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WARRIOR’S SPIRIT: Rich Ting On Breaking Into Hollywood and Making An Impact!

Rich Ting – Photo by Ryan West

Hollywood is filled to the brim talented people. However, you’d be hard pressed to find a more diverse resume in the entertainment industry than the one belonging to  Rich Ting. His journey to stardom began a few decades back, as an Asian-American kid growing up in Los Angeles, California. He spent his formative years as a five-sport athlete (including football, basketball, baseball, track and field, and martial arts). His competitive spirit allowed him to fulfill his childhood dream of playing collegiate football at Yale University, winning an Ivy-League Championship and graduating with a B.A. It was at Yale that Ting began to explore and develop himself creatively as an artist in the theatrical world. Following graduation, Ting decided to continue his pursuit of academics and attend law school and business school graduating with a dual J.D./M.B.A. degree. It was after graduate school that he decided to switch career paths and venture into the entertainment world. Ting returned to Los Angeles to pursue his career as an actor, being cast for the role of “Lenny” in the television series, “Beyond the Break” (2007-2009) as well as “Heatblast” in the Cartoon Network movie, “Ben 10: Race Against Time” (2007). With a strong foundation and background in a variety of martial arts, Ting began to learn the art of movie-making from the ground up as a stunt performer. This work in the trade includes stunt work in “Stand Up Guys”, “The Green Hornet”, “Salt”, “Ben 10: Race Against Time”, “Gamer”, “G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra”, “Deadly Impact”, “Crank 2: High Voltage”, and “Mask of the Ninja”.

His hard work and dedication to his craft didn’t go unnoticed. Ting then went on to film in Asia when cast for the lead role of “Xon Sa Ma” in the historic film, “Huyen Su Thien Do”, commemorating one thousand years of Thang Long – Hanoi. He also starred as “Michael” in a Korean-based drama television series, “Two Families”. In 2013, Ting made his Korean debut in the KBS (Korean Broadcasting System) espionage TV drama series entitled, “Iris 2: New Generation”. It wasn’t long before Ting was cast for the role of Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class, James Suh, in “Lone Survivor” (2014). Directed by Peter Berg and starring Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, and Eric Bana, “Lone Survivor” is based on the true story and events of SEAL Team 10 and their mission, “Operation Red Wings,” targeting the capture and/or kill of Taliban leader, Ahmad Shah. This film commemorates the heroes of “Operation Red Wings,” a military operation on June 28, 2005 that cost of lives of numerous Navy Seals and other U.S. Servicemen in the remote Hindu Kush Mountains of Northeastern Afghanistan.

2018 is already shaping up to be a breakout year for this multi-faceted actor. He is currently lighting up the screen with his intense presence in the Paramount Network’s limited series, “Waco.” Created by John Erick Dowdle and Drew Dowdle, the critically-acclaimed series chronicles the 1993 standoff between the FBI and ATF and the Branch Davidians, a spiritual sect led by David Koresh, told from several perspectives of those most intimately involved in both sides of the conflict. Ting will recur in the series as Lon Horiuchi, who was an FBI sniper during Waco. The series co-stars Taylor Kitsch, Michael Shannon, Melissa Benoist, Paul Sparks, Rory Culkin and Julia Garner. This Fall, fans of his work can catch Rich Ting in his most ambitious and personal project to date with Cinemax’s highly-anticipated drama series, “Warrior”. The 10-episode series is inspired by the writings and work of martial arts icon Bruce Lee. A period crime drama set against the backdrop of the brutal Tong Wars in San Francisco’s Chinatown in the late 1800’s. Ting will play the universally feared fighter and top lieutenant of the Hop Wei Tong, “Bolo”. The series from “Fast & Furious” Justin Lin and “Banshee” co-creator Jonathan Tropper, is being filmed in Cape Town, South Africa.

Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Rich Ting to discuss his unique career path, the challenges he has faced along the way and his passion for inspiring the next generation of Asian-Americans. Along the way, he offers an inside look at his creative process and bringing his latest roles in Paramount Network’s “Waco” and Cinemax’s “Warrior” from script to screen.

You’ve been hard at work amassing quite an impressive resume over the years. Let’s go back to where it all began. How did you get involved with the arts early on?

