Actor Mickeey Nguyen not only plays everyone’s best friend on his current sci-fi/hip-hop series, “Utopia Falls” (Hulu and CBC, 2020), he could definitely play everyone’s best friend in real life. The multi-hyphenate choreographer and dancer is a prankster on set, genuinely funny, and a talent to note both now and in the future.
Nguyen stars as Mags, the witty best friend of Bohdi (Ariel Julien), in the genre-bending series, which follows a group of teenagers in the post-apocalyptic colony of New Babel. The teenagers discover a forbidden archive of historical and musical relics, challenging all that they’ve been taught.
Born and raised in Toronto, Nguyen began his professional career as a dancer at 18, receiving his first big opportunity touring as a backup dancer for NBC and YouTube sensation Lilly Singh. After dancing for singer Shawn Mendes and Canadian pop rock group Hedley, Nguyen transitioned to acting in “Make It Pop” (Nickelodeon, 2015) as well as numerous other roles on Disney Channel, Netflix and the Hallmark Channel.
In our interview back in April, Nguyen divulged on-set shenanigans, examined how “Utopia Falls” is more revolutionary than meets the eye, and expanded on what diversity means — and how it affects him as an actor. As a choreographer at multiple dance studios when not on set, and an avid fan of K-pop band BTS (his biases are Jimin and Jin), Nguyen confided his dreams of choreographing for them. He also raises awareness for cancer research in memory of his father.
Below is a transcript of our interview, edited for clarity and brevity.
VD: What drew you to both “Utopia Falls” the show and the character of Mags?
MN: “Utopia Falls” has a lot of underlayers. On the surface, people just see it as a brand new sci-fi/hip-hop TV series. And it’s never been done before. But people misinterpret their first impressions because they’re like, “Oh, it’s another one of those dancing and singing shows.”
But what drew me into it is that once you dig deep into the series, it’s really all about a cultural revolution that’s happening. It has a group of teens who come from completely different places [and] look entirely different, and set their differences aside [to] come together for a common purpose. I think that really does show strength in unity.
What drew me to Mags, well, Mags is very, very similar to me in the sense that he’s very loyal; he’s very dedicated to the people who he loves. He is super humorous — his sense of humor is exactly on point with me. But it also makes me really happy knowing that this character is so like me, and I’m organically creating these moments and encouraged to create these moments with this character that I just do so easily.
When you watch the show, you’ll realize that Mags is really your best friend, and especially during a time like this, with all the chaos and all the nonsense happening out there, you really do need someone like Mags to uplift you, and he’s the guy to go to.
VD: What do you hope audiences take away both from your performance in the show and then the show itself? You mentioned a little bit about unity and working together, but is that the ultimate takeaway you want them to get?
MN: For the show, it’s purpose… For me personally, I really strive for diversity and try to take the next best step forward in film and TV. I think it already is evolving in that direction where people are starting to notice we have more color to play with, we have more color to show. From little things, all the background, this new humanity that you see, this new civilization, there’s so many different cultural backgrounds that we play with, that we want to show and put upfront, that I think that the audience will find someone to relate to.
Growing up, I would watch shows and never [see] anyone who looked like me. The closest one was Trini from “Power Rangers” who played the Yellow Ranger. I was like, “Oh my god, she’s Vietnamese. I’m Vietnamese!” I’m living for that. I never thought anyone who was remotely close looking to me as she was [would be on TV], and she was that person for me. So she definitely was my biggest inspiration to even setting foot into this entertainment industry. And I’m happy that she did because I don’t think that I would have explored and ventured off into this world of entertainment if it hadn’t been for her. I probably would have listened to my mother and become a doctor or something and saved lives. I love what I’m doing and I’m happy with that.
VD: What did you learn about yourself from filming the show?
MN: I learned that this type of job is very strenuous. Acknowledge and stay true and appreciate what you do, and know that you’re doing the best that you can. This project has definitely reinforced that for me because I’m always a perfectionist. When I was just dipping my foot into the industry […] I was so heavily critiquing myself that I didn’t really develop that self love within myself. “Utopia Falls” [taught] that to me, because I learned and believed in myself, that anyone who gets in front of the camera, we’re doing our very, very best. As actors, […] we’re playing a role in a scene and we’re trying to make it as believable as possible. With everyone’s process as different as it is, we should always appreciate and then be proud of the outcome that comes out of it.
Even if you do fumble or make a mistake, that’s a good thing because you learn from it. You learn what not to do. You learn what to do. You learn what your strengths are. Projects like this help you take another step forward into becoming a better artist or a better actor or a better singer or dancer. It helps shape you for the next thing coming your way.
