Winner of the Pulitzer Prize

HBO | The Sympathizer Official Podcast | Episode 3

Host Philip Nguyen sits down with the embodiment of the four patriarchs – Robert Downey Jr. First, they’re in conversation with Hoa Xuande to talk about all the ways they worked together and the Captain’s dynamics with Claude, The Professor, The Congressman and The Auteur. Then Robert Downey Jr. brings in renowned prosthetics designer Vincent Van Dyke to reveal the process how they made those different characters come to life. And we are again joined by author Viet Thanh Nguyen and co-showrunner Don McKellar to talk process for HBO

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Sympathizer Clip 0:06
If you fully commit to this lane, you become fully American. But if you don’t you’re just a
wandering goes. Live in between two worlds forever
Phil 0:27
Welcome to HBOs The Sympathizer podcast where we’ll be debriefing and decoding the new
HBO original limited series, The Sympathizer which is based on the Pulitzer Prize winning novel
of the same name. I’m Philip win a scholar of Vietnamese American culture. And on this
podcast, I’ll be joined by the sympathizers creators, the cast and crew. And of course, author
Viet Thanh, when, after every episode, we’ll go deeper into the characters, their motives, and
how this espionage thriller slash cross cultural satire complicates what we know about the
Vietnam War, aka the American war in Vietnam, and its depiction in US pop culture today.
Looking at you, Hollywood
We’ve got a full house today, we’re talking Episode Three titled Love it or leave it with Academy
Award winning actor and executive producer, Robert Downey Jr. and our captain who lost one
day. We’ll be joined by prosthetic designer Vincent Van Dyke who did the amazing work of
transforming Robert Downey Jr. into multiple characters. And finally, we’ll have the sympathizer
author of time when an executive producer slash co showrunner Don McKellar back in the
studio to zoom us out a little bit and talk about the big picture, as well as Viets cameo in this
episode. Get it Viet.
But first, a spoiler alert. If you haven’t watched episode three, now’s the time. Go watch it right
now. Streaming exclusively on Macs will still be here whenever you get back.
All right. It’s time again for a recap and a little bit of history. In this episode, the captain and his
compatriots gather at a banquet hall for a multicourse meal to celebrate the 80th birthday of the
majors mother. A milestone lifetime accomplishment for what’s known in Vietnamese as a
layman term TA. Fun fact, the actress who plays the majors mother Yujin, a former refugee
herself, is one of the most well renowned faces and figures in the Vietnamese diaspora. Her
career spanning over 70 years in both Vietnamese and American cinema.
At the party, Miss Mori, the captain’s date walks in on his arm and surveys the fancy banquet
Sympathizer Clip
Sure you guys are refugees?
you know Asian families.
As the early waves of Vietnamese refugees resettled and leverage their existing connections
with their former US military contacts, ethnic enclaves began to emerge as places where people
could build community, retain their culture, and explore financial opportunities for upward

mobility in America. Back to the story at the party, the general urges the captain to find proof of
the majors guilt, and we meet the Congressman napalm net himself, who rouses the crowd with
a speech Vietnam veteran know what not Vietnam War now. Capitalism will triumph. Over the
course of the episode, the captain recounts to the commandant his role in the death of another
comrade, the watchman, who died by egg induced suicide.
Sympathizer Clip 3:59
Why put it off? Why wait until the Americans have electric your balls with 1000 volts? You know,
the CIA’s nickname for prisoners penis that’s been through that process the electric eel.
Phil 4:15
Disguised as a blond haired white man, on the fourth of July, the captain kills the major and
makes his murder look like it was a xenophobic hate crime. He leaves a bumper sticker on his
chest, the one that the major had given him earlier. It reads, America, love it, or leave it.
Compassion, fatigue and American guilt went hand in hand with xenophobia in the United
States, and it continued to persist in the public opinion around Vietnamese Americans from 76
to 77. Not long after the moment in time when the majors murder takes place. America denied
admission to refugees, except for those who were seeking family reunification, forcing many
others to find different pathways to freedom. The result was an international humanitarian crisis
that would later compel the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees or UNHCR to
create the orderly departure program, which is how my parents ended up being able to migrate
to the United States in 1988. Back in the episode, the captain attends one more dinner, cloud
introduces him to his next mission out of steak house, where Professor hammer, the
congressman and the outdoor ask for his help on a film that the four patriarchs are collaborating
on the hamlet
Sympathizer Clip 5:39
We were hoping you’d help us by helping his new movie to ensure its cultural integrity. Yeah,
what he said act as an interpreter of sorts, a mediator between the two worlds oriental and
occidental have generally speak so as you have you kept the half and a half will give 100% to
do whatever is necessary
Right now, what seems necessary is to demand an apology for the insult I just received, who
There’s no apology coming. But I am going to give you the opportunity your fucking life.
I take an opportunity over an apology eight days a week.
Phil 6:16
Now that we’re all caught up, let’s get into it. Our first two guests today are Hoa Xuande and
Robert Downey Jr. In The Sympathizer Hoa Xuande plays our protagonist, the captain and
Robert Downey Jr. plays multiple characters, plod, Professor hammer, the congressman and the
owl tour. You know, all the white guys. I’m really excited to sit down with both of them today. Plus
one day and Robert Downey Jr. Do you both remember the first time that you met? And the first
thing that you did together?

