Actress Quanna Luo Masterson on embracing her Chinese-British identity

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Quanna Luo Masterson started her acting career on the stage but has since appeared in a variety of popular TV shows. She appeared alongside Cherry Jones, Alessandro Nivola and Harry Lloyd in Channel 4’s ‘Chimerica’, a four-part series based on the award-winning play of the same name. Then, in 2020, she was in Amazon Prime’s high-profile adaptation of ‘Brave New World’. Recently, she was back on the stage at the Royal Opera House, and she’s now writing a script of her own. Quanna told us more about moving from China to the UK, the actors who inspire her, and the importance of opening up about mental health.

What was it like moving from China to the UK as a teenager?

 I’m a naturally curious person and I wanted to learn about everything, so this really helped me with integrating into a new culture. I’m thankful to have had the experience of growing up around different cultures while traveling around the world – it’s enabled me to learn about people’s values, beliefs and behaviours. 

How would you compare the two societies?

I went to a professional dance school in China where they taught dance and academy classes with military precision. It taught me a good work ethic and discipline. After that, when I was studying in the UK, I was encouraged to make mistakes and openly talk about my feelings. So I feel I’ve had the best of both worlds. But it was sometimes challenging to find my own identity while integrating myself into a new society. We are all individuals with different backgrounds and that diversity and sense of welcome and inclusivity should be embraced and celebrated. 

Photo credit: Michael Shelford

How did you start working in the TV and film industry?

I’ve been performing ever since I was a child in China and won several national awards for singing, dancing and acting. When I moved to the UK, I wanted to become a musical theatre performer and now I’m working in the film industry purely by, enjoyable, chance. My agent has always been supportive of me. I also had a great acting teacher who really influenced and inspired me. I still love the theatre, and I recently had the privilege of performing at the Royal Opera House in an adaptation of Richard Strauss’s Opera ‘Salome’. It felt great to be back on stage, treading the boards, and using this different performance format to learn more. 

What have been your favourite projects to date?

All of them. The beauty of this industry is that the days are never the same. 

Can you tell us more about your work around mental health in British Asians?

I’ve been involved in some talks with the charity Mind regarding mental health for the Asian population in the UK. During the discussion it became clear to me that people have different perceptions when dealing with mental health problems and that they can be frowned upon or brushed under the carpet.

Migrants also have a higher chance of facing mental health problems but, growing up, mental health was not something we talked about in our family. However, without the right help – due to language barriers and cultural beliefs – people will suffer in silence. I think it’s important to educate people with Asian backgrounds to see poor mental health as not a bad thing. It doesn’t mean that you are weak or crazy or a phrase that will eventually pass. Events like mental health talks in different languages should be happening more often at community centres. 

Who are your biggest inspirations in film and TV?

So many to name. I love Ernst Ingmar Bergman’s body of work, because he really understand people, their choices, expressions and emotions.

Gong Li and Frances Macdormand are two inspiring names to mention; they don’t just influence me with my acting, but also inform my thinking about womanhood, ageing and body image. Women should embrace ageing, and now the film industry has developed a much more ‘open minded’ acceptance of these truths, we can all use this affirmative approach to be kinder to ourselves and one another. Basically ageing shouldn’t be feared, embraced in fact, and how in the 21st century the immediacy of social media platforms mean we ‘air brush’ for perfection should be challenged and called out. Body shaming, both for women and men in our industry is a problem that needs to be urgently addressed.

I guess when I reflect on inspirational characters too I have to say that so, so many people I have met in the film and television world help influence and shape me. Yes we all know and use the experiences of the established names, but I am inspired too by those in the business who have played small supporting roles diligently and professionally over long careers. 

Photo credit: Michael Shelford

Which upcoming projects should we watch out for?

I’m in the process of writing a film, which I’m very excited and delighted to share soon. It’s something I have been working on for a while, and it is in a constant state of development and growth, please stay tuned for further exciting details about that.