VD: I love that attitude. Because you can either tear yourself down or build yourself up from it. What was your favorite memory being on the show?
MN: My favorite memory is definitely how tightly knit the cast is. We share a lot of chemistry together. For me, it’s because I’m literally Mags. He is the comic relief in your daily life. I go around, and I try and think of the most ridiculous, most chaotic pranks as I possibly could. My favorite moment was when everyone was in a scene except for me. I was just waiting for the next scene […] So I just snuck into everyone’s trailer and I set up their clothes that they had changed out of. I put pillows in them and turned them into people. I hung clothes on the ceiling […] like there was a figure exploding in the middle of the trailer. I love doing things like that because sometimes, it can get so stressful and it’s kind of a healthy reminder that, hey, we’re in this together. This is our life and let’s make the best of it.
VD: Did you just wait for the screaming to occur as people got back?
MN: I was terrified because our trailers have steps leading up to it. I thought in my head — especially when hanging the clothes on the ceiling — “Oh, man. What if they’re on the steps and [when] they open the door, they get scared and then they fall back? Oh my god, that would be a great thing to film!”
VD: How do you think the industry has changed since you first started as an Asian American multi-hyphenate actor, dancer, choreographer, everything?
MN: It’s slowly evolving into a better place where the audience can find someone that they can relate to and be inspired by. If I can just know that I touched someone’s heart — just one person — if I made them smile, if I inspired them to continue to pursue what they love doing, then it would make my job so worthwhile.
There was a show looking for a South Asian character, and it was being filmed in Paris. It was gonna be one of those dance shows — and I came so close. Eventually, I found out that they had changed the role and characteristics to a Caucasian’s. It sucks knowing that you were up for it and then they do what we normally see or something.
But, you learn from it and you end up coming up from the ashes, and you’re just like, “If that’s what they’re gonna do, then let me prove them wrong. And let me see. Let me show them what they could have had.”
VD: What are the stories that you want to tell? What are the stories that you’re looking to be in or dance or choreograph?
MN: Besides dancing or choreographing for BTS? (I stan, I stan.)
I think the story that I just really want to tell is the story of an upbringing and how unique it is. I would love to do a Marvel/DC Superhero film because I live to have some sort of superpower in my life. If I can just fly for a show, I will fly for you. Anyone. Marvel, DC, hit me up.
I’d actually love to do some sort of story even about my life or something really sentimental and very uplifting because everyone’s lives are so different and we all go through such different things. I think people can get caught up in all the negative aspects of their life and put themselves down because of it. But those are the things that shape us into who we are. And it continues for a better tomorrow.
For me, unfortunately, my dad passed away way back when I was pretty young. At the time, I was so distraught over it, and the negativity that came out of it was pretty big. But in retrospect, I’ve learned so much from that and it really did allow me to become more grounded and be who I am today. I get to have thick skin and care for the people who I love. If someone at least knows that kind of story, I would be really happy with that and know that it helped them through a time that they needed it.
VD: What advice would you give young people, especially Asian Americans pursuing film and dance?
MN: No matter what, even if you’re faced with a closed door, something is always going to open up, especially in this industry where you’re probably gonna hear a lot of “no”s. Sometimes […] the things that happened can be completely out of your hands. I do have control over what I bring to the table and what I give them in their hand.
Because if I at least know that I did the best that I could do and the absolute best I could deliver, then I shouldn’t have a problem with what I gave. I should be happy; I should be proud; I should be thankful I’ve been given this opportunity to show what I can do.
It’s a scary position to be vulnerable to do all that stuff and to get a rejection, but something is gonna come up later down the line in your path and you’ll realize that “no” is what shaped this next “yes” for you.
VD: What do you wish people knew about you that they might not otherwise know?
MN: I think people think I have a very extroverted, crazy personality. They think I just love to be out there and I love being great. What people don’t know is I’m actually very, very introverted in a way because I don’t like that setting. Sometimes I find it’s a little bit overwhelming.
People have this impression that when people go into the entertainment industry that they’re supposed to have this huge, big personality… Yes, there are people like that, but there are also people who are like me and a little bit nervous and a little bit anxious in social situations. But, there’s a place for us. […] As long as you work hard, share what you love doing with the people around you, and know that even if you’re introverted, nobody is concentrating on that.
Everyone just want[s] you to do the best you can. You are so unique; you do not need to be anyone else but yourself.
Check out Mickeey Nguyen on “Utopia Falls” (Hulu, 2020) as well as “Z-O-M-B-I-E-S” (Disney, 2018). You can follow Nguyen on Instagram at @mickeeynguyen.