A ‘Trieu’ Leading Man: Asian American to Lead in ‘Monsterland’

Oct 19, 2020 | AA, NEWS, POP, US, Vietnam

Photo Credit: TrieuTran.com

Hulu’s Monsterland is unlike any other. The anthology show is bringing a new meaning to the word “horror,” and each episode just keeps getting better. “Palacios, TX” star Trieu Tran portrays the ultimate hodgepodge of immigrant fear, wishful thinking, and sadness.

The mere mention of Asian-American leading men makes people picture someone like Henry Golding whose performance in Crazy Rich Asians catapulted him to the limelight.  

Asian-American leading men should be tall, fair-skinned, and macho. Anyone who falls between the cracks is meant to take the “Asian best friend” role –  an unwritten rule Hollywood that has followed throughout the years. But with Trieu Tran’s performance in Monsterland’s Palacios, TX, episode, the game has changed forever.

Getting to Know Trieu Tran

Born in Vietnam, Trieu Tran’s journey as an actor is unique. The stage, screen, and television performer first landed in a refugee camp in Thailand at age 6, his family were later sponsored by a church to immigrate to Saskatchewan, Canada. They settled in Massachusetts and Tran eventually moved to Los Angeles for more opportunities. 

He has appeared in many theatrical productions over the years, most notably as Alan Strang in Equus. His other performances in film include Tropic Thunder, and Hancock and Altered Carbon. But despite his prolific career, he never expected to be cast for the leading role when he auditioned for Hulu’s Monsterland, which specifically called for an Asian-American actor for episode 6. 

Surprisingly, Tran’s role has a striking similarity to his life. In the episode, he plays Sharko, who is the son of a Vietnamese immigrant. 

“It took so many years for him to find some sort of success, it almost parallels my career. I’ve always felt like, through the years, it’s always one step forward, two steps back,” says Tran in an interview with Variety. He added that when he got the role of Sharko, he felt as if he could finally show the world that Asian-Americans can have a seat at the table. 

Tran couldn’t contain his emotions. “When I was reading the script, I’m like, ‘Man, I finally get to play a fleshed-out character with an arc.”

Monsterland Episode 6

Palacios, TX is the sixth episode of Monsterland which is now streaming on Hulu. The episode follows a lone fisherman in a small Texan fishing village who is facing the repercussions of the oil spill from episode 4. Sharko’s reputation as an expert fisherman precedes him, as he even caught a great white shark which led him to have that nickname.

As one may have imagined, a 400,000-gallon oil spill drastically damaged the local economy of an area that solely relied on fishing and agriculture. 

To make up for their loss, people are mitigating the spill by staying in their boats to clean it. Tran’s character, Sharko, is a boater who fell off the boat while cleaning. As a result, he was exposed to chemicals. And so, he walks around with an oxygen tank attachment because of his health condition.  

Another fisherman, Breezy, tells a crazy story of how he was surrounded in the water by vicious mermaids, and he even has scars to prove it. Sharko didn’t believe the story at first but when he was walking along the shore, he found a “fish” covered in oil. And so he did what any curious man would have done – toss it in his truck. 

Upon discovering that she was a mermaid, Sharko wraps her in a makeshift body bag and dumps her in the bathtub. To placate the violent mermaid, Sharko tries to let her watch Asian-American shows with him. 

The more time the mermaid stayed with Sharko, the more complicated the situation got. As Sharko developed feelings for the mermaid, she appeared in person form and they fell in love. But here’s the real clincher: was it all in his head?

The Future for Asian-American Leads

To a lot of people in Hollywood, casting an Asian-American leading man may seem like a risk. But considering the socio-political climate and cultural forces today, not to mention millions of underserved audiences, Tran’s amazing performance in Monsterland is anything but a risk. This role means more than giving Tran the possibility to become a marquee celebrity. It also gave him the chance to prove that he is a fiercely outspoken actor who’s not afraid to voice out his opinion on issues concerning representation.