Henry Lau's Journey To Hollywood: It's A 'Really Important' Time For Asian Representation

'I'm in casting rooms now,' the Chinese-Canadian performer tells MTV News. 'Before, Hollywood wouldn't even be looking at guys like me.'

Henry Lau doesn't know what time it is. But to be honest, who could blame him? The 29-year-old performer has been living and working across multiple timezones — in Canada, South Korea, China, and the U.S. — since 2007, when the then-teenage Chinese-Canadian singer/violinist debuted as part of Super Junior-M. And after leaving his longtime label, Korea's SM Entertainment, early last year, he's added another region to his busy international schedule: Hollywood.

Lau makes his Hollywood debut in A Dog's Journey, the schmaltzy sequel to 2017's A Dog's Purpose. And between promoting the film, auditioning for more big-screen opportunities, and working on new music — he most recently dropped his first independent single, titled "Untitled Love Song" — the ambitious artist is just taking things one day at a time. Any more than that and it gets confusing, especially when you have a schedule as jam-packed as his.

MTV News caught up with Lau during a recent press day for the film, where he talked about his own journey to Hollywood, mixing classical music with dance, and the importance of seeing yourself represented in music and on screen.

MTV News: Where are you based? Are you splitting your time between continents?

Henry Lau: That's a complicated question because I kind of fly around everywhere. But most of the times I'm based in Korea, China, and now I'm spending a lot more time in the U.S.

MTV News: How do you ever know what time it is?

Lau: I actually have the world clock. Because I have to communicate with everybody from everywhere. It's pretty crazy.

MTV News: Your body just regulates itself at this point.

Lau: I can just sleep whenever now.

MTV News: Do you like that, though? Do you do like being everywhere, all the time? 

Lau: Yeah, it's actually unbelievable because I never thought that I would one day be here, filming a movie in Hollywood. Never thought that there'd be such a crazy K-pop craze here, all over the world. I've been almost everywhere. And then in some of the craziest places where you wouldn't imagine anybody knowing you. There's people at the airport. There's people everywhere. So it's actually amazing.

MTV News: I also saw that you can perform Ariana Grande's "7 Rings" on your violin, which sounds incredible by the way.

Lau: I did a cover of that on my Instagram, but I'd never expected such a crazy reaction. I don't think they expected that melody on a violin. It's pretty.

MTV News: You're a multi-instrumentalist and that's a really fascinating part of your story. Do you remember your first music memory? 

Lau: I first started playing the violin at 6. And then at 7, it was piano. So from then it was just classical music like every day. And then I got to high school. You know how in high school you have those like the B-boys and the poppers, and all that? During our school talent shows, I would perform classical music, and then right after me you'd have the B-boys and all the people doing the pop and lock. And I realized that all the girls were like going crazy for them. The parents would be going crazy for me, and then all my friends and everybody were going crazy for them. So I was like, "Oh man, I'm doing the wrong thing." So then I started to learn to dance and sing.

MTV News: And then you kind of combined your love of classical music with your newfound love of dance.

Lau: I was actually the head of the violin after-school club. And then I was also the head of the dance club, the popping club. So one day, just by coincidence, we had to hold the two clubs at the same time. I had to go back and forth. And that's when the idea came up for dancing and playing violin at the same time.

MTV News: I'm sure your parents were thrilled. 

Lau: So where they kind of didn't agree with me on was when I told them I wanted to go to Korea to become a K-pop star. This was before K-pop was big. So my parents, they've been living in Toronto for like the longest time. They didn't know what was going on in Asia. So when I told them I went to this audition and that [SM Entertainment] had picked me out of like thousands of people, my dad was like, "No, you're not going." He was against the whole thing, like any parent would be. At the time it just sounded crazy. Like, "I'm going to be a Korean pop star!" But we went to Korea, my mom and I. We checked it out, and then it all seemed really, really cool. My mom supported me the whole time. It took some convincing for my dad. Now he's cool with everything.

MTV News: Why was it important to you to take this chance and move to South Korea? 

Lau: At the time I was applying to colleges for classical music. So I was looking at the applications for Julliard and preparing for my college auditions. And then this came up. I love dancing and singing, just as equally. I thought to myself, if I do the classical thing, if I go down the classical road, I'll have to give up dancing and singing. But then if I go down the K-pop road, I'll be dancing and singing, but that doesn't mean I won't be able to play the violin anymore or piano. I decided that I had to go down this road because that was the only way I could do pretty much everything.

MTV News: Did you ever want to pursue singing and dancing at home in Canada, or in the U.S.? 

Lau: Back then it didn't even cross my mind that I could, that any Asian would be able to do anything in the States. Or anywhere outside of Asia. I'd never even thought about it.

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Henry Lau

MTV News: But now there's more opportunity for representation. 

Lau: I think that's why this film is such an important thing. Not only for me, but just for the whole Asian community. Hollywood needs more diversity.

MTV News: When did you decide that you wanted to try acting as well? 

Lau: It sort of found me. I was in a really famous group in Asia [Super Junior-M], but I wasn't necessarily that famous. Because we had a lot of people in the group. I was just some kid in the group. And then this director wanted to film a movie with me. I don't know how she found out about me, but I met with her and told her, straight up, "Hey, I don't act. I've never acted before. I don't think I can do it." Then she's like, "But you're perfect for the role." So I ended up filming that movie, it was called Final Recipe, by Gina Kim, and it was with Michelle Yeoh from Crazy Rich Asians. Michelle, she really helped me out a lot throughout that film. She kind of took me under her wing, and she taught me all of these things about acting, and she was actually the one that kind of got me really into acting. From there, opportunities just kept coming up.

MTV News: As music and culture become more global, is it a really exciting time for you to be releasing music and to be in the industry? Do you feel that energy? 

Lau: Definitely. I think right now is a really important time for any Asian in the world because it's all happening. I have more confidence that people will listen to the music that I, as an Asian artist, will put out, and now, I have more confidence in myself. I'm in casting rooms now. Before, Hollywood wouldn't even be looking at guys like me. And now it's like, hey, maybe I can be the guy that's not just like flying around and doing karate on the big screen. Maybe I can be the love interest. Maybe I can just be viewed as a person instead of just being Asian.