Even from afar, Todd shines so brightly, his glow and unique passion as an actor is so vivid, relatable and refreshing. Beyond these, what further sets Todd apart is how he also thrives as a pacesetter, clearing pathways and creating platforms for other creatives in his field. Todd thrives in all authenticity and combines his great talent with an amazing personality.
Join us on this special Anniversary ISSUE- As Todd shares on his awe-inspiring story and a truckload of inspiration on his journey as a versatile creative.
Enjoy and Stay Inspired
- You reflect this effortless glow as an Actor and your passion, zest and relatability in every role can be seen even from afar. Can you please share some highlights of how you began your creative journey as an Actor?
Yeah… I actually started out as a singer. I basically was going through a lot in my life as at that time. In a way, I was looking for an outlet to distract myself; I don’t have to think about what is going on in my life, I was experiencing family-death. I went on for a singing competition that was marketed to young college students; and so I went on to register for a singing competition in New York, my friends basically put money together to get me to the talent show, to help me know what I was doing, how do I feel different? I just feel angry, there was this sadness, frustration inside me I didn’t know what to do, especially as I was alone in a country where I’m alone without my family. I ended up singing on a stage, I think it’s that first time being on stage, expressing myself through songs, it got me interested because the producers of the show were like ‘Oh Todd! You’re going to be a performing artist, you have all the tools you need to become one.’ I told them ‘I don’t know how to be an actor.’ And they were like ‘you will go to school!’ But then I already had a bachelor’s degree and so I looked up for a a master’s degree in acting. The reason I wanted to try it was because I was really intrigued by the therapeutic power of stage; I was always having negative emotions, I was able to release them on stage in a positive way, but it was the fact that it was a singing competition. While singing, I would cry, I would get angry, expressing them, but the audience and judges were resonating with me and my feelings, they were feeling how and what I was feeling, and I felt different. I wanted to know why I felt different and that was when I decided to start training as a stage actor, and I realised how difficult it was to be an actor; I mean how to be myself and understand why I really need to act like someone else. And that’s how I really started acting, and as I continued going on, I started to learn about the industry and it’s community. I was in theatre projects many times; English and Chinese both in Southern California. As I was growing as an artist, I was also growing as a person at the same time. And that was how I started this whole journey of an actor.
- What does Art mean to you?
As you can tell from the story I told you; Art to me is the tool to express yourself. What is amazing about art is that you use it as a tool to express yourself, wether it’s the learning, the putting yourself out there, you’re learning about yourself, you’re learning about who you are and why you feel the way you do. And then you realise that art gives you the opportunity to express it so that you can learn more about yourself. You sometimes gain clarity, sometimes you just beocme so happy and you just want to celebrate yourself through art. I do think that art is a very general triangle; it’s audio, it’s visual, it’s performance related, it’s everything that expresses who you are and how you feel. By doing so, it helps you to get to know yourself, to share yourself, to claim yourself. That’s basically what I got in the beginning and through my journey. And so to me, art is a tool to express and get to know yourself.
- We know how every successful creative journey is laced by hard work and lots of consistencies behind the scene. Yet you’re one multitalented creative thriving in various fields. Please share how you combine being an actor, singer and acting coach.
It’s a little crazy! I tend to be an artist in general, yeah, I’m a performing artist I really can draw a lot of stuff. For me singing is how I started (Laughs). When I started learning how to act, I realised singing and acting are very similar in terms of stage performance and so I didn’t want to think at the time, I wasn’t trying to be all-three things at the same time. I started as a singer and I really enjoyed being on stage. I realised that singing is basically a monologue on stage- in music. When I started to learn how to act, I saw that these things are different, it depends on how you want to approach it, if you want to be a professional actor versus a professional singer. I had always been pursuing both at the same time, I would go out for jobs that were acting, singing or a scene where there is both. Acting coach is something I found a lot later in my career. A few years after I started acting, at that time I just wanted to find a job where I could also help others see what acting and singing does for me. And then I was at a musical rehearsal, one of the musical members owned a talent school where he helped young Asian-Americans; spefically Chinese-Americans to learn talent and take classes. They didn’t have any acting coach at the time and they thought I was a good actor and so they asked me if I wanted to try it out and that it was a good side money and it was also an opportunity for flexible jobs. To be an artist, a flexible job is so important because we are always on call; if there’s an audition, we need to go right away, It’s a lot of hardwork and you can’t just have a consistent schedule; you have to be able to change whenever you need to. And so, I took that job, and I hated it the first time because I didn’t know how to communicate with young kids and then they literally tried to react to how I taught them you know. “This is how I want to try things out…” and then I realized that it wasn’t how to communicate with kids at all, they speak differently. I started to realised that all I needed to do was try to think like them. And while I thought like them, I still taught them things I wanted them to learn. And when I started doing that, I became more successful in communicating with them and teaching them. All of a sudden it becomes one amount and I’m about to settle everybody. And then the Chinese community knew who I was and wanted to take classes with me and I kind of became a hot commodity. It got to a point where I was teaching more than one hundred kids who wanted to learn acting with me. I feel like in order to be able to succeed in the performing art or as an acting coach in education; it needs a lot of consistency, like keep trying different ways of making a project, or to finding your curriculum. I always believe in hardwork and consistency, make mistake, continue, keep going, keep putting yourself out there, keep improving on yourself and something new would work out, something new would happen. I do respect teaching young kids; to teach something you are passionate about, you want them to feel the same way, you want them to feel art. It’s really fulfilling, it’s very core because I didn’t have that growing up becausey parents weren’t “Arty” people, they didn’t really know the value and importance of arts. I didn’t really know that growing up, I thought it took too much time, it wasn’t until I got into the singing competition that I realized how big of an influence art plays in people’s lives.
