Actress Niccy Lin On Starring in Netflix's You, Growing Up in Taiwan & Asian Representation in Film
Netflix's TV series YOU has been a hit since its debut in 2018, boasting a talented cast that includes Penn Badgley, Elizabeth Lail, Shay Mitchell, and the new addition of actress Niccy Lin. Lin, who has also appeared in Hulu's The Great and the movie Official Secrets, has garnered attention for her natural acting abilities and shines in her role as Sophie Soo in YOU's recently released season four.
Lin is a passionate and hardworking artist, devoted to her work whether she's tattooing or acting. Her background as a British-Taiwanese actress has helped shape her into a versatile and multifaceted artist, and she has exciting plans for the future.
In this interview, Lin shares insights into her upbringing, her meticulous preparation for acting roles, and her favourite Taiwanese dishes, as well as her plans for the future.
1. Can you share with us a little insight your childhood and upbringing and how it influenced your life today?
I was born in London and then once my sister was born we moved to Taiwan. My first school was in fact a Chinese school. My dad used to work for Hong Kong’s national airline Cathay Pacific and because of it we moved around different countries in Asia every 2-3 years. I think as a child not having one place to call home made my character stronger and it also made me more of a chameleon. I’m not saying it wasn’t hard, it was, but I think of the opportunities it gave me and I wouldn’t change a thing.
All the things I took for granted as a child, I look back at now and realise just how lucky I was. My mum was the classic Asian mother. We had to learn an instrument, had to have maths tutoring (my sister and I are still diabolical at it), had to learn alternative skills like horse riding. When you ate food you had to finish everything on the plate or it was bad luck…my sister and I had many an evening where she begged me to eat her courgettes for her and I told her I would for her pocket money (hahaha!).
When we were sick we were forced to ingest herbal Chinese medicines. At 12, she taught us how to take care of our skin (the infamous Chinese skincare routines). Every morning we had to make our beds, fold our clothes, my mum was up at 6am to pray and then make our school lunches. She never allowed things like peanut butter and jelly. At the time she would always say one day you will thank me for how hard you’re being pushed. I remember the day I came back to her and said I wish you’d pushed me harder.
My father was the one who taught me to love reading. Novels, poetry, imagination. He would create stories from scratch and what an escape they all were. Every weekend when all the other kids got to go into town and have fun my dad had us climbing mountains, cycling and going on hikes. He pushed us to be active, compete in sports, try new things. Thanks to him I did end up becoming a sprinter, a long distance runner, a swimmer, and a rower. Can I do all these things now? Absolutely not, but reflecting on those bygone days brings me joy.
From growing up in Asia to being sent to a Christian day boarding school in England at 13 was an enormous culture shock. But I was given an opportunity that most could only dream of. So I’m glad to say I didn’t squander it. I’ve experienced my own set of personal tragedies growing up that I won’t get into as some parts of me should stay private. But, I’m grateful for all of them. I’m a soft person but I’d like to think all the experiences I’ve been afforded have given me an innate toughness that’s essential in the creative industry and in life.
2. You have a degree in illustration and you are a junior tattoo artist. How and when did you develop an interest in acting?
I’m a romantic at heart, and when I heard the school play was to be pride and prejudice I wanted to audition just to be a part of the ensemble. I did initially ask to audition for the role of Mr. Collins, which was greeted with a no but try for the part of Lizzie. Having watched the film over 200 times I knew the words by heart already. I felt the adrenaline kick in and I just lost myself in it. The drama teacher Mr. Harris asked why I wasn’t in his class, and then said he expected to see me there for A Level drama. He did indeed see me the following year. And he changed my life completely.
My plan was to pursue drama but, I did what my family thought was best and pursued art. After completing my degree, I decided to give acting one last go or I'd regret it. I told no one except my sister and went along to The Royal Central School of Speech & Drama to do my audition. While I waited I saw the list of alumni and absolutely shat myself. Getting accepted, to do my MA in acting for TV and film was nothing short of a privilege.