I come from an Asian-American background. I’m a 4th generation Asian-American. My grandparents were born in Los Angeles and Oakland, California. My parents only spoke English growing up and continue to only speak English! [laughs] The only culture we had at the house was basically a rice cooker and taking off your shoes. For me, I grew up not really influenced by Asian culture, so to speak. My only real influence came from watching Bruce Lee. He was the first iconic figure that I was glued to as a 3-year-old. I say 3-year-old because I began my martial arts career at the age of 4, so I was inspired by him at the age of 3 and got involved with it shortly thereafter. I remember learning how to work my parents Beta machine and pushing play, stop, rewind, pause and forward. I self-taught myself a lot of the weapons he used in all of his films. I was so fascinated by him that it motivated me to pursue martial arts. Coming from a very athletic family, my parents were both athletes, and I was encouraged to participate in football, basketball, baseball and track. I was able to Varsity letter in all of those sports, all the way through high school. I was then able to play Division One Football at Yale University. The first dream of mine was to play collegiate football on scholarship and that was my goal from the time I was a little kid. Fortunately, that happened for me.

My second goal came from my love of Bruce Lee. Growing up watching him in these action films, I began to notice a lack of Asian-American leading men on the big and small screens. I began to fabricate this notion that maybe I could be the first Asian-American leading man. I remember growing up being the only Asian kid on a predominately African-American athletic team. All of my friends had idols. They had Hollywood stars or heroes that they could relate to or look up to. I think a lot of that had to do with race, ethnicity and culture. For me, because Bruce Lee wasn’t Asian-American, I couldn’t relate to him, but I was inspired and intrigued by him. I asked myself, “Where is the Asian-American leading man who is a firefighter, a police officer, the husband or the boyfriend? Where are they on television?” I could never find them. This secondary dream of mine became “Maybe I could do this. Maybe I could be that guy. Maybe I could inspire other people who were in my situation and who were looking for someone they could relate to on TV or the big screen.” It’s very weird how the universe works and is working currently with me. Pursuing my athletic career got me to Yale and then, my dad, who is a doctor, wanted me to go that route. I didn’t want to, but I did end up doing all of my pre-med requirements at Yale and majoring in humanities and history. I was pursuing a career in law school at the same time because I had to do the joint program and I did my MBA as well. In my mid-20s, here I am, graduated with a Bachelor’s with a JD and an MBA and I still do know what I want to do yet. The whole time, throughout undergrad and graduate school, I was being approached a lot through the modeling world. I would take gigs here and there on the side because I would do a 3 to 5-hour photoshoot, get paid and I’d be done. It was fantastic! I also took acting classes in grad school as a hobby. I called it my “yoga” of the time because I wanted to pursue it and do it as a hobby. I didn’t realize that all of this work was training for me — academically, athletically and artistically.

Long story short, I came back to downtown Los Angeles in the summer of 2007 to take a job at a firm. Simultaneously, I was approached by family and friends that work in the stunt business in Hollywood. They had updated me that Warner Bros. was doing a feature film called “Ben 10” and they were looking for one of the characters. My family had kept up with my career and they knew that I was still physically active, I was in shape, and I had kept up my martial arts. They encouraged me to audition for it and the next thing I knew I was on the set of Warner Bros. I had declined the offer at the law firm and I had promised myself that I was going to enter the business via stunts to educate myself on how the whole industry works. By doing that I learned on-set etiquette, I saw directors and cast interact, I saw stunt performers interact with the cast and everything in between. I threw myself into the fire, so to speak, and used it as an educational experience while getting paid to be in the film! I let everyone know that stunts weren’t my goal and that the first time I had the opportunity to cross over into acting, I would take the opportunity. Luckily, I got that opportunity very soon after getting my SAG card in 2007!

How did you break into the entertainment business?

