Remy Hii in ‘Sisters.’ (Photo credit: Network Ten)
In the Academy Awards nominations announced last week there were notable omissions in the acting categories: not a single person from an Asian or Latin American background, the latter overlooked for the sixth consecutive year.
Aussie actor Remy Hii points to that ethnic imbalance as one indication that the campaign for better on-screen diversity is far from won – although there have been significant gains.
The son of a Chinese-Malaysian father and an English mother, he tells IF, “I have seen leaps and bounds in terms of diversity of casting not only in Australia but internationally. I think people now expect that casting choices will be made appropriately.
“Growing up as an Asian-Australian I was told the roles I could play were going to be limited to a select few stereotypes. But I have been blessed with the roles that have come my way. I have been working for all these years and have not yet had a bad experience. Every set I’ve stepped onto has been as good if not better than the last.”
The NIDA graduate’s credits include Better Man, Neighbours, two seasons of Netflix’s Marco Polo, Sisters and Paul Currie’s movie 2.22, which opens on February 22.
In the biggest role of his career Hii plays Simon, a forensic pathologist in Harrow, the 10-part crime drama produced by Hoodlum and commissioned by the ABC and Disney’s ABC Studios International.
Ioan Gruffudd stars as Dr Daniel Harrow, a brilliant but unorthodox forensic pathologist who solves crimes while harbouring a dark secret.
“Simon and Dr Harrow have an odd couple relationship as friends and colleagues,” Hii says. “Playing opposite Ioan was a lot of fun because he has such an incredible range. At my first audition we did chemistry reads together and there was an immediate connection.”
Hii appeared in every episode, observing: “It was a heavy workload and lightning fast: that is Australian TV. You prepare to the eyeballs and at the same time you are prepared to drop much of your homework in order to get it done. You never know what challenges will be thrown your way.”
He relished the chance to work with Darren Gilshenan as Dr Fairly, a fellow forensic pathologist, hailing Gilshenan, who taught him at NIDA, as one of Australia’s comic geniuses.
Before Harrow he went to Malaysia and Singapore to appear in Crazy Rich Asians, a Warner Bros. comedy starring Constance Wu, Michelle Yeoh and Henry Golding. Based on a Kevin Kwan novel and directed by Jon M. Chu, the film follows three wealthy Chinese families as they prepare for the wedding of the year.
Hii plays Alistair Cheng, a philandering, millionaire playboy who works in the Hong Kong film scene and has a starlet trophy girlfriend (Fiona Xie). It was his second collaboration with Michelle Yeoh following Marco Polo in which he played Prince Jingim, heir to the Kublai Khan’s Mongolian empire. The role required brutal physical training including martial arts, archery and horse riding and to perform his own stunts.
“In a million years I never saw myself playing a prince in the Mongolian empire in a swords-and-sandals adventure shot in Hungary, Malaysia, Venice, Slovakia and Kazakhstan,” he says.
In the Network Ten drama Sisters he played Sam, a guy who has a crush on Julia (Maria Angelico), who discovers her father Julius (Barry Otto), an IVF doctor, had fathered an unknown number of children through his IVF work.
The series produced by Endemol Shine Banks did not get the ratings Ten hoped for at 8.30 pm and was shifted to 9.30 pm. “That was a head-scratcher to me because all the pieces seemed to be in the right place but for whatever reason it did not connect with a larger audience,” he says.
The next step, he adds, would be writing or directing his own work – but that is a long way off.