SAG Awards nominee profile: Hong Chau (‘The Whale’) sets new record among Asian performers

After coming up short against Allison Janney (“I, Tonya”) on her first Screen Actors Guild Award nomination for 2017’s “Downsizing,” Hong Chau now has a second chance at a supporting victory thanks to her work in “The Whale.” Although she is far from the first woman to compete for the same SAG Award twice, she has broken new ground as the only person of both Asian birth and descent to receive multiple solo film acting nominations from the guild. If she prevails, she will follow Yuh-Jung Youn (2020’s “Minari”) as only the second Asian winner of any individual film SAG Award.

Along with “Everything Everywhere All at Once” actress Jamie Lee Curtis, who earned her first SAG Award notice for 1994’s “True Lies,” Chau is one of two returning supporting nominees in this year’s lineup. Also vying for the prize is Curtis’ co-star, Stephanie Hsu, a past TV ensemble winner for “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” whose Chinese heritage makes her and Chau the only pair of Asian actresses to ever face off in either of the guild’s solo film categories. Rounding out the group are general first-time nominee Kerry Condon (“The Banshees of Inisherin”) and previous ensemble victor (for 2018’s “Black Panther”) Angela Bassett (“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”).

SEE Full list of SAG Awards nominations

With a screenplay adapted by Samuel D. Hunter from his play of the same name, “The Whale” stars lead SAG Award nominee Brendan Fraser as Charlie, a sensitive professor whose severe obesity makes him practically immobile. Chau plays his close friend and nurse, Liz, whose tough love approach to his daily care comes to involve shielding him from his sociopathic teenage daughter (Sadie Sink) and an overly persistent young missionary (Ty Simpkins).

Chau, who was born in Thailand to Vietnamese parents, is one of only six women of Asian descent ever nominated in the film supporting actress category. Aside from Hsu and Youn, this group includes Hailee Steinfeld (Filipino, 2010’s “True Grit”), Rinko Kikuchi (Japanese, 2006’s “Babel”) and Catherine Keener (Lebanese, 1999’s “Being John Malkovich,” 2005’s “Capote” and 2007’s “Into the Wild”). The only two Asian women who have ever competed for the corresponding lead prize are Chinese actresses Ziyi Zhang (2005’s “Memoirs of a Geisha”) and Michelle Yeoh (“Everything Everywhere All at Once”).

If Chau wins this supporting award on her second try, she would be the fifth woman to do so after losing on her first. Those who will have preceded her in this regard are Judi Dench (lost for 1998’s “Shakespeare in Love”; won for 2000’s “Chocolat”), Renée Zellweger (1996’s “Jerry Maguire”; 2003’s “Cold Mountain”), Cate Blanchett (2001’s “Bandits”; 2004’s “The Aviator”) and Viola Davis (2008’s “Doubt”; 2016’s “Fences”).

This article is a part of Gold Derby’s “SAG Awards nominee profile” series spotlighting the 2023 contenders in film and TV.

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