Actor Charles Rahi Chun stars in the new hit controversial comedy The Interview as General Jong. But in real life, Charles is far from the killing machine character he plays. Having starred on shows such as How I Met Your Mother, Criminal Minds, Scrubs, General Hospital, Everybody Loves Raymond and countless other shows/films, Charles has created a name for himself in the entertainment industry in Hollywood having come from an interesting family past in South Korea, where his father was even a Special Advisor on Science and Technology to South Korean President Kim Dae Jung.
The Levity Ball just had to sit down with Charles to find out more about his extraordinary upbringing and career today…
When did you first “know” that you wanted to become an actor?
I’ve wanted to be an actor as far back as I can remember. My first memories are of living in Salt Lake City as a 4-year old watching the original Batman series and pretending to be him, socking the bad guys with a “Pow” and a “Smash.” I did a lot of theatre in junior high school here in Southern California, but it wasn’t until I went to Connecticut College and began to choreograph and perform in dance concerts that I really fell in love with the process of being a vessel for story-telling through collaboration. I had an idea for a dance piece that communicated no matter what your gender or ethnicity, we are all reflections of each other. I approached two female dance majors and an African American dancer to explore this theme. We called the piece “Watch the Colors.” The evolution through our 3-month exploration process and the final performances, which really struck a cord with audiences, was exhilarating and like nothing else. This lit a real fire for performance, creative collaboration, and story-telling for me.
Who were some of your role models growing up?
I’ve had many. As a kid, my heroes were The Six Million Dollar Man, Starsky, Hutch, and I have to admit, Pa Ingalls from Little House on the Prairie. I can see now that I looked up to strong male figures who were protectors and providers and did the right thing. My Dad and Mom were that way; They came to the US to study, then met on a blind date in Chicago and had my sister and I. They worked so hard, as English was their second language, as a professor and registered nurse, providing for us and after all of their struggles and sacrifices, to have been so graceful and supportive in my career choice to be an actor just speaks volumes to their love and character.
My role models now are similar in that I really admire people who are compassionate, wise and generous. One is Kundalini Yoga Master and Sikh leader Yogi Bhajan, who came to the US with a few dollars and built many multi-million dollar businesses that promote healthy living and kundalini yoga. Another is the Indian mystic, Osho, whose work continues to inspire people to live totally from the heart of the moment. My spiritual name, “Dhyan Rahi” which is Sanskrit meaning “meditation traveler” was given to me during a ceremony at Osho’s ashram in Pune, India, when I took a vow to live a life of awareness and meditation, and “Rahi” is now what everyone calls me.
By the way, in the comedy feature film The Brothers Solomon, when I arrived on set to play Dr. Wong, I discovered my coma patient was being played by Lee Majors, aka The Six Million Dollar Man. I had all of his actions figures and lunchbox as a kid! I also did my first film, Pentathlon, with David Soul who played Hutch, and walked into an audition for a TV show to find Starsky in the director’s chair. So I’ve ended up working with many of my childhood heroes.
What was your experience like filming “The Interview”?
Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, who co-directed and co-wrote the film, have been friends since they attended Jewish pre-school in Vancouver. And when I was going through immigration at the Vancouver airport to get my work permit, and shared that I was there to shoot The Interview, the officer shared that he too went to elementary school with these guys. That was the kind of atmosphere on set: a big friendly community. Obviously Seth and James have been friends a long time, and I’ve known Randall, who is really incredible as North Korean President Kim Jong Un, for at least 15 years here in LA. When you get that kind of open and friendly vibe on a set, the energy and creativity flows really freely. Seth and Evan are really smart in knowing what they want, but they’re also very open to the creativity and collaboration of others, and that’s the ideal combination and environment to work in. Everyone feels free to create and trusts that we are in good hands.
James Franco or Seth Rogen… Who would you rather go to war with and why?
Well, it really depends….. and I have to preface this by saying that they are both generous and real. If it was a short term war that needs strategic attacks, I’d go to war with Franco, because he’s just an ongoing fountain of ideas and creativity. At any given time, he’s working on directing, writing, acting, teaching or his Ph.D. thesis. He was reading a lot of classical literature on set. If it was a longer term war that needs endurance, I would go to war with Seth, because the dude just has the endurance of a bull. I read that he was supporting his family, meaning his parents and sibling, doing stand up at age 16 and he’s just going and going and going and hasn’t stopped and it’s all good. He’s a very good-natured person. Ideally, you would want them both on your side in a war for these very reasons.
