Tuesday 9 November 2021

On its 24th series, Silent Witness brought in Jason Wong, as Liz Carr and Richard Lintern—who played the characters Clarissa Mullery and Thomas Chamberlain respectively—bid adieu to the UK’s longest-running crime series that’s currently on TV. UNRESERVED had the opportunity to speak to its lead cast members, Emilia Fox, David Caves, and Jason Wong in a previous conversation, but this time, it’s a tête-à-tête with Jason himself.   

Blazing a trail for future Southeast Asian actors who aspire to work with the BBC – the Grande Dame of television, Jason took this moment in the sun with level earnestness. Previously, he’s appeared on ITV’s Strangers, a crime drama series that starred Hong Kong’s award-winning Anthony Wong, and Silent Witness’s own Emilia Fox. More recently, the 35-year-old half Singaporean half Malaysian joined Henry Golding and Charlie Hunnam in Guy Ritchie’s The Gentlemen

In The Gentlemen, Jason played the role of Phuc—yes, pronounced exactly as you think it is—a henchman that later gets fatally run over by a train in a botched escape attempt. Phuc provided comedic relief, albeit gratuitously, as other characters struggled a little bit too much at the pronunciation of the name. “I’ve played enough Chinese gangsters. I want to showcase intellect and vulnerability on screen,” Jason shared. Championing intellect? This is definitely a man after our hearts. “We’re not all hardcore people that just chop people up. There’s a lot more depth to us within society.” 

Now, with the less atypical character of Adam Yuen, Jason finds that it’s imperative for him to imbue positive racial enforcement, especially since the show has such a large fan base. “I’ve been doing this for 15 years, and only now I’m getting roles where it’s not ethnic-specific, and now I’m attending more castings where I am going out for the Fitzpatricks-, John Smiths- and Jude Alexander-type roles that aren’t racially referenced. For me, as an artist, it’s so important to showcase representation, because it matters. Seeing diversity on screen is important.” 

This year, we have seen events that have sent shockwaves across the world. Daniel Dae Kim urged the American Congress to address anti-Asian hate, and Sandra Oh took to the streets demanding the violence against the Asian community to end. Both of these events followed the Atlanta shooting where six out of the eight dead were Asian women. 

Entertainment has always had a didactic value (in the sense that it makes moral observations and assumptions for the audience), and Jason agreed. However, he asserted that there is a time and a place to address matters surrounding racism, and it should be executed with proper care. “The show doesn’t just go to the UK, there are plenty of other territories. I wanted to make sure it’s relatable, and the audiences can empathise with me. It’s very hard to tell these stories, and I feel like I need to do that before exploring racial topics.” Clearly, for the new Silent Witness initiate, setting the right tone means everything, even subliminally. And like most great content, it’s better to show than tell.  

All seriousness aside, Jason was in high spirits during the exchange. We spoke about the anxiety of joining a show that has been running for as long as I have lived, and he was gracious in acknowledging the support he has received from his co-stars and crew members. “Everyone made me feel super welcomed. Lawrence Till, the producer, was great as well. I would just run lines with him at the office, and he’d help me find that character.” 

Co-stars Emilia and David played their roles in assimilating Jason into the Silent Witness family. David would gloss over minute slips, and Emilia would find the time to go over their dialogue until they had it down pat. “That’s just a testament to the great leader she was because she’d go out of her way to help me.” 

For Jason, Adam Yuen is an upstanding family man, who is strong, smart, and witty, and he was keen to do it justice. Upon the first read, he had an “oh, sh#t!” moment. “It had to be one of the most intense amount of dialogue I’ve ever had! I needed to map this out, I thought. I marked it, I highlighted it—like a textbook! That was an amateur mistake, because the next day, they sent a new draft in,” he bantered. 

Again, the conversation rerouted to the topic of representation. “I’m not saying I represent the whole community, because I don’t want to put that pressure on myself, but if I’m being put in that position where people will be able to see that on camera, I’m going to make sure I’m doing a good job and represent the people,” he said. He also noted that, during one of his consults with an actual pathologist, it was revealed to him that a Chinese pathologist that worked out of the southwest region of England is one out of only two Asian pathologists that work in the UK. “Even if it’s just two people, I wanted to make sure that I represent those two people within their industry well.” 

However, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows for the character; Adam is quite the black sheep of his family. His parents, who are medical experts, expect him to become a surgeon. After facing filial disappointment, Adam left Singapore for England. 

That’s not all. In earlier episodes, you’ll find Adam stepping on some toes, particularly Jack’s and Dr. Nikki’s. “You get a two-for-one with him. He’s a forensic medical examiner and he’s also a pathologist. As you’ve seen in some of the episodes, he’s a bit of a know-it-all. He’s a go-getter, and he doesn’t like the stickler of the bureaucracy or the red tape that they had in place at the Lyell. He challenges the system where it’s inefficient, and this annoys Dr. Nikki. Even with Jack, he tries to give solutions to his problems. Adam is efficient, and a bit annoying,” he said lightheartedly. 

“You’re going to see him get himself in more predicaments because of that haste, and that lack of patience. You’ll be seeing me in a few more episodes, but I can’t reveal too much!” 

We finished off the chat by talking about something more laidback: his homecoming. The pandemic makes no exception when it comes to disrupting one’s travel plans—Jason’s included. But after having spent such a long time in London, Jason found that his heat (both weather and flavour) tolerance is no longer the same. “The heat is a killer for me! I never used to be like that. And I can’t do spicy anymore! My mum made prawn noodles the other day, with a really nice sambal. I thought to myself ‘I can do this’, but I can’t!” 

While Jason frequently travels to Singapore for family and holidays, he yearns for Malaysia too. “I miss my family in Johor Bahru, Penang, and Kuala Lumpur. It’s also the food—I get the good makan, you know?” he joked. 

For his fans in Southeast Asia, Jason has this message to share: “I hope I did a good job and did it justice. Hopefully, you guys enjoy Silent Witness, and when you see Adam Yuen, he’s relatable for you guys.”