Today we’d like to introduce you to Jun Wat.
Jun, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
My birth name is Timothy Nang. I chose my new name, Jun, because I prefer the gender-ambiguous nature of it. Wat also means temple in Khmer (my ethnicity), and symbolizes, for me, the sacredness of my body, my mind, and my spirit.
I grew up in Cambodia Town, which is a little area on the east side of Long Beach, California, but I didn’t have the best upbringing. In the late 1970s, my family fled the Cambodian genocide, in which a quarter of the population was killed, and came to the United States as refugees. Many coped through drugs, alcohol, and gambling. And many still do. As a kid, it was a lot to contend with. Not only was I closeted, but I also inherited much of the trauma my parents brought with them. In atrocities, we always do a headcount, but the truth is, a genocide doesn’t end when the killing stops.
I can attribute much of my outlook on life to my grandmother. She went through a lot – more than any human should have to – but she always stayed positive and spread love to all those she encountered. She told me to believe in myself, even when I saw no future. And because of her, my father (her son) accepted me unconditionally when I came out of the closet.
That’s what began my journey. After coming out, I chose to shed light on human stories, both good and bad. To represent my beautiful culture and community. I began fighting for LGBTQ rights, speaking publicly about the atrocities of the Cambodian genocide, often known as ‘The Killing Fields,’ and I began compiling stories from members of the Cambodian American community for a documentary. But my dreams didn’t just stop there.
I had decided it was time the world knew my story. I decided to begin modeling/acting with zero experience in either. My inspiration? Having Ngor, a Cambodian American who won the Oscar for best-supporting actor with zero experience in the film “The Killing Fields.” I had a story to tell, a unique look that is now desired, and a burning passion to show Cambodians like me – the kids still in Long Beach – that hope is for us too.
For the most part, I got going in the industry on my own. My partner, Gibby, who I’ve been with for seven years (seventy in gay years), took my headshots and supported me all the way, as did three very important friends, Joanne Paguio who worked in the entertainment industry, Sashee Chandran who is the CEO of TeaDrop and Elizabeth Frances who is the lead in the AMC show The Son. These three incredibly beautiful and talented individuals helped pave the way for my success. But otherwise, it was me, researching gigs and improvising as I went along.
Basically, out of the blue, I signed up for LA Casting and decided to begin branding myself. To start, I went with: “Futuristic Queer Cambodian Villager From the 19th Century.”
Has it been a smooth road?
I began applying to roles under the name “Jun Wat,” and within a week, a casting agency reached out for a role in a commercial for the film “Love, Simon.” I nailed the first audition but bombed the callback. Even though I didn’t get the role, I felt the fire. It’s exciting, putting yourself in front of people, being vulnerable, and wanting to share yourself to the world.
But I have to admit, at first, it’s hard. Real hard. Hearing that you’re not right for a role, or that you’re too dorky or ethnically ambiguous, is tough, especially when you’re just starting out. Then it hit me.
Stop being so hard on yourself. Stop trying to be anyone else. You’re a Cambodian American, you’re queer, and you’re dorky – and you know what, that’s pretty cool. And it’s funny how things work. Not to attribute this to fate or anything, but around the time of this realization, maybe even the same week, I got a call from Abercrombie & Fitch, asking me to model for their new Fierce campaign. I was so stunned that I initially thought they had the wrong guy. Then they showed me a picture from the audition. It was me! I got it!
That same month, a major LGBTQ organization called me in, and a week after that, I landed an audition for a top secret music video. The video, which came out June 17, was for Taylor Swift’s new pride song, You Need to Calm Down, and featured a multitude of big names – Katy Perry, Ellen Degeneres, Ryan Reynolds, etc. In the video, I play a blogger and get in this huge food fight with the cast. I made so many connections and learned so much.
And I did this, without any agent representation. I looked inside myself to find the confidence to never give up and to fight for representation in a society that wanted me hidden.
We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know?
Jun Wat and the documentary I’m working on, A Cambodian American Story, is the birth of a movement for me. It’s no longer being afraid of what the world thinks, but fearing, instead, the idea of never sharing the amazing stories of my community and its history. I am here because of the resilience of my ancestors. I share these stories with strangers, friends, or anyone who will listen, and the responses I receive are ones of love, support, tears and empathy. This is what I want to show to the world. To never let history be forgotten.
Is our city a good place to do what you do?
Los Angeles is an incredible place filled with many artists, business owners, and passionate, creative individuals. I attribute my success so far to living in Los Angeles.
Public transit, traffic, cost of living and the sheer number of people who want to get involved in the industry would be the difficult part about living here.
I see progress through in LA. I see more people taking their bikes or scooters instead of driving which helps reduce traffic substantially. I hope to see better wages and a better cost of living. This all would make Los Angeles be an incredible city for new individuals starting out or businesses.
- Website: junwat.com
- Email: email@example.com
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/seejunwat/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/seejunwat/