What has been the hardest thing you’ve gone through in the Hollywood industry since starting?
I wouldn’t call this the hardest thing, and many would consider this a huge blessing and I understand why, but as far as type-casting… can I tell you how many doctors I’ve played in my career? Besides Dr. Wen, the attending surgeon on Scrubs for 5 seasons, I’ve played doctors on Criminal Minds, Boston Legal, Providence, Ghost Whisperer, even way back on Party of Five. I’ve done House, ER, played chief oncologist, Dr. Misra, on General Hospital one year, and then the chief hematologist Dr. Jerry Lee on The Young and the Restless another year. I’ve been doctors to Ray Romano, John Ritter, and Al Franken (on his single camera comedy, before he became senator to the multi-cam comedy that has become our US Senate). Now don’t get me wrong, playing a doctor is a great gig because everybody needs a doctor at some point, but it would also be fun to play the vast range of roles on TV and film that we get to play in the theatre. That’s why playing General Jong, a dictator’s right hand hard liner, was fun to do in The Interview.
Do you miss your days on Scrubs and Everybody Loves Raymond?
I wouldn’t say I miss those days because I enjoy the opportunities I have now, but I really did love working on both shows for different reasons.
Scrubs was always a great atmosphere to work in and all of the actors on the show, from Zach to Neil to John C. and Donald Faison, who I did most of my scenes with, were all very real, having a great time, and wanting to make the scenes as funny as possible. The show’s creator Bill Lawrence, had a “no asshole” policy on set amongst anyone hired, cast or crew, and it made for an especially friendly set with just good people all around. Although I played Dr. Wen over the first 5 seasons, most of my work was in the first 3, when the show was fresh and the story lines had a lot of heart. Interesting to note that at the end of every one of its 9 seasons, the network was never clear on whether it was bringing the show back for another season. And now, it’s considered a comedy classic.
Everybody Loves Raymond was a true honor to work on because I was hired to work on the very final episode of the entire show’s 9 year run. It’s a classic show and emotions were running very high on set, understandably. Patty lost her voice the day of our scheduled audience taping, which delayed the finale one week, then if I remember correctly, Doris got sick the following week. It became a 3-week affair – no one wanted the run to end! After the final scene was shot, there was a big after-party with creator Gary Zuckerbrod and Ray sharing their gratitude in really personal and heart-felt ways with video retrospectives of the previous 9 years. It was like being invited to participate in a historic television experience with a close-knit family of really lovely people. During all of the appreciation speeches, I was moved to tears myself, as if it was my own family of 9 years.
What has been your favorite project to work on thus far in your career?
To be honest with you, and this may sound hokey, but I usually find something wonderful on most every job. I’ve worked with icons like Dick Van Dyke on his show, Angie Dickinson, who is just amazing and classy, Ellen, Drew Carey and Steve Harvey on their sit-coms, Adam Sandler, Eddie Murphy and Jim Carrey as he was just breaking out as a major talent. I’ve been directed by the likes of John Landis, Lee Tamahori, and JJ Abrams on MI:3 in a scene with Tom Cruise, which was eventually cut out of the film, but it was still a real learning experience to have JJ crafting the scene with us as we were exploring it, like a workshop. I enjoyed playing the lead in a Korean romantic comedy for the Asian film market called Iron Palm which also starred Yoonjin Kim from Lost, and took the journey with the film-makers from beginning to end and then promoting it in Asia. I also loved playing Oberon in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and there are moments, whether on stage or even in a master acting class that stay with me and almost become timeless because of the totality experienced in the moments. Then there are unique projects like The Interview, not only because its really funny and smart, but it’s putting a well-needed spotlight on the tragedy that has become North Korea. I suppose it’s both funny and tragic to note that after U.N. sanctions and government diplomacy failed to get North Korea to change their truly horrific human rights violations, it’s a comedy from Seth and Evan that is getting the biggest reaction from them and posing the greatest so-called threat to the North Korean dictatorship. This speaks to the awesome power of story-telling and entertainment, not only to affect and inspire audiences, but the promise to affect change on a societal level. Don’t get me wrong; I know it’s a comedy and entertainment, but it has gotten the attention of North Korea, the likes of which we haven’t seen in a long time.
