INTERVIEW: JULIA CHAN

May 23rd, 2020

Interview by Alia Wilhelm · Artwork by Andrea Lux

An interview with actress Julia Chan, who stars in "Katy Keene" as the cheeky Pepper Smith, and is due to give birth to her first kid in June. We talk about what it's like to be on the verge of motherhood during this strange time, what she's learned about herself as a result of the pandemic and how she sees the entertainment industry adapting when this is all over.

Hi! I'm so looking forward to hearing about your experience during this strange time. Truth be told, you're the only pregnant person I know right now, and I'm so curious to hear about what that's been like for you! Before we get into that, I'd love for you to share with Nearness readers where in the world you are right now, what you've been doing during self-isolation and who you're with. In an alternate, pandemic-free universe, what would you have spent the spring doing?

I am quarantined in fair Brooklyn, New York, with my partner Toby and our house plants. We have a pretty good routine down, now. He is working from home and our days are delineated rather amusingly, like many people’s, by MEALS, planning them, prepping them and eating them! We have actually been grateful for the time to get ready for our new family member. Who knew babies no bigger than a loaf of bread required so much preparation and gear?! If it hadn’t been for the pandemic, I would have been outside enjoying this uncharacteristically spring-like Spring we are having in New York this year, and seeing friends as much as possible before moving into motherhood.

How are you coping with self-isolation? What's a "normal" day like for you now?

This is probably day 70 of quarantine for me. I found the first three weeks quite discombobulating. The change felt like it happened overnight and then suddenly we found ourselves in the global epicenter of the pandemic with a staggering daily death toll. But the human system is amazing and does adapt if you give it a second. After a few weeks I had less random moments of panic about the virus, the pregnancy, sterilizing the house, what was safe and what wasn’t, etc. There were (and still are) so many unanswered questions, but the more information I get and the more time passes, the more I have been able to just accept our new reality and to realise how very lucky I am. The other thing I found soothing is that we are all in this together. The world has snapped so small for me with this experience.

When we talk about what to expect when you're expecting, we don't usually include a global pandemic on that list! What has being pregnant been like for you? I don't think the pandemic had started during your first trimester; how has your experience of being pregnant changed since then? How far along in the pregnancy are you?

You are correct. There is no chapter in any baby book that covers what to do should the worst pandemic since Spanish Flu befall you. We are this generation’s pioneers. There is a lot of support out there and we are lucky to be living in as digitally savvy an age as this, because this would have been incredibly lonely had that not been the case. I have found groups of other expectant mums on Zoom, I’ve connected more deeply with my friends who are pregnant or already mums, and I have learned to be more self-reliant and self-sufficient in getting the answers and education I need. I am 34 weeks along. Our new friend joins us next month.

What has the experience been like of worrying not just about your own health but also about your baby's? What kinds of things have felt anxiety-inducing, and how do you deal with these fears?

After 37 years of just me, I am so ready to focus almost entirely on somebody else’s needs. That has already been a boon of pregnancy. Of course, I have to take care of myself, especially right now with the added risk of the virus, but our son has upped the stakes and put a lot into perspective for me about what matters and what I can release.

 

Many Nearness contributors have written about this time - though painful - as giving them an opportunity to slow down and reflect on their lives, or on past events. In what ways, if any, do you feel like you've changed as a result of this pandemic? Are there things you've learned about yourself, or aspects of your personality that feel clearer to you now than they did before, especially as you prepare for motherhood? 

This ties into your last question a bit, but yes, absolutely. When something shakes the world to such an extreme, I think your priorities float to the surface and come into clear view. I’ve been working to let go of how much I try to control, which plays in to both the high-risk environment we live in now with the pandemic as well as getting ready for childbirth. In turn I have seen the effects in my every day life, which has been a welcome change. The pandemic has also just toughened me up, quite frankly. I feel so scrappy! We had a vision of the kind of support we’d have when the baby comes, for example, and now it will just be the two of us, no friends, no family, no visitors, and you know what? We can do it.

