The Edge of Seventeen’s Breakout Star on Being Asian in Hollywood—and in the Age of Trump

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    The Edge of Seventeen’s Breakout Star on Being Asian in Hollywood—and in the Age of Trump

    “There’s an opportunity to shape people’s way of thinking,” says up-and-coming Canadian heartthrob Hayden Szeto.

    With his pitch-perfect comedic timing, refreshing charisma, and boy-next-door good looks, Hayden Szeto delivers the kind of breakout performance in Kelly Fremon Craig’s The Edge of Seventeen that will cause viewers to wonder why he’s only recently been discovered. Szeto plays Erwin, the sweet and charming love interest to a tortured teenager named Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) who is learning how to navigate family drama and the perils of high school. The script is a tornado of emotion, carefully crafted into a film that has the makings of an instant teen classic. While some of the movie’s angst-ridden archetypes feel obligatory (Steinfeld’s character is derivative of Molly Ringwald circa Sixteen Candles), Szeto offsets high-school clichés and shatters Asian stereotypes by playing Erwin, as he says, “like a normal dude.”

    Rather than amp up the nerdy, academic, and socially awkward traits typically assigned to Asian parts (again, see Sixteen Candles for its racist characterization of transfer student Long Duk Dong) Szeto instead infuses the role with the panache of a seasoned professional. His gravitas erases any preconceived notions audiences might have about Asian students. Szeto concedes that kids that resemble those stereotypes do exist; they’re very real people who deserve to see themselves represented on TV. Even so, poking fun at their experience is a problem that promotes unnecessary negative tropes. “Those kids should never feel like a joke,” he says, which is why the 31-year-old Chinese-Canadian star-on-the-rise gives kudos to Craig for casting him in what he’s calling “a golden opportunity.”

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