The way I entered the business, through stunts, is the most humbling way you can enter the film industry. You’re the first one on set and the last one to leave. You are basically a laborer/soldier on set. You’re building pits, helping other people wreck safely, taking hits yourself, getting dirty, building catchers and cleaning up stuff. The significance of that is that the action is what makes the film. It makes the shot, so the action has to be top-notch. I was very fortunate to get grandfathered into the stunt world through my cousin and uncle. You don’t talk. You keep your head down and work your ass off! No one is offering you water or asking if you are okay. You go there because you love what you do, and you are on set. That was humbling because it is definitely the opposite perception of “what Hollywood is all about.” There is no glitz and glamor when it comes to being a stuntman. You go to work, get dirty, you get banged up and you have to be back first thing in the morning with a positive attitude. What results from that is some of the best human beings I’ve been around in the business. The stunt guys are a rare breed. I had the opportunity to work with some legends and you understand quickly why they are legends. They are some of the nicest, most humble and talented people in the world. You will meet people who are world-class motocross guys who’ve retired and now gone into the stunt world. You will also meet some of the most talented aerialists and martial artists. You will even meet people who have served in the military. These unique people come from all walks of life. It’s such a cool thing because you could never pick this group of guys out but somehow, they’ve all come together in this crazy industry to provide us with the action in “Fast & Furious,” “Transformers” and so on. I recently saw a movie called “12 Strong” and all those guys take hits. “Lone Survivor” has a guy falling down a mountain. That’s what makes the movie and these are the guys who make it happen! Like I said, it’s the most humbling way to enter the business. It’s funny, I still get weirded out when someone asks me if I need anything on set! [laughs] I honestly do! I have actor friends who know my background. They go,”Hey man, it’s okay to ask for some water. It’s ok to ask for coffee.” They always give me crap about it, but I can get it myself, ya know!

Rich Ting – Photo by Ryan West

Tell us a little about the early project that had a big impact on you and your craft.

What’s great about coming in through the stunt world, it allowed me to learn how you wreck, how you fall, how you fight and crash on set in front of the camera. You could be the best martial artist in the world but if that doesn’t translate to camera, then it doesn’t mean anything. There is a way to fight in real life, a way to fight on stage and a way to fight on camera. Being introduced to that very early in my career has allowed me to combine my foundational martial arts skills with the art of fighting on camera. That allows me to do what I do on my upcoming show called “Warrior.” Obviously, I’m allowed to focus on the acting through my lines and my character because the fighting and techniques are almost automatic because I’ve been around it so much now. I know where camera A, camera B and camera C are, and I know how to throw this punch or this kick so it reads on camera as a hit so we get it in the first take. We don’t need 100 takes to get the shot. A lot of the early, early stages of me entering through the stunt world has allowed me to perfect that craft and continue to perfect it so that it’s believable on camera. More importantly, it allows me to work with the various other actors that I’ve been able to work with throughout my career. I by no means consider myself a coordinator or anything like that, but it takes a team to get that final project and final shot done. Having had the training through my cousins, uncles and a ton of other stunt coordinators, I’m able to give that knowledge to other people I work with, so the overall shot is perfect!

You have some pretty impressive projects on the horizon. Let’s start with your role on “Waco.” How did you get involved and what can you tell us about the character you play?

I play an FBI HRT (Hostage Rescue Team) sniper, Lon Horiuchi. He was a Japanese-American, former U.S. Army, individual that later joined the FBI and became one of top sharpshooters in the FBI. I remember when my agent reached out to me, they told me they were doing a series on Waco and Taylor Kitsch, Michael Shannon and John Leguizamo were all attached. They were looking for a Japanese-American FBI sniper and they were very interested in me. When I heard that, I was super flattered to even be considered, totally jumped at the opportunity and luckily, I was cast by John Dowdle and Drew Dowdle. It was a fantastic shot to say the very least! It’s the second time I’ve played a real character; the first time was in the feature film, “Lone Survivor,” ironically with Taylor Kitsch and Mark Wahlberg under the direction of Peter Berg. I think the ultimate honor as an actor is to play a true-life character, especially one who has served in our Armed Forces. We give praise to our military and Armed Forces all the time but to be able to honor them through playing them, as an actor, I think is the ultimate reward. Like I said, Lon Horiuchi was a FBI HRT sniper. He was involved as one of the critical shooters at the incident at Ruby Ridge in 1982. He got into a little bit of controversy during that event because he was ordered to fire upon two of the individuals, who were Randy Weaver and one of his friends. They were basically stockpiling arms in the high mountains of Ruby Ridge. In the process of following orders to take these two men out, he inadvertently shot and killed Vicki Weaver, who was Randy Weaver’s wife. That got him into a little bit of controversy with the courts, however, the charges were later dropped because it was deemed that there was no negligence and he was acting within the scope of his duties. Ironically, not only were these events at Ruby Ridge being watched by David Koresh in Waco at the time but they also motivated him to take measures against the Federal Government. So, come full circle, once that 51-day siege of the Waco Compound took place, the FBI who’d been under scrutiny because of Lon’s shooting of Vicki Weaver at Ruby Ridge, was called into participate in the Waco siege. There was more controversy there because it was reported that Lon had an early discharge and fired again but it was never proven. You have the same guy at two huge events in our country’s history with significant impact in both cases. Even though he’s a controversial character, like I said earlier, it’s always an honor to represent these true-life heroes in any way that I can.

