Liam Ma On His Breakout Role In Streams Flow From A River

Rising star Liam Ma joins us on Close-Up Culture to talk about his role in the highly anticipated drama series, Streams Flow from a River.

The show follows a dysfunctional Chinese Canadian family who get trapped together during a freak snowstorm in their rural Albertan hometown, forcing them to confront the events a decade prior that tore them all apart.

You star in the highly-anticipated series, Streams Flow From A River. What did you find compelling about this story? 

This story is such a delicate, nuanced treatment of the immigrant experience. It comes from a very personal, vulnerable place, but remains so universal. Ultimately, that is the power of this medium, of stories. To say, this is what it feels like for me—does it feel the same for you? 

You play the role of Henry Chow. Can you tell us about your experience playing this character and what you got to explore through him? 

Henry came at a time when I was exploring a lot of the same questions, of identity and belonging. What does it mean to confront a child’s unwritten obligation to family? What does it look like to love and be loved on your own terms? How does life open up when you give yourself permission to dream? 

What can audiences expect from the series?

It feels like a warm, massive embrace. It’s maybe not unlike falling in love for the first time. 

This is your on-screen debut. How do you reflect on the whole expedience?

Our showrunner, Christopher Yip, put together a really beautiful set. All around, it was an incredibly affirming experience. We had a cast and crew that was predominantly East Asian, and it allowed a story like this to flourish. It removed any need to justify or explain. There was just openness and a mutual understanding that what we were taking part in was going to be something really special. 

Can you tell us about your background and what led you to performing? 

I have a degree in engineering, specialized in biomechanics and sustainable design. I used to attach so much of myself to this identity. But I wanted more. And I’ve always admired artists. I think there is a part of me that is doing this to see whether I can accomplish something for myself; if I can tune out the world for once, and simply follow the voice of that younger version of myself who just wants to be heard. I often have to return to what called me to this in the first place, before I ever considered what could arise out of the product. As writer and editor Haley Nahman reminds us, callings are different from career dreams—they suggest sustained action, rather than black-and-white achievement. All a calling requires is that you listen to it. 

I hear you’re working on a script. Can you reveal anything about that? 

I am! I think there’s such power in writing yourself into stories. Especially in the time that we’re currently in, where it feels like there is still a certain permission, an allowance of opportunities for our community. The script that I’m currently developing is centred on the tension within the ideals of masculinity for Asian American men. So, elements that are definitely autobiographical, but an important exploration within what I’m witnessing in the community as a whole. 

What type of stories would you love to tell in the future?

I want to continue exploring who I am and who I am becoming through the characters I get to inhabit. And in turn, I hope that these stories can help someone, somewhere, find their place in the world. What’s really important is who gets to tell these stories. Again from Nahman, I am reminded that there are so many ways to be an artist. All of them will involve weathering dry spells and stretches of self-doubt, but I have to be reassured that they’re not all contingent on self-commodification. You’re allowed to decide how much of that you can bear. You’re allowed to set your own rules around what success looks like. You’d sooner fail by letting someone else choose.

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