Los Angeles, CA (The Hollywood Times) 12/12/19- Ha Phuong, a petite dynamo with a huge heart and a big name in her native Vietnam is now a deeply entrenched New Yorker. A superstar in parts of Asia, “HP,” as she is known to her friends, is an accomplished actress, singer and now movie producer: her soon-to-be released feature film, a dramatic thriller in which she stars, is called Finding Julia.
Share your upbringing.
Ha Phuong: I was born into a family with a long artistic tradition as well as talent and ambition. My father is musician Tran Quang Hien. In time she, along with her two sisters, Cam Ly and Minh Tuyet, became famous singers of contemporary Vietnamese music, separately and together.
From an early age, while growing up in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon)–Vietnam’s largest and most bustling city, which set the cultural and economic pace for the country. I learned to dance and sing. I participated in the school, city, county, and culture center events and also performed throughout Europe. Along with live performances she has recorded many videos and albums, and her DVDs and CDS have consistently sold well, and continue to do so today, even though I no longer live in Vietnam.
I was a finalist in a national television competition in 1991. Additionally, the movie “Ha Si Quan” (Officer Cadet), in which she starred, won second prize in film festivals nationwide. In the United States, I collaborated with The Gioi Nghe Thuat Productions, Asia Entertainment, and Thuy Nga Productions.
In New York, my vocal coach is the renowned Alissa Grimaldi, who has worked with many of the world’s leading contemporary singers and opera stars. In the acting arena, I took classes at TVI Actors Studio and the HB Studio. SVA ( School of Visual arts ). I also studied privately with acting coach Susan Batson, who has worked with Nicole Kidman, Juliette Binoche, Tom Cruise, Jennifer Lopez, Chris Rock, Jamie Foxx, Sean “P. Diddy” Combs, Liv Tyler, and Jennifer Connelly, among others.
When did you discover your passion for film?
Ha Phuong: My desire to be a performer came from my family.“When I was little, my brothers and sisters were all fascinated by Vietnamese Musical Broadway because those gorgeous actresses sang beautifully and they always got to dive deep into their love lives. After watching, we would recreate the musicals at home. I was cast as the protagonist. That memory lives in me forever.”
How important is helping others to you?
Ha Phuong: I am very happy with my life. I have a wonderful family. Every day, I witness many unfortunate situations so I would like to share my blessings with them through benevolent responsibilities. In the Arts, many talented young people have financial difficulties or they have not been able to match up with a proper support team. Thus as an artist with years of experience, I hope to contribute to support and endorse the younger generation.
Tell us about your dramatic thriller “Finding Julia.”
Ha Phuong: In Manhattan, Eurasian acting student Julia Chamonix (Ha Phuong) is unable to enjoy the privileged life she shares with her doting father (Andrew McCarthy). Haunted by the tragic early death of her mother-a former star actress and singer in Vietnam-and likewise haunted by a secret desire she has to hide from the world, Julia struggles in her acting studies under renowned coach Igor (Richard Chamberlain). Meanwhile, she begins to experience recurrent nightmares in which she relives the car accident that killed her mother. Caught between two very different cultures, East and West, Julia questions if she will ever fit in anywhere. I played 2 roles that are Julia and Phuong Ha (Julia’s mother )
What inspired you to write “Finding Julia.” Who is Julia?
Ha Phuong: The film means a lot to me. I do use a lot of my background, to make it real. Like Julia, I struggle with the English language. Like Julia, I had to find a way to fit into a very different culture. Like Julia, I took acting classes in New York and was the only Asian in the class. But of course, mine is fiction. Julia’s relationships and her “secret” are not my experiences at all. I wanted to bring out two themes: one, the difficulties many people have in a new country, which calls for patience with themselves and tolerance and understanding from others–a big problem in society today. The second theme is part of the storyline, but I want to keep it a secret. I want people to go to see the film and be surprised … Ok, But here’s a hint: it has to do with a co-dependency that grew out of control and destruction.
You are a superstar in parts of Asia. What are you most proud of?
