Props must be given to Jamie Chung, who pulled off what every reality TV star craves: success in the actual, real-life entertainment industry. The 29-year-old actress got her start on MTV’s Real World San Diego, and has since appeared in movies like Sucker Punch, The Hangover II, and Premium Rush. Her latest movie Eden sees Chung starring as the title character, a Korean-American girl forced into sex-slavery. The role, which is based on the real-life story of Chong Kim, marks a career turning point for Chung, who until now leveled out her filmography with TV guest roles and typical studio fare. We caught up with Chung to talk about the most important role of her thriving career.
How did you become involved with Eden?
It’s pretty rare that you come across a script that’s written for a Korean-American girl that doesn’t involve a samurai sword, or an action star, or any of those other stereotypes. I really responded to the material—she’s not playing the victim or waiting for a hero to come and rescue her. It’s more realistic. From the very first page it sucks you in. It’s the quickest I’ve ever read a script.
How important was it that Eden was made independently?
Oh my gosh, I’m sure a studio would have made it into a horror film with a hero father—oh, I’m sorry, they already made that film, and it’s called Taken. I think what made this movie so powerful were the really quiet moments that didn’t require any dialogue. You don’t need the glitz and the glam to tell this story.
I thought keeping nudity out of the film was a very smart decision.
It was one of my first questions when I got the job. (Director) Megan Griffiths told me, ‘I don’t want any nudity whatsoever.’ She didn’t want to make the movie like that and she didn’t feel it was necessary–it wouldn’t add anything to the story. It was also important for her to make it so that a ten- or thirteen-year-old can watch the film. It had to be age-appropriate for the masses versus an adult audience because adults already know how to take care of themselves.
Were you familiar with Chong Kim’s story before you read the script?
No, it was the first time I had heard about it, but I was lucky enough to be able to speak to her when I was cast. It was pretty rad – I’ve never done a film where I can speak to the character I play. Most of her stories are pretty sensitive, and I was nervous about asking her my questions, but I feel like Chong isn’t afraid to share her experience, as horrid as it was. She said this story is a very watered down version of what she experienced. At thirteen I was walking the streets of San Francisco blissfully unaware that these horrible things were happening to girls my age in the United States. Had I known, I would have been wearier.
You manage to evoke sympathy for Eden even when we’re not clear how far she’s gone to appease her captors. How did you approach those scenes?
I asked Chong. I was like, how could you join them? And she said it was quite simple: She was so desensitized by that point that it all came down to survival, and while it’s shameful to say, she did it so that she could survive herself.
What was the most challenging aspect of filming Eden?
Oh wow, it was all pretty hard. I have to say I think one of the most obvious things that sticks out was this one scene where Eden is sold with two other girls to a fraternity house. These boys that were playing them—who were all very sweet boys, by the way—came up with this thing that was not in the script. One of them hit the wall as they were counting down (to the undisclosed sex act) and it caught on, and they all started to do it. I wasn’t even in the room for filming that —none of the actresses were in that scene —I was sitting in the other room waiting but I could hear them chanting and I couldn’t take it. I had to be driven round the block because it was so disturbing to me.
Did you find the movie difficult to sit through?
Oh, yeah. First of all, I don’t generally like watching myself . With this film, I saw it once and I don’t need to see it again. I think my family would agree with that too, but they’re really happy with the work I did and they’re pretty amazed by how brave Chong was to share her story.
You recently guest starred on Once Upon A Time. Would you consider a full-time role on TV or are you keen to stay with film?
Actually, I’m working on a pilot now—Alfonso Cuarón’s Believe— but I really wish I could go back on Once Upon A Time because I love that show. It’s so good! It’s the kind of show where anything goes and anything can happen.