What's been the biggest silver lining for you, these past couple of weeks? What's a new routine or lifestyle change that you're going to miss when this is over, or that you'd like to try to maintain when this ends?

Two things come to mind. My friend and I keep (half) joking that we might never see each other again at this rate because he lives on the opposite coast. But in all seriousness, I feel very close to my friends through this. Our conversations have less filler (translation: gossip) and we are checking in on each other a lot more. That said, I’ll take a good goss as soon as this is all over.

The greatest silver lining has been the one-on-one time my partner and I have shared. Quarantine and his working from home happened to coincide with our last few months of it being just the two of us before life changes forever and our son joins us. We have really embraced this time, finding a lot of joy in cooking, setting up the home, and getting to know each other more. Life has simplified. There are far fewer ways to busy oneself, and I think I was doing a lot of that unnecessarily in the pre-pandemic world, especially living in New York. I think this time has laid an amazing foundation for us actually, that I hope we can keep hold of when life’s madness, distractions and commerce kick back in.

I'm also curious whether your relationship to acting feels any different now. You star in Katy Keene as the alluring and mysterious socialite Pepper Smith. Do you have a different take on the experience, now that you've had a chance to reflect on it? What do you miss about acting? And do you worry about the TV and film industry's comeback after this?

We were incredibly fortunate to be able to wrap shooting our first season exactly a month before the lockdown, unlike many productions which were halted before they’d finished and now hang in limbo. This was a very special job for me professionally and personally, and I remember pinching myself most days while it was happening. I am glad I knew how good I had it; working with people I love, a character that tickled me and challenged me, in my city, because now it seems like a dream. I miss the people. TV and film sets are so bustling and communal and I have always thrived in that kind of environment. The other day I saw a photo of our amazing hair, make up and costume departments performing “last looks”, their finishing touches on us before cameras roll. Seeing all of us squeezed up against each other, extremely socially proximate as it were, used to feel heavenly to me. I don’t think it will ever be like that again. Post COVID-19 sets will be a whole different ball game. That said, the industry has been rocked by storms before, and from what I am hearing, we will absolutely find a way to get the machine up and running, again, safely. I mean, we have to. People need to be entertained!

What's the last TV show and the last film you watched?

The last film I watched was “Muriel’s Wedding”, again. I hadn’t seen it in 10 years and got so much more this time. Boy, is Toni Collette ever talented. I’m watching “Normal People” now and I am gobsmacked. It’s masterful.

How have you managed to attend doctor appointments and check ups during this time? Have some of these been able to take place remotely, or have you had to go to hospital for them all? How do you prepare for an outing like that?

Antenatal appointments are still happening for pregnant women here in New York, yes. They are in-person because the Dr. wants to check the baby’s heart rate and then many more things as you get closer to your due date. The intervals between appointments have been spread further apart to minimize trips and only one patient at a time is allowed in the clinic. I have been amazed at how organized and diligent my clinic has been and am super grateful for the care. How do I prepare? I mask up, glove up, don’t touch my face, the whole dance that everyone is doing.

What are you most looking forward to, in terms of having a child? 

So much. The thing I keep thinking about is how exciting it will be to watch him discover language.

What have been some resources that you've found helpful during this time?

For virtual classes on everything motherhood I recommend www.getboober.com and Bridget Teyler’s YouTube channel. An excellent maternal mental health resource is www.themotherhoodcenter.com. And a great place to start for all the accoutrements for baby is www.maisonette.com.

 

Do you have any tips for other mothers-to-be out there?

Release yourself from the idea that you can control everything. Don’t be afraid to trust the choice people around you. Accept help from those that are offering, especially now. The pandemic has triggered a need in people to be of service, and you are perfectly entitled to accept it!

Season one of "Katy Keene" will be available to stream on HBO MAX on May 27th and is available now on the CW app

Alia Wilhelm is a Nearness co-founder. She works as a multimedia artist and director's assistant in London. You can follow her @aliiiiia and check out her work at www.aliawilhelm.com

Andrea Lux is a 22-year-old self-taught independent creator based in Peru. Her work mainly consists of handmade collages, but every once in a while she takes photos and  makes random drawings.

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