In Downsizing (in theaters this weekend), when scientists discover how to shrink humans to five inches tall as a solution to overpopulation, Paul (Matt Damon) and his wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig) decide to abandon their stressed lives in order to get small and move to a new downsized community — a choice that triggers life-changing adventures.
Our very own Michael Sandoval had a chance to interview actress Hong Chau who played Ngoc Lan Tran in the film. You can read the interview below plus, listen to the audio after.
Michael Sandoval: When you got the script, what did you think about after reading it? The story and your role?
Hong Chau: I knew that it was really special. Stories that weave together topics and ideas that I care about in a creative and fresh way do not come along very often. It is because it’s so difficult to talk about issues that are important in a way that people wanna hear it and wanna listen to it. So part of that is accomplished through humor, through a little bit of levity, because when you say that the movie is about immigration or climate change, well people feel like they know what that story’s gonna be, and they’re not really interested in hearing it. So you have to give it a different outline, a different frame.
So for me, what resonated and stood out to me the most was we have people who are being rounded up and deported. Just last month, 200 Vietnamese and Cambodian people were rounded up by ICE. We have the mayor of Puerto Rico on the news begging the President of the United States for aid. We have people in Flint, Michigan who do not have proper, clean drinking water. This is happening all across the nation. And I’m not quite sure why people are so bothered …
Michael Sandoval: Are there any books or anybody that you look up to, inspire to, these leaders who are put in real life and done the same thing in order to put that into your role?
Hong Chau: Yeah, sure. People always want me to say that this character is my mom or something like that, because that’s the most obvious answer, right? It’s not my mom. I’m sorry. Sorry, it’s not my mom. Because the character has so many different layers to her, she’s an environmental activist, she’s a woman of faith, she’s a person with a disability, there was a lot … She’s the most intersectional character that I have seen in a big studio movie honestly. And I’ve never seen a character like this. So there was a lot to unpack there, and a lot of different places to draw inspiration from.
So for me, I grew up in Louisiana and Flannery O’Connor’s one of the great southern writers. And when I was growing up, she sort of took on like a mythological status to me, and I knew that she was this woman who suffered from lupus, and you always see pictures of her with her canes. She still did really great work, and she was this spitfire who had this fiery intelligence and this wit to her. And she was also a woman of faith, very intelligent. And a lot of times when stories show people of faith, they’re not intelligent, and they’re sort of buffoons. And I really appreciated that this woman was a person of faith, but she is not a wackadoo.
And another place I drew inspiration from was when you live in a country with an authoritarian government, and you cannot speak out and you cannot say certain things, you are punished for it. And that happens in so many parts of the world and including the United States. Because it was specifically referenced in the movie, I drew a lot of inspiration from Berta Cáceres, from Honduras who was an environmental activist and paid the ultimate price for her activism and her daughter still continues her legacy.
I feel that you can’t watch a film with binoculars. You have to look at the big picture and what downsizing is, to me it’s sort of like an ant farm, and you get to watch how the world is constructed, and how the, as the woman earlier, one of her criticisms was that all of the poor people were brown and Asian or whatever, and we were just in the background, and there was this difference between the haves and the have-nots. Yes, I’m glad you picked up on the have and the have-nots, and the people of color are not there just to make Matt Damon’s character look good or heroic or anything like that. What we’re pointing out is if anything, he’s a part of the problem, because he’s not paying attention.