From Inspector Kido on Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle to President Datu Andrada on CBS’ Madam Secretary, roles of military and diplomacy mark familiar territory for actor Joel de la Fuente. But while his latest project may invoke similar themes, de la Fuente embarks on uncharted waters with his first solo show onstage in Hold These Truths, currently playing its final stop on a North American tour at the Cultch Historic Theatre in Vancouver, Canada.
The story, about the life of U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom honoree Gordon Hirabayashi, tells the story of one of three men who fought against the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans in the U.S. during World War II. De la Fuente had not heard of Hirabayshi prior to reading Hold These Truths, but then felt compelled to share his story. “Gordon’s story is a quintessential American story. All Americans should know about this hero,” he tells Playbill. “The fact that he is an American who looks like me as a fellow Asian American inspires me.”
De la Fuente came up in theatre, working at the New York Shakespeare Festival in All’s Well That Ends Well and Two Gentlemen of Verona. He was the artistic associate at the National Asian American Theater Company and played numerous roles in their productions including Iago in Othello, the titular role in Ivanov, and performed in the world premiere of Cowboy v Samurai. He toured internationally with Peter Sellars’ production of The Peony Pavilion.
But this solo show has pushed him to test his own boundaries. “It’s important that people understand that there was nothing certain about the outcome of his resistance. It was a terrifying, lonely time that he faced bravely and with great principle and surprising humor,” says de la Fuente. “It lends a hopeful note to our own troubled, political times.”
Here, the TV star proves his theatre credentials and shares why, no matter how long he works in television and film, he’ll always maintain a balance:
What was your first professional job?
Joel de la Fuente: In the ensemble in All’s Well That Ends Well, directed by Richard Jones at the New York Shakespeare Festival. So many of the actors who inspired me had performed for Joe Papp at the Public Theater, so this was an absolute dream come true.
What stage show most influenced you?
The one I am currently fortunate to be working on, Jeanne Sakata’s Hold These Truths, directed by Lisa Rothe. It is a story that I believe is relevant and necessary in today’s world, so I feel driven to be a part of it. It is a one-person play, so it stretches and pushes me every night. And, on top of it all, I have performed this play in more than a dozen different venues over the last seven years—and the opportunity to leave and return to a script is its own, profound gift.
Is there a stage moment you witnessed that stays with you?
When I was in college, I stage-managed a production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? that was simply brilliant and the actors who were leaving me enthralled were my peers. It inspired me while also sending the message that this was something I could expect of myself, too. It was an attainable dream.
What’s been the biggest challenge of your career?
Balance is the perpetual challenge. Am I focusing hard enough on my family, as well as my work? Am I getting the jobs to pay the mortgage? How about enough theatre to keep me sharp? What in my life can I do that I feel passionate about? What can I do in small, day-to-day ways that can serve others, be it in a scene or as a citizen?
What’s been the most rewarding experience onstage for you?
Performing Hold These Truths all over the country—and now in Canada.
Who is a collaborator from theatre that made you better?
I think all your collaborators can make you better. The first person who comes to mind is Jonathan Bank, artistic director of the Mint. He directed me in two plays and found just the right ways to challenge me while also empowering me to find and strengthen my own artistic point of view.
Now that you’ve broken into TV, how do you balance stage and screen?
I think the careers I admire the most are those that strike a balance between theatre and other media. To have the opportunity to do film, TV, theatre... that kind of variety can be nourishing.
What is your favorite part of doing TV that’s different from theatre?
The ability to place my focus completely on a moment without having to attend to anything else. I don’t have to worry about the back row hearing it, the left side of the house seeing it, or finding a choice I can do eight times a week. It’s whatever happens in that singular moment.
What do you love about being able to return to the stage after spending so much recent time filming?
Gordon is essentially the flip side of another character I have played for many years, Chief Inspector Takeshi Kido on Amazon Studio’s The Man in the High Castle. In fact, for the last several years, I have split my time playing one followed by the other. While they are united by their Japanese heritage and incredible resolve, they manifest in their worlds completely differently. It’s been fun—and sort of essential—to play them both concurrently to balance myself out.