Rich Ting (photo credit: Ryan West)

Rich Ting Talks ‘Waco,’ ‘Warrior,’ and the Inspiration He Found in Bruce Lee [Exclusive Interview]

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Rich Ting’s acting career has come full circle in an inspiring way.

You might recognize Ting from his previous roles on NCIS: Los Angeles and Supergirl or as James Suh on the 2013 film Lone Survivor. Next up, Ting stars as Lon Horiuchi on Paramount Network’s Waco and as Bolo on the upcoming Fall series, Warrior.

I recently had the chance to chat with Ting about the decisions that led him to become an actor and his roles on both Waco and Warrior.

“I am a fourth generation Asian American,” Ting began. “My grandparents were born in Los Angeles and Oakland California, and so, to say the least, I’ve been around for a while in the states, growing up in a household where my mom, she’s of Japanese descent, and my dad is of Chinese descent, they only spoke English. The only kind of culture we had was eating white rice and removing our shoes before entering the house, and that was more due to my mom’s anal retentiveness and not dirtying the floors and all that stuff. That being said, I always was fascinated from a very young age with the martial arts and Bruce Lee.”

Rich Ting (photo credit: Ryan West)
Rich Ting (photo credit: Ryan West)

“At the age of four, I began studying martial arts and training, so what motivated me to start training at the age of four was my exposure to Bruce Lee and his films when I was three,” Ting continued.

His focus on athletics continued throughout his childhood. “I was expected to participate in the traditional sports including football, basketball, baseball, and track, and which I continued to do all the way through high school. I lettered in all four sports and went on to play college football at Yale University, which was my first childhood dream,” he recalled.

He kept up his martial arts training as well, but there was always another lingering dream for Ting.

“I remember growing up and not being able to really identify with anyone on the small screen or the big screen. A lot of my friends that I played these sports with were predominantly African American, and I was the only Asian kid on the football team, on the basketball team, on the baseball team, on the track team — and all my friends had idols. They all loved this actor, or this hero, or this cartoon character,” he recalled.

“For me the only person that I kind of related to [was] Bruce Lee, and later on Jackie Chan and Jet Li and those kinds of guys. But I was always curious — where’s my Asian American hero? What station can I turn on the channel and be like wow, there’s an Asian American dad, or there’s an Asian American boyfriend, or there’s an Asian American lawyer or fireman?” Ting said.

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“I never found that person, and I always wondered, ‘where am I?’ so to speak. You know, where is my Hollywood idol or icon that I can connect to just on a visual level. And I never found that person. So throughout the years as a kid, I became very intrigued with, what if I could be that first Asian American leading man. What if I could star in a TV series or be in a big blockbuster Hollywood studio film and influence another kid [who is] in a similar situation?” he continued. “That was always lingering in the back of my head.”

Rich Ting (photo credit: Ryan West)
Rich Ting (photo credit: Ryan West)

At Yale, Ting focused on studying the humanities and earned his B.A., then went on to earn a dual J.D./M.B.A. degree. He also started modeling and eventually taking acting classes. “It was like my stress relief,” he admitted, noting that breaks from work or school were often spent attending those acting classes and workshops.

“There was like this lingering dream of acting and it kept following me wherever I went, and long, long story short, I came back to downtown Los Angeles in the summer of 2007 to take a job at a firm in LA, and coincidentally I was approached by stunt coordinators in the industry who were family and close friends of mine that have kind of known me my whole life.”

Those connections got Ting started doing stunts, and once he was on the WB lot with the first job, he decided he had to continue in the business.

Ting credits working hard at everything he did with leading him to this point.

I use a quote from Bruce Lee,” Ting said. “His quote is, ‘running water never grows stale, so you gotta just keep on flowing.’ And to me… that’s me in a nutshell.”

Waco, which stars Taylor Kitsch, Melissa Benoist, and Julia Garner, is based on the true story of the 51-day standoff that began with an ATF raid of a religious sect and resulted in a deadly fire. The series will reveal the untold story exploring the true-life details leading up to the 1993 standoff between the FBI, ATF, and David Koresh’s spiritual sect, The Branch Davidians.

