Talk about being familiar with a franchise… Christina Chong has featured in Doctor Who, is now seen as part of the Halo world, and is part of the cast for Star Wars Episode VII. Mark Kebble finds out what she made of it all
Let’s start with Halo: Nightfall – what can you tell me about it?
It is a prequel to Halo 5 the video game. I play a character who is called Talitha Macer and she’s a soldier. It’s a story of her coming into her own, she’s on this mission with only guys… I am not sure how much sense that makes to people who don’t know Halo! It’s a coming of age story really. It’s her proving to herself and to others that she is capable of a lot more.
Was it quite a physical role?
It’s quite a physical role. I was rock climbing, abseiling, jumping around, diving into rocks, running up and down hills, all in Iceland in minus four degrees weather! So you had to keep running around to keep warm. It was a good work out.
I’ve heard you are into your fitness in real life…
Yes, I am! I love being very active. It probably comes from my dance background, always dancing as a kid, I love being physical. I do a lot of parkour, free running really, dance still, the gym… The free running is mainly at council estates, which are brilliant as you have different levels of walls and railings and things, perfect for parkour. Anywhere in London… My favourite spot is Canada Water, it’s really nice and relaxing by the water.
I never played Halo, but know it’s big in the world of gaming – are you a gamer Christina?
When I auditioned I didn’t really know what Halo was either and I wasn’t really a gamer at all. For me, the main element was – number one – I wanted to get into the action genre, and also the fact that it wasn’t just an action film, it’s very character driven. The characters are battling a lot of things throughout the story. So it was the story, the characters and the action coming together.
So for research purposes, did you go and play it?
I did, I went and played Halo. I like gaming now, I have an Xbox, I actually quite enjoy it and I can see how people get into it. I also talked to friends who know a lot about Halo and that world.
With Halo, there must be a huge fanbase…
Massive! I was in San Diego for ComicCon… I didn’t realise ComicCon was for gaming as well, I thought it was the comic movies. I thought, ‘will there be that many people there for Halo?’ But it was rammed packed, all dressed up in the proper gear, it was absolutely huge. I was blown away by the fanbase.
Is this a digital-only production?
Yes it’s going to be launched on the Xbox TV platform and it will be released in five segments and the first is on the 11 November. I do think it will be released as a movie at some point.
Does this show how your industry has evolved?
Absolutely. The gaming industry is pushing the boundaries hugely. Now when you watch the new Halo collection combined together… I played it at San Diego and just seeing the development from the first Halo game is incredible. The characters look so real and they are like movies now.
Looking back Christina, dance was your first love…
Yes since I was four. It was quite a strange transition into acting, it was always my dream to be on stage dancing, and my family’s dream. They had supported me throughout my career. And then I had an injury quite early on in my career – I realised that I wasn’t going to be able to dance for the rest of my life anyway, and with this injury it became impossible to work.
Was that a hard time for you?
Yes it was. I was confused, I had always known what I wanted to do and suddenly I didn’t. When I did decide, I took a gamble on acting and went to study it. When I went to tell my mum that I actually I wasn’t going to dance any more, I was going to act, it was really hard because I knew her reaction would be ‘after all years of taking you to dance class’… But she loves it now obviously! It was a weird time.
And then you went to study in New York…
I studied at Lee Strasberg in New York. It just came out of reading a book, I was dancing in Germany in musical, and I knew this injury was going to stop me from dancing as much as I wanted. I knew I had to move on. I reading a magazine and it was an article about Scarlett Johansson, saying she studied at Lee Strasberg and that was when she first came on the scene. I read up about it, I studied Strasberg at school, so knew a bit about it… I didn’t want to go back to London, so why not go to New York instead!? It turned out I loved acting, almost more than I did dance.
When did you come back to London?
In 2007. I moved to South London first, then North London and then to Kensal Green.
What do you love about where you live?
I’d say for me, particularly Kensal Green, is the really easy access to the huge parks. Hampstead Heath, I have got Queen’s Park near me, I like to be around greenery and I can get trains from Paddington, just a few stops away to get away if I want. The Regent’s Canal – I often go on the walk from Ladbroke Grove down to Camden. There’s lots of natural surroundings, so I can be at one with nature. I find a lot of creatives live in that area, so it’s a similar kind of vibe. It’s like a village, community kind of feel.
When you started out in acting, was it difficult?
Oh yes, it was. The first three or four years it was hard because people didn’t know where to place me. I think it was probably my confidence going into the industry. I was successful in dance, I was working and people knew who I was, but now I had to prove I could act. Those things combined meant it took me a while to find my footing. It wasn’t really until I met my agent, who I am still with now, that I found the confidence to walk into the room and be me, not worry about where I was from. It’s just about loving yourself and loving what you do.
Your role in Doctor Who came quite early in your acting career – a big break?
I would probably say it was Monroe, which was just before that. I was one of the regulars in the show, I felt like I had a lot to do, I felt like I had somewhere to take my character. With six episodes in a season it felt like I was building something, and just being on set every day, and doing it and living it, whereas before it was the odd day here or there. This was the first role where I felt like an actress.
How did it feel to be a part of Doctor Who?
It’s huge, maybe more so than Halo! I absolutely loved it. Again I didn’t really realise how big it was until I did it. My agent was like you got that Doctor Who role, ‘oh right’… But then I went to the set and it was full on, it’s really well produced and well made. It’s a well oiled machine, it’s amazing and was a joy to work on. Working with Matt [Smith] and Karen [Gillan] was brilliant. Doctor Who is a project for life, a job for life, even though you only do one episode – it’s amazing that people remember the episode.
Doctor Who is quite a big universe, as is 24 – was it fun to be a part of Jack Bauer’s return earlier this year?
Oh yes, that was amazing. Again, I had never watched 24. I got the job and then started doing it and friends and people around me were saying wow, this is so big, so I started watching the early seasons… I was watching seven or eight episodes a day and I was hooked. I don’t know how Kiefer Sutherland does it, he’s just so professional on set, bing, bash, bosh, done…
Moving forward, do you have a certain thing you always look for in scripts or parts?
It’s changed throughout the years. At first I just wanted to work – throw anything at me. And then I just wanted to be seen as me. Then I wanted to go into the action genre, and now it’s got the point where I don’t really have a goal as such, or any particular role or genre I want to get involved, it’s more about reading a script and going with my instincts. I will have stuff come through and I am getting used to knowing if it feels right or not. There’s no point doing a project if you are not passionate about it. If I think I am going to enjoy it and have fun, then I will do it, or if I am going to learn something – or push myself as an actor.
Then, next year, I know you can’t talk about it… but what can you say about Star Wars?!
It’s a massive honour to be part of cinema history. I had not watched Star Wars all the way through, I had seen bits of it, but I had never sat down and watched it. I did before filming, watched the first one and loved it. I feel lucky to be in something so huge.