Rich Ting as Lon Horiuchi in Paramount Network’s “Waco.”

Obviously, you’ve done your research on this character. What do you feel you might have brought to this character that wasn’t on the written page?

In the first episode of “Waco,” I have a scene. It opens with the Ruby Ridge scene and I’m set up on a mountain and firing at these two guys and inadvertently shoot and kill the wife. I remember John, our director, and Drew, our producer, telling me after we wrapped episode one, “Your intensity is crazy! Your part of this episode is the most intense part of this episode and we love it!” They went on to give me a lot of positive feedback on what I brought. So, when you ask me that question, I do the research I can as an actor outside of the production. That can be solo research on the character, trying to reach out to family and friends, going to places this person lived or used to go to and trying to really get a sense of who this character was and currently is. When I get to the live set on the day, we have these technicians, military advisors and ex-FBI guys there to show me how you hold the gun, what rifle he used, the breathing techniques and mannerisms. I like to load myself up so much that all the research that is loaded in me can leak out through my acting and impulses in that moment. I get on the gear, I have the real gun, I’m in the dirt and looking through the scope. At that point, there is a part of me that takes over. The more I can prep, the more I don’t have to think about it on the day and the more everything just comes together for me. Fortunately, the director and the producers were happy with what I did!

It’s really awesome to hear about your attention to detail and that it doesn’t go unnoticed!

Thank you. Yeah, it’s a very cool process!

Jumping forward to the other huge project you have on tape for 2018 — What can you tell us about “Warrior”?

It’s a period piece written and created by Bruce Lee himself before he passed away. It takes place in the late 19th century, the 1880s, in San Francisco’s Chinatown. It focuses on the Chinatown Tong Wars. Tong means gang and there were a few tongs that were operating in San Francisco territorially and focusing on prostitution, the drug trade, gambling, money laundering and extortion. They had a huge influence on San Francisco at the time. The thing about our show is that it’s just not a “Kung Fu show.” There are so many stories within the overall story, which is about these Chinatown tongs. The script discusses the political, economic, cultural and racial tensions that were all current during the late-19th century in San Francisco. The cool thing about this project aside from the fact that it’s created by Bruce Lee, aside from the fact that his daughter Shannon Lee is the executive producer, aside from the fact our director and executive producer Justin Lin of “Fast & Furious” and his partner Danielle Woodrow, aside from the fact it’s written out by “Banshee” writer Jonathan Tropper… [laughs] Aside from all of that, I got cast to play the part of “Bolo.” The thing with Bolo is that people around the globe know who Bolo [Yeung] is. Bolo is the big, buff, Chinese warrior fighter from “Enter The Dragon” and the character of Chong Li in “Bloodsport” with Jean-Claude Van Damme. Growing up, like everyone else, I was like “Wow! This dude is huge!” Bruce Lee was small and ripped but Bolo was massive and totally jacked! It’s cool because when Bruce was writing this he included Bolo, like he included a lot of his friends and other actors that he had previously worked with into his work. They kept Bolo’s name as Bolo in “Warrior.” The reasons this is ironic to me is because my entire martial arts career was inspired by Bruce Lee and a lot of his philosophies have influenced me throughout my life. When I was younger, because of my athletic background, I was always physically bigger than the other Asian kids I grew up with. Early in my life, my family and friends used to make fun of me and call me Bolo because of my size! [laughs] I used to hate it because I wanted to be Bruce Lee! [laughs] As I got older and got into college and my sports popularity skyrocketed, all my teammates would call me Chong Li. I was like, “This Bolo image is following me throughout my life!” Come full circle, not only am I playing Bolo in “Warrior”, but it’s written and inspired by Bruce Lee himself. Like I tell my family and friends, “who would have known at the age of 4 years old when I was watching ‘Enter The Dragon’ with Bruce Lee and Bolo Yeung that I would be playing Bolo in a TV series created by Bruce Lee in 2018!” It weirds me out to this day to be totally honest! [laughs] I try not to think too much about and say, “Okay, it’s not a big deal! Let’s just go to work!” But it is a big deal! It’s a huge milestone in my career and I couldn’t be more humbled and flattered to be a part of this production.

