SAN DIEGO — Peter Jang has been kicking down doors as a stuntman, actor, screenwriter and director in Hollywood for a decade.
But he didn’t start out with aspirations of the big screen. He started as an economics major at University of California, San Diego.
“I went the business route, I got my economics degree,” Jang said.
The economics building sits about a half-mile from one of the most celebrated theaters in the country: the La Jolla Playhouse. But ironically, Jang never set foot there. He didn’t get the acting bug until he was asked to be an extra in a show being filmed in Ocean Beach.
That pilot never made it to air, but it did change the trajectory of Jang’s life. Jang had taken a job at a market research firm after graduation.
“I was actually making more money as an extra than I was as a business development specialist at this firm,” Jang said. “And they were like, ‘you’ll never make it.'”
Some 60 TV and movie credits later — and his very own action figure — Jang has proven them wrong, working with such A-listers as Kerry Washington.
But proving himself, especially to his Taiwanese father — who wasn’t thrilled with his career change — is something he’s used to.
“‘Try it out when you fail, come back and we’ll figure out your real career.’ But I haven’t failed yet.”
Ultimately, his dad did pay for his SAG card.
But despite Hollywood’s recent embrace of Asian actors, Jang still faces some unique challenges.
“There’s also a little bit of a difference now, too, because now, they don’t want you to be a mixed-race person,” Jang said. “They want you to be full Chinese, they want you to be full Korean, full Japanese, for authenticity’s sake.”
Jang says something else that’s changing is the beauty standard. He says unlike Asian women, Asian men were never thought of as attractive — something that affected him growing up.
“I grew up in Ohio. The place that I was in was a very, very Caucasian area. Some people in school would call me ‘the Asian’ and stuff like that, which wasn’t outwardly racist per se, but still made me feel like ‘the other.'”
Jang says it is good to be seen now and hopes generations who follow won’t find showbusiness as daunting to break into as he did.
“No matter what, the nature of this industry, there can only be so many people in front of the camera,” Jang said. “So if that’s something that you want to do, it’s going to be difficult, know that there’s challenges, but it is possible. Take the opportunity when it’s here, and now is that opportunity. It’s only going to get better from here.”
And Jang launched his own production company, Simplicity Pictures, in 2016 to help ensure that happens — going into business, just like his dad wanted.
“I’m the product, I’m also the salesman, I’m also the bookkeeper,” Jang said. “So all the business stuff that I learned, it all translated directly into filmmaking.”
And now, he can tell his dad he’s using that degree.