The opportunity to work on this series was something Ting simply couldn’t pass up.

“It’s my second project playing a real character. My first was Lone Survivor playing Navy SEAL James Suh. I had the opportunity to work with Peter Berg on that one, and ironically Taylor Kitsch as well, and just to represent true life people that have served in our US military is the ultimate honor I think as an actor. You know, we give thanks to these U.S. military and armed service people all the time, but then who really gets an opportunity to play one of these guys on television or on the big screen and to represent them? To me it was an easy decision,” Ting shared. “I continue to be totally humbled by it.”

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For Ting, playing the role of a real person meant doing a few things, the first being to “keep it very simple.”

“We are actors, and the most I can do is play this character to the best of my ability and to give it 150%. And in doing that, [I do] as much research as I can individually — researching the person, his past, reaching out to family and friends, which can be a bit sensitive at times depending on where they are and if they want to talk about it. You have to respect the families and friends number one,” Ting noted.

“More importantly, though, it’s the production itself. Like for Waco, John Dowdle and one of the producers Drew Dowdle, his brother, they were very specific with me in how they wanted me to portray him and giving me great direction. At the same time, they left it open for me to interpret as well.”

Rich Ting (photo credit: Ryan West)
Rich Ting (photo credit: Ryan West)

Ting also spoke to what makes this particular project unique.

“We all saw the real thing happen on the news, and David Koresh was painted in a certain color. What I think is so special about our project is that it gives the perspective and the point of view not only from the mass media. You see David Koresh. You see what happens inside the compound. You see what happens through the minds of the Branch Davidians themselves, and I feel like a lot of people just thought they were a bunch of crazy people, but then you start to get to know these characters individually. The detail and specificity and just the overall attention to [what] really happened inside and outside of those walls. You get to see the point of view from the FBI. from the FBI HRT unit, from the ATF, from the police, from the local people of Waco, Texas.”

“You get to really see a full 360-degree picture of it. It starts with the writers, it continues with the actors, and I believe casting and the directors and producers did an awesome job just picking the talent for this show and forming an excellent roadmap for the whole thing,” he continued.

In addition to Waco, Ting can also be seen on the upcoming series, Warrior, which is currently slated to premiere this Fall on Cinemax. That’s the project which Ting said really brings things full circle for him.

“Growing up, like I said, the inspiration for my martial arts career let alone just kind of lifestyle and mentality has been Bruce Lee, and never would I have thought being a four-year-old kid watching Enter the Dragon that I would be doing a production that was inspired, created, and thought about by the man himself. The thing that’s cool about Warrior is that it’s a period piece set in the 1880s in Chinatown, it focuses on the Tongs, or the gangs of Chinatown at the time, as well as the politics, the economics, the culture of San Francisco,” Ting explained.

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“I play the character of Bolo, which fans around the world know who Bolo is. Bolo Yeung is a scary, big, muscular Chinese warrior that always fought with or against Bruce Lee,” he said.

“For me, there are two ironies about this project. One is Bruce Lee himself. The man who inspired me, I get to now carry out his dream. Number two is because of my athletic background, physically I was always a bit bigger than the other Asian kids that I grew up with.”

“Early in my life, a lot of friends and family would call me Bolo to kind of make fun of me because I was bigger than them,” Ting continued. “So come full circle, I remember when I got the call that they wanted to see me for Bolo, I just started laughing, and I thought, you couldn’t have predicted this.”

“I could never have dreamt of playing the character of Bolo in a series created by Bruce Lee. So I am beyond humbled, I am beyond flattered, to be a part of this phenomenal production.”

Be sure to catch Rich Ting on Waco, airing Wednesdays at 10/9c on Paramount Network (premieres tonight), and be on the lookout for Warrior, coming soon to Cinemax.

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Ashley Bissette Sumerel

Ashley is the founder and editor-in-chief of Tell-Tale TV as well as an English Instructor with degrees in Literature, Creative Writing, and Cultural Studies. She'll never grow tired of watching Gilmore Girls and is happy to talk about Buffy the Vampire Slayer for as long as anyone is willing to listen. Ashley is also a member of the BTJA (Critics Choice).

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