Harry Shum Jr. talks ‘Single By 30,’ Wong Fu, diversity

Tae Hong
Sep 08,2016
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(YouTube/Courtesy photo)(YouTube/Courtesy photo)

An age-old pact between young friends on the cusp of adulthood – of the “If we’re both single by the time we turn 30, let’s get married to each other” variety – turns all too real for two millennials in “Single By 30,” an eight-episode rom-com by Wong Fu Productions.

Harry Shum Jr. plays Peter, the leading man, as he navigates the Los Angeles dating scene and as he rekindles his friendship with Kina Grannis’ Joanna, who as the series begins is back in town and in the midst of her own quarter-life crisis. The pair lead a cast of YouTube stars that includes Eric Ochoa and Anna Akana, fitting choices given the show’s home on YouTube Red, and its status as one of the video giant’s first experiments in original content creation on par with Netflix, Amazon or Hulu.

“It’s been great to hear how people are really relating to this story, or even talking about how they’ve also made pacts themselves in high school and are reliving it through the series,” Shum, who is currently filming for another series, “Shadowhunters,” in Toronto, said. As it turns out, the actor sees a lot of himself in Peter, in both background and in life perspective.

“[Like Peter] I also had that idea of, you have to be married at a certain age and the pressures of finding a girlfriend and thinking about when you’re going to have babies for your parents,” Shum said. “What I really relate to Peter is, he has this idea that he needs to get over, of what his life should be as opposed to what his life could be. That was a revelation for me when I realized that I live for myself in my own life.”

It didn’t take much to sell Shum on the the series – he’s been a close collaborator of Wong Fu’s Phil Wang and Wesley Chan for years, having starred in a handful of the duo’s shorts. What he’s appreciated about them over the years, he said, is the role they play in giving a voice to Asians in the industry.

Some of that has to do with Asian talents taking it upon themselves to begin a dialogue with showrunners and writers about diversity, Shum said, while some has to do with Asians creating their own platforms instead of lamenting the lack of one, in particular with the availability and growing influence of online vehicles like YouTube.

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Harry Shum Jr., Eric Ochoa (YouTube/Courtesy photo)

“When you look at the billboards that are up – I don’t remember a time when two Asian American leads were on a billboard as romantic leads, nothing to do with martial arts or anything like that,” Shum said. “[The show] is very L.A. It’s diverse. When you think of diversity, this is really what it is. We’re not trying to force having different people in this story – it just is reality, and the way it looks. I just hope this show allows more shows to be able to do this.”

“Single By 30” reunites Shum with not just the duo but with Grannis, with whom he worked on another Wong Fu project, the short “The Last.” “I adore her,” Shum said. “It’s a lot, to be a lead in an eight-episode arc, half-hour thing. You deal with improv-ers and people from the TV world. It’s intimidating. She took it like a professional.”

It seems Grannis felt much of the same – according to her, Shum was as much a support system as he was a co-star. While essentially sharing a trailer, the pair would run lines with each other. “[TV] is such a new world for me. He was so patient and so helpful with me,” she said. “He’s also one of the most talented and hardest workers I’ve ever known.”

Their bond likely translated onto the screen in Peter and Joanna, who each suffer their own bouts of awkward dating, career stumbling blocks and identity crises as the series progresses.

The series is Shum’s second TV role this year – he has emerged as a fan favorite on Freeform’s fantastical “Shadowhunters,” which debuted early this year, on which he plays the warlock Magnus Bane. And of course, it all began with his portrayal of Mike Chang, the dancing “Glee” heartthrob that launched the actor to widespread fame.

“What my dad always taught me was, ‘Take it step by step,’” he said. “There are people who shoot up to another stratosphere of fame or popularity within months. I’ve taken the long road. I started doing extra work, I danced, I started dancing acting, and now I’m acting. I believe that’s really important. I embrace that because I’m continuing to do work that hopefully can get me to a place where people don’t remember me just as ‘the person from ‘Glee.’’ So that makes me work even harder.”