by Mallory Moad
There was a time when, if a person wanted to pursue an acting career in film and television, moving to Los Angeles was a necessity. You had to be near the action and readily available for casting calls and auditions. But thanks to twenty-first century technology and, to a certain degree, the Covid 19 shutdown of 2020, a serious actor no longer has to relocate to La La Land in order to find employment. Just ask Kp Phagnasay, a successful working actor who makes his home in Fresno.In his home studio, Kp is able to audition for productions using a method called self-taping. It’s a very specific, sometimes complicated process, but in short, an actor submits an audition via video, following specific instructions and requirements. Some are recorded and others might take place via Zoom, but all are much more convenient and less time-consuming than sitting for hours in a casting director’s office, waiting for your name to be called. And for actors like Kp, it allows them to live an area that is close to family and more affordable than Southern California, while still remaining active and visible in the search for employment in the entertainment field.
Acting wasn’t something Kp chose on a whim. He has always considered himself an actor, explaining, “I believe it chose me, and I honor that adventure.” Born in Laos, a country rich in storytelling tradition, he was exposed to various forms of performance from an early age. “I was fascinated by it” he says of watching the traveling troupes and shadow puppet shows that were prevalent in his early years. He found inspiration in his father, who practices a form of storytelling through music called Kup Suem Nua.
Kp took to the stage after his family relocated to the US in 1980 as refugees from the Vietnam War. “Of course, my family and I had to go through the process of staying in the refugee camps in Thailand and the Philippines before coming to the states.” After spending time in Illinois and Hawaii, Kp and his family landed in the Central Valley where he enrolled in drama classes as a student at Clovis High School. “The first show/play I did was Annie Get Your Gun, playing Chief Sitting Bull.” It was a casting twist that would be considered politically incorrect by today’s standards, but it was the beginning of a fulfilling adventure for a young man with theatre in his DNA. “From there I haven’t stopped.”
After playing memorable roles in local productions including The King and I (he played the title role in two different productions), A Midsummer Night’s Dream and M. Butterfly, Kp moved to you-know-where in the mid ’90s in search of bigger and better things. “I thought that was the plan. I was like any young actor trying to pursue my dreams and trying to get that opportunity.”
Unfortunately, things didn’t go as he had hoped, and Kp wasn’t getting any work. Typecasting was the industry norm for actors of color, regardless of talent and experience, and the opportunities were few. He recalls that period in his life: “There are times when you feel so low that you want to give up, but stubborn as I am, I have only Plan A.” Rather than become disillusioned and just throw in the towel, Kp chose a different approach. He began to learn about the business from the inside out by interning with an agency, giving him an edge on the competition.You’d have to be living under a rock to have not seen Kp on television in one format or another. He has appeared in commercials for a long list of local businesses and has had roles in popular television shows such as Hawaii 5-0, Lost, and FBI. But one of his biggest challenges has been portraying the father of the victim of a gruesome murder in the Netflix series, Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story. When asked about working on such a disturbing piece, Kp responded, “When I took on the role, I knew it wasn’t gonna be easy. The subject alone was dark, and has a lot of unsettled residue of the past.” On the days of shooting, he would arrive on set early to spend time in his trailer in solitude, preparing for the emotionally exhausting day ahead. “Personally, I had to prepare myself in a space that is comfortable for me as an actor.” When filming wrapped, it took a month to “decompress from the role.” He returned to the gym, working out daily to shed himself of his “dad body” (weight he put on to approximate his character’s real-life appearance) and clear his head. More recently, Kp was involved in a film project that had deep personal connections. The Stop Asian Hate Campaign is a series of short films produced and directed by Ousa Khun, a Cambodian-American director living in northern California. The project is his response to the recent rash of hate crimes against the Asian community across the US. Ousa received a grant from KhmerTV to create awareness about these deplorable acts that have increased in fre-quency over the past two years. Kp plays a role in a chapter that delves into the lives of members of the community and the effects these senseless acts of violence has had on them. “I am honored to take part and share my talent for the project,” he humbly states.
Kp Phagnasay is a busy man. In addition to conducting photo shoots, video productions, and acting classes, and consulting from his Fresno studio, he just completed what he joyfully describes as a “huge role” in a series starring Michelle Yeoh, and a dark-comedy indie film with Joseph Gordon Levitt. Details are still a secret, but both should be available for your viewing pleasure in early 2023. He has also been getting some great opportunities for major network series from HBO and Hulu.Despite having become somewhat of a celebrity who is frequently recognized locally in public, Kp remains devoid of the stereotypical ego often associated with the acting profession. He sincerely expresses his gratitude for the opportunities he has had and his respect and admiration for the individuals who have contributed to his success. Maintaining his circle of local friends, he is not above lending a helping hand or just hanging out for conversation.
In the end, it isn’t about fame. It’s about discipline and drive. “I’ve been in this business for over thirty years, and it’s been a ride. I slept in my car and ate Cup-O-Noodles and plenty of PB&J. I had an account balance in the negative many times. But, a long term relationship is what I look for in this journey, and I know it takes a lot of WORK.” And lucky for Kp, he can do a lot of that work from home, right here in Fresno.
You can keep up with Kp Phagnasay on Facebook or on his website, www.kphagnasay.com.
My name is Mallory Moad, and I believe working from home is A-OK.