Actor Harry Shum Jr. began his career as the only male dancer on BET’s Comic View in 2002. From there, he was hired as a lead dancer for stars such as Beyoncé, Mariah Carey, Jennifer Lopez and Jessica Simpson and even won a dance competition in order to dance in an iPod Nano commercial.
Then, in 2003, he scored his first acting role, which was a guest spot on Boston Public. Afterwards, he guest-starred on the shows Committed, Viva Laughlin, Zoey 101, Rita Rocks and Greek and landed minor parts in the movies You Got Served, Stomp the Yard, The Onion Movie and Center Stage: Turn It Up. His first major movie role was that of Cable in the films Step Up 2: The Streets and Step Up 3D. Around that same time, he was cast as the recurring character Eliot Hoo on the show The LXD: The Legion of Extraordinary Dancers.
However, it was his role on Glee as Mike Chang that really catapulted him to fame. While he was on that show, he was also playing characters on the shows Mortal Kombat: Legacy and Caper as well as characters in the films Moms’ Night Out and Revenge of the Green Dragons, proving what a versatile and talented actor that he is.
Now, Harry Shum Jr. is playing Magnus Bane on the hit Freeform drama Shadowhunters. In addition, he also stars in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny, the sequel to Ang Lee’s Oscar-winning film. I recently had the pleasure of chatting with him about his role on Shadowhunters, why he thinks the ship “Malec” is so important to fans and what it was like to work on Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny. Keep reading to see what Shum had to say!
What was your first impression of Magnus and how has that impression changed as you got more acquainted with him?
My first impression was that he was a very flamboyant character that really has a lot to offer. I was actually a little overwhelmed by his characteristics. What has really changed his interior characteristics are those 400 or 500 years that he’s lived, but what I thought was most interesting was the outside that we see with the make-up, the hair, and different costumes, there is more to him than that: he’s really compassionate and he doesn’t take any BS and really has a firm grasp of what he loves and what he wants to live by—the code that he lives by. Whether he’s materialistic or loves to party doesn’t obscure the fact that, at the end of the day, he wants to do good in the world.
I definitely agree with you there. I see that, too. Why do you think Magnus is drawn to Alec?
Obviously, outside of physical attraction, I think that there is a sense of innocence. I think there is an obvious connection that draws him in first, and when Magnus realizes that he’s got more under the hood in terms of what he’s dealing with and what he wants, and that he has these obstacles that he has to deal with before he can realize who he is, I think for Magnus that he feels like he needs to help him break through that. I think that the fact that there is more than a physical attraction between them is something that will unravel throughout the story.
Are we going to see the relationship continue to develop as the season goes along?
Yeah. I mean, there are going to be a few bumps. It’s not one of those fast things that happen right away but I think that’s the beauty of this relationship. It takes time and there is some development within it, and I think that you can see that happen with each individual in some way as the story unfolds.
This is kind of a strange question, but what do you think Magnus thinks of Jace?
(laughs) Well, with Magnus, he doesn’t really like Shadowhunters, which is why it’s so unique that he takes a liking to Alec but in the past, there were a lot of things that have happened within the timeline of his ancestors that help you start to get an idea of the things that Shadowhunters have done that inspire Magnus to want to keep the Shadowhunters and Warlocks and such separated. I think he finds that works best within the Shadow World and Downworlders—to keep the separation so that they don’t cross. So with Jace, he’s very cocky, machismo and he has a sense of humor that doesn’t quite sit well with Magnus. So, I think, over time, he does help Shadowhunters but at the same time, he’s not doing it for Jace.
Yeah, I kind of seeing him letting his guard down so to speak with regard to Shadowhunters because of Clary and then later with Alec, but I can’t see him wanting to do that for Jace (laughs).
Yeah, yeah. I think, deep down, he wants to do the right thing, but at the end of the day, he stands with the Downworlders. But with Clary, he realizes that he agreed to take her memories away and I think he feels responsible to be a part of that process of helping her find her mother, you know?
Why do you think the ship “Malec” is so important to fans?
I think there are several reasons why it’s important. I think that it’s two people who have a very interesting relationship. Outside of the romantic relationship, they also have this fun relationship that was created by Cassandra Clare. I think, with the show, it develops in a different way as well. In the books, I think a lot of it happened behind the scenes and you don’t get to see every stage of development and in the show, you definitely get to see it develop more. There is also the fact that the ship is such great representation of the LGBT community. You don’t have strong, gay characters all the time on television, so I think for them Magnus is very unique because he’s so open about who he is. He’s flamboyant but not stereotypically flamboyant; his gestures are big and he is forceful with his opinions, and with Alec. He’s a very masculine character at the end of the day, which I think is very interesting since you don’t often get to see those dynamics played out on television much.
So, I’m going to switch gears for a minute because I’m really excited to talk about the sequel to “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” What appealed to you about the sequel? Why did you want to do it?
At first, I’d never done a martial arts film. I’d wanted to ever since I was a kid; that’s kind of what I grew up watching. You know, my parents would sit me in the kitchen and we’d watch old Jet Li films and Jackie Chan films, so it was something that I’ve always wanted to do. Obviously, with “Crouching Tiger,” there is this epic romance and love story that goes along with the genre of martial arts, so a movie that put those two things—romance and martial arts—together was something that I definitely wanted to be a part of, especially the character that I play. He’s this warrior that comes from a really complicated background and for him, discovering who he is through being captured and trying to find what he’s destined for was something very compelling.
What kind of training did you have to do for the movie?
I had to do everything from weight-lift training to stunts to wire work. I mean, these were like eight-hour days of continuous training. It was almost like this intense workout regimen in which I was doing something every single hour, doing something completely different. Whether it was the basics of martial arts or cardio training, I wanted to make sure that I looked authentic while we were shooting. I enjoyed every minute of it but my body didn’t (laughs). There was this sort of argument going on between my brain and my body in which my brain was saying “Yes, keep going!” and my body was answering “I hate you so much, please stop” (laughs).
That’s got to be a unique experience, too, to work with those original cast members…
Oh, definitely! You know, many of the original cast members—there is no other word to use but that they are legends. The wire work and the films that they’ve done—in particular Donnie and Michelle Yeoh—are something that are unique to capture. And Natasha—this was the first time for her acting in general and she just blew us all away, so it was just a great cast overall.
For fans of the original movie, what is one thing about the sequel that you expect is going to surprise them?
You know, for fans of the original one—I think this one is really a standalone. What Ang Lee was able to do with that film was amazing. For us, it wasn’t about trying to outdo the first one or anything like that. It was about making a story that does continue but also stands alone. What I’m proud of is the fresh take that we were able to bring and this new love story in this movie, but there is this epic ice fight that I think people are going to be really, really excited about. So there is romance and fighting all leading up to this amazing ice sequence, which makes me really excited for people to check it out.
New episodes of Shadowhunters air on Tuesday nights on Freeform at 9:00 pm ET/PT.