Shadowhunters star Harry Shum Jr calls his fanbase a loving, global family

Gabriella Geisinger
·6-min read
Photo credit: Kevork Djansezian - Getty Images
Photo credit: Kevork Djansezian - Getty Images

From Digital Spy

Harry Shum Jr joins the phone-call with an upbeat lilt in his voice. He's in Vancouver, where it's 9am. "I'm ready to start the day!" he says excitedly, in a way that betrays his underlying positivity about, well, everything.

It's hard to say what Shum Jr is best known for: his six seasons on Glee, his time as a bisexual warlock on Shadowhunters, or his tantalising mid-credits scene in Crazy Rich Asians (of which we all want more). Whatever it was, it will, for now, be as the leading man in romance movies, as is evidenced by his two upcoming projects: All My Life (out in cinemas now), and Love Hard for Netflix.

"I'm very fortunate to be able to tell these little slice-of-life stories, especially someone like me who doesn't really, in Hollywood, usually have the opportunity to be in that position to tell those stories. So I'm really grateful for that," he said.

'Slice of life' is certainly a bittersweet way to describe his role as Sol in the upcoming All My Life, based on the true love story of Sol Chau and Jenn Carter in which the former is diagnosed with liver cancer, so the couple decide to bring up their wedding date. In real life, Sol died only four months after they were married.

The weight of this story is not lost on Shum Jr: "It's always difficult when you portray someone who is a real person, and is not a made-up character, and hasn't just come from the mind of a writer. So I didn't take that lightly.

"I had a picture of Sol by my nightstand that I spoke to. I wanted some sort of voice to at least help guide me, instead of just doing my research and talking to Jenn and getting whatever was off the page."

He laughs through his next admission, perhaps nervously, before settling into sincerity. "I had this really insane experience while shooting the film – anything actor-y that I wanted to do, or things that I wanted to do with the character, it was more like: no, Sol… I felt his energy there, almost guiding me.

"And as an actor, that was a really, you know, strange experience. Usually, you have your experiences of however and whatever method that you use. But this was something that – you know, I was just like a vessel, honestly. It was a really beautiful experience."

Photo credit: Universal
Photo credit: Universal

To different extents, all actors are vessels and though whether they channel spirits of their characters or not, it's a responsibility that they bear. Shum Jr for his part, takes that responsibility that he's both earned and loves: "I've been doing this for a while now," he laughs.

"I've done extra work. I've been in the background. I've been on shows where, you know, I was one of the main cast, but I was still in the background, you know? I have watched it from the outside.

"It's always important for me to look at history, and talking about just Hollywood in general. Say, for instance, in All My Life, an interracial couple like this, it was illegal like 80 years ago – actually in the law books, it was like,'You can't do this, or you will go to prison.' Which is insane, you know?

Photo credit: Universal
Photo credit: Universal

"So looking at it now, it's how much we had progressed but are still so far behind: the fact that 80 years now is when we can kind of see a glimpse of it. I'm optimistic about the future.

"I think we haven't still done enough. The fact is, we're still pretty far behind. So for me, I would say: what I want for the future generation of actors and beyond actors, is just how people are portrayed so that it allows regular folk to feel a little more emboldened to embrace themselves, and their true selves."

It is a responsibility we all share, he says, revealing that the real-life Jenn was adamant Sol be played by an Asian actor. "I think we have to all speak up on making sure that we keep this – I wouldn't say 'trend' going, but keeping this energy going where we see different faces on screen that can be represented, and see them as whole human beings, as opposed to just a character."

Photo credit: Tyler Golden - Fox
Photo credit: Tyler Golden - Fox

Through his roles, Shum Jr has learned a lot about himself – he calls them "therapy sessions" to a certain extent. As Bane on Shadowhunters, he learned about the LGBTQ+ community – an invaluable time. "I've been to different conventions, and met a lot of [Shadowhunter] fans.

"They're just beautiful, generous, loving people. And that has been the best part of that experience, the fanbase on Shadowhunters. It has become some sort of… like a family. It's kind of this global family.

"I think for them, the characters on that show, they just really saw themselves in it. And that's what's important in representation in every possible way.

Photo credit: Universal
Photo credit: Universal

"Specifically for that character I played, Magnus Bane, you know, a bisexual warlock that lived to 400 years old, you're like: 'OK, which one do you relate to, right?' he says with another upbeat laugh.

"But it was important for me, and I think that I was able to just learn and listen, and try to play against the stereotypes that have been lived in for a lot of shows that have portrayed bisexual characters. So that was really big in my brain."

With Shadowhunters behind him and two bonafide starring romance roles ahead, it seems like Shum Jr's career is launching into full-fledged stardom, but when asked what his dream role would be – if he could pick anything, his answer is surprising.

Photo credit: Freeform
Photo credit: Freeform

"You know, it's funny, because when I was about 10 years old, if you asked me that, it'd be to play a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle or something." As someone who grew up on TMNT, I was enthusiastic about this choice.

"Yeah, that sounds pretty awesome! I would totally do that!" he says excitedly.

But after the pause for humour's sake, Shum Jr slips back into a trademark earnestness. "I would just never have imagined myself being in this position – an immigrant kid that moved from Costa Rica to America. Honestly, I just wanted a friend. I just wanted a friend that would understand me.

Photo credit: Photo Credit: Patti Perret/Universal Pictures - Universal
Photo credit: Photo Credit: Patti Perret/Universal Pictures - Universal

"So being in this position, and telling these stories, I'm just here for the journey, man. I get surprised at every left turn on things that I'm able to do in my life. But I'm working on a lot of stuff that-

"One last thing to go back to: with Hollywood, it's like… I just can't wait for roles to come up. There are a lot of things I'm developing right now. It's been really exciting.

"I think the future is just playing multifaceted characters that really play against- or, honestly, characters that I never would get a chance to play, and when it comes from someone else's mind. So I'm excited to play these roles."

All My Life is out in cinemas now.

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