- You’re not just thriving as an individual, but also creating pathways for other young actors to thrive as well. Kindly share the vision behind your inspiring platform ‘iStage Entertainment.’ Also, what would you consider most fulfilling about being a Creative?
Well, iStage Entertainment didn’t start as iStage Entertainment. At the time, I was teaching for about two to three years at the talent school, and I felt like there was a need in the community. There are so many talented young kids that hunger to share their arts, they want to pursue something they love but as a more serious program. It’s not just an after-school programme where you just come and then go home. Some of them really want to become actors and know what that means. Why create this platform? Because it is our need in the community, there are kids that are so talented and I also see a need in Hollywood; there is not enough representation for Asian-Americans on big screens and I want to create a bridge that can take these immigrant family kids that are already passionate and good at acting to the big screen, to be able to be noticed, to get exposure. I don’t necessarily believe that I have the power to make them a star, because I think no one can actually guarantee that. However, I can now create this platform that they not only get trained through me with the most updated Hollywood information of what casting is about right now, what is going on in the industry, but at the same time, I can create this community for kids to learn and to challenge each other and to know what this platform is really trying to do and that they are a part of this movement. Asian-Americans have been trying to be seen and known. There are a lot of people paving the way so that we can continue and get there, and then we, iStage Entertainment is a platform for young Asian-Americans to find their voice, to elevate their voice so that they can not only pursue what they love, but also have a way to be seen by top agencies, by directors and producers. And they are not just training for fun, but it becomes a serious channel for them to do so.
As a creative, we make art because we want people to see it, we want people to see what we see, to feel what we feel, and then use that to be creative as well or maybe collaborate to make things that have never been seen before; I think that is the most exciting part of being a creative. And that is exactly what we are doing at iStage Entertainment, I am putting my art out there; my theatre projects, my films and I’m doing it with the kids I have trained and inspire them to do their own. I used to teach just acting, but I had to teach students writing, you know they are like the same thing. I have this whole imagination of how I want to write this script that could be very different, and through their voices, these kids voices, they start to create something on their own, and they start to feel proud of themselves, proud of their accomplishments like “Oh I can also create something beautiful!”. To me, that is the most fulfilling part both in my artistic life, my acting coaching and being the CEO of iStage Entertainment. And I am passing that down to kids with a similar passion, I have kids that are teens now and even some are in college, they can take that same value I have shown them to pursue something beautiful as well I their own lives.
- What’s your dream life as an Artist?
My dream life as an artist? That’s probably the hardest question, I have dreams, but I feel like they constantly change as I grow. As an artist, I haven’t really dived into what I’d really want to be like, but this sounds a little bit self-centered. I made this short film years ago and since then, I have bumped into people; online and in person thanking me and telling me what that film meant to them and how it changed their lives or saved them. In the business, sometimes you are not always doing the things you like because you are paid, you are tasked into doing it. And sometimes I find that hard as an artist because I don’t want to lose that passion for art because we keep doing this thing repeatedly. You know sometimes you write something that you don’t really like but you’ve been asked to do it and you’d do it because you want the job, or you need the manager or the agency to be happy. My dream life is going to be always doing projects and choosing the projects I want to do, so that the project can be reflective of who I am and a reflection of what I like. And to get there, I feel like I would have to be at a specific fame level and get to a certain financial level and stage and I can make the influence how I want to in this industry. If I got all the money and the power to decide what to make, I would make an influential level of impact around the world. If I want to make the next biggest Asian-American film then I would need a lot of forces and the power around to create it, like “Crazy Rich Asians”. What do I need to create projects like that? To be at a level where I could create projects like that, that would be my dream, to continue being an artist, to continue doing the things that I want to do until the day I die.
- Do you feel creatives in developed countries are at advantage than those in developing countries?
