all the food.
The film speaks to several societal problems on many levels. What do you see as its core message?
Lynn: I think the core message is that when we’re talking about race and police brutality, these subjects can’t be distilled down to just a binary black or white issue. It shows how difficult and layered these subjects are. And how we need to take into account all the different factors that go into them. It’s not so simple even though we would like them to be. We can’t just move on because they’re so complex.
Without giving anything away, were you emotionally drained by the ending?
Lynn: It’s definitely a film that will take it out of you. You can’t just turn it off and move on to the next thing. I do think that you have to stick with it and think about what just happened. I think that’s the point of this film, which is to get you to really think and feel. Those are my favorite kinds of movies in general.
When did the ‘acting bug’ first hit you?
Lynn: At a very young age. I was about five. My Mom signed me up to sing at the Metropolitan Opera House. I hung out there a lot and knew at a very young age that I wanted to perform. My stage debut was at the Met—the Bolshoi Ballet.
And when did you realize, okay, I can make a living doing this?
Lynn: I still question that almost every day (laughs). There was a moment when I realized, oh, I can do this and it wouldn’t be so strange. And that was when I saw Joan Chen in The Last Emperor. I remember going to the theater and seeing her face on the big screen, thinking, wow, she’s Asian like me and she’s a movie star. I had never seen that before. It sent shivers up my spine. And I’m lucky that in my first movie, I got to work with Joan.
What actor or film influenced you to get into acting?
Lynn: Well definitely The Last Emperor. But the moment I knew I wanted to be an actor was when I first watched the Karate Kid. I remember seeing that movie and, you talk about a great ending. I didn’t really know much about what went on behind the scenes of the film but when I heard Pat Morita talk, in his normal everyday voice, I was shocked and I thought, wow, that’s acting.
Any advice for young actors trying to break in?
Lynn: It’s different now than when I first started. There are so many different opportunities for women of color now. There’s also the technology where there are no longer these gatekeepers preventing you from being on camera. The best thing I can say is to connect with the work and to figure out if you really love it. Because if you don’t love it, you’re not going to stick with all the B.S. you have to put up with in this industry. There’s just so much B.S. And it’s going to change. So if you don’t love it and enjoy it, then it’s going to be very difficult for you to stick with it.
What were you like in high school? The girl most likely to….?
Lynn: The girl most likely to cry for no reason (laughs). I was such a little crybaby. I don’t know if it was just me trying to perform or what, but I was a dramatic little child. It’s definitely helped me as an actor whenever I have to get those tears out.