Subscribe to the APA Newsletter
Eric D. Steinberg plays Zul in Chay Yew's A Distant Shore. An intense, play-by-the-rules plantation farmer in the first act; a smoldering, out-and-free, hypnotic hustler in act two. Impressively convincing as both.
In person, actor Eric D. Steinberg converses with a mesmerizing combination of laid-back ease and quiet analytical intensity. Onstage, he's magnetic -- his performance in A Distant Shore was toted as "expert" by Hollywood Reporter, and he was praised for his "force and complexity" by Variety. Originally from Washington D.C., Eric was born to an American father, of Eastern European descent, and a Korean mother. Plays that he's been involved in include: Space, House Arrest, The Poison Tree, The Square, and Romeo and Juliet. He has acted in theatre, television, and film, all around the world, most notably in Thailand -- where he is in the process of putting together a film that he has written. -- Ada Tseng
APA: Does being of mixed descent affect you in your career choices?
Eric D. Steinberg: Yeah, the mixed race thing for me plays into everything I do, and unfortunately, I'm limited by it as well. I was very lucky in terms of most mixed-race people. I meet a lot of mixed-raced people now, but when I was growing up, there weren't that many people of mixed descent. Lately, I just see them everywhere, and a lot of them who I meet, if they grew up in a white neighborhood or whatever, they don't have any sense at all of tradition or heritage or things of that nature. But for me, it was different because we lived in Asia for a while. My dad is a professor of Asian Studies. He's at Georgetown. My mother, she's a Korean woman, so it was very much a matriarchal household. My mother pulled the strings, so my upbringing was very unique. Most mixed-race people don't have it so good, in the sense of having a balance, and me being so in touch with my Korean culture. So, that was all my mother, and I'm very fortunate.
But in terms of my profession, it comes to bear in everything, and it depends on who's doing it. Most of the time, it's white people casting so you know, for them, half-Asian is plenty. You're never white, cause you can never pass, but half-Asian isn't Asian enough for the Asian businessmen roles when I walk in there. So it's...Asian people say to me, "Oh, it must be a benefit!" and I say, "You know, it really isn't." And white people say, "Oh, it must be a benefit!" and I'm like, "No. It really isn't." Because either way, I'm on the outside. Either I'm not white enough, or I'm not Asian enough. So you end up playing all the fringe characters, the crazies, the outcasts, or whatever. So that can be tiresome. L.A. is the city of image. It's all about image in this business, about exploiting image, and everyone has to deal with their own cross to bear when it comes to that. Certainly, the Asian women you're talking to also have a difficult road.
APA: Do you think, as far as the types of roles/themes you choose, that it deals with a certain type of tension...
EDS: Sometimes it deals with the racial aspect of it, and sometimes it doesn't, but it's always about that tension. I was trying to explain it: it's strange, because for instance, my folks are of mixed race, and they're still together after 37 years, but there are some things that East and West never meet. That's just the way it is. And oddly enough, that can be ok. And it can also not be ok. And for me, I have that tension in me all the time. There's a drive for individualism and preservation of myself, and agency, more power. And then, there's my responsibility. Really, what's Confucian: the foundation, which is about the roles I play and the responsibilities that I'll be judged for. So that tension is always there.
APA: What can we expect from you in the future, after A Distant Shore?
EDS: There's some theater things on the horizon, I think. I'm in L.A., and this is where a lot of TV and film work gets done, and for an actor, that's really the lucrative thing that can sustain an actor for a few months. So, you're constantly trolling for work, and I'm supposed to shoot something, but you never know. And then, I'm back to New York for a while, trolling for more work, and then actually, I'm going to Southeast Asia to work on a couple of projects there. Cause I've been working in Thailand on and off for a few years. As an actor, you kind of blow in the wind...
APA: Is that an aspect of the acting life that you enjoy?
EDS: I used to when I was younger. It was great! I'd be like, "Great! Hotel room! New city, I'm here alone. This is going to be great!" Now, I'm ten years older, it's like, [groans] "Hotel room. New city... I want a dog. I want a place." So, things change. But, slave to your art, you have to do what you have to do. In my situation, you get respect, but you're not a name, so you got to fight for things still, and you're subject to go where the job is. I started going to Thailand, because things were really dry here one season, and I wasn't making any money, and I realized really quickly, I could make money in Thailand very easily. So I go to Thailand, made money, made contacts. And good things come from that. Things are born from that. I wrote a film, we're going to hopefully be doing it in Thailand next year, because it's so cheap to make it there. The same film that I shop around here, they tell me it's a $3-5 million film -- they might as well tell me it's a $100 million film. I go to Thailand, and I'm working with people on commercials and television, and we can shoot this for 10,000 dollars. We can shoot it tomorrow. All of a sudden, it's like, wow. There are incredible opportunities here. And their film industry is like Korea's was maybe ten years ago. It's just kind of maturing, so I think a lot of great art is going to come out of that region in the next five to ten years.
APA: Thanks so much for the interview.
Date Posted: 5/26/2005