What is your “dream role”?
I love stories of seemingly ordinary people who are challenged to discover the extraordinary about themselves due to challenging circumstances. This speaks to the human spirit that is universal in all of us. I’m a big Denzel fan and his films John Q and Remember the Titans come to mind, as well as many of the classic Jimmy Stewart and Gregory Peck films. It’s really the hero’s journey and we are all heroes in the journey of our own lives as we overcome our inner obstacles, which tend to reveal themselves mostly when we are challenged and expanding beyond our previous comfort zone. There are many stories yet to be told about the Korean War, and also about this North Korean tragedy. I was the guest lead on a JJ Abrams series called “Undercovers” where I played a scientist defecting North Korea, but needing to save my daughter by rescuing her out of the country. This actually happens. I have an uncle who is a renown scientist and did exactly this in smuggling his two sisters out of North Korea during the early years of the dictatorship, saving them from enormous hardship, heart-ache and possible death. But he wasn’t able to rescue his other siblings and it pained him his entire life. These ordinary people are truly extraordinary and their stories are deeply inspirational and important to tell.
What is your advice to others looking at getting into the entertainment industry?
Make a practice of leaning just beyond your comfort zone at all times and in every aspect of your life. If you make this an ongoing practice, it becomes a muscle, both in your mind and your heart. The path reveals itself as the journey unfolds. Don’t use not knowing what steps to take after the next one as an excuse, because that can have you sitting out dance after dance, until the last song is played and the party is over. Create a habit of being still, quieting your thoughts, and listening to your heart. Hold the safest space possible for it to sing and follow that song like your life depends on it, because it actually does. Don’t live to survive life, live to thrive in it. Listening is one of the greatest skills you can develop, in life, and to your inner knowing. Listen and know that the more you honor and follow this inner voice, the stronger that voice will be in leading you to your true destiny and success.
You are also big into yoga and holistic health… Can you tell us more about your passions with these?
Sure. Thanks for asking. Yes, I’ve always been drawn to experiences of consciousness that invite me to be in communion with (or as) the whole of existence – that which is greater than me, and I am continually fascinated by practices which explore awareness, energy, health, the body, meditation and the interconnectedness of it all. As a kid, this came in the form of prayer. Later it became dance and the practice of surrendering to the dance, then to different forms of yoga, energy and meditation practices. During a summer break in college, I was fortunate to live in a Buddhist Monastery in the North of Thailand and practice Vipassana meditation, which brings an awareness to what is happening as it’s happening, and when you allow yourself to feel the range of energy and emotions moving through your body without denying them, you end up not holding on to stories from the past. These practices all serve to clear whatever may be in the way of being in alignment with Source/God/Spirit. I’ve also enjoyed trekking and taking spiritual pilgrimage to holy sites in the mountains of Nepal, Tibet, Korea, Japan, Brazil, and recently Peru. Any action or activity can be used as a vehicle for this communion with the Divine, from washing the dishes to making love, when the attention is in experiencing the Divine in the present. Part of what I love about the craft of acting is when I can surrender into the whole of the present moment, and both be creating and reacting at the same time. This is what I love about life as well.
I also practice a variety of health modalities which facilitate this experience of wholeness by releasing what may be in the way. I’m certified to facilitate Family Constellations Therapy, Life Coaching, Faster EFT for Sexual Trauma, and received a Master’s degree in Spiritual Psychology. They all facilitate the release of past wounds or belief systems that hold an old story in our consciousness. Currently, I facilitate sacred sexuality practices that release the holding of repressed emotions, trauma, and muscular armoring from the pelvic bowl, in order to expand the body’s capacity to experience our core life force energy and wholeness. I consider it sacred work and feel very privileged to hold space for such healing and transformation.
Where do you see yourself in five years from now?
In five years, I see myself enjoying a series regular role in a successful, revolutionary, brilliantly-written network, cable or Netflix drama that inspires audiences to live their lives to the fullest, in addition to producing creative content which shares a similar intention. I also see myself engaging in an ever-evolving practice of kundalini yoga, meditation and consciousness, and teaching somatic sexual wholeness practices for men to hold sacred space for the woman in their lives. And personally, I see myself enjoying a lovely nest for my inspired woman and little ones calling me “daddy”.
For more on Charles, follow him via Twitter at: @CharlesRahiChun