HX 6:51
Yeah, that was when I was asking out Sandra to go to the majors wife ADF. And then clothes
along. I
RDJ 7:01
appeared disguised Claude is not his usual self. He is trying to see him he’s trying to blend in.
And he’s walking a little puppy. I remember that day because I hadn’t wasn’t sure about the
voice. We’d nobody was 100% sure about the makeup yet. And you’d already been at it for a
couple of weeks. And there’s all these relationships developing you never, you know. Yeah, I’m
actually really glad that you got to see me when I was kind of like, I don’t know, is this work?
Yeah, you were not alone My brother.
Phil 7:34
Robert, what was it like for you to work with the star of The Sympathizer in Ha, what felt most
fulfilling to see the the growth, his growth as an actor. From your perspective? Well,
RDJ 7:43
first of all, as an exec, I had seen all of the screen tests, and I had seen the development
essentially of was take on the character before he was even cast. And it’s so difficult, like, I
almost feel like no one should ever really be cast based on these screen tests and readings,
because it’s such a pressure cooker, you know, just give someone the job. And then if they’re
wrong, fire them. But you know, that wouldn’t work out. So well, if I was running all the studios, a
lot of lawsuits, what I saw was very much someone that I could relate to as trained differently
than I was more formally trained. But having worked enough to be ready to take on a role as
difficult as this. And sometimes others seeing us that which we can’t see in ourselves and
Director Park and Susan and myself and Don McKellar and everyone we’re like, yeah, he’s the
guy. And then you know, you want to make good. So what I saw was someone who, again, I’ve
been saying this probably way too often lately, but I saw kind of a star making role happen. And
we’re having been around for a few those on both sides of it. It’s kind of undeniable. Thanks,
man. It’s true, dude, you earned it,
HX 9:03
really appreciate it. But, like, a part of that I felt was just the environment that you allowed me to
work in creating, you know, I, I felt the pressure and I felt I’d had to step up to the level of a lot of
you guys, you know, Park, Sandra, and you and, you know, for a good couple of weeks, I was
obviously just really nervous and insecure about whether I was even, you know, impostor
syndrome. But, you know, a lot of the times I would do something and say something and you
would look at me and you’d just be like, are you happy with that? You don’t seem happy with
that, you know, let’s do it again. Let’s do it again to you’re happy and I really appreciated that
because sometimes you don’t know. But I guess you allowed me the space to keep going until I
was confident with that. And that’s, you know, confident juicing. And that allows you to just do
other things and know that other people have your back. You know,

RDJ 9:59
Yeah 100% And look, you know if there’s ever been a time where impostor syndrome was
appropriate for real
Phil 10:11
spy not Yeah,
RDJ 10:12
it wouldn’t have mattered if it had stayed around a little bit. The whole shoot, but anyway, Well
done, Brother.
HX 10:18
Oh, thanks, Rob. I really enjoyed your characters though. Like every character that I met, I’d be
like, I’d walk up to you. And I’d be like, Hey, Rob, but you’d be already in your character and be
like, Oh, shit. Hang on what’s Yeah, what version of Rob? Is it today?
RDJ 10:34
When we had lunch, we had lunches fairly often when Ha wasn’t being torn away to go shoot
five scenes while everyone else was having lunch. And it was an odd sight.
HX 10:45
Yeah. Cuz you were like, half dressed down or like half dressed up and Exactly, yeah.
Phil 10:51
Do you have a favorite iteration of Roberts characters Ha, like one that you felt particularly close
to or comfortable with?
HX 10:59
You know, I actually feel really close to the professor. Like, weirdly, I mean, he is my mentor in
the show. Like he’s the captain’s mentor. And obviously, we’re very close. Because he’s, you
know, like, raised me in a certain way in America in terms of the backstory and but the professor
who I’m sure the audience is going to come to love is hilarious. Like,
well, also like the captain, he’s the one who without giving too much away is not everything he
purports himself to be. So in a strange way, he’s a bit of a shadow mirror for the captain, though.
The captain doesn’t find it out all that quickly, because he’s got a lot of other complications going
on. Oh, but I do miss you. So
Phil 11:47
do you have an impersonation of the professor for us? For the listeners to the podcast? Without
what their true Australian accent coming out to on the podcast? Oh,
HX 11:56

yeah. It’s funny because like, I spent so long in the just staying in the accent on set every day
even doing groceries. I just stayed in it because I wanted to not slip. And when I do these
interviews, and I do these talks and stuff like that, I kind of just have to remind myself what I
actually sound like. And Robert, you probably haven’t even heard me speak this long. No,
Phil 12:22
Australia. They did.
HX 12:24
I love it. It’s so it sounds so weird to me. Because like, I’m so used to talking to you with this faux
American accent like, concocted in my own head.
RDJ 12:36
No. And by the way, very, very convincing. That’s the crazy thing is it suspended my disbelief
that you weren’t, you know, from I don’t know, from America. Yeah. But I like I like this too. And if
you think about it, just go back. Yeah, a Australian National playing a Vietnamese double agent
who has approximated an American English accent, but then also speaks Northern and
Southern dialects of his mother tongue, Vietnamese. You want to talk about just things that will
give you shivers. Just getting out of bed in the morning? Yeah, I mean, dude, it cannot be
underestimated. Just what a mindfuck. It was during this part.
HX 13:17
Definitely. First couple of weeks. I was not dreading not fretting, but definitely just like, you know,
sucking it up melee. I hope I haven’t to get you know, I haven’t hope I haven’t pulled together
today. Episode
RDJ 13:29
103, I think really is and tell me what you think we’re, I really think it all starts to gel. And you’re
kind of you’re kind of figuring out the captain’s journey, there’s surprises. And you know, the
episodes almost always end with the introducing a new issue or opportunity.
HX 13:46
Yeah, well, I mean, you know, after the assassination, and, you know, it’s the beauty of the
meeting all your characters in the,
Phil 13:59
in the final seat in the final center around the country clubs.
HX 14:02
Yeah. And like that was, that was such a brand explosion to do. Because, you know, I feel like I
built a relationship with each of your characters in a very personal way. And I tried to, every time
I’d see you in your characters, I’d be like, I’d have to remind myself, okay, this is my mentor. This
is my, the antagonist. This is the person I’m trying to shield myself from. And then there’s the
other person that, you know, I have no idea who he is and what he does, and I’m trying to figure

