Photos: Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc., Janet Hsieh's Facebook
When George Young joined local artiste management agency FLY Entertainment in 2011, he told his new boss, founder Irene Ang, that he was going to be her “Cate Blanchett”.
“I saw Irene’s bio while looking up Singapore agents, and she mentioned that she was looking for her own Cate Blanchett,” recalled the British-born actor, 36, in a phone interview from Los Angeles. Irene has also shared this lofty vision, inspired by the Australian agency that discovered the two-time Oscar winning actress, in several interviews. “I told her that one day, I will be going to Hollywood.”
Less than five years later, that bold statement came to pass. In early 2014, George began attending television auditions in Los Angeles, and in May last year, he became the first FLY Entertainment artiste to land a starring role in an American TV series with Containment. The 13-episode drama debuted last week on The CW (the network that also gave us Gossip Girl and Supernatural), and will kick off its local broadcast on Channel 5 at 10.15pm tonight (after which new episodes will be released at 10pm on Wednesdays).
Getting the part was a long and arduous process, especially compared to how things are usually done in Singapore. “In Hollywood, there is a series of loops you have to jump through (to get a role),” George explained, revealing that after making it through two auditions, he was called up for a studio test, a session with Containment’s executive producer Julie Plec (who is also working on The Vampire Diaries), and finally, a meeting in “an amazing office that you see on Entourage” where he did his scenes in front of 15 network executives.
To George’s horror, that final round was not as smooth-sailing as he had hoped. “Right at the last line, I thought, ‘What if I screw up?’ and I did! So okay, that’s fine, I wanted to be a professional and went back to the beginning to do it again, and I screwed up the line even earlier,” he recounted.
Thankfully, the third time was the charm and he nailed the next attempt. “I said to (the executives), ‘Oh, I just wanted to do it three times for effect’, and thankfully, they laughed! It would have been really bad for me if they didn’t laugh.”
Despite the immense pressure, George readily declared that he is prepared to repeat the whole process all over again for future projects. “I think I’m a bit screwed up in the head, but I do like auditioning,” he chuckled. “You have to do a lot as an actor so you have to have that masochistic quality, to enjoy it.”
In Containment, George plays Dr. Victor Cannerts, a medical researcher who makes the controversial call to quarantine a large area of Atlanta after the outbreak of a mysterious and fatal epidemic, before racing to find a cure for it.
While his character is forced to stay calm in the midst of all the chaos, George admits that he “wouldn’t last a second” in a plague like this. “I would lock myself in my apartment, fire up some computer games and stay there forever, surviving on canned food and three-day-old chicken rice until it runs out,” he said with a laugh. “I’ll be quite the coward and I won’t be out there fighting.”
Although it may sound like one, Containment is not a zombie movie. “If you get the virus, you’re not The Walking Dead, you’re just dead,” said George. “It’s more science fact than science fiction – this can actually happen and it has happened to some degree with H1N1, bird flu, Ebola and most recently Zika.”
George went on to say that the series makes the viewer ask the question of what they would do if a situation like this really happened in their part of the world. “Imagine you’re at work, and suddenly there’s a virus outbreak and they quarantine half of Singapore,” he theorised. “You’re not allowed to see your family and you don’t know what’s happening; panic will start to spread and social media will go viral – the show contains an exploration of that, which I really love.”
As much as he’s excited about the show, George “warned” that it may potentially make hypochondriacs out of everybody. “You’ll be wearing masks and applying hand sanitiser everywhere – it has definitely happened to me!” he said. “Every time someone sneezed, we (he and his co-stars) would avoid that person, and we think about it when we shake hands.”
This is why it’s unsurprising that George “freaked out” when he visited his wife, Taiwanese-American host Janet Hsieh, in the hospital earlier this month while she was suffering from low blood pressure.
“It was my first experience in a hospital after doing the show, and I told Janet, ‘It feels like I’m back on set!’,” he said, before reassuring us about Janet’s condition, “She got a bit ill and needed an IV drip to rehydrate, but it was nothing serious and she’s good now.”
Containment airs Wednesdays, 10pm on Channel 5.