Rich Ting – Photo by Ryan West

What are some of the other creative milestones throughout your life?

Honestly, I remember having this conversation at HBO with Dustin Lin, Shannon Lee and Jonathan Tropper. I told a joke and said, “Ya know what? I think I’ve been training my whole life for your show!” I said that because I began martial arts at the age of 4 because of Bruce Lee’s inspiration on me. That was a huge milestone. The second thing was going to Yale University to play football, graduate and have my undergrad and bachelor’s degree from there was another huge milestone. Academically, you just cannot get a better experience than that. My law school MBA background and making the career choice to not go into medicine as my father would have liked me to, but instead go into law and business. I say all of this because Bruce Lee, my athletics, my Yale education, graduate school education and even working at ESPN for a year following my undergraduate at Yale, which was an extension of my athletic career via mass media; all of these things, as well as my family’s connections to the stunt world had me come to a realization. I realized that all of this time I had been training. Not for anything I knew I was going to end up doing, to be honest with you. I just kept on working and going through the doors that were opening for me at different points in my life. Come 2017, I got the call from my agent and my manager that they are finally going to do this “Warrior” thing, they are casting and they want to bring me in. All of these roles that I end up booking — it didn’t start last week, last year or even 10 years ago. I’ve been fortunate to have lived this crazy life where I’ve done all these different things and have been faced with so many different adversities and obstacles along the way, not only as an Asian-American, but as a kid from Los Angeles going to the East Coast even. I think Jamie Foxx said it in one of his interviews a long time ago and I recall it because I totally related to it — He said he had been given all these different tools and he had created a toolbox containing the tools he had acquired throughout the course of his life. I remember thinking, “Ya know what? That’s the truth!” Life has given me all of these opportunities that I’m fortunate to have received and I’ve been loading this toolbox throughout my entire life. Now, I feel like I can pull out certain things and apply them. I guess the way I’m applying them in a way people like! [laughs] It’s so cliché but when you’re a kid and you say, “I want to do that!” Everyone says, “If you work hard, you can!” Here’s the thing, I said it and I didn’t think I was going to do it but here I am talking to you about “Warrior, “Waco” and all of this other stuff! I think it goes back to what my parents would always preach to me when I was a little kid — “Just don’t stop working. Whatever you do, just keep doing it.” As long as you keep working and keep the momentum going, another door is going to open, and you will get to go through that door!

That’s definitely a great way to look at it and solid advice for anyone, no matter where they are in life. With that said, where do you see yourself headed in the future?

With shows like “Waco” and “Warrior” or “NCIS: Los Angeles,” which I’m working on this week, my schedule is fantastic. My ultimate goal in the industry has been to have a schedule, which is so hard, to say the very least. I think what keeps me motivated is the unknown. Everyone in this business, we don’t know about tomorrow, next week, next month or next year. That’s what keeps me hungry. In saying that, my goal has always been to land a blockbuster feature film or a lead character in a series like those in the “Fast & Furious” or “Borne” movies, where there is such a great following and a great production. At the same time, I love television, both network and cable. To have a show and be a lead on a show like “NCIS,” “Homeland” or “Law & Order” has also been a goal. That’s the personal goal – to have that schedule in Hollywood. Having that I know for 6 months out of the year I know I will be doing this and the other 6 months I will be doing something completely different. Overall, what I like to do is be the guy I was looking for when I was a kid to somebody else. If another young Asian-American kid from the ages of 4 to 24 years old could go to the theater and happen to see me on the screen and he relates to me and I’m able to effect that kid in any way, that’s what I want to do! Like I said, I kept looking for that person and I could never find them. Everyone around me had someone. Everyone had their heroes. I’m by no means saying I’m a hero but if I could be a person who motivates someone else like Bruce Lee motivated me, along with so many others now in the current industry, that’s what I want to do! Whether that is through a TV series or a huge motion picture, that’s the goal of mine!

Well, I have to be honest, I think you are well on your way, Rich!

I hope so, man! Like I said, I have to wake up every day and keep doing it!

Thanks so much for you time today. I wish you continued success and we will definitely continue following your journey! You’re a true inspiration!

Thanks, Jason! Take care!

Follow the continuing adventures of Ring Ting via his official website, www.richtingworld.com. Connect with him on social media on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Check him in the Paramount Network’s limited series, ‘Waco,’ starting January 24, 2018 at 10/9c.