out and then I’m seeing them all the same time the table and I’m like, hang on, like, Who do I
like and who don’t I like and there’s just like, the different? Yeah,
Phil 14:38
I want to ask you to Ha, I mean, what, how, for our captain, does he really love America more
than he wants to admit, you know, what’s his relationship with America, which I think each of
Roberts characters represent a part of Yeah,
HX 14:51
that’s interesting. I don’t necessarily think it’s one or the other. It’s always you know, even in our
own selves, you know, we have different influences in adiala Geez and things that build our
beliefs, morals. And so I think when he lived in the states in America, you know, he built a
different set of beliefs and that that built on to his, you know, childhood. And he married that into
who he is as a person. And that’s the confliction says like, is it this or that? Or why can’t it be
both? And so does he lean into America? Does he like America? Of course he does. But it’s not.
That doesn’t mean he likes it more than who he is, you know, as a Vietnamese. Right? Yeah.
Phil 15:33
Robert, you’re Claude, right? Before they go to that dinner, Claude instructs the captain to be
quintessentially Vietnamese. So I mean, what was your relationship like with Vietnamese and
this and Vietnamese America?
RDJ 15:47
Well, one of the great outcomes of diving headfirst into this project was this ongoing dialogue
with our own self limiting beliefs based on our expectations and our culture. And I think naturally
coming out of of Oppenheimer, it’s kind of this, this college course continues, looking at having
literally been raised in the Vietnam era, and then finally being shown the other side of the coin
forced perspective into what would it be like if everything was from the point of view of what you
consider the other and I think it’s very timely. And I think that, it’s great that I just genuinely love
why. And I love the character he’s playing, and I love the opportunity in the, in the novel, and in
the rendering of it in this series to have that mirror, hold up that mirror and say, wow, like, we’re
so conditioned to think of things a certain way. So I found it very liberating. Really, I was just
trying to kind of, like, have fun and not get in the way of this important story. And also, you know,
with my wife producing it, a lot of it was just trying to, you know, show her that I could be a good
team player and try to keep the morale up as a very, very by any metric and extremely difficult
HX 17:14
Yeah, I mean, I just agree, it was very difficult. It was just challenging. Just the straight days, I
guess, that we had, and, you know, you sat in the makeup chair, on that particular day, for the
final scene, like lice for hours for each character, you know, you would do the scene, and you’d
be in the makeup chair for two hours to do the thing. We’d shoot it for an hour, and you’d be
back in the makeup chair, pulling it all back for two hours and putting it the next thing on for the

next two hours, and then coming back shooting the same scene as a different character. And it
was Yeah.
RDJ 17:50
Well, I think it was very humanizing to and I was gonna not say this, but you know, Director Park
is kind of like a big brother, you know, you want to make him happy. But you kind of just know
that he’s a better baseball player than you. So there was one moment where he comes in, and
the translation is, Robert, you’re you’re doing the Congressman a little bit too much like Claude
Claude a little bit too much like the Congressman I, I felt a little rush of shame. Like, oh, I kind of
had lost my professional perspective. And I was like, so what? He’s the director, it’s his job to
keep. And he didn’t even seem to mind, he was just reminding me that I was kind of coloring
outside the lines, and that what I was doing wasn’t really what we’d agreed this character would
do. And I just reset, and I looked over and I could tell him, I was like, Alright, I’m not the only
one. I was getting notes. Because you know, Director Park, he’ll give me some notes. Yeah. And
sometimes I’ll feel with certain directors, those notes tend to constrict me further and further
over time. But with Director Park, and particularly in the scene, he had done me a huge favor,
and that this scene could have been a week long nightmare. Instead, it was two very efficient,
full French hour days for me. And we wound up having fun. I think we were a little giddy by the
end of day two. But you know, it was critical that this scene work. And I honestly credit the boss,
this one.
Phil 19:16
And of course, I must have been difficult to work across different languages, at least three at
any given moment in time and with all the dialects that are a part of each of those, the dialects
and the accents. Right. I want to ask about what that process was like to get notes. You know,
we had heard, I think, ha in another interview that we did for the podcast, you talked about how
it was like almost like a roulette process. Right getting notes. Yeah, Director Park. Yeah. And the
anticipation Yeah,
HX 19:42
yeah. He’s got his translator J Han. And you know, he when he’s trying to give you a quick note,
he’ll send J Han out and you know, J Han is like literally walking out to set and it’s when you see
him, you’re just like, Okay, who is it gonna be who’s gonna be his guy? Yeah. And then he stops
in front of you, and it’s you and that there Well, the roulette wheel has landed on you, Parks just
very specific. He’s very, you know, detail oriented. And if you’re not hitting the things that he’s in
the music that he’s playing, you know what I mean, he will correct it. And but obviously, it works
for the visuals that he’s trying to get from the scene. And sometimes you just get carried away.
RDJ 20:21
It’s very specific, and I find it comforting. I like it when someone in their approach is consistent. I
like it when I can tell they’re completely in command of what they’re creating and witnessing.
And the other thing is, you know, more than any other director tell me if you agree or not, ha, is
he will rehearse things. Yeah, multiple times in a row. So by the time you’re shooting, you’re not
really working out the kinks, you can get to this more refined space. And yeah, and, and I found

it kind of liberating because A, you just get in the habit of being an actor. Yes. rehearsing. Yeah,
you get synchronized with your cast mates, and synchronized with the set and the props and
the flow. I mean, particularly in some of these more complicated scenes, you know, like the only
spy, Spy like I remember that whole day felt like a tight little piece of composed chamber used, it
was like,
HX 21:21
it was like, he had the steps in his head, that he was trying to elicit the steps for us. And it’s just
like, getting us into the habit of like, this is the moment where you need to do this thing, pick up
the thing and move this way. And by the time he’s choreograph this thing and you’ve stepped
into this, those moments, it’s just like action and you’re you’re doing it because you’ve rehearsed
that so many times in a very specific way. Yep. Yeah.
RDJ 21:46
And then there’ll be variety to because you know, a great dancer can Yeah, can improve and
mix up the steps and that’s really what a park is the way he conducts it really is I’m glad you said
that. Yeah.
Phil 22:04
So now we’re gonna do a little bit of musical chairs will be keeping Robert Downey Jr. Here with
us say goodbye to Hua Bai Hua, and hello to prosthetic designer Vincent Van Dyck, I’m excited
to talk with him and Robert Downey Jr. Today about the process of transforming Robert into the
characters of Claude, Professor hammer, the congressman and the outdoor. My first question
for you both is how did y’all meet each other and get on this project together? Well,
RDJ 22:33
I’m glad you brought this up. It’s a funny one. And once if you’re lucky about once a decade or
so you you wind up making an association that you intend to keep over time. I met Vince and I
had gone in to get something done for a project that wound up not happening. And while I was
there, I said hey, I wonder if you would be good for we’re doing this thing called The
Sympathizer and scrapbook and Viet and all the stuff and characters. And he basically said that
he would definitely not be the right guy to do it. Look elsewhere. And I’d never had that kind of
short sale seem so sincere, even though as you get to know him more, you’ll realize that he’s
he’s quite a trickster. You know, I pitched Vincent like hard pitched and like, this is the guy for
and all I knew was like, I liked him.
VV 23:27
And he could deliver.
RDJ 23:30
Yeah, I wouldn’t even say that it was wondering whether you could deliver. But it’s that thing
when you have a gut about someone, you just hope that it winds up working out and that
everybody’s happy. And there was a moment to where I knew that we we arrived at the right
partnership for a project like this is Director Park came to Vincent studio. I was there some of

