HOLLYWOOD -- Jan Gan Boyd is a beautiful Chinese-American actress whose career is beset by racial difficulties.
She was one of the gypsies in 'A Chorus Line' and currently plays Charles Bronson's love interest in 'Assassin,' her second feature film.
But as a minority and an Asian, Boyd wonders when she will have another opportunity for a good role in a major film.
'There are two major problems for Asian actresses in movies and TV,' she said.
'The first and hardest to understand is the practice of hiring Caucasians to play Asian roles. It brings to mind the old days when whites played black characters by wearing blackface.
'A good example of that was Joel Grey playing an ancient Chinese in the 'Remo Williams' picture. There were dozens of Asians who could have played that role. Another example is the South American actress who was hired to play an Asian in Eddie Murphy's new picture.
'It's not a matter of talent. There are hundreds of fine Asian actors and actresses in Hollywood but they are told they 'aren't right' for these parts.'
When it comes to hiring Asians for Asian roles, Boyd feels she also suffers -- this time from too narrow casting.
'The second barrier to getting good jobs is segregation within the Asian acting community. I audition for a Japanese role and they automatically reject me because I'm not Japanese. The same thing happens to Japanese actresses who could qualify to play a Korean part.
'Producers are casting to specific nationality types. But what moviegoers can tell the difference between a Japanese or a Chinese actress? Even among our own people there is confusion on that score.
'I can play a Japanese and I did on a TV 'After School Special.' The director was Japanese and he told me I could pass for a Japanese in Japan.
'Sorting out Asian roles is a form of discrimination. I mean, white actresses can play Germans, Americans, Italians, Swedes, French and all the rest. Why can't a Korean play a Japanese or Chinese? See what I mean?
'I meet dozens of Asian actresses at auditions. I see the same faces every time. We're all exotic looking and we all have talent, but there are so many of us trying for only a handful of roles.
'It would be nice if we were considered for parts that didn't specifically call for a Caucasian or an Asian. We talk about how great it would be if we were considered for roles that just called for a woman. After all, we are all good Americans.'
Boyd is a first generation Chinese-American. Both her parents were born in Canton, but she was reared in the San Francisco Bay area community of Fremont and was a cheerleader in high school.
'My brother and sister and I were taught Chinese when we were little,' she recalled. 'But the other children threw rocks at us and called us names. We were the first Asians in the community.
'So Mom and Dad decided to raise us 100 percent American with American clothes, food, language and attitudes. We even stopped speaking Chinese.
'At home we kept the traditional Chinese customs, celebrating the Chinese New Year, the Moon Celebration, red egg parties when a baby reaches the age of 1 month, tea ceremonies and all that.
'Our parents hoped we would grow up to marry Asians, but it didn't work out that way. We've all married Caucasians.'
The diminutive (5-foot-1) actress is the wife of John Boyd, a Los Angeles veterinarian whom she met while attending the University of California at Davis.
'I think Asian performers are experiencing what blacks went through 25 years ago,' she said. 'We have to fight the racial stereotypes that are identified with Japanese, Chinese, Vietnam or Filipino people.
'Blacks had to play wide-eyed, 'Yassah' types shuffling around. We're expected to be weak-willed characters with eyes on the ground bowing and scraping. I don't know any Asians who behave like that. 'I'm happy it isn't the case in 'Assassin.' I play a thoroughly American woman in the picture and only once am I called on to use the sing-song Chinese pigeon-English caricature. My character does that in a cute sort of way in one scene to seduce the guy that Charlie plays. It's just for fun.'