When I talked to Remy Hii on the eve of the Spider-Man: Far From Home world premiere, the 32-year-old described the view of the red carpet from his Hollywood Boulevard hotel room. Clearly elated by the scene that was happening below him – “it’s nuts” – the excitement from the actor was exuding through the phone. And after a short 20 minute chat with the actor, it proved the journey to get here was clearly one of passion.
Remy Hii’s upbringing was not like many other up-and-coming stars in the film industry. Hailing from Papua New Guinea – an Island nation just off the northern coast of Australia – the 32-year-old spent much of his early childhood without television and limited access to power. Spending his days storytelling and using his imagination, for the now ‘Spider-Man’ star, acting “was never something that was on the radar”. Nevertheless, after moving to Queensland, Australia in his teenage years, Hii fell in love with the theatre and despite not seeing himself as an Asian-Australian in popular culture, he dived head-first into the industry.
Since 2009, the actor has been regularly seen in local television but after bursting into Hollywood with a role in Crazy Rich Asians his fame has now sky-rocketed thanks to his appearance in the newly-released film, Spider-Man: Far From Home.
Joining an A-list cast including Tom Holland (playing Peter Parker), Jake Gyllenhaal (Mysterio) and Zendaya (MJ), Hii fronts ‘Brad Davis’, Peter Parker’s classmate. Packed with action, light-hearted comedy and whacky plot twists – don’t worry, no spoilers here – the film follows on from the events of Avengers: Endgame where Spider-Man must step up to take on new threats in a world that has changed forever. As the hotly-anticipated film drops into cinemas, ICON caught up with the Australian prodigy to chat on working with Tom Holland, spoilers and diversity within the industry.
ICON: Talk to me about your upbringing. Were you always interest in acting?
“…it never sort of revealed itself as something you can actually do…”
Remy Hii: “Subconsciously yeah. My childhood, my early years were spent in Papua New Guinea in a little village and we didn’t have television and the power was on and off every other day so we sort of made do with storytelling and making things up and playing … that didn’t really translate into ‘I’m going to be an actor’ because it was never something that was on the radar, it never sort of revealed itself as something you can actually do…”
ICON: After starring in Australian television, what was the transition like when you started landing roles in the likes ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ and now ‘Spider-Man’?
RH: “Thanks to the progression of technology the whole business of acting – from an actors point of view – has changed so much … Now, everyone can send takes to all corners of the globe, all around the world with your iPhone …. With Spider-Man [Far From Home], I sent this tape on a Monday and I was late for it too… But they did see it and on Tuesday they said, ‘Look we really, really like you.’ … On Friday they said, ‘We need you to fly to London.’ So in the space of a week from hitting that email, I had to have my bags packed for the next five months and I was on a plane. So the whiplash was extraordinary…”
ICON: You play Brad Davis in Spider-Man. Can you explain him as a character?
RH: “So Brad Davis is one of Peter’s school mates up on this school field trip to Europe and Brad is kind of, he’s a really cool guy. He’s the guy that you sort of love to hate because at least from his perspective he’s too perfect. He’s way too likeable, attractive kind of a guy who has his eyes on MJ and of course so does Peter and it’s a classic kind of rivalry between these two school kids who are trying to both get the same girl really.”
ICON: You’ve shared the set with Jake Gyllenhaal and Tom Holland. What kind of wisdom did they impart on you?
“With Tom, I think it was just eye-opening for me to share things with someone like Tom who’s so young and has achieved so much.”
RH: “From Jake, the major thing that Jake and I connected on was theatre and his love for theatre. I went to NIDA, the drama school, and that’s a very intensive three years of classical theatre training and I didn’t know this about Jake but he does a play every year which is extraordinary…
With Tom, I think it was just eye-opening for me to share things with someone like Tom who’s so young and has achieved so much. I think he’s the perfect lesson in class, in how to handle that kind of responsibility that is struck upon someone at such a young age. But the way in which he handles it – he’s such a brilliant actor and he has the world wrapped around his finger – he’s so charming and his charisma is shining through his role as Peter and Spider-Man onscreen. To juggle that kind of attention and popularity is something I think is really, really admirable.”
