Jillian Nguyen on leading the quiet love story ‘Expired’

Jillian Nguyen as April in the sci-fi film, EXPIRED, a Lionsgate release. Photo courtesy of Lionsgate.
Photo courtesy of Lionsgate.

Jillian Nguyen (“Clickbait”) stars in the romantic science fiction feature Expired, directed by Ivan Sen (Mystery Road) and co-starring Ryan Kwanten (“True Blood,” Dead Silence) and Hugo Weaving (The Matrix and The Lord of the Rings franchise).

Synopsis: In a futuristic Hong Kong, assassin Jack (Kwanten), crosses paths with a nightclub singer, April (Nguyen). As Jack becomes increasingly drawn to April his body mysteriously deteriorates. Jack tracks down reclusive life extension scientist Doctor Bergman (Weaving), in a search for answers. Doctor Bergman unearths Jack’s long buried secret and is forced to confront his own murky past. As the net that connects them tightens, Jack and April struggle for love as they face their past in a loveless world that is on the cusp of immortality and extinction.

Check out my interview with Jillian!

How did you come to be a part of the movie?

Jillian: It wasn’t your typical audition. Ivan is very, very Indie. There’s Indie, but he’s like Indie Indie. He is the writer, director, DP, producer, composer and his own casting director. So, he found me on something that’s similar to Craigslist and at the time I only had one credit to my name and it was a walk-on role. He messaged me directly and I ignored him. I was like, ‘Who’s this random Russian guy?’ and then he went straight to my agent. They asked me to sing a voice clip and he said he loved it. They sent me to the audition and Ivan was like, ‘Hong Kong, female lead, Ryan Kwanten, Hugo Weaving…’  And that’s how it started. Three years ago, it’s crazy. That was my break.

What can people expect from watching this movie?

Jillian: Ivan is such a unique filmmaker in the sense that his films feel like paintings and poetry in so many ways. You watch it and the landscape and the world in this Hong Kong setting is so overwhelming and epic. At the heart of it, it’s a very quiet love story, as there are quiet love stories all over the world, in little pockets and even in all the noise and the chaos. Yeah, it’s very romantic and heartbreaking and a real mirror of where we’re heading where we are now. The future is now.

How would you describe your character, April?

Jillian: April is a pop singer and migrant worker who lives in Hong Kong. And when you first meet her, it’s like she’s frozen. She’s armored, she’s guarded, she’s like another character in herself as a nightclub singer. And so it’s like she’s a robot. Is she human? Is she not? But then she starts to fall in love and everything changes. Yeah, she feels very close to me. Like I feel like I understand her, you know? Yeah, I love her.

(L-R) Ryan Kwanten as Jack and Jillian Nguyen as April in the sci-fi film, EXPIRED, a Lionsgate release. Photo courtesy of Lionsgate.
Did you have to do anything special to prepare to play her?

Jillian: I think besides the things that we all share, like, the need to be loved, to be seen, to be held, all that stuff. Besides that, I watched a lot of videos on YouTube of that kind of environment, you know, girls who are nightclub singers, hostesses in, you know, like, the darker part of the industry, or whatever you call it. Yeah. I would just watch interviews of real live women who, for some reason, like this is their livelihood. I’d watch just to see and to empathize with them. Yeah, YouTube is a great tool. It’s a great tool for actors… It’s just like a documentary space, you know, just to watch someone else’s life so easily. And it was really fascinating to watch the videos of those women.

What was it like working with Ivan as a director and writer and everything else that he did?

Jillian: Crazy. It was very intimate because he shoots and he always asks everyone to leave the room, and then we’ll rehearse before every scene and it feels like you’re in this other world, literally, like a special dream world that he’s created. And he’s just so calm. He’s almost like a monk. He’s very stoic. It literally was like a temple, it’s quiet, very respectful and he’s very specific, even in his score, because he’s scoring it almost like a dance. He’s so gentle and nurturing and I absolutely adore working with Ivan as a director. And that doesn’t happen often as an actor, you know, usually it’s so much more collaborative, but because it was just him, it literally felt like you were coming into his world. He was casting a spell over us each day. Yeah, it was very special, very magical.

And what was it like getting to work with Ryan and Hugo?

