Perhaps most known for his role as officer Harry Truman Ioki in the 80’s series “21 Jump Street,” actor Dustin Nguyen has spent much of the last decade redefining himself as someone not only for being in front of the camera, but behind it as well, having directed several features in Taiwan. Now on the Cinemax series “Warrior,” Nguyen once again finds himself both in the dual role of actor and director for the upcoming second season of the show, premiering on Friday, Oct. 2.
Speaking to MMAWeekly.com during the build-up for Season Two of Warrior, Nguyen spoke about what drew him to the series, his multiple connections to series inspiration Bruce Lee, and what fans can expect not only from him as an actor, but director, in the upcoming season.
MMAWeekly.com: Firstly, Dustin, what drew you to Warrior and made you want to be involved with the series?
Dustin Nguyen: I first got exposed to Warrior through Justin Lin. Justin and I have known each other through the years, and I had done a film with him called Finishing the Game, and we stayed in touch and stayed friends ever since. When I moved to Vietnam 10 years ago, he kept in touch with me and would asked to see the various films I’ve directed over there and has been very supportive of my journey as a director and producer over there.
He called me when they were doing Warrior and told me about the show, told me about this character, Zing, and wanted to introduce him towards the end of the first season and have him be kind of an important antagonist in the second season, and asked if I would be interested, and it was a no-brainer for me; with Justin and the nature of the project.
He arranged for me to have a meeting with (series co-creator and writer) Jonathan Tropper over Skype, and I was really sold. I was sold before that, but Jonathan was just so generous and so nice that I just felt like these people would do the show justice, this concept justice. And how often do you get a show that really allows Asian characters to do something significant. It’s not just a fighting show, there are some substantial topics and conflicts and nuances for each other characters on the show.
MMAWeekly.com: Speaking with Jonathan, it was important to him and the whole Warrior team that the characters on the series to be fully fleshed out people and not just stereotypical one-dimensional figures. How important is it to have these characters be portrayed as real people?
Dustin Nguyen: It’s very important. More so in this case, because it’s not very often when you have a diverse Asian cast of characters and on top of that the man who conceptualized this thing is the legendary Bruce Lee. It’s very important you get it right. You best get it right. On all of those levels it’s very important, more so than normal. This kind of show and its association could easily go wrong and become a bit of an over the top caricature.
MMAWeekly.com: Speaking of Bruce Lee, you worked with his son, Brandon, on the 1992 film Rapid Fire. What is it like to come back around full circle and now work on a project inspired by Brandon’s father and endorsed by his sister, Shannon, and the Lee family?
Dustin Nguyen: It’s somewhat of coming full circle; the chance of that happening is slim, all that coincidence. Having worked with Brandon and really got to know him. I remember when I was on the set working with Brandon, I met Shannon way back then. I don’t know if she remembers meeting me way back then, and then years later we were in Cape Town and hanging out with her, she came to visit, and (Warrior is) her father’s project. It’s very interesting how I came full circle there.
In my career I’ve had a few other brushes with Bruce Lee connections. The film I did with Justin Lin, Finishing the Game, it was a mockumentary about how they were trying to replace Bruce Lee when he died. I also did a Levi’s commercial that was an homage to Bruce Lee, it was the “Kung Fu” campaign that Levi’s did, that was very successful campaign directed by Jonathan Glazer, who did Sexy Beast and so on and so on. I keep finding myself brushing up with the legend of Bruce Lee.
MMAWeekly.com: On this upcoming season of Warrior, you’re not only acting, but also directing. How did that come about? Does having been an actor prior to directing make you a better director?
Dustin Nguyen: I had expressed to them that I would like a shot at directing on the second season, having wrapped up the first season, and they really went to bat for me and convinced HBO (Cinemax’s parent company) to let me direct. Not only direct, but direct one of the bigger episodes logistically-speaking, of the season. That’s how it came about, and I’m as happy as can be.
For sure being an actor has made me a better director. There are many aspects of being a director, but for me, for my money, years working as an actor the connection you have with the director is very important. If you have a good connection with the director you feel free to contribute creatively. Being an actor you understand what actors need to do good work. You understand the importance of setting an atmosphere where they feel excited to contribute and connect.
MMAWeekly.com: Jonathan has mentioned writing in homages to Bruce Lee in the scripts for the series. Did you add any visual homage to Bruce in the episode you directed?
Dustin Nguyen: I worked quite a bit to incorporate them into episode six as much as we can without being so blatant about it. I don’t think I’m giving anything away here: episode six is an homage to Enter the Dragon, so for people who have seen Enter the Dragon or posters for it will recognize some visual quest that came out of Enter the Dragon. We were able to incorporate that organically. So yes, in episode six, you’ll see a few of those right away.
MMAWeekly.com: Thanks for taking time out for us, Dustin. Is there anything you want to say about the upcoming second season of Warrior as we close out?
Dustin Nguyen: The first season you have a lot of (emphasis) on establishing characters, the world, and now with the first season that they’ve done it, the second season affords you to go deeper and further with each character and the subject matter, with having already established these people. The second season is bigger and better thematically.
For me, my character, Zing, being one of the bigger antagonists for season two was just a lot of fun. The fighting really continues to get better and better. People who have seen the trailers for season two are very excited about the action as well.
Please check out the show. Introduce the show to other people who have never seen the show. I truly believe the fans are really going to enjoy season two. It’s worth the wait.
Warrior Season 2 Official Trailer
(Video courtesy of Cinemax)