Life appears to be great for actor Hank Chen right now. He’s coming off a huge starring role in Tyra Banks’ Life-Size 2, which was the follow up to the 2000 original movie co-starring Lindsay Lohan.
Life-Size 2 was far from Hank’s big break. He’s also starred in several hit films and television shows like Home Again alongside Reese Witherspoon, Scandal with Kerry Washington and NCIS: Los Angeles with my eventual baby daddy LL Cool J. Not too shabby.
Hank is also an outspoken advocate for people suffering from rape and domestic abuse, as it is something he has dealt with previously. Not only that, but he was brought up in a homophobic household where being gay, according to him, was “gross.”
Luckily Hank was able to find his own light after going through all his pain from the past, and his future looks brighter than ever given how things have gone for him lately and his sunny disposition throughout it all.
Hank sat down with me at Instinct to discuss Life-Size 2 (and Tyra, of course), how he overcome his past abuse and homophobic upbringing and what’s next for this talented dude.
What was it like working on Life-Size 2 overall?
It was incredible. So fun! And so hot! "Hotlanta" certainly lives up to itss reputation. And boy did we eat well! Since we wrapped, I've considered several times jumping on a plane to Atlanta just for a plate of South City Kitchen's shrimp and grits!
Did you have fun with the legendary Tyra Banks?
Tyra is amazing. She really big-sistered all of us and made herself available to answer questions, rehearse, joke around, etc. As the executive producer and star, she worked harder than any of us. Her leadership meant a lot, especially on long hot days – she sat right alongside of us sweating it out! The legendary Tyra Banks was my colleague and that was so cool!
Who did you bond with the most on set?
Gavin Stenhouse. We were the only two guys Disney flown in from Los Angeles and we stayed in the same hotel in Atlanta. He and I were hangout buddies and I learned a lot from him as someone who was further along in his career. He also got me into climbing, which has become my main workout. And because Gavin was born in Hong Kong and spent a lot of his early childhood there, the joke on set was that that he was more Asian than I was!
I know you were raised in a homophobic household. How were you able to break free from your everyday norm?
My parents aren't bad people. In fact, they're wonderful. They were simply raised with a set of beliefs and cultural expectations they wanted instilled in their own children. They did the best they could with me and my sister and wanted what they thought was the best for us – heterosexuality being one of them!
It was communicated to me early on that it was gross to be gay and I accepted a lot of what I heard as truth for the sake of survival. I had to unlearn a lot of those damaging beliefs as an adult because they no longer serve or protect me. Patient and loving friends, therapy, and 12-step meetings are also ingredients in my recipe for healing. As a child, I absorbed a lot of media and pop culture as a means of escape. Newspapers, books, magazines, television, movies, stand-up comedy, all gave me access to worlds that offered acceptance. It really should be no surprise that I ended up working in entertainment. It's one of the few places where I've felt safe enough to be authentic.
You are also a rape and domestic abuse survivor. What would you say to people out there who are having a hard time in their own related situations?
You're worth more. You deserve better. Find help (family, friends, law enforcement, doctors, national hotlines) and get out when it is safe to do so. This is not your fault. You did nothing wrong. Document every instance of abuse. Also, be aware and trust your gut. In my situations, I wasn't slapped across the face on the second date. It's a slow dissent into warm water that gradually turns into a rolling boil, and by the time you're asking yourself "how the hell did I get here?" you're cooked!
Love might require work, but it should not hurt or leave physical marks on your body (unless consensual – hello!). The only person you can control is yourself, so learn to take preventative measures by figuring out how you got into these situations to begin with. I used to run toward crazy like a moth to a flame, wanting to heal them with my love. Now I cross the street. A terrific book that helped me a lot is Codependent No More by Melody Beattie. Being raised religious, I felt responsible for the salvation of everyone on the planet. The only person I can save is myself. My goal as a survivor is to work every day to keep this in my past. To not let the pain and anger boil up and negatively impact the life and relationships I have today. I do this by finding healing and support from professionals and support groups who understand my journey. This is the best thing I can do for myself and a future partner.
You've obviously been through a lot. What keeps you the happiest and most upbeat in your life currently?
I have a lot of resources to help keep me upbeat and balanced. First and foremost, I have a tight knit group of friends whom love and accept each other unconditionally. I try to work out every day and meditate. I have a terrific therapist and take anti-depressants when necessary. I also owe a lot to my career and the mere pursuit of it. I love the grind that's involved in trying to get an acting job – it doesn't feel like work to me. Running lines, coaching, auditioning… it's all exhilarating and gets me out of my head. That's how I know I'm in the right profession. My 10-year-old black Labrador, Eli, makes me super happy. I adopted him when he was 10 months from a shelter in New York. He rescued me. I'm the lucky one.
What else do you have going on in 2019 and beyond?
Life-Size 2 has wrapped and aired so I'm looking for my next project! Back to the actor hustle. In the meantime, I'm lining up stand-up dates while excitedly waiting for the release of other projects I have in can. This town moves fast. You either ride the wave or get swept up in it.
For more information on Hank Chen, head over to his Instagram.