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9 Quick Questions for BD Wong

Actor adds his voice to Netflix’s animated adventure movie “The Monkey King”

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Photo Collage: MOA Staff; (Source: Michael Buckner/Variety/Penske Media via Getty Images)

BD Wong, 62, has certainly made his mark on stage. He’s the only actor in Broadway history to win a Tony Award, Drama Desk Award, Outer Critics Circle Award, Clarence Derwent Award and Theatre World Award for the same role: Song Liling in M. Butterfly. His on-screen accomplishments include roles in movies such as Jurassic Park and TV shows including Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. In his latest project, he voices Buddha in Netflix’s animated family adventure movie The Monkey King, streaming Aug. 18. 

Note: This interview was conducted before the SAG-AFTRA strike was announced on July 14.

The Monkey King is appropriate for all ages. What do you remember watching when you were growing up? 

I was a Batman fan — the original television show Batman. I was a big Mary Tyler Moore fan and Carol Burnett fan. I would say those two shows [The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Carol Burnett Show] and all the shows at the time. There were only three channels, so we all watched the same shows.

What inspired you to choose acting as your profession?

I didn’t. I was always rather outgoing and enjoyed engaging people in what I realize now is a form of performance, but it wasn’t really performance at all. It was kind of fooling around at parties and stuff like that. It wasn’t until I was in high school, and I had a very, very specific and meaningful relationship with the high school drama teacher, that I really understood the value of the talent that I had, and that I had potential to do something with it. She [Zora Chanes] really encouraged me and forced me in some ways to use it, to access it, to explore it. [My parents] were trepidatious, and they were kind of cautious. And Mrs. Chanes was a huge influence in all of us coming to the conclusion that it was something worth exploring.

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Wong is the voice of Buddha in Netflix’s animated film “The Monkey King.”
Netflix

While you were making your way into acting, what jobs did you do to support yourself?

The now widely known Roundabout Theatre [in New York City] was  beginning, and I was a house manager, assistant house manager, basically. But it was only two of us running the whole small little theater. It was very romantic. I saw all these wonderful plays and performances, but I was also working in what I considered a survival job that was not unrelated to what I wanted to do. I worked as an usher a lot when I was younger, right out of high school, [at] the big theater that was in my hometown, San Francisco. I got a job there and I worked there for years, and I saw some of the great performances that came through town, and I learned so much from them. Those two jobs didn’t pay as much as big waitering jobs or something like that, but they allowed me to keep my foot in what I felt was the area that I wanted to be in.

You wrote a memoir in 2003 [Following Foo] chronicling your experiences as a new dad. What did fatherhood teach you? 

You understand life better and better as it unfolds. When I was a younger person, I didn’t necessarily fully embrace that this is how it works. You kind of go on naively until you get your understanding of life and your experience gets deeper and deeper. Then, of course, the added dimension of bringing someone into the world really kind of seals the deal for you as far as how things work or what kind of perspective to see the world through in a different way, and what your agenda is as a person. And the things that you want and the things that you care about change, and it’s a great shift. It’s a way of getting out of oneself in some ways. Now life isn’t about us anymore, it’s about this new person.

You first appeared on Law & Order: SVU in Season 2 and made your last appearance in Season 15. Are you still in touch with your costars from that series?

I’m friendly with all of them. I’m particularly friendly with Stephanie March, who was on the show when I was on the show, and who is a good friend of mine.

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What do you love to do on a day off from working? 

Well, I’m a terrible insomniac, so I tend to sleep in when I’m not working or when I don’t have to get up. I’m not an early riser, because I stay up very late. And so my troubled sleep patterns kind of dictate my time off a lot. Saturday night I have a long-standing weekly dinner, and I make dinner and invite different people over.

How did that Saturday night dinner tradition start?

The history is that it is friends of ours and friends of my family that delighted my son [Jackson Foo Wong] when he was little. When we [partner and co-parent Richie Jackson] separated, I felt I was kind of a single parent, and I felt very determined to do two things. One was to not have the house be empty all the time and just be the two of us. Two, to learn how to cook, so that he wasn’t like a New York takeout kid. So I learned how to cook, and I put different things together, and we started inviting people over every Sunday. It started on Sundays, and then we switched to Saturdays [because] it wasn’t a school night. So anywhere between six to 14 people come over every Saturday. Many of them are still the same people, and [my son] has deepened his relationships with [them] and has much more of an adult relationship with [them] now.

What do you like to cook?

I’m a big fan of America’s Test Kitchen, and I’m always trying new things. If you really want to learn how to cook, America’s Test Kitchen will teach you how to cook while giving you these recipes. Over the years, I’ve really depended on them to learn how to cook. I cook like a home cook. I’m not like some fancy chef or anything like that, but I do enjoy it very much. There are certain things that I really do have to try to make sure that I make it. I have to make a prime rib once every year, at least, sometimes twice. I have to make fried chicken once a year. I have to make ribs once a year. I have to make chicken potpie once a year. A lot of American dishes that I gravitate back to because the members of our family love them.

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Have you made any lifestyle changes in your 60s?

I haven’t. I have a long-standing reunion with my middle school friends every Christmas. I always find it amazing that everyone is counting the days until their retirement. They’re literally counting the days, like actually telling you how many days it is. It never occurs to me. I just have a completely different life. I have a life where every day I do the exact thing that I want to do.

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