the department heads were there. And he had essentially clay molded, a beginning
conversation starter for every character. And with the exception of Claude who just wanted to go
in with a bit of a different it. It was so already in the ballpark. And also I’ve you know, I’ve been
around a long time, I had never seen someone literally clay mold that many heads to discuss
how to execute them. And it wound up being the beginning of this kind of really fruitful,
participatory, very kind of egalitarian discussion and wild Director Park would make a note or a
suggestion. Vincent would go over and just kind of work on it literally just manipulate these busts
and it just felt kind of like a return to the roots of how these sorts of things were probably done
from the beginning.
Phil 24:54
Vincent for your research process and before even making these busts What was that like for
you had you mean You probably had the script at this point, had you read the book? What was
that research process? Like?
VV 25:05
First I’ll say just to touch on what Robert was talking about. That was also, by the way, the first
time I’d ever done anything like that. I’ve never, I’ve never, I’ve never just opened with, here’s all
these busts that we’re going to do live note, you know, session with in person right now, it
almost felt forced, because there was not a lot of time. And I knew that it was probably the only
opportunity that I would have all the voices in the room at the same time. And I thought, you
know, what, if I can just make these notes happen now live, then there’s no emails back and
forth for three weeks, they leave, they see what this is, I know what it is. And then we can hit the
ground running. So it really evolved really organically and naturally. But yeah, not not something
that I had ever done before. As far as the research goes, I’m pretty weird. When it comes to this
kind of work that I do. I like to almost go into it completely blind. I don’t really want to be
influenced by anybody else’s thoughts or my own thoughts. I want to hear just from the voices
that really matter what their vision is, and then dive into what it is I think it should be. But I often
find that if I read or do too much research, it almost clouds that natural creativity, that just
happens. So so very little preparation.
Phil 26:22
Right? Had you read the book before creating the busts?
VV 26:25
No, I started at the same time. So literally, this this happened within. I mean, I feel like two
weeks of that first meeting, it was fast. So I started audio book with with the work while I was
doing it, and just kind of continued that through the whole process of the job.
Phil 26:41
Wow. Yeah. My next question is going to be for you, Robert. I mean, maybe taking a step back,
how did these characters unfold? Or like, what was that collaborative process to create each of
the characters like?

RDJ 26:51
Well, first off, when Director Park had the idea to say, how would Robert feel about multiple
roles, in fact, all of these Caucasian archetypes, I was like, wow, that’s such a, it’s a great
creative idea be it’s such a smart hook for somebody who wants to challenge. And so again, you
know, I didn’t, I’m not like Mr. method. And I think Vincent would agree we, I had a sense, it was
almost like I had an associative idea. That claws should be a little bit, you know, fill in the
blanks. And then the same in the same in the same as any one of them started to come into
focus, it helped the others because you realize that you just wanted contrast. So it’s that weird
thing it was felt more like finger painting, then then, you know, paint by numbers.
VV 27:47
I think that’s I mean, that’s it. And I think, because we tend to speak the same language, it is
easier for me to decipher and understand I think, where, where Roberts headspace was at. So
whether it’s me subconsciously channeling that, or we just were on the same page, I think as
these sculptures started to take shape, the character starts to develop, it’s one of the reasons
why I don’t do that research is because there’s something not to get all magical, but there is
something magical that happens when when clay gets put on to an actor’s head cast, or it’s, it
starts to take shape on its own. And so these character starts to develop and, and yes, I’m
manipulated, and I’m having these thoughts, and I’m having these ideas, but sometimes stuff
just tends to work. And that’s how these start to develop,
RDJ 28:34
and you can feel it to literally feel it. It feels I mean, it’s like a it’s a Hellenistic approach. I’m sure
that 2000 years ago, you’re wondering if, if you know, someone was sculpting marble that can
you feel the spirit of this person,
Phil 28:49
like really going back to their roots of like, the art of performance?
VV 28:53
It is I mean, you’re there’s an essence and an energy that has to feel right, with anything that we
do, right? Not just when we’re looking at art, or sculpture, or whatever it may be, if it feels, right.
I mean, this goes all the way up to our makeup tests. I mean, our very first makeup tests, I think,
had the same thing. And for me, the magical part about that is, you know, I only take it to a
certain point, right? And then it’s not actually birthed yet. Robert is then taking this and breathing
life into something that for the first time I get to see, be alive. And that’s an amazing thing.
RDJ 29:24
I love, absolutely love a collaboration. So generally speaking, sometimes it’ll be an image or a
reference, and sometimes it will be the voice. So I was just kind of thinking about what to me
Spader kind of my overdone version of how I remember him when I met him back in the 80s.
And I was thinking a little bit about Gene Hackman, and what a weird mashup that was and
once I gave those basic references, and then Vincent was saying something about I gotta
wonder if this guy was kind of like a wrestler, so maybe she’d have a or was it Director Park who

said the cauliflower ear or was it Yuvan And don’t remember, I won’t take credit for that. Okay,
well, anyway, see, that’s the cool thing is by the time no one’s remembering whose idea
anything was, that’s the zone to be in for creation. And then of course, it was, you know, just
how do you make this tolerable? And what I kept finding is that Vincent was always thinking with
two hats. One was how can we make this the most realistic? And be? How can we make this
not feel like someone’s doing a makeup job and also not have it take so much time that it’s
eating into the energy that I would need for the performance?
VV 30:37
If we think about this as a whole? This is, these are a lot of characters and a lot of looks to go
through on a daily basis, and sometimes swapping, right, where it’s like, we’ve got to, we’ve got
to get him out of something very quickly, we got to get them into something very quickly. So as
as a designer that is part of my job is to think about how is this most efficiently going to work,
and then at the same time, know that they’re, at some point going to play against each other,
and make sure that they feel different enough that they are all their own unique characters. I
mean, it is a daunting task, for sure when you look at it that way. So
RDJ 31:10
I had a two hour timer. He was like, Well, I think we’re probably need for this one, maybe three,
this one could be under two, this one. I mean, depending on the first time might be you know,

