Exclusive Interview with The Little Mermaid’s Chris Yong

Trying to make a name for himself in a sea of budding young actors, rising star Chris Yong is hopeful that 2018 will be his break out year. And so far, it’s looking good for him.

Yong’s international upbringing defined much of his early years. He was born in Hong Kong, but split his time growing up between London, with his father, and New York, with his mother. While he found it to be intriguing at first, after a while it got to be old.

“I know everyone says, ‘Oh, you must be lucky to be able to travel a lot,'” he said. “But it got very tiring, especially once you do it way too many times.”

Not only was his childhood filled with memories in two very distinct places, it was also filled with two very distinct passions: martial arts and dancing.

When it came to dance, Yong was like any other kid of the late 80s and found inspiration in videos of Michael Jackson free styling. Deciding to pick up martial arts, on the other hand, stemmed from his love of Chinese Kung Fu movies. But it was his grandmother who actually taught him the ins and outs of tai chi.

“I thought it was like full on Kung Fu when I was a kid, like in the movies,” he said. “But that wasn’t the actual style and I found that out later [laughs].”

After that, he went on to practice over 10 other types of martial arts, with hopes to one day be like Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee.

But as he grew older, a third passion was added into the mix: acting.

“[19 years old] is when I started to take it more seriously when I was studying in New York,” he said. “I started studying in New York. I started working as a dancer first, at 17, doing some small music videos and then small live shows here and there with the community I was with in London. But I also had to think far ahead of time. I planned my future ahead, knowing that my dance career is actually short-lived and [can be] very temporary. I had to think of something that would last me longer, all the way till the end. So I started considering taking up acting.”

Yong’s adventures in the world of acting have allowed him to work, in a much smaller capacity, on projects like the Spike TV show, Deadliest Warrior, and the action/adventure film, 47 Ronin. But it is his role as Ulysses in the new film, The Little Mermaid, which he considers to be his first significant role in a feature film where his character  helps “progress the story and builds a relationship with all the other characters.”

Now, if you’re thinking “is Ursula going to make an appearance in this adaptation? Or what about Sebastian, the talking crab?” you’re not alone. Yong said that’s the most frequent question he’s been asked by friends and family this adaptation. But that is not the case.

“It takes a whole new direction away from Disney,” he said. 

“Rather than being too bright and animated,” everything, from the cinematography to the plot, has a much darker tone. In fact, he said the film is much closer to the Hans Christian Anderson version, minus the sad ending. 

“This is still a family film,” he claims. “It’s still for kids.”

Even though where Yong fell on the call sheet might dictate him as a member of the supporting cast, Yong said his character, Ulysses, plays a pivotal role in the film. 

Ulysses is part human/part beast and gets “adopted” as a kid by the villain of the story, the circus master, who’s actually a warlock in disguise. Although Yong was not given much information on his character’s background, he created a story based on real life scenarios he knew about.

“I’ve seen a lot [of situations like this] firsthand when I was in China, where a lot of kids get purposely abandoned based on their different deformities,” he said. “So that actually helped me in creating this character.”

Without giving away too much of the story, Ulysses develops a special friendship with the mermaid character (played by Poppy Drayton) and ends up being part of the crew who helps her out of her sticky situation. 

Although there were a lot new experiences and things to take in on set, Yong recalls the prosthetics process as one of the most interesting parts of filming the movie. When the makeup artists were initially testing out different things and finalizing the look, Yong said it took five hours. But then, as they got familiar with it, it only took three hours.

“I was always called onto set first, like an hour early, so they can actually start doing the prosthetics and keep on time.”

Yong’s performance in The Little Mermaid is a good step towards making 2018 his breakout year, but he hopes this is ultimately the beginning of something bigger for his career.

“I just want to continue to work on my craft and just work on more feature films to the best of my abilities.”

The Little Mermaid is out in theaters now. You can follow Chris on Twitter and Instagram.

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