Toronto’s Ellen Wong named a TIFF ris­ing star

Ac­tress stars in Net­flix com­edy GLOW, her big­gest role to date by Jes­sica Wei

Thornhill Post - - ARTS -

From rough­ing it up in a wrestling ring in Net­flix’s com­edy se­ries GLOW to swing­ing across a rock venue stage wield­ing a pair of knives in the 2010 hit (and love let­ter to Toronto’s in­die rock scene) Scott Pil­grim vs. the World, Ellen Wong is no stranger to sub­vert­ing stereo­types. The Toronto ac­tress is part of this year’s co­hort of TIFF’s Ris­ing Stars pro­gram, a pro­fes­sional de­vel­op­ment pro­gram that iden­ti­fies and fos­ters Canada’s bright­est emerg­ing tal­ent and in­cludes alums such as Ta­tiana Maslany, Stephan James and Sarah Gadon.

“I feel so grate­ful that I’m part of this pro­gram be­cause it’s such a sup­port­ive en­vi­ron­ment and a safe place to be able to bring the Canadian sto­ries to the film and TV land­scape,” says Wong.

The jour­ney to star sta­tus has been rife with self-ques­tion­ing. The child of Cam­bo­dian refugees, Wong has a unique per­spec­tive in the in­dus­try of film and tele­vi­sion, which she ap­proached with cau­tion.

“I’ve al­ways wanted to be an ac­tor, but [grow­ing up] I al­ways felt like it was a se­cret,” said Wong. “Given where my par­ents are from, there was a lot of fear in­stilled –– fear of fail­ing, fear of not hav­ing se­cu­rity, not feel­ing safe in life.”

A post­grad back­pack­ing trip through South­east Asia, in­clud­ing Cam­bo­dia, helped her fully un­der­stand the jour­ney that her par­ents un­der­went to get to a place of se­cu­rity: through the refugee camps, the lone­li­ness and the crush­ing re­al­iza­tion that they would never be able to go home. “You didn’t even know snow ex­isted, but then here you are, in a for­eign coun­try, in the win­ter­time!” she ex­claims.

“I un­der­stood why they did not want me to pur­sue a ca­reer that meant tak­ing a risk and meant no guar­an­tee of se­cu­rity or safety or in­come,” she says. “But I also thought, ‘If I don’t at least pur­sue my dreams, then what did my par­ents go through? Why did they do that?’ They’ve come here so that I can dream.”

GLOW, Wong’s most high-profile project to date, is about a group of women who in­ad­ver­tently find them­selves the stars of a new show about fe­male wrestlers. In one episode, af­ter Marc Maron’s char­ac­ter dis­misses her as “Ori­en­tal,” she swiftly cor­rects him: “I’m Cam­bo­dian,” she says.

“It’s just two words,” said Wong. “But I felt that was a huge leap in terms of what the Asian iden­tity is on screen. That was huge to me.”

Wong also ap­pears in the up­com­ing TV se­ries Con­dor and has a re­cur­ring role on Syfy’s Dark Matter. She and the other TIFF ris­ing stars, Daniel Do­heny, Mary Gal­loway and Théodore Pel­lerin, were cho­sen by an all-women jury, in­clud­ing film­mak­ers Deepa Mehta and Pa­tri­cia Rozema. It’s an in­no­va­tion that makes the Ris­ing Star pro­gram stand out.

“A pro­gram like TIFF Ris­ing Stars is so amaz­ing be­cause it def­i­nitely caters to help­ing ac­tors not just be ac­tors but also be ac­tivists and stand for things that re­ally matter to us as hu­mans,” says Wong. “There’s so much tal­ent here, and I don’t ever want to lose sight of where I’m from, ever.”

Ali­son Brie (left) and Ellen Wong in ‘GLOW’

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