  1. And I was like, You got two hours for each. And the great thing was, I don’t know why I said
    it, I just knew that my, my sanity could wrap its arms around, showing up and being in a chair for
    the first two hours of any work day. Over time. Regardless of if we had to, you know, switch after
    lunch or or whatever. What
    Phil 31:41
    came first, the chicken or the egg? Was it the physical persona? Was it the voices? Or was it
    like just the vibe of the character? And in terms of bringing each of them to life? No,
    VV 31:50
    it’s interesting. I don’t think I had heard the voices until after I had blocked in the sculptures. And
    then all of a sudden, things started clicking to me and they made me want to make little
    changes. Like I remember the first time I heard the professor’s voice. I was like, oh, wait a
    second. I watched the way Robert held his mouth. And there was a very particular way that he
    would hold his mouth and I went, Oh, I really want to enhance that jowl like that.
    RDJ 32:11
    Where members see now I understand why because you were watching and then all of a
    sudden, there was this thing about the ear lobes like you had a spot that maybe Professor
    hammer should have these kind of like luscious loves. And, and I was just going with and he
    was going with it. And I think that Director Park would make his amendments, and he was kind
    of conducting the whole affair, but he could see that we were in this kind of rhythm and dialogue
    with each other. And he largely let it go uninterrupted. Unless he had a strong feeling about it.

VV 32:43
True. Yeah. And then and then the amazing part about that is that when that strong feeling
happened to Director parks, you know, unbelievable. I it was always spot on. He would look at
that and go Oh, wow. Yeah, that’s that’s not a note that I would ever blink an eye at. That is
absolutely right. Yep.
RDJ 33:01
So for the Congressman, I was thinking a little bit about Charlton Heston and Eastwood and
Ronald Reagan and right, and I just know that voice. So then, you know, Van Dyke was like, you
know, if you’re gonna do contacts here, you can do them so dark that they almost start looking
like, like sci fi, like a soulless cipher. And I was like, oh, solace in my eyes. And I didn’t have to
do much past that point. Because it was nothing ever registering, that could discern that this
character out of soul.
VV 33:39
You know, soul could penetrate.
RDJ 33:44
Oh, my goodness. And then, you know, I had a whole bunch of different ideas for the alternate
truth be told what Susan said, he’s a kind of version of you have what would happen if you were
left unchecked, and you have good people around you keeping you from turning into a complete
egomaniac? And I was like, Okay, well, that’ll be easy. And then I wound up finding playing that
role. Very much a mirror into kind of a cautionary tale, but also being able to allow myself to
think like an otter, whatever that means. And that was very freeing. And so a lot of that came
down to just the hair and the little mole. I mean, obviously, he’s got, you know, he’s got quite a
set of features on him. But Susan said, can we just have one of these characters look kind of
sexy just for me? Just sexy enough to not be like Yuck, I was like, oh, yeah, no problem. Little
VV 34:41
chest hair and we’re good to go.
RDJ 34:42
Oh my God, dude, I’ll never forget the first time Van Dyck slathered that chest
Phil 34:51
oh my goodness as the jean shorts come on. That might be a spoiler. You’re not far
RDJ 34:55
right. Yeah, that let’s not bury the lede. I’m what kind of shorts I’m wearing. Write
Phil 35:02
for Vincent. I mean, at the end of Episode Three, we have all of the characters your, your your
bus come to life at the table eating steak with with the captain. I mean, what was that? Can you

walk us through what what that was like for you? Did it do? Did it? Do you justice? Did it do your
work justice? You know,
VV 35:18
look, I think I’m the worst critic of my own stuff. So I mean, I look at everything, I’m constantly
trying to figure out how things can improve and be better. But that that moment is a pretty, pretty
cool moment. I mean, it’s pretty daunting when all of these characters are against one another.
Individually, a character can work really well. But it’s like the minute you start comparing these
different identities, yeah, and then still try and lose Robert, at the same time against all of them.
That I think was the most nerve wracking for me in terms of just that overall aesthetic of each
character. And look, I think, again, to Roberts credit, that’s why it works. You have somebody
who completely transforms without the makeup for each one of those individuals. I’m just there
to kind of help push them over the edge.
RDJ 36:04
Well, I mean, it was long and short of it is it was like our wedding weekend, like Vincent and I
had to really put ourselves to task and credit where it’s due. Director Park made those two days
where we started as one character morning. Next the afternoon, was the last we did do
remember the order we did them in the dome. I know that it was done for practicality about what
would be the easier to transition from
VV 36:34
talked a lot about that. Yeah, we talked a lot about how that would stagger, yeah,
RDJ 36:38
I know that we did the professor last because you knew by then I’d be losing my marbles. And it
was to wear a wig would be cool. But it really was this thing where again, Director Park was so
prepared. And so in command of exactly what he knew he would need, that he was also able to
really push me to make sure that I was demonstrating enough variety in each character, but also
manage the time. And also keep the energy up. And you know, ha that day too. Because that
was rough. I mean, he had to basically do the scene, you know, four times over two days. So
he’s just such a great scene partner. So you know, but I had a feeling VanDyke after we got over
the hump of that day, I was like, okay, there may be some tough days ahead, but we kind of got
over the crucible. And I think we started to relax a little bit after that.
VV 37:34
I agree. I mean, that that for me, I think was the the gold point of like, okay, if we can get over
get through those days that we can kind of get through everything.
Phil 37:42
I think another interesting part that shows through the distinctions between each of the
characters is the way in which they’re also satirical, or criticize or subvert different expectations
that we have for who these characters are. They’ll talk a little bit about that, how it came up in
the design process. And in the, the implementation or the acting.

