Curtis Lum, is a busy guy. Among other projects, the Vancouver-based actor is not only appearing on the big screen in Mina Shum’s dramedy, Meditation Park, but he finds himself on the small screen in the television series, Siren.
“I’ve been chasing my dream for a while now, so to see a bit of success has been everything to me. That’s been all my motivation,” says Lum.
Opening last year’s Vancouver International Film Festival, Meditation Park is currently enjoying a theatrical release locally, at Vancouver’s Cineplex Odeon International Village Cinemas.
Directed by Canadian independent filmmaker, Mina Shum, the film features Chinese movie star Cheng Pei-Pei and Canadian actor, Sandra Oh in a story of a devoted Chinese wife’s discovery of her husband’s infidelity, and her journey to emancipation.
Making a cameo appearance in the film as a young fishmonger, Lum was onboard immediately after reading the script.
“It was such a beautiful story that I wanted to be a part of it, no matter the size of the role,” he says.
Shooting the film in the same Vancouver neighbourhood he grew up in, Meditation Park took on a more personal meaning for Lum.
“I kid you not, we actually shot in the store that I used to go and shop with my grandfather since I was a little kid,” he says.
Described as “an unmistakably Vancouver story”, Lum says Meditation Park goes much deeper than simply having been shot in his hometown.
“There is a lot of themes within it that people would relate to all over the world, but specifically here in Vancouver, in terms of the struggle that a lot of that generation dealt with,” he explains. “This would be my grandparents’ generation, when they first came here to Vancouver, and how they assimilated and how they went about trying to make friends and to build a community.”
What Lum calls an outstanding experience, his time on Meditation Park left a big impression.
“For me to work with not only an Asian director who’s killing it, but a strong, empowered female who had such a great vision, and to see that vision come to life was a dream come true,” he says.
Premiering on Freeform in the United States and on Canada’s ABC Spark in March, Siren is the story of the mermaid-obsessed sea town of Bristol Cove, where lives are changed with the arrival of a mysterious woman, who proves the mermaid folklore to be true.
Wrapping in November of last year, the Vancouver-shot television series has already amassed a cult-like following, and has received an enviable 93% approval rating on online review aggregator, Rotten Tomatoes.
In the weekly drama, Lum plays one of the crew members on a fishing boat who become convinced they have caught a mermaid. Before they are able to figure out exactly what it is though, the creature is confiscated by the military, leading the crew to take matters into their own hands to see if there are more mermaids in the deep.
“One of the things that attracted me to the show was the fact that I’ve never seen anything like it,” says Lum. “We explore a world where these mermaids can actually exist, and you can actually believe that these things exist.”
While Siren may be make-believe, Lum is still open-minded about the possibility of such creatures existing in real-life, and having grown-up around the ocean, he has respect for what might lie beneath.
“I do love being around water, but at the same time, I’d be also very fearful of the water because you never know what’s underneath there,” he says. “I didn’t necessarily believe in mermaids, but at the same time, they say we’ve only discovered five percent of the ocean, and there’s a part of me that says, why not?”.
As an Asian-Canadian, Lum also has respect for the diversity of the actors in Siren. And while he isn’t entirely sure it was by design, it was also one of the reasons he signed onto the project.
“By the time that my character came onboard to the show the cast was already pretty diverse, and that was definitely the number two point that sold me on this project,” he says.
What excites Lum about the diversity on the set of Siren was in being able to play a character whose Chinese heritage doesn’t play into the storyline. It is a trend he is seeing in the projects he has worked on in recent years.
“Thankfully, in the last two, three years or so, I’ve had the joy of playing characters that are similar to Calvin, in that race comes second, and instead are characters that are multifaceted, have different layers, and show a wide range of emotion” he says.
Calling diversity a slow process in film and television, Lum sees it as a natural progression for entertainment, as the demand for such characters widens.
“There’s a demand for representation, there’s a demand for different stories to be told, and I think that a lot of show creators, have a responsibility in doing that, and going down that road,” he says.
With the renewal of Siren still unannounced, Lum isn’t sitting around waiting; he has bigger dreams as an actor.
“If I’m looking at my career ten years down the line from now, I want to play every character there is out there that I’ve never seen someone that looks like me play before,” he says. “I always dreamt about playing your James Bond-type characters, your lead characters on any type of television show, and we’re going to break barriers in that regard.”