Shannon Kook-Chun: From Hillbrow to Hollywood

2013-07-28 14:00

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Shannon Kook-Chun’s journey from Hillbrow to Hollywood was not paved with gold.

In fact, the young actor – who features in the film The Conjuring, which opened in cinemas to critical acclaim this week – harbours memories of a lonely childhood and still works as a barman to make ends meet.

Kook-Chun is best known for portraying gay heart-throb Zane Park in the Canadian teen series Degrassi: The Next Generation, and will start filming the thriller Dark Places alongside Charlize Theron in Louisiana in the US in September.

Initially hesitant, Kook-Chun agreed to be interviewed as he is eager to inspire South Africans from poor backgrounds.

The rising star speaks Afrikaans and longs for boerewors rolls and mealie pap. His mother, from Mitchells Plain, and father, who is of Chinese descent, separated when he was two years old and he was raised by his singe father in Hillbrow.

“We definitely weren’t well off, but my dad worked his butt off to put me in the best of schools,” said Kook-Chun, who attended prestigious St Stithians college in northwestern Joburg.

“I was always the last one at aftercare in primary school. Samson, our head cleaner, lived on the campus. I’d always sit and watch his wife cooking pap in a big pot.”

Kook-Chun was approached to be a presenter on KTV, but “chickened out”. His debut TV appearance was as a lead in an Astros commercial.

Kook-Chun’s father remarried and they moved to Toronto, Canada, where Shannon was accepted at the prestigious National Theatre School.

Kook-Chun saw Theron for the first time at the Canadian premiere of Monster in 2003.

“I had just moved to Canada and somehow won tickets to Monster’s premiere. I didn’t really have any friends, and went alone.

People were taking their seats and then, suddenly, she appeared next to me. I actually thought she was glowing when I saw her.

I was struck at how radiant she was.

“I opened my mouth to chirp her ‘hello!’ and about the freezing weather in Afrikaans, but I guess the six or so bodyguards around her made me think I would be bothering her.

“I knew I would see her again one day. I believe that the universe gives lessons and unfolds the way it should.”

Experiences such as the one with Theron has shaped Kook-Chun’s own interaction with fans. “Whenever a fan says ‘hello’ to me, or I see them hesitating, I’ll try go over and say ‘hi’.”

He runs his own acting audition studio in Toronto, where he recorded auditions for both The Conjuring and Dark Places, and works as a bartender at a nightclub downtown.

“I literally get recognised by people every shift I bartend, and people ask: ‘Why are you working here?’ It confuses them to see me on TV and then, well, working!”

It has not been an easy ride. The actor even recalled cleaning vomit from bus seats as a busboy before.

“I think the victories are sweeter this way,” he said.

Kook-Chun has garnered a cult following for Degrassi, while The Conjuring shot to number one at the US box office this week. Critics on gave it a good average rating of 84%.

The Conjuring chronicles a family’s terror in a haunted rural house. Dark Places is based on the award-winning 2009 novel by Gillian Flynn that deals with class issues and religious cults.

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