Born in Vientiane, Laos in Southeast Asia, Sydney Viengluang spent the first two years of her life in refugee camps in Thailand and the Philippines after her family escaped from insurgency and military conflict throughout the country. Today, she’s starring on SyFy’s “Z Nation” and she talks to BLEEP about breaking into the industry, being challenged as an actress and making dreams come true.
After learning about the entertainment industry, you took classes to jump into acting. As an Asian actress, what was the process like of breaking into the business?
I think as a minority actress, breaking into the industry is a lot harder because there are a lot less roles that are written specifically for us or even open to color blind casting. If there are Asian roles, we’re often relegated to the stereotypes. I feel like it’s getting better but there’s definitely more room for improvement.
Diversity is such a buzz topic right now. In your opinion, how can it go from being a buzzy topic to something that’s the norm?
I think interviews like these and shows like “Z Nation” are a great start, which highlight and show America and the world that diversity is normal, which in turn starts to normalize things. Non-white characters have worthy and interesting stories too and in my life and most certainly LA, diversity is a norm. Ultimately, we have to change the minds of the viewers in order for it to be normalized, that there can be leading diverse men and women in film and TV. It starts with the writing and just in the past year, I’m seeing more shows that are being more aware of writing in characters of different races or are more open to casting diverse characters that aren’t race specific.
How has being a part of “Z Nation” challenged you as an actress?
Because we shot in Washington and my episodes aren’t consecutive, I had to do a lot of flying back and forth. I think that was a challenging part for me; to go away for sometimes a few weeks at a time then get back into character and the flow of things was something I had to learn and adjust to.
What have you learned about yourself through the process of putting this show together?
My acting coach Anthony Gilardi always says, “trust,” so I learned to trust in myself more and to trust that I put in the work and it’ll will come across in my work on screen.
What’s next for you?
I’m back in the audition grind and looking forward to my next film or TV project. Hopefully it’ll be in LA, but who knows what the universe has in store for me. I’m open to whatever comes my way. As of right now, I’m also focusing on getting my short film “The Letter” that I produced and acted in into more film festivals.
Your story from refugee to actress is incredibly inspiring. What would you say to kids who feel like the odds are stacked against them and their dreams?
I truly believe that if you really, deep down inside, want something bad enough, you will find a way to make that happen. Yes, some days won’t be easy, but if you put in the necessary work, time, energy, blood, sweat, and tears, it’ll eventually come into fruition.