Eddie Shin, AB’98, as Sidney Liao in Manhattan. (Stills courtesy WGN America)
Manhattan project
Actor Eddie Shin, AB’98, discusses his role on WGN’s Manhattan and his Chicago theater background.
Eddie Shin, AB’98, stars in a new period drama, Manhattan, which began airing in the summer. As the season finale approaches this Sunday, Shin reflected on his acting career, which has included comic and dramatic roles on shows such as Gilmore GirlsPushing Daisies, and NYPD Blue. His most recent undertaking is WGN’s Manhattan, a series set in Los Alamos in 1943, in which Shin plays Sidney Liao, a physicist working on the atomic bomb alongside scientist Frank Winters (a character loosely based on Seth Neddermeyer). Shin’s interview with the Magazine is edited and adapted below. On his first role, Henry Cho in Gilmore Girls That was my first official job in Los Angeles. I took a long road trip with my buddy and by the time we got to Vegas, I think my agent—who at the time, I hadn’t even met yet—said I had an audition for Gilmore Girls at Warner Brothers, and I didn’t know what any of that meant really. I dropped my buddy off at the airport, and I figured out how to get to the WB. It’s funny because the casting directors for that show were former Chicago folks, so that really put me at ease for my first interview. I remember seeing the casting associate in Chicago and to this day, we remain buddies. They knew credits that no one in LA had any business knowing just because they were like, “Oh, you did so and so tiny production at that hole in the wall theater,” so it was really cool, and we all had a good time. On acting research versus academic research for his role as Sid Liao on Manhattan A part of that was the research and listening to interviews and reading books, talking to folks about what it was, tapping into the paranoia and the secrecy surrounding the Manhattan Project, and finding other ways to personalize that and find out what that would be like. By the time you get to set, it’s just putting your trust in the other people, whether they’re behind the camera or they’re sharing the screen with you. It was a completely different thing, because when you prepare for a role, you research in a much different way than you do something that’s purely academic. It’s really trying to find things that emotionally resonate, that you can use when you’re on set, so it was really exciting. I much prefer learning in that way, since it’s sinks into a deeper place. How UChicago opened stage doors I really wanted to hit the Chicago theater scene by the time I graduated. I had unofficial mentors at the Steppenwolf in Curt Columbus and Gavin Witt, AM’90; they were sort of the heads of University Theater at the time, who were also connected to various theaters in Chicago and so Curt was able to introduce me to some of the folks at the Steppenwolf. For three years I was able to do everything from house managing to writing internships and acting internships. By the time I graduated, there was a mainstage show that was directed by Tina Landau called The Berlin Circle and she allowed a dozen of the U of C-ers to be a part of the show. It was an incredible foray into the professional work environment. On his time spent acting in the UK as Terry Phoo on Phoo Action, a BAFTA-winning adaptation of the comic strip Get the Freebies I spent about a year in Glasgow, but I also spent a little time in Edinburgh and in London. There was a writer’s strike going on at the time. My representation had heard about a BBC production, and they arranged something through HBO where I got to audition through an overseas conference call. I went to an office building and there was no one in the room; it was just a monitor staring at me and the monitor turned on and there were six faces staring at me. I auditioned and interviewed with them that way, and I landed a role through that, so I was able to do a BBC production over there for the course of the year.