RDJ 38:01
Sure, I mean, I’ll do our short version to me, Claude was someone who he’s kind of our main
touch point with, with our, our hero was a captain. And so I feel like he’s the one that needed to
have the biggest arc, but I also wanted to be someone who you feel like he has taken lives with
his bare hands. So we did things that were subtle, like I had some, you know, like some, like
some muscle packs over mine. Um, was there anything about about Claude that really stood out
to you as far as what he needed to represent mean and do Vitsin? I suppose
VV 38:34
I really felt strongly about him having this kind of tough guy look, that didn’t necessarily go hand
in hand with his persona as a whole.
Phil 38:45
Right? Because then he’s hiding in plain sight right later,
VV 38:47
right? There’s, there’s a weird balance there that felt like we wanted to make sure he had this
kind of ruggedness to him. But then there’s also this kind of soft side to Yeah,
RDJ 38:55
exactly the dangerous everyman with the professor. I had a hairdresser back when I did less
than zero, who’s I just loved his voice so much. And he was a great, great personality, but the
professor really does need to represent more of this kind of like wanton cultural appropriation. Is
there anything about this guy that is appropriate? And yet he’s convinced that he has the last
word on, you know, on the Oriental perspective. I mean, that was a rough one to even like,
pretend I could get behind this guy sometimes. So we wanted to make him charming enough,
and also just a slightly bit more more elevated in the kind of lack of subtlety. Vince, yeah,
VV 39:44
I agree. There was some there was some choices there that may have been even a little more
bold than some of the others. I mean, his his snaggletooth and teeth were, you know, a
character. All of their own stomach is Oh my god.
RDJ 39:58
On to the congressman, starting with Teeth, I have never had a bigger set of Chiclets in my
mouth that possibly could have been real. And we’re very much like those kind of 70s 80s
Veneers that I remember seeing before we figured out how to do them correctly. Right. And he
to me was a lot of that kind of, again, like I said, the archetype of the, you know, take this
weapon from my cold dead hands type thing, while at the same token, being complete ly out of
touch with with the very people he was saying he was a proponent of so there was some stuff
here, but I don’t know, Vince, we always seem to have extra fun on the Congressman days.

VV 40:42
I don’t know if we ever spoke to each other and regular voices on Congressman days. We just
always as Congressman. Yeah.
RDJ 40:53
A lot of that. And meanwhile, to the otter. I feel some of us like, like Susan had said, Let’s at
least not have him be such a caricature that you just feel like he’s a, it’s just a send up, you
know, like a Tropic Thunder level send up of an idiot, Hollywood type. I really did really want to
think of him as an artist. And so I think part of that was, you know, Vincent really just trying to to
make him look like someone who had some sort of creative authority, I guess.
VV 41:26
Yeah, it’s a weird one to verbalize. Because I think that you have the idea of what that is, I
suppose in your head, and then you start to put it together. And somehow he works for me, it
gives me the essence of this very artsy, fartsy kind of guy that, you know, is a wine connoisseur
and oil paints at night.
Phil 41:44
My last question for you all, before we wrap is for Robert, if you had a favorite one to play
throughout the series, and and Vincent, which one was your favorite to create?
RDJ 41:56
I’ll just say for the record this one time that Claude was critical, because he’s the one that you
really carry through his relationship with the captain the whole time. All of these characters were
in service of Viets novel and of director parks vision and of supporting question day, who is the
star? So because we kind of started and ended there, I’ll go with Claude.
VV 42:21
Yeah, I think I mean, Claude certainly had the most amount of pressure. And I think the the
journey that Claude took to even land where he landed, was the most challenging out of all of
them, maybe in that, in that sense, the most rewarding, but I think I maybe had the most fun on
on Professor days. Thank you.
Phil 42:41
Thank you both for joining us.
RDJ 42:43
And this was great. Thank you.
VV 42:44
Thank you very much.
Phil 42:48

Now, we’re going to go deeper into the episode here with two of our regular guests that I’ve
been wanting to get together. Pulitzer Prize winning author of The Sympathizer Viet Thanh win,
an executive producer and CO showrunner Don McKellar.
Welcome back via Tanglin and Don McKellar, Viet My first question is for you today, in episode
three, we become a little bit more entrenched in the comings and goings of of what America is
for both the Vietnamese refugees who are resettling and adjusting to their new life and then their
interactions with these different folks like the Congressman Viet for the those types of
interactions are how the refugees felt. did that translate well from your book into the show?
DM 43:35
The answer is yes, by the way, absolutely.
Phil 43:40
Honest hearing this for the first time. Yeah, cuz I mean, there was a moment that I kind of honed
in on a when the Congressman presents the couplet majors mother who’s played by the
illustrious Kokujin with the with his knife with a knife, right. And there’s this moment was like,
Ooh, you know, it’s very Vietnamese American Vietnamese cultural subtext.
VN 43:59
Well, so when I was growing up, the places where I most felt my Vietnamese refugee identity
outside of my family was in the church, Catholic Church, where I grew up was in the fall
restaurants, which is referenced throughout the TV series and a novel of course, and in Chinese
wedding banquets for Vietnamese weddings. So you get married in a Vietnamese Catholic
church, but you always go to a Chinese wedding banquet. And a Chinese wedding banquet is
full of people very crowded, loud band, all this kind of stuff. And it was translated in in the
adaptation, the TV series into a longevity party, and I was there actually for the shoot over three
days and I was an extra I actually got to speak in line. And to me, just seeing that all recreated
was so amazing. It was like living through an extremely long Chinese wedding banquet in this
Chinese restaurant in Los Angeles. The innovation. One of the innovations that Don did in this
shoot, however, was having the character of the Congress then give a knife which actually is not
in the novel. So maybe Don can talk more about that.
DM 45:04
Like, why do we do that? I mean, we thought we had a lot of Vietnamese writers in the room, as
you know. And we were talking about gifts that are given at these longevity, this longevity. I
mean, some one of you should explain
Phil 45:16
where y’all were y’all in the back room just thinking, what is the most offensive thing that we
could bring? Well, first
VN 45:20

