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Chinglish - Broadway

David Henry Hwang's new drama receives its Broadway premiere.

Chinglish’s Stephen Pucci on His Early-Onset Wanderlust and Non-Traditional Path to Acting

Chinglish’s Stephen Pucci on His Early-Onset Wanderlust and Non-Traditional Path to Acting
Stephen Pucci photographed by Jenny Anderson for
I knew Teacher Peter or people very much like him. Expats really struggling with language or culture.

Age & Hometown: 29, Milton Keynes, UK

Current role: Bridging gaps between American business and Chinese bureaucracy as bilingual business consultant Peter Timms, a.k.a. "Teacher Peter," in a Broadway debut performance in Chinglish.

Itchy Feet: Travel is as natural as breathing to Pucci, whose took his first trip at two weeks old. “When my mum was pregnant with me, my parents had plans to go to Russia,” he explains, “and we did, even though they couldn’t apply for a passport for me, as I didn’t technically exist.” At every school holiday, without exception, Pucci and his three brothers would travel the world with their teacher parents. The linguistically inclined Pucci studied French and Italian in his A-levels, then headed to Leeds University to study Italian and Chinese. “A lot of my interest in China came from martial arts films,” he admits. “I rarely tell people that. I used to say ‘I saw a gap in the business market,’ and they’d say ‘Ah, what a wise decision.’” He began his own study of martial arts at 15, and continues to this day. “That was definitely an influential factor,” he says. “And now I’ve got more confidence in my daft story.”

A Long and Winding Road: Pucci spent his second year in college living in China, and after graduation he returned to live in Shanghai and train in martial arts for a year. “I knew somewhere in my bones that I wanted to be an actor,” he says, “But, in retrospect, I also knew that mine wasn’t going to be the typical path.” He’d done plays in school, but he worked as an English teacher in China and an intern for Reuters, where he reported on sports events like the World Table Tennis Championship. It wasn’t until he was again in the UK that he considered acting as a career. Performing in semi-professional plays in London inspired him to take classes at the prestigious Central School of Speech and Drama, and he eventually graduated with a degree in classical theater.

Chinglish Degree: Pucci’s unusual skill set made him a great candidate for the role of Chinglish’s “Teacher Peter,” which requires proficiency in Mandarin—but it was another roundabout route that got him the role. “A friend of mine works for a translation company in Beijing, and that company was contacted by a UK casting director trying to cast the part for the Goodman Theatre,” he recalls. “He forwarded it on to me, I filmed an audition in London, flew to Chicago to audition for [director] Leigh Silverman and [playwright] David Henry Hwang, and a day later found out I got it.” Once he’d landed the part, he called on not only his language skills, but his experience living in China, to bring this character to life. “I knew Teacher Peter or people very much like him," he says. "Expats struggling with language or culture. David really captured it brilliantly.”

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