Sitting first-class on a plane bound for Malaysia from the US to shoot a blockbuster movie, Filipino-American Nico Santos can certainly say he’s had his “I’ve made it!” moment happen in real life.
Landing a role in the heavily-anticipated film Crazy Rich Asians was no easy feat, but Nico knew he was meant to play Oliver T’sien the minute he read about the sassy socialite on the novel’s pages.
“I have a lot of things in common with my character [Oliver],” Santos quips. “We both love fashion and pretty, shiny things. I mean, who doesn’t?”
Before his leap on the big screen, Nico started out in the industry doing stand-up comedy, citing Ellen Degeneres and Margaret Cho as his biggest inspirations. It wasn’t long before he found himself winning his first acting gig on television, playing Mateo Liwanag, an undocumented immigrant with a fierce personality, on NBC’s Superstore.
Having his stand-up background behind him enabled Nico to be quicker on his feet in bringing Oliver’s character alive seamlessly from the novel’s pages to the big screen.
Nico shares that his days in stand-up really helped shape him as an actor, as well as with being given the freedom on-set to integrate their personalities with their character’s persona.
MB Entertainment corresponded with Nico about his thoughts on how it was working with the entire cast, Asians in Hollywood, and what’s next in the pipeline for him.
How would you describe working as a Filipino actor in Hollywood?
Lonely (laughs). Cause there’s not a whole lot of us here in Hollywood, there’s very few. We know all of each other. But it’s great though! I think things are changing, especially with this movie. That is the hope that this movie is gonna open the floodgates for more authentic stories to be told. And hopefully this won’t be, you know, it won’t take another 25 years for another movie like this to be made and that we can movies like this every year.
What moment do you consider as your “I’ve made it!” moment?
Honestly, when I was being flown to Singapore and Malaysia to film Crazy Rich Asians. You know I was born and raised in the Philippines. I moved to the United States when I was 16 and you know, sitting on that first class seat in the plane, being flown by Warner Brothers to film this movie like I kinda have to take a good look around and be like: I think I did good.
How was the audition process for Crazy Rich Asians? What do you think helped you clinch the role of Oliver T’sien?
Well, I prepared a lot to make sure that I envisioned Oliver to be sort of a same way he was in the book so I did prepare a lot and worked with a dialect coach for the accent. I don’t know, I really had a good feeling about my audition. It was great and it took a while before I heard anything back but they called me after a month or so and told me that I booked it and a week later I was on a plane to Malaysia.
Do you have anything in common with your character?
I have a lot of things in common with my character! We both love fashion, we both love pretty things. That’s probably like the most thing I have in common with Oliver. We love shiny, pretty things. I mean who doesn’t?
How was it working with the other actors?
Working with the other actors was amazing! We really bonded right away. We’re one big, happy family. We hang-out every time we had a down time. It was like hanging-out with your cousins in a family reunion. It was really great.
What is your reaction with some of the backlash that the trailer received for casting multiracial actors in roles predominantly played by Chinese Singaporean characters?
Listen, Hollywood is still changing and I think it did a really great job of casting Ashley, specifically, if they are talking about the biracial casting of Henry, Henry is the perfect Nick Young and I don’t think he should be criticised for booking this role because he is the epitome of Nick Young. He was born and raised in Singapore and England. He’s just as Asian as he’s British. For me, this movie, I think people need to look at the bigger picture, rising tides, lift all ships and what this movie really gonna do is open the doors for more Asian stories to be told. And hopefully we’ll get to tell more authentic stories.
After playing Mateo in Superstore and Oliver in Crazy Rich Asians, what type of roles would you like to explore now?
I would really love to do a cartoon voice. I love animation, and I would love to be like in a Pixar movie or something like that.
Catch Crazy Rich Asians in cinemas nationwide, starting August 22.