Sydney Viengluang was an accounting clerk when she started taking acting classes and realized her true calling wasn’t in finance. Now an artistic powerhouse, Viengluang is a Laotian American actor, producer, and authentic storyteller, most recognized for her role as Dr. Sun Mei on “Z Nation.” As a producer, Viengluang felt there were not enough exciting roles available to Asian American actors so she filled the gaps herself, determined to share largely unheard first- and second-generation narratives from a Southeast Asian female perspective.
Born in Laos, Viengluang knows firsthand that the Asian American stories we hear today often focus on East Asian narratives.
“A lot of people when they think [Asian American]…think East Asian (Chinese, Japanese, Korean) and there’s a big part of Asia called Southeast Asia (Thai, Cambodia, and even Pacific Islander, Filipino) that people forget that’s there,” Viengluang says.
Telling stories from a Southeast Asian perspective is exciting for her from a personal perspective, but Viengluang feels it’s also a necessary step toward increasing representation in the media.
On “Z Nation,” a Syfy show she describes as “the quirky step-sister of ‘The Walking Dead, ’” Viengluang enjoys playing a strong female character. It’s her “biggest project so far.” When she first received the character description of Dr. Sun Mei, Viengluang was instantly drawn to it: “I was like, ‘I’m Sun Mei.’” Viengluang describes the researcher working to cure the zombie-creating virus as “a smart, badass, strong leader of the pan-Asian army,” a role that was considered a rare and fortunate opportunity for her and many Asian actors in Hollywood.
But with a recent spike in Asian American representation, from Netflix’s diverse offerings to the box office success of “Crazy Rich Asians” and the “open ethnicity” casting calls that are becoming more prevalent, Viengluang feels encouraged. “I’ve been in the industry for ten years now and this is the moment I’ve been waiting for. When Asian Americans are developing their own projects [and] writing their own projects, [then] they are going to cast their own people.” As Viengluang states, we are finally at a time when Asian Americans can tell stories without asking “white Hollywood for permission.”
Additionally, Viengluang has produced an award-winning short called “The Letter.” Frustrated by the lack of three-dimensional roles offered to Asian Americans in Hollywood, Vieungluang and a friend entered a film festival called “Diverse Faces Diverse Voices: Flicks for Chicks.” The short film is about reconciliation between a mother and daughter and draws from Viengluang’s own experience escaping Laos, growing up in refugee camps, and eventually moving to the United States. “The Letter” garnered three awards: Best Drama, Best Actress, and — the grand prize for its creators — Best Diversity.
Aside from acting and producing, Viengluang is also an active member of Laos Angeles, an organization dedicated to promoting Laotian Americans in the entertainment industry. She appreciates the sense of community and support the organization has brought her. In Viengluang’s words: “It’s great to find your people and cheer them on.”
For up-and-coming Asian American female actors, Viengluang has two pieces of advice. First, “Train as much as possible. Really hone your craft. Really become the best storyteller you can become.” Second, find your people. “Find people who can mentor you or guide you.” As for family, Viengluang paints a hopeful picture- her parents proudly support her career and passion.
If you’re looking for something good to binge this weekend, you can see Viengluang on “Z Nation,” which she says is perfect for “people who like to not take themselves too seriously in the zombie apocalypse.”
HAIR: Jaycee Mnirajd
MAKE-UP: Aly Barr
STYLING: Sky JT Naval