David Huynh’s parents wanted him to be a cardiologist, but his heart longed for the stage. The accomplished actor “got hooked” on the rush of performing in front of a live audience during his first high school theater class in Louisiana 14 years ago. This summer, the 2014 Master of Fine Arts graduate of the University of Houston’s Professional Actor Training Program will make his third appearance in the Houston Shakespeare Festival.
Houstonians can catch Huynh playing Cassius in “Julius Caesar” and Orlando in “As You Like It” during the 45th season of the festival beginning Friday, Aug. 2 through Sunday, Aug. 11 at Hermann Park’s Miller Outdoor Theatre . Produced by the UH School of Theatre and Dance, the performances start at 8:15 p.m. and are free to the public.
Huynh, 29, is making a name for himself onstage in New York City, including the Drama Desk-nominated production of “Henry VI” and the off-Broadway revival of “The Trial of the Catonsville Nine.” His stage credits include half of Shakespeare’s known canon. He has even appeared in a handful of national and international commercials. Huynh’s big screen credits include a short film, “Children of the Dust,” currently in post-production. The story focuses on a generation of lost Vietnamese children in 1980s Chinatown, New York.
We sat down with Huynh to talk about his training at UH, dream job, racism in the entertainment industry and much more.
You’ve accomplished quite a bit since graduating from UH. How did your education prepare you for being an actor?
The training at UH really gave me a jumpstart on what kind of an actor and artist I would be. So when I went out into the world at large, I felt I could build my career on a solid foundation. Whether it’s auditioning for a film, television show, commercial, a regional theater or a Broadway play, I’ve been able to go in trusting the techniques that I learned here at UH.
You’ve been vocal about your struggle to get to where you are. In 2016, you did a TED Talk titled “Asian Enough?” about institutional racism in the entertainment industry and the importance of representing the Vietnamese community. What was that experience like?
I think people appreciated that I was talking about it and that gave me a seat at the table in certain discussions about equity, diversity and inclusion. At that point, I was six months out of school. I was already seeing and experiencing inequalities because of my race. One thing I mentioned in the talk is that people of color are relegated to playing certain roles that are expected of them. Half of my auditions asked me to prep a thick accent speaking broken English. The TED Talk helped me reconcile what I was feeling. There’s an entire community that has been going through this for decades. I was just putting words to it.
Do you consider yourself a role model for aspiring Asian American actors?
I don’t because we are all trying to figure it out. But after my talk, dozens of Asian American artists started reaching out to me. I think the common thread with all of them is the desire to know they are not alone and they appreciated seeing someone who looks like them going for it. Everyone’s artistic journey is different, but if I can help them cut through the noise to claim their space, that’s a win.
Cassius in “Julius Caesar” is described as an unlikeable man — the ring leader of the conspirators. Orlando in “As You Like It,” meanwhile, is the complete opposite. He’s brave and generous. How do you perceive the difference between the two roles?
Orlando is a very young man, maybe 17, whereas Cassius is a senator, a soldier, probably in his 30s at the youngest. They’re on completely different journeys. For Cassius, it’s “how am I going to protect my legacy in Rome? How am I going to eliminate this threat in my country?” Orlando is trying to honor his father’s lineage and become the gentleman he was born to be. So, I think the plays do the work for me by setting me on vastly different trajectories.
What is your dream role — that one job you really want?
There is this actor named Manny Jacinto who plays Jason Mendoza in the NBC sitcom “The Good Place.” He is an Asian man who is sexy and charming, but hilariously dumb. He broke the mold in a lot of ways because there were roles and expectations assigned with race, but Jacinto upended it all. I joke about this often, but as much as I love doing Shakespeare, playing the Asian bro on television would be awesome.