Ha Phuong: I work with many non-profit organizations, helping a lot of people in my life and I was the first to propose adding English subtitles to Cai Luong DVDs overseas. My main goal was to encourage the younger generations of Vietnamese living abroad to preserve the culture and the native language.
What is it about Julia that resonates with the audience?
Ha Phuong: Julia never gives up. GIVING UP IS NOT AN OPTION.
Do you consider yourself a Master Storyteller? What makes you unique?
Ha Phuong: I don’t want to be boastful but I used much of my real-life examples in the film. For example,
A – -I talked with my husband about the Oedipus Complex and raising a five-year-old child. We have to teach them correctly. If they don’t grow up correctly, they can have problems.
B – For the base of building the story, it comes from my life: My husband is in finance, but I am a singer and work with charities.
C–I learned from my acting coach that we should draw from our real-life experiences. (masturbation scene)
D — I was teased by my friends about my accent in English class in the U.S. That was a real situation. (Fighting scene).
E—When I was in Vietnam, there was a woman who did massage for me. She was afraid to divorce her husband because, in Vietnam, divorce is difficult, so wives have to stay married, live with their husband and accept their mistress. (Life of tree scene)
F – My husband worried for me because re-shooting was so challenging, and he suggested that I give up. Some people said I couldn’t do this movie because of my accent. But I didn’t want to give up. I wanted to prove that I could do it. (Dressing room scene)
70 percent comes from my real life but 30 percent is fiction. Julia’s Secret is fiction. The Oedipus Complex or we can call that is Genetic Sexual Attraction (GSA) ) is fiction.
Summary: Finding Julia made from different cultures of Ha Phuong & GSA that become the unique film
Share a pivotal moment in your career.
Ha Phuong: I fondly recall the moment she would call her big break more than twenty years ago. “Everyone in my country loves soccer. When the 1994 World Cup took place they played my song ‘Hoa Cau Vuon Trau’ during halftime and it was broadcast by Vietnam Television every day. The audience had discovered me and said, ‘This singer is lovely and charming.’ When they found out that I had relocated to the US, they were disappointed. Remembering that moment makes me feel like I am on cloud nine.”
Who inspires you?
It’s hard to name just a few. But for me, Celine Dion and Sarah Brightman are two amazing talents. As an actress, and as a humanitarian, Audrey Hepburn has no equal. Princess Diana was another great woman and role model for her dedication to make the world a better place, especially for children, our future generations.
You are an accomplished singer. Share your upcoming releases.
Ha Phuong: May be my album that will be released next year. It’s still a work in progress!
What have you learned about yourself over your career?
The thought of giving up never crossed my mind. With determination, overcoming those challenges was just a matter of time. Do what you won’t regret in the future but is helpful to society.
Tell us about the Ha Phuong Foundation. How can people help?
The notoriety is something I am thrilled to have. But the money, for me it is all about being able to give back. All profits from my work go to the Ha Phuong Foundation, paying for their housing, surgery, food, clothing, and education for underprivileged children. Musical instruments, vocational training, and career development are also provided for children, adult who are blind.
My charity work goes back nearly a decade. In 2008, she founded the Ha Phuong Foundation in Huntington, California with a $1 M donation that helped to build a multi-media arts center in partnership with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Garden Grove. I also sponsor the Ha Phuong Young Female Filmmakers Initiative. Also the Vietnam Relief Effort, a non-profit organization created by her husband, Chinh Chu, and his sister. The Vietnam Relief Effort aids in school buildings; funding surgeries for war veterans and disabled people; and bringing Vietnamese doctors to the U.S. for training. I was done so much work that in 2016, I was named a “top donor to UNICEF.” www.haphuongworld.com
If you could go back in time, who would you want to meet and why?
Ha Phuong: I would like to meet Princess Diana and work on charity together. I think that will make the world a more beautiful life.
Do you have any other thoughts?
Ha Phuong: I wish Hollywood entertainment will give more opportunities for Asian actresses to work in Entertainment.