During the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, MOPE had its world premiere at the Egyptian Theater in Park City, UT. The story follows adult film stars Steve Driver and Tom Dong, who sought fame in the porn industry but gained infamy. You can read more about the film and watch a special, exclusive clip here!
Brittany, Editor in Chief of Pop Culture Reviews, sat down with Kelly Sry (MTV’s Awkward), who plays Tom Dong, the morning after the premiere to share his experiences with the film and more! Read the transcript here:
Hi Kelly. Thank you so much for joining me. I’m so excited to talk about MOPE!
Thank you for having me. The movie wasn’t too crazy or aggressive for ya?
Oh it was aggressive, but I loved it! And I cannot wait until people can see it. Now, it certainly won’t be for everyone, but I think some will definitely appreciate the film.
(laughs) Oh absolutely.
So before we jump right into discussing the film, can you tell our readers a little bit of your background?
Yeah, sure! I am Los Angeles based – I was born & raised in LA. And I started acting, I guess (pauses) – it’s hard to pinpoint a time – but I guess I would say around 10 years ago, where I just decided I was going to be an actor. I went to college for Biomedical engineering: that’s what I actually did, but I graduated earlier because I wanted to get out of there. I wasn’t feeling it anymore during my senior year so I started going to acting classes and fell in love with it. And I’ve been pretty lucky booking jobs here and there.
What would you say was your big break – the moment you really felt “I made it.”
I would have to say it would be AWKWARD on MTV. But honestly, it was a little early in my career. So, I felt like, looking back, I didn’t know what I was doing still, but I got really lucky! It was great. I did that for a couple of seasons, which turned out to be an awesome experience. And then I got to work on a couple of other things like Me & My Grandma on YouTube Red. And that was really fun because it was such a different character than what I usually go out for.
Is that one of the 1st things you look into when looking at and deciding about new roles?
Definitely! But Hopefully we’ll get to a point where I can just pick and choose roles. But I’m always looking forward to all the auditions. My goal as an actor, though, is to get as many characters as I can under my belt as possible. Obviously, I try to steer away from stereotypical Asian roles because I like to show that minorities can be a lot more than their stereotypes. That is a very important thing to me. So it is important to see those character breakdowns, but overall stories are massive as well.
Absolutely. And since we’re discussing stories, let’s just dive right into MOPE‘s, shall we? For the people who have no idea what this film is about, what should they know?
Mope is based on a 2010 true story about 2 guys who attempted to make it big in the porn industry. To help readers understand, I’ll define what a mope is. Essentially, it’s a low-level adult performer, and by that I mean they perform the most disgusting things that veteran performers would not want to do.
And you play Tom Dong, one of the main characters. How can you describe your character for our readers?
Tom Dong. He’s a – I hate to say this – but he is truly a nice guy who works hard and is just looking for acceptance. He was initially somewhat of a follower. For instance, when he meets Eric (played by Brian Huskey), he sees him as a father-figure because Eric kind of takes him under his wings. And initially, this had been Steve [who took Tom under his wing], but things didn’t quite work out. And so Tom is a guy who just wants love and acceptance from people because he didn’t seem to get that from his family when he decided to become a porn star. He was unfortunately rejected in that way.
Speaking of acceptance, a big part of your character’s ideas and goals stemmed from his focus and drive to have Asian representation in the adult filmmaking industry. Is that something that drew you to the role and something with which you strongly identify?
Yeah definitely. I just want to say when I first got this audition, I didn’t read the script or the true story, but I read the character breakdown. And I saw the name and immediately said ‘Damn. I hope it’s not one of those stereotypical roles.’ I thought ‘I can’t do this if it is.‘ But after reading it, it’s not poking fun at Asian Americans. [Lucas] is trying to show that Tom is a guy who WANTS to have representation in the porn industry. And I can absolutely relate to that in my career – a lot of minorities can. And then I realized it even further after I read the script and said ‘OK! this is something that’s important to get out into the world.’
After having viewed the film, myself, I do kinda see the adult entertainment industry in a new light. Do you have any commentary to offer regarding the truths over the misconceptions about the people in this industry?
