I had the chance to chat with Kenny Wong, who will be appearing as James Wong, in his film Dystonia. This feature is based on true events that occurred in Wong’s life and draws from his experiences with a dystonia diagnosis. Thank you to Kenny Wong for answering all of my questions about the film and his work as a violinist.
Can you tell our readers a little about yourself?
My name is Kenny and I’m an actor/violinist residing in Montreal, having grown up in Vancouver. I spent most of my life as a Classical musician, including going to McGill University for my Bachelors of Music Performance degree. Although I was already in music school, I was so intrigued with acting that I started taking classes at Straeon Acting Studios at the same time. I discovered like-minded people there who wanted to get creative, and thus began my exploration into filmmaking and screenwriting.
Could you describe your movie Dystonia and what inspired this work?
Dystonia is about a young violinist named James Wong who, while attending university, is diagnosed with Focal Hand Dystonia and is forced to deal with the its consequences. The story is actually based on my own life and was written first as a feature film. When I was in my second year at McGill, I was diagnosed with Focal Hand Dystonia and thought that that was going to be the end of my violin career. I still suffer from it today, eleven years later. The short film that we will premiere at the Toronto Shorts International Film Festival combines several scenes from the feature script and showcases James’ journey — from the discovery of the condition to the emotional chaos that results from it.
For those who might not know, could you explain what dystonia is?
Dystonia, in this case, is short for Focal Hand Dystonia. It is a neurological movement disorder that forces the muscles in one’s hand to contract involuntarily. In the film, we see the ring finger (and partially the pinky) of the violinist’s left hand suffering from Dystonia. There’s no cure to it, but there are ways in managing it depending on its severity.
How were you able to take your own experiences and translate them into the movie?
Seven years had past before I decided to write this story, because it took me that long to finally accept that this was a permanent condition, not a temporary one. I secretly thank Damien Chazelle, because the minute the credits rolled on ‘Whiplash’ (a film he wrote and directed that centres around music), I began typing the first words for ‘Dystonia’. Everything that happened seemed to have just floated itself onto the page. As though it was supposed to happen so that I could dictate it into a story. The very moment that I realized something was wrong is still so clear in my head. The nightmares I had were, and are, still quite vivid and play a substantial role in the narrative.
When I was first dealing with Focal Hand Dystonia, there was a lot of time of spent alone, trying to figure out how to proceed. My personal relationships, such as my coaches, my string quartet, and my girlfriend at the time, were also heavily affected by the injury. It was important for me to explore these different aspects in order to create the whole picture. Then translating that to the screen… I give all the credit to my creative team. Julian Stamboulieh (director), Benjamin Warner (co-producer) and Sydney Van Delft (co-producer/actor), are the ones who got the story off its feet, into production, and now to its premiere! A huge shout out to our incredible cast and crew for making it all possible.
As a violinist what are some of your favorite performance moments?
I was extremely honoured recently to have been asked to perform at the ACTRA Awards in Montreal. I had sort of kept my music and acting careers separate (aside from ‘Dystonia’), so it was nice to finally introduce that part of myself to the Montreal film industry. Other favourite moments include working with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra (where my teacher Mark Fewer was the former concertmaster and my mom was a fan), and playing in Cirque du Soleil’s 30th Anniversary Concert.
Are there any pieces that you connect with and prefer to perform?
The Tchaikovsky ‘Violin Concerto in D major’ and the Mendelssohn ‘String Quartet in A minor’ are big ones for me because those were the two pieces that I happened to be playing when everything was going down. You will see excerpts of the Tchaikovsky and Mendelssohn in ‘Dystonia’ performed by real musicians. I would say my go-to piece if anyone asks me to perform is Massenet’s ‘Meditation’ from Thaïs. It’s simple, yet absolutely beautiful. Every time I play it, I just get lost in it. I’m not entirely sure why.
Could you tell me a bit about your upcoming series Transplant?
Of course! Transplant is a new medical drama by Joseph Kay, CTV, NBCUniversal International Studios, and Sphere Media Plus coming out next Spring (2020). The premise surrounds an ER doctor who fled his native Syria to come to Canada and must overcome numerous obstacles to resume his career in emergency medicine. There are really incredible people working on the show — from the directors to the writers and producers; the props to the make up and hair; the camera operators to the FX… I could go on and on. I recur as a fresh-out-of-school trauma nurse named Arnold and have the honour of working alongside the likes of Hamza Haq, Laurence Leboeuf, John Hannah, Jim Watson, and Ayisha Issa. I’ve learned so much from them and feel incredibly blessed to be a part of the series. Also, the set is unbelievable. They built a whole hospital for us to shoot in!
Do you have any other projects you’d like to discuss?
Transplant is the biggest thing at the moment, but I have some projects coming out next year which I’m extremely excited about. Like ‘Slaxx’, a feature film by Elza Kephart and EMAfilms about a killer pair of designer jeans. Yes, you heard correctly. There is an indulgent amount of blood, a strong message, and great actors in it like Romane Denis, Brett Donahue, Sehar Bhojani and Stephen Bogaert. Other than that, I keep myself busy writing — finishing up a few TV pilot scripts and outlining a new feature that I hope will see the light one day. Fingers crossed!
Where can our viewers keep up with you online?
They can keep up with me on instagram @kennycwong. But most importantly, make sure to follow @dystoniafilm!