of all, I think one thing that makes Vietnamese culture different, perhaps from American culture
is we don’t usually have birthdays. Yeah, like, I torment my children who are foreign 10 by
saying, I ever want to have one birthday party in my entire life. Oh, don’t tell that story again. But
typically, you get sort of a birth birthday party, and then you get like an 80th birthday party like,
congratulations, you survived for a while. And graduations you live, you made it to 80
DM 45:44
because everyone’s birthday is sort of on the new year, right? Yeah, that’s right. That’s right. So
which is beautiful. There’s just something really nice about this 80 year old. Yeah, party. And we
thought that’s perfect occasion in the book, like Viet says it’s a wedding. But we thought that this
was a really unique aspect of Vietnamese culture. It’d be fun. And then we, you know, when we
decided to introduce the Congressman character, what could he do? Then? Of course, we
wanted something inappropriate. So I can’t remember who came up with the idea of the actual
knife. But yeah, by the way, I have to say that Viet is the photographer at the party. You I have to
say this because he said he has a cameo and people might hear okay, yeah, I know. He knows
he’s gonna tell the backstory see
Phil 46:26
his first opportunity acting. Yeah.
VN 46:27
And I just got paid for it. By the way, I gotta check him. I was like, what was this for? Oh, it’s for
this little one line role, which was not planned. I was I had a cameo, but I wasn’t actually
expected to speak right. But I think part Shan Wu gave me a line he wanted, of course, but the
backstory Dawn is that I had asked repeatedly to be killed in this TV series. Why didn’t you want
it to be I want to be blown up with the author of the book really has to be blown up. We
DM 46:50
just didn’t have a great part of someone getting blown up. Lots of people get blown up. But we
just didn’t want you in the background getting blown up.
Phil 46:58
That’s kind of like this negative meta, if we have the author who talks about how Vietnamese
people in you know, in the mythology of moviemaking get blown up be the one that’s actually
blown up? That’s the whole point.
VN 47:10
Right? Yeah. So
DM 47:11
but we wanted in the meta sense for you to be the guy framing the picture and the guy, you
know, making us all smile. That’s who we want it. To be sorry about that.
VN 47:22

Yeah, yeah. And
Phil 47:23
you’re also talking about I think the one that you have is about a disco ball to
VN 47:26
Yeah, it was not called a disco ball. So this is where Don’s historical research paid off. And
DM 47:30
that’s right at the time. Disco ball came in. This is, of course, the beginning of the disco era, but
they didn’t they had the balls. We researched that. But they didn’t. They didn’t. What year did I
tell you the actual stencils a couple years ago. So what did we call it? Nirvana? mirror? Mirror?
Right? Mirror bonds?
Phil 47:51
Could y’all talk a little bit about the watchmen? Right? Yeah, so I
VN 47:55
invented the Watchmen, not Don. And I wanted to have a scene, you know, the captain in
Vietnam is a part of this special branch with secret police. And obviously, obviously, part of what
they do is catch so called terrorists, in this case, Vietcong, and interrogate them. And I did
research and there there really were obviously, Vietcong attacks in Saigon and other cities
where grenades and bombs and someone would be used to kill Americans and, and South
Vietnamese military, but also a lot of innocent civilians. And so I created a character who was
basically the the bomb maker called him the watchman, because he sets off his bombs with
watches, and then had to fill in that character is minor character, but he plays a very important
role in in the book because he gives this very philosophical pointed critique of the South
Vietnamese regime and also the United States. And he puts the captain into an impossible
situation, because technically, they’re on the same side since the captain is a communist spy.
But of course, the captain is also he also has to perform the interrogation under the gaze of
Claude. So there’s hopefully a lot of tension.
DM 49:01
Yeah, I mean, to me, the egg, if I was to say sort of represents the captain’s complicity in this
like it. In a way this episode is sort of a parody of the classic immigrant story about joining the
club, like Scarface, or godfather, where the young man has to join a criminal organization and to
do that as to prove himself by committing a murder or something like that. The Captain has to
do that here. He’s sort of seen himself as as once when he was in in Vietnam during the war. He
saw himself as sort of, apart from the frontline, you know, he was responsible for actions that
resulted in death, but he didn’t do it himself. So in the whole, this episode is really about the
captain of overcoming his resistance to murder, overcoming his guilt and accepting his
complicity in the or, which is kind of what Claude wants him to understand with the watchman
episodes. So that’s sort of what allows him to enter the club. He has to dress as a white man
and kill somebody.

VN 50:11
Also, I mean, usually, food, when appears in these kinds of stories often is a function of
metaphor for identity. Yeah, so usually it’s a banana, yellow on the outside, what in the inside,
it’s reversed with the egg. And of course, it just speaks to the captain being a mixed race
character who’s always been criticized from both sides, and you can’t win no matter what
Phil 50:30
there are also several highlights or spotlights on women in this episode, particularly the way in
which women interact with our captain and his sort of coming of age, and his uncovering of his I
think his sexual sexuality and sexual identity and his own sense of masculinity, particularly as it
relates to, you know, we mentioned tension earlier, the tension between him and Sunni happens
in this episode, too, particularly as it relates to miss Mori. Could you share a little bit about what
that tension was like? Because we, from the novel, Sonny is one of the captains rivals, right? So
how do we, how do we start understanding that between them, when I created
VN 51:08
the character of Ms. Mori, it was very important for me to make her an older Asian American
woman, because if you read the novel, I mean, like, the captain is a very masculine guy, and
he’s probably a little too masculine, if you the book is at least partly a deconstruction of his own
masculine and sexual obsessions that he himself is not aware of. And so early on in the novel,
he’s looking at very young women, and so on. And so when it gets to the United States, I
thought it would just be much more interesting that it didn’t repeat that pattern, but that he had to
encounter someone more mature and more cynical, older, and so on more knowing, and her
character obviously will develop over the course of the entire series and book. So she’s, you
know, a very powerful character, I hope, and Sandra really just plays amazingly, as well. And
yeah, and you know, Sonny comes in, you have a love triangle, you have to sort of wait for a
few more episodes, to see the permutations of the both the romantic and political angles of this
DM 52:00
Yeah, I mean, I think yeah, as Viet says, he’s sort of playing like a 70s masculine movie star like,
like Steve McQueen side of character and the set the MS. Moriya character isn’t. The normal
isn’t the expected love interest for that character. But what we really liked the idea that because
of social pressure, the majors mother says, Bring a date, why aren’t you married? You know, like
he is, he’s sort of pressured into making this relationship more than than he expected more than
Ms. Moyer was initially promising was initially supposed to be free love, and now all of a
sudden, they are a couple coming out socially. Yeah, well, we’ll we’ll see what happens with that
as the series continues. Love
Phil 52:48
it, or leave is a phrase that comes up often in episode three, you evoke the phrase or mentioned
the phrase Love it or leave it often. It’s something that comes up in your work. And in the
speeches that you give in public. How has this phrase been part and parcel to your own

