Sydney Viengluang is a Lao American actress who currently can be seen as Sun Mei on Syfy’s Z Nation. I got the chance to talk with Sydney about how she got into acting, what’s on her acting bucket list, what Sun Mei is up to this season, what her favorite kind of cheese is (true Z Nation fans will get the reference), and so much more! Keep reading to see what she had to say.
Tell me a little bit about how you got into acting.
I was always drawn to the movies as a child and remember always looking forward to Fridays when my dad would take me and my sisters to go rent the latest new releases. I never fathomed that being an actor was possible, so I thought the closest I could get to Hollywood would be on the business side. My very first job out in LA was in accounting at a major movie studio. After sitting behind an accounting desk, I realized that my life had a bigger purpose, so I took my first acting class and fell in love with it.
Was there a specific person or experience that you would credit with helping you decide acting is what you wanted to do for a living?
No. I think from a very early age I felt some invisible force pulling me towards something bigger than myself. I didn’t realize it growing up, but life events have led me to Hollywood and now I know that this is what I’m meant to do. I also think my very first job working on the studio lot, being so close yet so far from my dream, watching all the actors go to their auditions or to their set, somehow struck something inside of me that set me on my acting path.
You’ve had a lot of different types of roles on a lot of different mediums. Do you have an acting “bucket list” of things you still want to accomplish in your career? If so, what are some of the things on it?
Most definitely. I want to play as many diverse roles as possible, from the hero to anti-hero, including more leading lady roles. I see myself as a chameleon, so I’d love to tell different types of stories. The ones that resonate with me are the blue collar, working class stories, as well as the refugee/immigrant experience. Growing up, I didn’t get to see myself or anyone who looked like me reflected on screen. I want to tell my stories and inspire young Asian boys and girls that they can be a part of Hollywood too. As much as I love TV, my first love is film, so I’d love to do more movies.
Let’s talk Z Nation. How would you describe it to our readers who haven’t seen it or don’t know anything about it?
I like to describe Z Nation as the quirky stepsister to The Walking Dead with a lot of heart. We have everything from comedy, drama, action, and horror. We have one of the most diverse casts out on TV right now and not just that, we have multiple strong female characters on the show as well. We have something for everyone, including different ages, races, and backgrounds, and I think that’s what makes the show so popular. It’s a fun show that doesn’t take us too seriously.
I was reading about you and I couldn’t really find anything about what your audition process was like for the show. So how did you get involved in this project? Was it a relatively fast casting process or was it dragged out for weeks/months?
The LA casting director, Scotty Mullen, knew me from a movie he previously cast me in. When the part of Sun Mei came across his desk, he reached out to me to put myself on tape for the initial round of casting. He’s definitely been one of my biggest advocates since the beginning and I’ll always be grateful for him. I got a call back a week later and read for Karl [Schaefer, the showrunner], Jodi [Binstock] and Steve [Graham] (Co-EP’s). I didn’t hear anything for a couple months and was sure I didn’t get it. Until one day, my manager at the time called me and said that they wanted to offer me the part. It was surreal but a very exciting moment.
What’s in store for Sun Mei for the rest of the season? Can you hint at any of the upcoming obstacles she will face in these last few episodes of season 5?
Sun Mei’s challenge this season is how she deals with the Talkers, some of whom she calls family. She’s forced to continue her research but at the detriment of her own conscious. The audience will continue to see her dealing with that internal struggle. It touches on the topic of scientific advancement for the sake of society but makes us ask “at what costs?” It’s definitely an intense season worth tuning in for.
A lot of Sun Mei’s storyline, especially this season, is focused on her work in the lab. Does any of the technical, science jargon ever trip you up when you’re saying your lines? Do you have any tricks you use to learn it/keep it all straight?
Technical jargon is always challenging, especially when you’re playing an expert or professional of some sort. It’s even more challenging when you’re in a fantastical world and the “science” is not real, so the key for me is doing extensive research as much as possible to at least know what the terms mean and doing whatever exercises that help me get comfortable with saying them naturally. There’s really no secret but to do the homework and trust that it’ll come across truthful.
Going off of that, were you a math/science kid, like Sun Mei presumably was, or were you more of an arts/English/history kid?
I loved math and science as a kid, but I also loved history. I love reading about different time periods, places, cultures and knowing why and how we got to the present day. Looking back, I think I leaned more towards math and science courses to appease my parents, but if the arts were more accepted in the Asian culture as a viable vocation I think I would have cultivated that side of me more and excelled in that field as well.
Z Nation definitely doesn’t shy away from touching on more serious, socially relevant topics, which is one of the many reasons I think fans have continued to love it so much. Why is it important for television to talk about these things and how important is it to you to be a part of a television show that isn’t afraid to talk about these things?
I definitely think what is shown on TV and movies can have a positive or negative effect on the general public’s views. Entertainment and pop culture can change the way people of a certain race or background are perceived. It can open people’s eyes to a new way of thinking and can expose them to things that they would normally never be exposed to in their own bubble. It’s definitely important to me to be a social justice warrior and I’m proud that our producers and writers are ones that are not shy about their political and social views. I’m proud to be a part of a show that is spreading open-mindedness, acceptance, and inclusion in our very own way. For me, part of being an actor is not to just act and tell stories on TV and film, but it’s also using my platform to change the world for the better in real life.
I know we don’t get to see everyone in every single episode but this show features such a well-cast ensemble. What is it like working with everyone when you get the chance?
Compared to the third season, I miss getting to interact with more of the other cast members. We’ve become friends and have established trust with each other, so it makes things more laid back and fun when we do get to work together. Any time I get a chance to have scenes with them, I’m always excited.
I’ll end with two fun, more random questions. The giant cheese wheel of death is such an iconic part of Z Nation. What’s your favorite kind of cheese?
[Laughs] I’m not really a cheese fan, but I’ll go with Brie.
Last question — we’re called Talk Nerdy With Us because we all have an inner-nerd. What is something you are currently nerding out about?
Currently, I’m nerding out about astrophysics and the space-time continuum and the idea of different planes and dimensions. I love reading or watching anything that has to deal with that. It just boggles my mind and it’s such an intriguing topic. I’m super excited for the next installment of The Cosmos by Neil DeGrasse Tyson. I could watch season one on repeat, not just for informational purposes but the amazing visuals as well.