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Meet Grace Shen

Today we’d like to introduce you to Grace Shen.

Grace, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I have always wanted to be an actor but did not pursue acting until I was in my late twenties. I was shy and acting wasn’t an option to pursue as a career when you are the eldest of four of hardworking immigrant parents.

I was born in Hong Kong and when I was five years old, my family immigrated to Vancouver, Canada with just our suitcases. My father was a pastor and teacher while my mother was a Sunday school teacher. But upon moving to Vancouver and because of the language barrier, my parents had to take grueling jobs. Their first job was picking strawberries. I still remember the sweet smell of strawberries when they came home from the fields. My father also worked as a janitor and as a factory worker killing chickens. We even owned a corner grocery store at one point. They finally settled in, my mom as a cook and my dad as a letter sorter for Canada Post. So as you can see, my parents wanted a better life for their children and they made sure we were educated. They worked hard, saved their money and put their children through university.

Growing up, all we had was our imagination. I would play pretend with my siblings creating all sorts of worlds and scenarios. In sixth grade, an acting company came to our school to work with us bringing monsters, castles, princes and princesses to life. It was exhilarating and I was immersed in the world, believing every second of it. That was the defining moment when I knew I wanted to be an actor.

Fast forward to 11th grade, my high school put on their first theatre production. It was the musical “Oliver” and I wanted to be a part of it. I sat in the back of the auditorium where the auditions were being held. I watched everyone go on stage to perform their song and I did not have the courage to audition.

It wasn’t until I graduated from university with a Bachelor’s in Education and worked in an office for a couple of years when I made the decision to chase after my dream. It was a time in my life where I thought that if I didn’t at least try, I would regret it later on. At first, my parents weren’t too happy about my decision. When they finally knew that I was serious and passionate about acting, they accepted my career choice. They wanted me to be happy but were worried for my well being. My very first acting job was playing one of the Wives and Little Eva in Vancouver’s Theatre Under the Stars production of “The King and I”. I was hooked! After doing some theatre, tv and commercials in Vancouver, I moved to Los Angeles to study at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts (AADA).

Once I graduated from AADA, I was cast as Liat in “South Pacific” at the California Theatre of the Performing Arts. I’ve been fortunate to have worked with numerous, wonderfully talented creatives in theatre, film and tv. Most recently, I worked on “This Is Us” and played An Mei Hsu in the stage production of “The Joy Luck Club” at the Sierra Madre Playhouse directed by Tim Dang. I am ecstatic to have been cast in a film shooting this September, working with an Oscar-winning director.

I am glad I found the courage to follow my heart. In a business where you don’t know when your next job will come, I try to stay present and appreciate the now. It’s not easy and it takes constant awareness of my thoughts and feelings. You have to keep the faith and believe in yourself, which took me years to become one with. What is exciting to me is that it is a never-ending journey of knowing myself, learning and growing. I always hear my late father’s motto “just do your best”.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
It was definitely not a smooth road. Lots of ups and downs. Lots of “life” stuff.

At the beginning, auditions were few and far between. There weren’t many roles for Asian actors and if there were, they were pretty much stereotypical ones. Hollywood has come a long way and it is slowly getting better, at least there is more awareness of the importance of diversity.

With the lack of opportunities, every audition became important. I wanted to make the best of each audition. Of course, that came with desperation and that does not land you jobs. I started to lose confidence and self-doubt crept in. I used to enjoy auditioning and then after a while, I started to get really nervous. I probably committed every mistake or audition faux pas there was. I became result-oriented and did not enjoy the journey.

Something inside me did not want me to give up. I would step away from acting and then this little voice inside me would bring me back to my joy. I have come to learn to be gentle on myself, to look at all the things I have accomplished and to study. Knowledge is really the key. I now know that I am not right for every role, that a lot of things are out of my control, and that many factors go into the casting process. All I can do is prepare as best I can, give my “gift” in the audition room, and then let it go.

We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know?
I am at a good place in my life. I am at an age where I play a lot of moms and young grandmothers. These are the roles that I love and feel very comfortable playing. I have many on-screen daughters and sons that I am proud of. I also go out for judges, lawyers, doctors, nurses, teachers, principals and therapists.

What sets me apart from others is my positive, sunny disposition. I see the best in people and accept them for who they are. My youthful nature and attention to good health make me younger than my real age which gives me longevity.

I am most proud of not giving up on myself. My perseverance and determination has served me well. I am always eager to learn and grow and collaborate with creatives. I can finally say that I believe in myself which I think is of utmost importance. I feel like I am at the beginning of an exciting time for me.

Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
I believe you make your own luck. Luck is where preparedness/readiness meets opportunity. Every fortunate thing that has happened to me always begins with a positive attitude and joy. It’s a feeling of ease and fun that flows. I think to myself, “If it’s meant to be, it will be”. I let the Universe do the rest.

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Image Credit:
Joanna DeGeneres, Steve Escarcega

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