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Path to the Emmy Awards: Hong Chau

Amidst a stacked list of 19 Poker Face actors that Gold Derby reports will be submitted for a potential Emmy nomination in the comedy guest acting categories, we want to talk about one standout performance. Collider names Hong Chau the best guest star of the series, which is high praise, considering the roster of all-star names — ranging from Adrien Brody to Joseph Gordon-Levitt — who appear on the show.

Coming off her Oscar-nominated performance in The Whale, it feels like the 43-year-old actor can’t stop giving acclaimed, transformative performances that range from a sinister Maître d’ in Mark Mylod’s The Menu to the pragmatic presidential chief of staff in this year’s hit Netflix series The Night Agent. But don’t sleep on her one-off performance in the second episode of Rian Johnson’s murder-mystery-of-the-week series Poker Face. Chau’s performance as a lone wolf and off-the-grid trucker named Marge may land the actor her first-ever nod from the Television Academy. If you’re wondering what led up to this moment in the actor’s career, you’ve come to the right place.

Chau was born in a refugee camp in Thailand after her parents and brother fled their home country of Vietnam during the postwar chaos there. Her family immigrated to New Orleans, and Chau recalled to The New York Times that she didn’t grow up with dreams of being an actor. “I thought I wanted to be either a writer or an editor, something that was a little bit more solitary, and it’s just odd that I find myself in front of the camera,” she shared. The actor went on to major in creative writing and film studies at Boston University, and mentioned during an appearance on Late Night with Seth Meyers that having a “hard time just talking to people” at the time helped lead to her shift in career pursuits. “I just recognized that I needed to work on myself so I started to take public speaking classes, and then that led to improv classes,” she noted. “I wanted to barf before every improv class, but I forced myself to go, and here I am.”

Chau’s tongue-in-cheek timeline of going straight from an improv student to a celebrity on a talk show was debunked in the same interview. “It took me 10 years to become an overnight success,” she quipped. During her early career, the actor accumulated TV credits that included small roles on How I Met Your Mother, NCIS, and CSI. She played the recurring role of Linh from 2011 to 2013 on HBO’s Treme before making her film debut with Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice in 2014. Then came her breakthrough role as Vietnamese dissident Ngoc Lan Tran in Alexander Payne’s 2017 sci-fi feature Downsizing.

After her performance in Downsizing, Chau’s career “caught fire,” in the words of The New York Times. There was her run on Prime Video’s Homecoming as Audrey Temple and her portrayal of Lady Trieu on HBO’s Watchmen. Then came her acclaimed turns in The Whale and The Menu, as well as her performance in The Night Agent. But as previously stated, we’re here to talk about the role that has Chau as a contender for the Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series category at this year’s Emmy Awards. described Chau’s work as the best performance of her Poker Face episode (“The Night Shift”), noting how she makes an “outstanding impression” even with limited screentime, and Collider wasn’t the only one to name Chau as the best guest star of the series. Vulture also put Chau at the top of its list ranking the series’ guest stars. “The whole plot [of “The Night Shift”] is secondary to the fact that Hong Chau is just so good at creating a character who’s a kook and also immediately, viscerally real,” it asserts. “What she’s doing on Poker Face is so delightfully, strangely specific it deserves its own award.”

With her turn as Marge in Poker Face, Chau delivered another transformative performance that also displays some serious comedic chops. Time will tell if it results in a trip to the Emmy Awards as an Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series nominee, and you can find out if the actor lands her first-ever nod from the Television Academy when nominations are announced on July 12.

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