LOS ANGELES — You know his face from…everything. Chinatown. Bladerunner. Big Trouble in Little China. Even Seinfeld. After more than 600 credits – the most of any actor in history – James Hong seems most comfortable when he’s slipping into a character.
“Would you like to hear a few impersonations,” he asked, before launching into some of his favorite from back in the day.
“You dirty, dirty rat,” he says as James Cagney, before switching to Jimmy Stewart, Peter Lorre, even Elmer Fudd. He once did an impersonation of Groucho Marx on The Groucho Marx Show – and was a hit.“The emcee told me I got the second biggest fan mail ever on Groucho Marx Show,” he said.Clearly Hong is a born entertainer, with a resume that’s more than six decades long, although he wasn’t always satisfied with the parts he was getting.
After a few years of working in film and television, he met with fellow actor Mako Iwamatsu and the two started talking about their careers.“We were saying, well, ‘what we can we do, you know?’” he recalled. “We’re not getting any roles that are non-cliché and we’re not being accepted. We were only getting the so-called gimmick roles.” They decided to break from those stereotypical offerings and do a play. In 1965, they founded East West Players, which today is considered the nation’s premiere Asian American theater company.