Jillian: At first, I was so scared and I was like, ‘what if they are mean to me or don’t think of me as an equal,’ but they are so amazing. I’m not lying. I loved working with them so much and they are just insanely talented actors and just the most generous, most compassionate, most wonderful human beings. They taught me everything. I just watched them and I just copied them. I was like, ‘okay, Hugo’s doing that, so I’m going to do that.’ This was my first speaking role in a film and I didn’t ever feel like I was othered by them. They just made me feel like I could just play and fly and do everything. Yeah, I’m so lucky. 

What was something that they taught you?

Jillian: I think the biggest thing is that you can be a great artist and a great human being. I think throughout history, you always will find great artists, but these two and Ivan, they had just the kindest souls. And that’s why they’re successful, and that’s why they work and that’s why they bring these characters to life with endless empathy because they’re good people. That was a big, big thing. Yeah. But no one tells you when you’re trying to be an actor to also be a good person. These two showed me that. So, I’m going to try my best. 

Jillian Nguyen as April in the sci-fi film, EXPIRED, a Lionsgate release. Photo courtesy of Lionsgate.
Do you have any memories that stand out from filming?

Jillian: Yes,there are so many because we shot in Hong Kong, you know, in that special time before Hong Kong has changed forever, as we know today. Yeah, we shot in this really cute hotel with a local Hong Kong crew. All of our lunches were at local Hong Kong eateries like noodles, rice, soups, everything, like there was too much food every day. Before, they dropped us off at like some hamburger joint, like Western joints, and we were like, ‘don’t leave us at the hamburger joint. Take us with you.’ We had the best food and the city is so alive, like it’s lost in time with neon signs, and just getting to live in that world and like the landscape with the characters in  Hong Kong, it’s one of the greatest cities in the world. Everything was so surreal. And karaoke! We had karaoke on our wrap party night. We sang “My Heart Will Go On” together, all the songs. It was pretty fun.

Is there anything that you hope the audience takes away from watching the movie?

Jillian: I mean, history has always been mad, right? Like it’s a cycle of violence and war and all these awful things, but I think the film is a really gentle and beautiful reminder of how important it is to love and just to connect, just the most basic human, primal things. If we start with love, I think life will be okay. It’s very simple. Even if it was hopeless, if you fall in love, and you allow yourself to be seen, you’ll be okay. 

Is there anything that we didn’t touch on that you’d like to add about Expired?

Jillian: To stress Ivan’s work as a filmmaker and how interesting his practices are, like to be the writer, director, cinematographer, everything. So, I think what you end up watching will very much feel like a painting with a pulse. Like he’s so specific and it’s very much like he’s painting. So, it’s really interesting. It’s his first film that is set in a city and not the desert. Like all his other movies like Goldstone, Beneath Clouds, Mystery Road are exploring his heritage, which is mixed with indigenous creation. This is the first film that’s totally different and it’s a very exciting direction for Ivan Sen. He says it’s still very close to how he’s explored the themes and his characters before. And it’s indigenous as well, in it’s own style. Yeah, and it’s just so special that it was shot in Hong Kong before Hong Kong has changed. So it’s very much of a moment in time.

What’s next for you?

Jillian: Yeah, so my last project to come out was “Clickbait,” and this year, I’ve got an Australian surf drama. Set in the 70s in Australia, it’s called “Barons” and it’s coming out in April. I’m the lead in that. I’ve got another Indie that just premiered at the SXSW Film Festival, called Millie Lies Low. It’s kind of got LadyBird vibes, but they’re in their 20s. And then an animation is coming out later, but it’s based on a graphic novel that’s been around for 15 years. So yeah, and a play in Melbourne. I’m doing a play for like 12 weeks at the MTC called “Laurinda.” A little bit of everything, literally.

Are you allowed to talk about any of those a little bit more? 

Jillian: Yeah, I mean, like the surf drama one (“Barons”), I think, will be really exciting. It has an ensemble of Australian actors, but it’s also an American storyline because Quicksilver, the surfboard, was bought out by Americans who kind of changed the brand forever. It’s gonna be really cool. And it’s the 70s, such a sexy, cool era. So I’m very excited for that to come out. And the Indie is cool. Millie Lies Low, directed by Michelle Savill, you should watch that too. That’s a really cool film, like in the first scene she has a panic attack as she’s on her way to New York for an internship. I mean, it’s a very dark comedy, very Kiwi, very dry, very offbeat. 

Jillian Nguyen as April and Ryan Kwanten as Jack in the sci-fi film, EXPIRED, a Lionsgate release. Photo courtesy of Lionsgate.
Expired will be available in select theaters, on digital, and on demand March 18th!”