People definitely have preconceived notions about this industry and who porn stars are for sure… But after doing this movie, I sympathize with them because they’re simply chasing a dream. Who are we to criticize or judge what they want as a career or what they love to do? When we were speaking to real rising stars in the industry (at porn shoots we visited), they were so open and so willing to speak about their experiences. You could tell they genuinely love what they do. It kind of gave me a different opinion. It’s like ‘why are we so judgmental?‘ All they’re doing is going for their dreams and seeking acceptance just like the rest of us.
I’m actually really glad you mentioned that because admittedly, I’ve had my own questions especially before seeing the movie.
Well what did you think or what is your question?
Mainly Why? Why do people want or need to? It’s a curiosity thing. But I think it’s something MOPE explains really well. It adds multiple layers in which it really helps you understand these people and this industry, and it guides you along their dream, which is to just make it in the industry, provide representation and be accepted.
Exactly. We always try to tell people that porn in this movie is kind of a side subject. As you go through the movie, you kinda forget. It’s really about friendship and chasing dreams.
I love that emotional aspect to it – especially the developing relationship between Tom and Steve’s characters. Can you tell me about working with Nathan [who plays Steve Driver]?
(sarcastically) Oh yeah. He’s the f*cking worst. He’s horrible…. (laughs) Can we put sarcasm in parenthesis?
Haha. I’ve got you covered! But seriously! You guys were great. When your characters were first getting their feet in the door, the chemistry & friendship that was building b/n you two was just so charismatic, so wonderful. You worked very well together.
Oh thank you! He’s the best. He got casted before me, then I got casted two months before we shot. So yeah! We had two months to get to know each other and work on lines. It was an amazing experience working with Nathan. He definitely knows what he’s doing, and I learned so much from him. Once we finished the shoot, which took only 15 days, I can’t forget the day and the feeling – we walked out with our arms around each other and embraced it all…
…But also we went to porn shoots together so we bonded that way too. (Laughs)
Haha. I can only imagine that there was a lot of homework that needed to be done prior to diving right into the shoots. Was there a scene you shot that just required the most out of you in terms of challenging you as an actor?
Yeah. There was a scene at the very end, in the bedroom. We actually didn’t rehearse this scene, and it was actually my audition scene! I told Lucas ‘I don’t know if I can rehearse this scene. I rather just go in and do it‘. So, no one knew what I was willing to do, but Lucas was absolutely amazing at giving me that space. So, there was no rehearsal and we just shot it. And after shooting it, I felt like an emotional wreck. It was a good thing though, especially as an actor. But I don’t know how the majority of the audience received it. I did see some people like this… (covers his mouth bearing a shocked faced)… So yeah… They were probably shocked. What did you see?
I don’t know what everyone else was doing, but my jaw was on the floor, and I shed some tears.
Oh no! Really? But I understand because it was one of those scenes where we did one take of it, and the whole room was quiet… Like… No one knew what to say. I heard and saw tears and people crying too. It’s just a really emotionally draining scene.
Well this movie is certainly an experience, and I want everyone in the world to watch it.
I think I was sweating throughout the premiere! (chuckles)
It’s certainly a roller coaster in that way, though, so I understand. It has its lows in terms of being emotionally draining like we discussed, but then there are these great moments of comedy. Your comedic timing, by the way, is really awesome. But I just have to ask… How in the world did you keep a straight face with Brian [Huskey]?
I didn’t! (laughs) I think that’s a great editing thing. There were moments where Nathan and I could not even look him in the eyes. And we would beg (through laughing), like ‘could we try and get through these scenes.’ But everything he said was so hilarious. He’s just so incredible.
I can only imagine how much fun you all had on set. But something I want our readers to understand is that MOPE goes from a comedy, to an emotionally disturbing film to a tragedy, which really makes you feel for these characters. So, now that it’s all said and done, if you had to say something on behalf or to Tom Dong and his journey, what would you say?
Wow…. (thinking)… Yeah. (tearing up) It makes me really emotional thinking about it actually. I just hope I did him justice. And I just want him to know that he’s loved, and that I understand what he was going through, and I get it; what he was pursuing, what he was chasing. And just… that we love him!
Wow. That’s great. Thank you so much for those thoughtful words and for being here. It’s been a pleasure.
The pleasure’s been mine. Thank you!
Be sure to check out more information about Mope and keep an eye out for its theater takeover this year!