I don’t know how people are going to feel about this answer but I would just go ahead and answer it. In the past, maybe 10 years or 15 years ago when TikTok wasn’t really a thing, I didn’t think developed countries were at advantage before, because I think there are pros and cons of each culture and environment that you are in because you are always going to have something that will hold you down and it could be technological advances, it could be your access to different knowledge and different tools to create something back then. However, developing countries in the past, I’ve thought that have been blinded by a lot of things like too busy, they don’t stop to think about nature, they don’t think about maybe just slow down a little bit and just enjoy a little bit, because developed countries, we get a lot of times being too busy and developed countries especially big cities, metropolitan you know just busy doing a lot of things, you know in the past I felt like there were pros and cons and then being a creative you I mean, I didn’t think you had to be in a developed country to be able to make something. But then these days my answer has changed. My answer has changed because they are at an advantage, because information and knowledge are passed on so fast now, if you are not in a developed country, you are not going to get access to quick information around the world as fast as the developed countries. In that sense, you are to circulate your art, show your art on platforms if you are given the opportunity to do it. It became a tool that creatives now must learn how to use if you want to know how to improve your art. If you are in a developed country, your content would most likely be seen faster, because things are moving so fast now; TikTok 15 seconds and it’s a go-go, and if you don’t have that, your content gets skipped a lot. It’s just the reality of the moment. I don’t totally love it because that kind of quick media information sort of makes the artist lose his/her value a little bit. But I just think that is where things are going now. And for me who teach kids; how do we help kids know the things that we know because they have TikTok? Those in underdeveloped countries may not know that these things exist to stimulate them sooner or earlier on, faster with the information from and around the world. So that’s how I feel about being a creative because now you just must keep up with the audience, know lots of things and keep yourself up to date for our content to be seen.
- We understand balancing work time and rest time is a struggle for many Creatives. Please share a few tips on how you try to balance work time, rest time and family time?
It’s hard, I still struggle with this all the time but what I have learnt over the years is to prioritize, you must prioritize what is important to you. Your survival is important, you need to be able to feed yourself, you must work, but you must rest so you can work. You also can’t just isolate yourself from your friends and families, if not you will feel lonely. Your creative juices are not going to flow freely if you are not with people that you love, so you can feel supported by them. I am an extrovert, I love being around people, I thrive being around people, so it’s really important for me to take time to be with other people, and to talk to other people. That’s also one way for actors and directors to get different people’s backstories and their everyday lives. So balance is setting a boundary for yourself, I think that is the only way I would tell people, like you want to take some time for yourself. You want to take time to write, to act, to be a better person, but you want to rest, you want to spend time with family. To do that, it will be trial and error, you just got to figure out what you need to set boundaries for and take time to reflect on how you have been spending your time; are you sleeping enough? Are you reaching out to people? Right now, for example, I love teaching kids, I used to teach a hundred at weekends, but that was too much, I didn’t have time to rest, I didn’t have time to see friends and family. I made a rule for myself since I started iStage Entertainment; I don’t work on Sundays. Unless it is something necessary, some sort of emergency, I don’t work on Sundays, I will not take students on, I just won’t be doing anything on Sundays. So, I will say boundaries, prioritize and self reflection; I feel like those are the things you want to look at if you want to know where your time goes.
- What does success mean to you?
I feel like everybody measures success differently. As an artist, you measure success base on how much impact you make. How much impact you have on each individual is also very important, it’s not just quality over quantity or just one or the other. Ideally, you want both, you want to do as many as you can. In my opinion I’m only one person, I want to be able to impact young minds, these young kids are artists, so they too can pass it on. So, I would say success is how much impact you make on one individual, how much impact you have on the people that you have passed it on to. It’s same thing as saying that art lives on forever, if you can keep the art moving forward, through the people that you have touched. You may not necessarily know though; I don’t know if you can know how many people you have touched but knowing that it is out there and it is doing something for somebody is success.
- Please briefly tell us something we do not know about Todd Lien.
This is out there somewhere because I have done something about that. Something you may not know about me is that I grew up trying to be a doctor, I actually got into medical school, I got into a PhD programme before I started this whole acting thing. I used to be very introverted, like I didn’t use to express myself that much and then I wanted to be a medical doctor because I think it’s something like this, I wanted to save lives, I wanted to save people’s lives, I wanted to make a difference, and at that time, being a doctor was a direct answer to what I wanted. And then now as an artist I have done that for people, and I think that is something that people do not know because I have done both the sciences and I have published works in newspapers as my research. However, now I have completely switched over to the art Field, not a lot of people know that about me. But I was able to use what I learnt in the science field to help kids. You know it’s a story that I have told kids who are still trying to figure out what they want to do with their lives, “I want to go to college, what do I read?” … “I don’t know if I’m making the right decision” … “What do I do with my life?” so I use my own story to tell them, you don’t know, nobody knows, you just have to go for something you think that you like and it’s okay to change later on when you find something better because it’s crazy to tell somebody “you know what you want to do” when they are just seventeen years old, because they really do not know. And yeah, that’s how I got into the arts and it’s not something that everybody knows about because they all know me as an actor and as an acting teacher for kids.
- Let’s go a little poetic: If poetry is a rainbow and you have a choice of one color in that pallette, what would that be and why?
Okay, my favorite color should be blue, okay it is turquoise; it’s like blue and green. Different shades of blue represents different emotions that I have been through. When I think of blue, I think of water, I think of ever-changing, I feel like water takes different shapes and forms depending on where you put yourself in, and it can also make people feel mysterious. You can be calm, you can also feel powers like the ocean, you can feel very quiet, and you can also feel like rain when it feels refreshing. In a way, water goes through different circles, water gives things their forms and I resonate with that. Although I’m not wearing blue right now, which I should be wearing, my closets are basically all blue!
Massive Love Todd!
The ICONIC Team.