I had the opportunity to ask actor, creator, and trained fight combatant Samantha Wan some questions about her diverse work portfolio. Wan is currently in the series she helped create, Second Jen, and for KindaTV fans, she was part of the series Sudden Master. Thank you to Samantha Wan for letting me chat with her.
Can you tell our readers a little about yourself?
I’m an actor/director from Toronto. I created two series up in Canada (starting when I was 23 and blindly ambitious). One was a martial arts digital series for OMNI Television (Sudden Master and the other is a buddy comedy for City TV (Second Jen). I also play the quirky secretary Zoe Chow on ‘Private Eyes’, a dramedy starring Jason Priestly, on ION Television in the US. Growing up I loved Broadway musicals, board games, and laying in the sun with my cat. Clearly I’ve never been cool, but I’ve always been passionate.
How would you describe your show Second Jen?
Second Jen is a sit-com about Second generation kids and their crazy families. It focuses on two best friends (Chinese Canadian, Filipino Canadian) moving away from their overbearing parents to experience those adult firsts. We love absurd humour, so the tone of the series would be like if ‘Broad City’ and ‘Fresh Off the Boat’ had a baby with Brooklyn Nine-Nine as its funny uncle. This year Second Jen has been nominated for a Canadian Screen Award. It feels like a dream. The CSA’s are Canada’s equivalent to the Emmy’s, and we are honoured to be nominated for Best Comedy Series.
Not only do you act in the show, but you had a large role in development. What was that process like?
Amanda Joy and I created the series together. We funded and created what we thought was a pilot and pitched it at the Banff World Media Festival. That is how we got optioned by Don Ferguson Productions, and they helped us with pitching to broadcasters afterwards. It was a 3-4 year process, that has taken me many interviews to condense properly into a couple sentences haha. The biggest thing for me was learning how and where to pitch. I didn’t know anything about television and I was more the producing side of the partnership figuring it out step by step, trying to look more confident than I felt. I still can’t believe we made two seasons of a prime-time comedy series.
You were also part of a webseries I loved, Sudden Master, could you describe the series and your role in it?
I created Sudden Master as well. A coming of age story, with a Kung Fu throw down, inspired by my life in a martial arts family. My father’s side has a long lineage of martial artists, and I became a Kung Fu disciple under Master Sunny Tang. Master Tang knew and trained with Ip Man (Bruce Lee’s original teacher) and his son choreographed all the stunts and fighting on the show. I also love ‘Scott Pilgrim’ so the series has a similar heightened tone, with different the levels and underground fights. OMNI television commissioned me to make their first original digital series at the Banff Festival (where I was pitching Second Jen). I produced, wrote, and starred in the show.
People have asked how I managed and the truth is I had a great team. I had other producers, Davin Lengyel and Shannon Fewster, watching my back, and I brought in Richard Young to help me write, Romeo Candido to direct, and a production team Spectacle Media that are my go to. I had a different person holding down each position, so that I could focus on the big picture (while getting my butt kicked in stunt/marital arts training). I also had an assistant who would read and respond to emails for me while I was training or writing. It was a crazy time!!! It really paid off though. Sudden Master toured festivals all over the world and won numerous awards including Best Action Series (Vancouver Webfest), Female Action Performer of the Year (LA Action On Film), Best Actress in a Drama (Hollyweb), and a prestigious Rockie nomination for Best Digital series ( Banff World Media Festival). People can still catch the series at www.suddenmaster.com.
What can you tell me about your theatrical piece, Madame Mao?
Madame Mao is play I collaborated on about Chairman Mao’s wife (Jiang Qing) and the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Jiang Qing was a terrifyingly powerful women who shut down all art in China for 10 years, ruling the only art people could watch or listen to were her 8 model plays. The Red Guards, an army made up of millions of teenagers supporting the communist party, were fondly called her little generals. They beat anyone suspected of being capitalist or educated and destroyed countless Chinese artifacts. Our script was created entirely from research and improvisation. Janet Lo (actress/producer for Madame Mao) brought me on as an collaborator, with her and Paul Thompson (the father of collective creation). Paul would assign us a subject to research and we would come in and improvise a scene on what we had read. Through numerous workshops over a year we finalized the script. The show premiered in Toronto at the Summer Works Theatre Festival, with rave reviews. NOW Magazine named us Best New Play. We then developed it into a full scale production with Severn Thompson (and an all female production team!) and took it to larger venues.
How did you get involved in fight directing and what is it like being a trained stage and screen combatant?
We were doing Romeo and Juliet as our final production in theatre school with the National Art Centre. Juliet was the only role for a young female actor (the adults were played by a professional company), so there wasn’t much for the rest of the girls to do. One of my roles was Gregory in the opening scene, and I knew there was huge battle at the start. I decided to make the best of my circumstances and learn how to be a fight captain. I discovered who our choreographer would be and trained with his company (Fight Directors of Canada) over the summer. During production, I learned every fight in the play, rehearsed the actors (playing the opposite fighter), and ran fight calls. I really loved it and started training martial arts more seriously after that as well. Not entirely on purpose, but every time I’ve had a break up, I’ve also learn a new weapon. I can now fight with rapier, dagger, broad sword, case of rapier, staff, dragon pole, and I have my gun license. Sudden Master then took my martial arts on screen to a whole new level.
Do you have any upcoming projects you can share with us?
Yes, I’m going to be shooting another season of Private Eyes this summer. People in the US can catch up with the series by watching ION Televsion Sundays at 8pm!
Where can our readers keep up with you online?
People can follow my Twitter and Instagram @TheSamanthaWan.