Telly Leung: Interview

OK, I think I'm caught up now. (laughs) And as far as being openly gay in your career, was that ever an issue? Did you go through the, should I be open? Should I stay closeted professionally?

My private life is my private life. I never talk about my personal life and my partner and all those things. I don't because he doesn't want it talked about. But there's plenty of pictures of us at opening nights, so it's not a secret. But I kind of feel that's not the kind of spotlight I want on me.

I would love the spotlight to be on my work, regardless of my orientation. And for an artist and actor that is in the public eye, that is completely valid. My personal life is something I can choose to share with whomever I choose. But it's difficult but necessary to keep a level of privacy.

Well, you can still be openly gay and have a private life...

Oh yeah. But I don't necessarily feel like a role model in any way. It's something I hide or anything, it's just my life. I've been with my partner for seven years, and it's his request, because he's not a show person at all. He's a 9 to 5 person, so he's like 'Keep me out of it.'

And did you have any struggle to accept your sexuality growing up?

I think there's a lot of self-discovery that happens when you're an artist. And I think that's kind of where ... I'm someone who hates labels, and hates the labels of gay, straight, bisexual. I think someone's sexuality is something they have to define for themselves. And those are things that only that person knows.

Even if you say straight to two people, that does not mean the same thing. The word gay does not mean the same thing to whoever you're speaking to. So when speaking about the definitions of sexuality, it is a very personal definition.

And, we already know your next project will be our mutual friend Jay Kuo's musical Allegiance, so how much longer will you be in Godspell, because that opens in San Diego in September...

I'm in Godspell until... the powers that be and I haven't quite decided when my last day of Godspell will be. But the plan is to go do Allegiance in the fall, and our first day of rehearsal is in late July. So, at some point in there, I haven't decided if I want to take some time off for myself.

And since you've previously been in Asian-themes shows that have a strong historical and cultural message, where does Allegiance fit into that spectrum?

George Takei is the biggest champion for equality for all, and the story is loosely based on his own experiences as a Japanese-American child when he was taken from his family's home in California and put into an internment camp.

He experienced that kind of second-class citizenship very early in his life, what it felt like to be a second-class citizen when he was a child, before he knew he was gay, before he had a partner, before he fought to be one of the first legally-married couples in California, he felt that kind of inequality and egregious mistreatment very early on.

Because of that, he's made it his life's work to speak against that, and not just for LGBT causes and equality, but for equality for Asian Americans and an Asian presence in the media. He calls Allegiance his life's work, because it's where his passion to fight inequality started.

And you cannot be in a room with him and not have that be contagious. Especially for someone playing a younger version of him, I feel like working with him has inspired that in me, as well.

It's still hard to believe that is our history... I've been to two screenings of Allegiance, and you have to keep reminding yourself this isn't just a story, this really happened in our recent history. And you've been involved with Allegiance now for...

For about two years. We've done two readings and a big month-long workshop where we tore the piece apart and looked at it again, and now we're going to do a big out of town, where the same thing will happen again.

It's going to be great and I'm super-excited because it's a story that's not told, and a story that needs to be told, and it is being approached with great heart and respect. It's a fantastic team and Jay Kuo has really written some great music, and that's an exciting new voice, and an Asian voice, that we'd love to hear in the theater some more. I'm excited! It's the world premiere of a brand-new show!

Does it change your approach to the role knowing no one has seen this work before, and you're the lead creating this role?

There's a story that's told, and I'm a part of it. Every show I do, I go back to, what's the story being told and what's my part? There's the saying 'there's no small parts, only small actors.' That's really true. You can't measure parts by how big or small they are.

But this story doesn't exist without that part, whether that's the lead or a supporting role that changes the story and that character's life forever. There are no small parts. It just happens that I have a big part in this story, but I approach every piece that way, just 'Am I serving the piece right? Am I doing what's called for?'

And as much as you're passionate about performing theater, it seems that on most of your days off, you're out seeing a show, and you love the whole scene.

I love theater! I love it! Ever since I was a kid in high school, growing up in New York City, when RENT first came out, that summer of '96, I was 16 years old, and I must have seen it that summer 20 times. I slept with the bums on 41st street and saw it 20 times.

I'll never forget the day I took the SATs, and I rewarded myself by saving up enough money to buy a ticket at the TKTS booth, and it was the Carol Channing tour of Hello Dolly, and it was pouring rain, so I was a soaking-wet high school student sitting next to a blue-haired lady in a fur coat, freezing my butt off in an air-conditioned theater.

But I didn't care, it was Carol Channing, and I was loving every minute of it. I'm a theater dork. What can I say?


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elph's picture

A most thorough... and impressive interview!

It truly makes Telly Leung "come alive!"

Very much appreciate the connections made with George Takei and referencing his contributions to LGBT issues.