Published on April 19th, 2018 | by Biz Books
The Biz Interview: Curtis Lum
Currently seen as Calvin on the critically-acclaimed series Siren, Curtis Lum has followed his natural love of entertaining into a career that has taken him all the way from commercials to film and television acting.
Curtis Lum took a time out on the set of Supergirl to chat with us about his journey.
Can you start by telling us a little bit about how you got started as an actor?
There are a lot of different stories that have led me to the beginning of my acting career, but ultimately, I took it upon myself to sort of hustle my way into the industry. I was very fortunate in that, I had my first agent (who happened to be my friend’s mom) that represented me for a few months for some commercial work when I was about 13/14 years old, and when I was around 20 and finally ready to take a crack at acting, I went straight to her door and begged her to represent me again. She said yes… and fast forward 10 years later, here I am. Still on the rollercoaster.
What was the moment when you knew that you wanted to act?
I always knew that I loved to entertain, but I never knew that I “wanted to act” per se until I was much older. Even when I first started, I had some really nice beginner’s luck on my side and while I was enjoying myself of course, it was just a job to me to make money. It wasn’t until I started training harder in class, 5-6 days a week and working with some more veteran actors and people that really took their craft seriously did that start to rub off on me and I aspired to be as passionate and dedicated as they were. It was then that I started to give acting my all and told myself that I would be doing this for the rest of my life.
Tell us about your current projects.
I’m writing this in my trailer while working on another episode of Supergirl. We are currently shooting episode 22 of the third season. I can’t wait for people to see all the excitement and mind blowing-ness (is that a word?) that we have in store leading up to the finale of this season!
I also can’t wait for everyone to be hooked on a new show I’m on called Siren, which airs Thursdays on Freeform and Hulu.
The show is about mermaids, which is such a refreshing concept because even though mermaids on film isn’t necessarily new, we’ve never seen this version of them nor have we seen a show like this before. I mean, ever.
The show takes place in a small town called Bristol Cove, which is a mermaid-obsessed town that is turned upside down when a mysterious girl appears and begins wreaking havoc.
I play a fisherman and local townie called Calvin who is one of first men to come in contact with what they think is a mermaid and him and his fellow shipmates’ lives are all changed dramatically when they discover the truth of what it is they caught.
I’ve had an amazing time promoting the show and all of our fingers are crossed for a second season because there is so much more of that world to explore!
What is your standard preparation like for a role?
I mean, for me, every role requires something a little bit different but the first thing I will typically do (when applicable) is to fully lay out the journey of the character. It’s really important for me to know in detail what my character’s full arc is and then from there, I will start working on the little details and start adding bit by bit to try and make my character the most interesting and three-dimensional as he can be.
“There’s a lot that goes on that is beyond our control, so whatever you can do to be your best in the present moment, do it.”
What was the biggest challenge of your career that you’ve faced and how did you overcome it?
Patience is the key. I’ve been told that hundreds of times but hey, a lot of these cliche phrases or sayings exist for a reason.
I’ve had many, many ups and downs in my career. A lot of dry periods where I wasn’t booking. And one of the hardest things for me, even till this day, is to sit still and just wait for things to happen.
I’m a workaholic. I’ve always been a go-getter and a mover and shaker and so I had to work really hard to strip myself of all ego and learn to be comfortable with being poor for a long time while I wasn’t working.
There were a lot of times I wanted to just give up and quit, but thankfully there was always this (borderline psychotic) but confident voice in my head and a very supportive circle of friends that always told me to keep pushing and keep striving to be better. And so I did.
That’s actually how I got into producing. I couldn’t just sit by a phone and wait, so I had to create a lot of my own opportunities.
Photo Credit: Richie Lubaton
What would be your best advice for young actors today?
My advice would be that if you are truly serious about it, you’ve really got to go deep, give it your all and know why you’re doing it. There’s no formula for success in this business. It can be pretty cutthroat and it is very unforgiving at times. But if you believe in yourself and if you have a vision, then try and do everything in your power to be set up for success and seeing that vision coming to life. It’s like being an athlete. You gotta stay on top of your game, and constantly be in tip-top shape so that when you get the call to step up into the big leagues, you’re ready. Otherwise, boom, they’re going with the next person and it’s an opportunity missed.
There’s a lot that goes on that is beyond our control, so whatever you can do to be your best in the present moment, do it.
On the other hand, I would also like to say, try to be good to yourself. Most of us are often dealing with rejection on a daily basis and if we let it, the constant “no’s” can really have a negative impact on your psyche. Let every “no” be a lesson.
Learn to love yourself, and learn to celebrate all the small victories. I know for me personally, I was so obsessed with working and being “successful” that no job was ever good enough. And it sucked.
We live a pretty unique lifestyle and tomorrow is never promised, so do everything in your power to be happy today. Have gratitude for all the good things in your life. Don’t let the outcomes of this business dictate your happiness. Find a way to be happy with the work you put out, be happy with the friends and relationships you make along the way and be happy with your own journey and success. Don’t compare your success with others because no two careers will ever be the exact same. Basically what I’m saying is, love yourself, be patient, and simply – “enjoy the ride”.
What acting-related books and authors have been influential in your career so far?
I always keep one on me, which is Actions: The Actors’ Thesaurus by Marina Caldarone and Maggie Lloyd-Williams.
The Intent to Live by Larry Moss is a great read, I also really enjoyed True and False by David Mamet. My acting coach is a big fan of Uta Hagen and so her books have helped me out along the way as well.
Where can we find out more about you online?
I try to keep a pretty up-to-date diary of my life through my Instagram account. I’ve always used that platform as way of expressing myself and now I more or less use it as my memory bank, so I can scroll back and remember all the wonderful moments in this crazy life.
Thanks to Curtis Lum for speaking with us!
Header Photo Credit: Justin Wu