Kieran Tamondong joins us on Close-Up Culture to discuss his breakout role in Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story.
Hello Kieran, welcome to Close-Up Culture. I understand you come from a martial arts background. Can you talk about this and what led you to acting?
I began my martial arts journey when I was six at a local karate dojo and mostly had just one goal at that age, to become a power ranger. I grew up with this strong mindset and my sensei took notice of it to apply me to tournaments within California. I already enjoyed the sport of karate but tournaments gave me that extra motivation to learn and develop my skills.
Eventually, I had enough practice and confidence to begin competing in the North American Sport Karate Association which is how I earned my world champion titles for my age range. I have made the majority of my life accomplishments in that era so far. The discipline, sportsmanship, practice, and grit sort of translated when I got into acting. I honestly felt that there was something else that I wanted to pursue outside of my athletic life. That is how I got introduced to commercial auditions. I had my first open-call audition for a shoe commercial that shot for two days, it was one of the most memorable moments in my career working on something new and it got the ball rolling for many more to come.
How did the opportunity to star in Netflix’s Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story come about?
I enjoy telling this story because people presume I was given the role because someone knew me while working on previous films or shows. The truth is, I was not filming anything at the time, just answering and taping auditions in the comfort of my own home. It was 2020 so under the conditions of the pandemic, all auditions were self-taped. The breakdown read for a role of Konerak in a project titled, ‘Monster’. Nearly three months later, I received an email from my agency that I had been chosen for the role. It had been so long since the submission that I initially did not know what I had even booked. I quickly got the good news from my manager that we would be filming in April and that Ryan Murphy had viewed my tape and was delighted to soon be working with me.
You portray one of Dahmer’s victims, Kokonerak Sinthasomphone. How did you prepare for this role?
I did some initial research on Konerak and Jeff’s altercation as my starting point because upon booking the audition, I had never even heard of the name, Jeffrey Dahmer. New articles, movies, and especially documentaries highlighted Konerak’s case to give me a detailed understanding of what went on during that time. The first time I read about Officer Balcerzak and Gabrish, my mind was blown by the carelessness of the situation. Until the day of shooting, the Lao cultural consultant, Thip, and I went over some Lao lines that I would prepare for the apartment scenes. To fully immerse myself I decided it was necessary to indulge in all things of Laotion culture, no matter how irrelevant they may seem to me, it is something that Konerak would have knowledge of having grown up in a first-generation household. I listened to different types of music, researched food, read about historical figures, etc. The best rabbit hole, I have ever gone down.
I imagine this was an intense and emotionally draining project to work on. How was your experience portraying Kokonerak and being a part of this project?
As happy as I am to have been given this role, having Konerak’s identity embedded into my history as an actor took time and precise care to be able to fully portray him as more than just one of seventeen unfortunate victims. It was the first time I ever had to do a role of a real person, so I needed to learn (or in some cases, create) everything about his personality true to him and to myself by day one of filming Dahmer. In a way, Konerak has now been represented in my image from the show because of its boom in popularity. Being a part of this series has been the biggest blessing I have received in recent years, and I can not thank Ryan Murphy enough for granting me that opportunity.
How do you like to spend your time away from the camera?
Away from the camera, I enjoy a couple of sports like volleyball and tricking. I still have my connections to the traditional and sport karate world as that is where most of my friend groups originated. Little known fact, I actually instruct young martial arts students at the dojo I grew up in as Sensei Kieran. I like to think of it as giving back to the community that raised me. Of course, video games have always been a part of my childhood and I do not think I’ll ever really grow out of it. My favorite game I’m playing right now is Valorant. Manga reading has also taken a top spot for leisurely activities because the Japanese comic book art style is something I like to appreciate. Lastly, drinking boba (especially with friends and family) is the main contributor whenever I go out and want to satisfy my sweet tooth, my go-to drink is brown sugar milk tea.
What type of roles and projects would you love to take on in the coming years?
I really enjoy action films which may be correlated to my expertise in martial arts so a lead role in any of those would be fun for me as well. I also want to work on a comedic role sometime in the future to expand my reach beyond what I am already comfortable doing. The one type of role I want to play in are any type of sci-fi and horror projects, I loved the Star Wars franchise and the Halloween franchise so something along those types of films would be amazing!
What are your plans and ambitions for the future?
My plan is to start working on a lead role in a feature film as soon as possible. Dahmer has opened many doors, I just need to take the first step. I’m looking forward to working with any director who can see what my acting and skills can bring to the table. I firmly believe that all my hard work from martial arts to acting has led me this far. Prayers have been said and sacrifices have been made so I see no reason to be resting on my laurels now. My family, friends, and supporters who have all been with me since the beginning are my drive to do what I love doing. “If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.” -Marc Anthony
Follow Kieran on Instagram – Kieran Tamondong (@kierantamondong) • Instagram photos and videos
Photographer: Ryan West
Stylist: Veronica Graye
Groomer: Colleen Dominique