ICON: What is one thing people may not know when it comes to filming an action film such as Spider-Man?
RH: “The days where you don’t film at all. So again, it’s a super tedious process with filming, especially with action films. There are so many moving parts and the sets are so big and you’ll have hundreds of people working on things – everything has to go right because if you’re doing any stunts, safety is paramount. And what that means is that at the end of the day, you can be spending 16 to 17 hours on a shoot day and at the end of that you have about maybe 6 to 12 seconds of usable footage that will end up on the screen. It moves incredibly slowly. You turn up at 5am or 3am in some cases – we were shooting things in London where we were only getting permission to film in public on the London Bridge, on the Tower Bridge at certain time periods. You rock up and you have to be ready to go at any moment’s notice, you’re on edge for 10, 12 hours, even more and then that’s it….”
ICON: ‘Spider-Man: Far From Home’ is a direct continuance of Avengers: Endgame. Did you find it difficult to keep any major spoilers under wraps?
RH: “When we were filming and even now there are so many things we have to be careful [about]… I’m like ‘I’m saying nothing, I’m posting nothing, I’m revealing nothing,’ and that made it very, very easy. If you say nothing then you can’t say anything wrong because really it’s like we’re being watched.”
ICON: In a recent interview, you called your suitcase home. Since wrapping up production is that still true?
RH: “Yeah, I still don’t know where I’m going to be after this. It’s been a pretty crazy last couple of years to be honest because again, you have to be ready and willing to pack up and leave and go where ever at the drop of a hat. I’ve been so lucky that I have been able to go from job to job to job… At first the bohemian lifestyle was really, really exciting and fun and then you start thinking, ‘Well actually, I want to start growing some roots somewhere. I want to be able to return somewhere where I recognise the furniture’. But hopefully soon.”
ICON: Particularly in Hollywood today, there is so much conversation surrounding lack of diversity. Growing up as an Asian-Australian, was that a help or hindrance when attending castings?
“I was going for roles and it was always really small – couple of lines there, couple of lines here – can you be a Hong Kong gambling addict? Can you be a Chinese student with an accent? Can you be an IT nerd?”
RH: “Absolutely. I think this speaks volumes to the amount of change that has happened so quickly. I think we still have a long way to go and the most heartening thing is that everyday the discussion is more and more and you can see these changes happening in real time in the industry … When I was first starting out as an actor, I was going for roles and it was always really small – couple of lines there, couple of lines here – can you be a Hong Kong gambling addict? Can you be a Chinese student with an accent? Can you be an IT nerd? And they were always very token, very stereotypical depictions… Whereas now it has completely changed and I think that the discussion of diversity has been really, really embraced and again, I think that we have still got distances to cover. But it’s pretty extraordinary when you think about the changes that have been made now .. and the fact that I can now say that I am a proud Asian-Australian guy playing a character named ‘Brad Davis’. Where the ethnicity aspect is secondary to the fact that he happens to be a guy that is in Peter Parker’s high school…”
ICON: Do you believe that has something to do with film writing as well?
“That’s why we saw characters like Black Widow being whitewashed and played by Scarlett Johansson because apparently having an Asian actor in that role would not have been profitable.”
RH: “No, I think it has to be driven from the top, it has to be driven by producers. The people that have the money, because the gateway was always producers saying, ‘This isn’t profitable.’ You have writers that are being directed from producers not to create a character in such a way… That’s why we saw characters like Black Widow being whitewashed and played by Scarlett Johansson because apparently having an Asian actor in that role would not have been profitable. Well, I think that the writing on the wall is now we know that’s false, but it was always being driven by economics and a false belief that if it’s not a white character then it won’t sell. And I think that what we’re seeing now is that the metrics have proven otherwise and that people are now willing to go out there and embrace diverse storylines. And I think that’s fantastic.”
ICON: Lastly, are you working on any projects we can look forward to?
“It’s back to grind now, it’s back to auditions really. And there’s really exciting stuff coming out. There is some amazing Australian work that’s being pitched at the moment that I would love to get involved in… And to work in Australia again, I think it’s such an amazing industry that we have in Australia… Of course Hollywood is amazing and I’ll never say no to the right role but at the moment I’d love to come back and be filming more back home.”