François Chau has been a part of some of the most popular movies and television shows in history – more than most people might be aware of – and he has no reason to think his schedule will slow down anytime soon as he continues to find roles in some of the most popular movies and shows today.
Chau began his career when he attended an all boys’ Catholic high school, an experience he claims was not as hard as people might assume – and it brought him to his spouse.
“Attending an all boys’ Catholic school does not really make it difficult to express yourself creatively,” Chau explained. “There were many creative outlets available. The stage was the way I chose. I found an affinity to it right away – and yes, it was a good way to meet girls. I met my wife when I was stage managing a show that she was in.”
Chau’s first major role came when he landed the voice role of Quick Kick on the smash-hit “G.I. Joe”, one of the series’ most popular characters. “Ah, Quick Kick,” he remembered. “I have to say that it was a case of being extremely lucky and getting the right audition at the right time. They were looking for someone who could do bad impressions of old Hollywood movie stars like John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart. I think my getting that job was one of those ‘ignorance is bliss’ things, because I really had no idea of what I was doing – I think Quick Kick was a very specific role that I happened to fit.”
Chau’s one regret? Not having an action figure of Quick Kick to call his own – as the character is one of the most sought after toys in existence in mint condition. “I should have bought a bunch of Quick Kick action figures back then,” he joked. “I don’t even have the one that friends gave me way back then anymore.”
While Quick Kick was a martial arts expert in the cartoon realm and a good guy, one of Chau’s next roles was not as nice – as he donned the purple and silver costume of The Shredder in “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze”. Chau was more than prepared physically, as he had trained in the martial arts at a very early age – and has continued that education throughout his life.
“My martial arts training began when I was 12,” Chau stated. “I started with Tae Kwon Do. When I moved to Los Angeles, I started training in Shotokan. I stopped for a time and then picked up Tae Kwon Do again. I earned my black belt and I taught for a while. My schedule got busy so I had to stop again. Looking for something to try to stay in shape, I recently started training again. This time I took up a traditional Okinawan style called Matsubayashi Shorin-Ryu. In my old age, I can’t do those flashy Tae Kwon Do kicks anymore!”
When it came time for the physicality of “TMNT II”, however, Chau was let down in how the movie was approached.
“I was told that there were complaints that the original ‘TMNT’ was too violent,” he explained. “So they decided to tone down the sequel, and make it campier. I was disappointed that I did not get to do any physical stuff. All I got to do was stand around in that cape trying to look menacing, while everyone else was having fun doing the action stuff.”
Another part of the infamy of “TMNT II” to its fans was the inclusion of rapper Vanilla Ice – though Chau does not think Ice destroyed the movie. “I don’t think Vanilla Ice ruined the movie,” he said. “But I’m not sure ‘TMNT’ fans were necessarily Vanilla Ice fans.
During the 1990s, Chau had guest roles on a number of television shows and parts in a number of movies. “I had a great time working on ‘Rapid Fire'”, he explained. “Brandon (Lee) was a lot of fun to work with. He was a total professional with a great work ethic and a pretty amazing martial artist in his own right. ‘Beverly Hills Ninja’ was fun too; I only had a tiny part and I didn’t get to do too much but I did get to spend a day in an inflatable raft with Chris Farley! I was very lucky to get to guest-star on a lot of great shows, but I can’t really think of any one that I can say was my favorite. I did have a great time when I did ‘The Invisible Man’. I got to play a secret agent and I got to do some fun action stuff – and I didn’t die!”
Chau’s most famous television role might be as Dr. Pierre Chang on “LOST”, a role which saw him use many aliases to protect his identity on the island. His character was integral in unveiling some of the secrets of the show, but the true hidden treasures were Chau’s appearances in the “LOST: Untangled” video recaps alongside the puppet version of himself.
“The Dr. Chang muppet,” he said. “I had a blast doing those ‘Untangled’ episodes. I really wanted that puppet, but they wouldn’t go for it. They told me it cost $20,000.00!”
While the cost of a puppet might seem steep, Chau has paid a price over the years that has added up for many actors and actresses who consider themselves Asian American.
“I have been a professional actor for over 30 years and as an Asian American, I can count very few quality roles that I was fortunate enough to be part of,” Chau lamented. “We have made some advances over the years, but they are few. It seems for every couple of steps forward, we take a step backwards. The racism I have experienced has not been overt for the most part – but believe me, it’s alive and well. It’s like the death of a thousand cuts. Some go deep. Some are just scratches, but they all add up.”
Chau does see the treatment of Asian American actors and actresses getting better.
“I believe it is a little better for the younger generation,” he stated. “The roles are not limited to stereotypes: drug lords, gangsters, dragon ladies and prostitutes. Lucy Liu is great as Watson on ‘Elementary’. Daniel Dae Kim, John Cho and others are proving that Asian American males can be leading men. My admiration is for all the Asian American artists who paved the way for us. All the artists on whose shoulders we stand.”
François Chau has kept busy guest starring on different shows like “NCIS: Los Angeles” and movies like “21 & Over”, while waiting for another great opportunity to come along. “As long as I’m working, I’m happy,” he said. Maybe another ‘LOST’ will come along. Keeping my fingers crossed.
As are we, Mr. Chau.