experience of be coming American as of Vietnamese refugee here in the United States, and at
the end of this particular episode, it’s uttered by the ghost of the the major who gets killed.
VN 53:13
I think anybody who’s not white in the United States has heard the phrase Love it or leave it
uttered to them. And it’s obviously a very offensive phrase for many reasons. But it also is an
expression of ownership of the United States, wherever it goes to say love it or leave it thinks
they own this country. And they want to determine who is a part of it and who isn’t. And they
also want to erase the entire history of the country, which was about white people coming here
and taking it over. So they could say, love it, or leave it. And so I think much of my work is a
critique of that, both at a political level, but also at a, you know, entertainment level, literary
level, personal level. And so, you know, obviously, I wanted to make that central to the novel. I
also think about the fact that my own parents never said, love it, or leave it to me. So the other
place where you would hear that phrase is within a family, if you’re a rebel for whatever reason,
you can get kicked out of your family. And that’s certainly has happened in Vietnamese refugee
families. So the captain struggles with that, too, that, you know, he’s always an outsider, no
matter where he’s at. And he’s always being, it’s always being expected of him that you fully
love whatever side or community that he’s supposed to be part of. And he’s always under
suspicion. So that’s, that’s one reason why I think it becomes a major thematic and episode
three, Don should answer why the crappy
Phil 54:23
stickers. It’s also the last line of this.
DM 54:26
I mean, as you say, we got it from the book. But I think I guess we thought it was particularly
powerful and ironic, because of course, these people love their country and had to leave it, you
know, they had to leave almost because they love the country. So it’s so inappropriate, and as
VSS sort of offensive to this community, but we love the idea that the captain sees this. When
he’s trying to think of How to Get Away with Murder of the major he thinks that the best solution
is to disguise it as a racist murder of racially motivated murder. In other words, by dressing
white, and killing someone in a presumably racially motivated way that is the best way to hide in
America. So it just seemed like such a delicious irony that I think we wanted the major to rub
that in at the end of the episode.
Phil 55:17
Can you speak a little bit more about that Don, you know, the theme of, you know, sneaking,
sneaking around around betrayal comes up wearing this mask are being disguised, and even
being disguised in plain sight is one of the sort of the major themes in this episode. Yeah,
DM 55:30
yeah, no. Well, I mean, again, I feel a little self conscious talking about this in front of Viet who
wrote a book about man of two phases. And so honestly, the captain is always sort of wearing a
mask. That’s the way he always sees himself. It’s sort of essential to his, his identity. Crisis, the

three different the beginning. But he recognizes even in the first episode, when clouds he says
Clyde, can hide in plain sight, even in a city where he stands out like a sore thumb. Even even
in Saigon, where majority people are Vietnamese, he’s still somehow can disappear. And that’s
sort of the sort of magic blessing of his whiteness and a sort of sense of entitlement that he can
just, he assumes that he belongs anywhere and can get away with anything. And the captain
recognizes that right from the beginning. And so I don’t know he hasn’t really thought this
through that carefully. But I think when he wants to commit a murder, he wants to hide he wants
to he sort of dresses like a white man. And yeah, and commis racially motivated crime. So So
yeah, he is disguised yet, disguising and disguising yourself is one of the major themes. And of
course, that sort of ties in with the multiple Roberts to they’re all sort of the same person in
disguise, in a sense in a sort of medicines anyway.
Phil 56:54
And then for via how does the, how do we make sense of the captain, and his sort of conflicted
pneus around these different acts of betrayal, perhaps on an institutional level, to an
interpersonal level to an individual level in himself.
VN 57:07
I think that the captain understands that betrayal takes place, most powerfully at the level of
countries, states, ideologies, and part of the political narrative of the novel. It’s certainly that
ideologies have been betrayed, you know, the Americans have betrayed their own belief
system, the French betrayed their belief systems, the South Vietnamese, the North Vietnamese,
and the communists and the anti communist, they’ll have belief systems, and they’ll betrayed
them at some point. And someone like the captain, who is a living embodiment of the East and
the West, as a mixed race, French Vietnamese person, is the embodiment of betrayal, because
he’s constantly being betrayed by his own countrymen, whatever their color, and he is seen by
everyone else as a potential trader, because no one can trust him because he’s not pure. And
so that’s a major motif that runs throughout the novel, and certainly the TV series that the
captain is constantly grappling, grappling with these elements of betrayal within himself in his
own actions, the actions of states, so he’s, he’s being forced into these acts of betrayal, but he
also chose them because he chose to become a spy. I mean, if you choose to become a spy,
you know, you’re gonna have to do stuff that’s probably going to be morally suspect, no matter if
it’s politically required or not. And so that’s part of the the drama for the captain and for the TV
series is how to someone who thinks he’s doing good, end up doing what is, you know, bad,
even if his victims themselves may not be uncomplicated, as well, as we’ll discover with the crop
yield major by the end of the series. Thank
Phil 58:39
you so much to Viet and Don, for joining us today on the podcast and we’ll see you very soon.
DM 58:44
Thank you. That
VN 58:45

was really fun. Thanks, Don. Thanks. Well loved it.
Phil 58:50
That’s a wrap for us today. Many thanks to Robert Downey Jr. was one day, Vincent Van Dyck,
Viet Thanh Wynn and Don McKellar, for joining us today. We’ll see you all again next time when
we’ll dive into Episode Four, with costume designer Danny liqueur. Along with returning guests.
Don McKellar and Viet Thanh when and wow, episode four, I just can’t wait to see it. See all the
stream new episodes of the HBO original limited series, The Sympathizer Sundays exclusively
on Macs and subscribe and listen to the podcast after every episode of the show on max and
wherever you get your podcasts. The Sympathizer podcast is produced by the mash up
Americans for HBO


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