Hong Chau (born 1979) is an American actress known for her appearance in the US film Downsizing (2017) as Vietnamese amputee and political activist Ngoc Lan Tran. For her performance, she was nominated for Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture, the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role, and several other awards for best supporting actress. Before Downsizing, she appeared in the US television series Treme (2010-2013) and the US film Inherent Vice (2014). In 2018, she appeared as a guest star in several TV series.
Chau was born to Vietnamese parents who lived in a refugee camp in Thailand after fleeing Vietnam in the late 1970s. A Vietnamese Catholic church in New Orleans, Louisiana arranged for a family to sponsor Chau and her family. After growing up in New Orleans, Chau majored in film studies at Boston University and pursued an acting career.
Chau’s parents were among the Vietnamese boat people who fled Vietnam in 1979. Chau’s mother was six months pregnant with her: Chau was born in a refugee camp in Thailand later in the year. A Vietnamese Catholic church in New Orleans, Louisiana organized for a local Vietnamese family to sponsor her family. Chau grew up speaking Vietnamese as her first language, and later learned English in school. She was one of three children, and her parents worked in menial labor to ensure that the children could attend college. She said that her family needed public assistance, that she went to public school, and needed lunch assistance. For college tuition, she depended on Pell Grants. Chau said her parents, who speak in heavy Vietnamese accents, were shunned as Asian migrants. She said, “My whole life, I’ve always felt like I was the more acceptable of my parents, and they were always the people who had to stay in the background, or hide in the broom closet.” Chau was raised in the eastern part of New Orleans, where she attended Eleanor McMain Secondary School and Ben Franklin Senior High School. She finished at Louisiana School for Math, Science, and the Arts in Natchitoches, Louisiana.
Chau attended Boston University in Boston, Massachusetts, where she initially studied creative writing. She changed her major to film studies when her parents requested that she study something more practical. She explored acting to challenge her introvertedness; she acted in other students’ short films and was encouraged to pursue acting. After college, Chau got a job with PBS and anticipated a career in documentaries. She later moved to New York City, where she studied acting. She began acting in film and television in 2006.
One of Chau’s first major roles was in the US television series Treme (2010-2013), which was set in New Orleans. Her first feature film role was in Inherent Vice (2014). For a year after her role, she was not able to get an audition for another film role. In 2015, she had a key role in the 2015 Off Broadway play John by Annie Baker, and Chau credited the experience for strengthening her acting. She also had a supporting role in the HBO TV miniseries Big Little Lies alongside Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon. She subsequently appeared in Downsizing (2017), for which her performance was described as a standout by several reviews. Chau was nominated for several awards for best supporting actress, including Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture and Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role. She was considered a potential nominee for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress at the 90th Academy Awards. USA Today’s Andrea Mandell said, “Hong Chau was snubbed … a nomination many had assumed was a lock given the strength of her performance as a Vietnamese refugee.” Some criticized her character Ngoc Lan Tran as stereotypical because Chau spoke in broken English, but Chau said that she found her character “so multifaceted and complex and well-written”.
Following Downsizing, Chau appeared in guest roles in several TV series in 2018. The Ringer’s Alison Herman said another actor would have sought to accumulate more recurring roles on TV series but that “In the Peak TV Era, Chau opted for something much savvier: taking some choice guest parts in a few critically acclaimed TV shows … Chau benefits from these shows’ prestige; the shows benefit from her talents.”
Chau had her first leading roles in the 2019 films Driveways and American Woman.
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