After the success of the web drama Phi and me released on June 16, 2019, Chi Nguyen – a Vietnamese actor currently living and studying in Australia – has received a lot of attention and support from audiences. But why did she choose acting, why did she decide to study it as a major and what led her to the web series of actress Diana Nguyen?
The journey from a Vietnamese girl to an actress in Australia
Chi has been passionate about acting and performing since she was young. She joined in almost every art activity at school. She has also created many musicals for her school while studying in Vietnam. However, like many Vietnamese parents, Chi’s parents wanted her to focus on studying and become a businesswoman, so they restricted her to acting or singing. When she turned 16, Chi moved to Australia to study Grade 12. At this time, she had to think about her future career. She was about to choose Business like her parents’ wished but the dream of acting had not gone. For the first time, she talked about her career passion to her parents seriously.
“They worried a lot because they barely heard of anyone studying abroad and choosing acting before, especially in Vietnam. Students usually choose Business, IT or Doctor (medicine) because those majors are easier to find a job after graduation and it’s more stable,” she said.
However, when her parents saw Chi’s passion for acting, they realised they could not prevent her from living her dream.
Chi decided the next destination was a major in Theatre Practice at the Victorian College of the Arts (VCA). VCA is one of the most well-known art schools in Australia. Therefore, it is not easy to get into the school, especially for an oversea student like Chi. “The first time I took the enrol test, I was not chosen. On average, there were 200 to 3000 people (trying to) enrol in a year, and they took only 26. I cried a lot at that time,” Chi said.
Although Chi had been accepted into the same major in other universities, she was still determined to study at VCA.
Chi decided to return to Vietnam to practice before enrolling again. She took short-term acting courses, studied filming, and practiced as a Master of Ceremonies for many musical shows. For a year, her parents were her most loyal and devoted audience.
“I try hard to learn to not lose my passion and to improve my knowledge,” Chi said.
On returning to Melbourne for the second time, teachers decided Chi was a more mature actor and she was one or the 26 people selected. And this time, Chi cried again because she was so touched and happy.
Chi said she has never met any tother Vietnamese students at VCA and, in her class, Chi and another friend are the only foreigners.
“It was an advantage and disadvantage for me. The advantage is that people are curious to know more about my culture and I have a chance to introduce Vietnamese culture through the plays. The disadvantage is the language boundary. I had to improve my English very hard and spend more time than other classmates in the first year because the plays I studied at school were mostly about Western culture while I was born and grown up in an Asia country,” she said.
‘Phi and me’ and many more
Two years after graduation and officially entering the acting arts industry, Chi has had many memorable roles, one of those is the character Phi in the first Vietnamese-Australian family comedy web series Phi and me.
Phi and Me in the early days was written by Diana Nguyen and Fiona Chau for the male character names Phi and has been performing on stage throughout Melbourne for eight years. After that, Diana decided to expand Phi and Me into a web series and started auditioning for the character Phi.
“I asked Diana why Phi cannot be a girl instead of a boy? Diana has said that this play is based on many memorable stories between Diana and her mother as well as Fiona Chau and her mother so she was very happy to change the character into a female for me.” Chi said.
The five episodes of the Phi and me project show images of typical Vietnamese refugee mothers with their children, who were born in a foreign country, in a hilarious way. The web series soon became popular, boosting Chi’s profile.
While doing her job, Chi realised that plays and movies about Vietnamese people often focused on the war and migrants who came to Australia by boat. “But Vietnamese people have more stories than that,” Chi said. “I think Vietnamese people haven’t been on TV, on stage so people in Western countries like Australia still don’t know what Vietnamese are and what story is there.”
So she wrote LOTUS – her first play about her life as a Vietnamese immigrant in Australia. “Through this show, I want to introduce Australians to Vietnamese culture and customs. I will also sing Vietnamese and even make spring rolls and iced coffee on stage,” she said.
The first show will be on September 12, 2019, at Fringe Hub, Melbourne. “I hope the show will be successful and my message about Vietnamese culture will be broadly expressed,” she said.