Born in Costa Rica to parents of Chinese descent, Harry Shum Jr.’s upbringing is as versatile as the roles he plays on screen. At age 34, the budding professional has already made an impressive mark in the industry starting out as the renowned silhouetted dancer on iPod commercials to martial arts fighting in Netflix’s remake of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword Of Destiny.
Now the actor, widely known as Mike Chang on Fox’s Glee, is using his dancing prowess in a different manner: as the unique Magnus Bane on Freeform’s Shadowhunters. AsAmNews had the chance to phone chat with Harry in between his shooting schedule to further discuss his role on the supernatural series and the positive change he is witnessing within Hollywood and its audiences.
“What I’ve noticed is their appreciation for backstory,” Harry commented when asked about fan reaction to his season two character development.
“It’s cool to see the fans talk about how relatable [Magnus] is. He’s a half demon, half human, but in a lot of ways we all have our own demons as much as we have human qualities. The parallels are really interesting.”
While Magnus – the flamboyant warlock from Brooklyn – uses magic and movement to fight off evil in the supernatural dimension, the major attraction of his character is his bisexual orientation.
“The LGBTQ community is usually looked at in one way,” Harry explained. “But with Magnus, it’s cool to see a character whose sexuality is separate and doesn’t define what he can and can’t do.”
While progress on screen has certainly been the forefront of multiple conversations, for Harry, the fan reaction to his television character was one way of viewing this progress.
“It’s nice to see on Twitter that our audience, who range from 13 to 35 and beyond, are watching the show with their parents. They are rooting for a relationship that is not seen as much on television and for characters that look different. I think that is really cool, and I see that as progress.
“The idea is to keep pushing outside of the bubble and see different perspectives,” Harry continued.
“I do see people trying to figure out how to understand and also people who completely don’t understand. My job is to hopefully portray these characters as real as possible – whether in a sci-fi genre or not. And tell a good story where people are affected.”
While Harry has hit a high in his career, he didn’t always face success so easily, having to overcome battles and doubts throughout his acting path. Until today, his most rewarding moment is making his parents proud of his accomplishments. It’s safe to say that his journey is inspiring to many children who are pursuing the entertainment industry, especially of Asian American background.
When asked what words of encouragement he could offer, Harry stressed the importance of hard work.
“It’s said over and over, but for me, it’s hard work. Do your research. Look at the span of art out there – whether it’s acting, singing, or dancing. And try to figure out if this is really good work and how can I get to that place of doing good work. If it’s not, go back to the drawing board, then work a little harder.”
Catch Harry Shum Jr. as Magnus Bane on Shadowhunters’ mid-season finale, March 6 at 8/7 p.m. central.