After graduating and beginning all the side hustle jobs, I decided while pursuing acting that I would try to pursue using art in some way. I currently have four jobs but hopefully through tattooing and training to become a fully licensed artist, at some point I will be able to support myself through acting doing a job I love.
3. What does acting mean to you?
To me, acting is the embodiment of an entirely different characters reality, and making it your own. For however long it lasts, I get the opportunity to become someone else and step into someone else’s shoes. All people who choose to be actors are a huge inspiration to me. They dedicate themselves wholly to their craft. To learning, researching, analysing texts, training themselves vocally, physically, mentally. Putting themselves out there despite being told there’s barely any chance of succeeding. Though this can be applied to any profession in life, I love the notion of Samuel Beckett’s quote “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” For me, this encompasses what it is to act.
4. In Season 4 of the Netflix’s hit series YOU, you are playing Sophie Soo. How did you prepare for this role?
I think preparing for a role, big or small, usually comes down to research and then having a hell of a good time with it. Although I probably did more of the having fun than research I can’t even lie. I had fantastic tutors at Central and part of our study was text analysis and how to give yourself a deeper meaning behind every line by understanding setting, tone, motivation, purpose, the setting etc. So I drew on those factors and combined it with personal experience.
One side of my family are what I would class as very well to do. I have been exposed to extreme privilege in my life and am aware of how lucky that is. To my family I have nothing but gratitude for the opportunities they have given me. But attached to that lifestyle is always a set of behavioural attitudes that one has to adhere by. I grew up shy and didn’t always feel comfortable or like I fitted in with that. But understanding that social dynamic helped me greatly in embodying an attitude, confidence and even, a rather arrogant superiority that is often associated with upper classes. That and a sprinkling of humour to balance out the chronic arseholism. Hopefully I was convincing!
5. What do you hope to bring to the current entertainment industry?
There are numerous Asian and Eurasian actors that have paved the way for actors like myself. Their hard work and perseverance in an industry where stereotypes influence production heavily has meant that slowly and surely, we are now able to play more than one type of character. There is still a hell of a lot of work to do, changes that need affecting, eyes that need to be opened, and I hope to be a part of that.
I think being mixed, there is often a feeling of not quite belonging. Diaspora. A lot of people have opinions on my identity. I’m not white enough or wow you don’t look Asian at all, I’d never have guessed that. What types of martial arts do you know? I’ve even once been asked if I could attempt to look more Asian.
And, don’t get me wrong, I would love to learn the discipline and attain the strength and skill of a martial artist. I’m proud of my heritage and would love for people to understand that being mixed makes me just as Asian as it does British. I like the mystique that comes with people not being able to put me into a box. My issue is once they find out my heritage that they do in fact then put me in a box and I would like that to not influence the roles I am thereby offered. But, times are changing and as I previously said I would love to be part of the generation that changes the industry for the better.
6. As you are part Taiwanese — what are some of your favourite Taiwanese foods?
Nothing makes me yearn for Taiwan more than food, aside from my family of course! The culture that surrounds food is different when compared to western society. The way we share food at every meal feels like we’re celebrating something. My grandparents don’t speak English but my popo absolutely adores telling us to “Eat More.”
In the mornings; my popo cuts the most diverse range of fresh fruits, we buy fresh soya milk hot from the market. In the evenings she fries fish and always has soup that has been simmered slowly, peeking out from the bottom are always the familiar ruby red of goji berries. The comfort, and flavour in Taiwanese food, the night markets filled with the best street food vendors one could only ever dream of finding, makes me homesick thinking of it. I have not been back to Taiwan in around 8 years.
My favourite taiwanese food has to begin with Stinky Tofu 臭豆腐. Smells like a foot, tastes like heaven. Huge, deliciously marinated bits of firm tofu, with Chinese cabbage, and a rich spicy broth is heaven.
Second in line is Hot Pot 火鍋. We grew up at home with hotpot, thanks to my mum. Lotus roots, baby enoki mushrooms, bean sprouts, fish balls, thinly sliced meats, tofu slices, with shallot dipping sauce all slow cooking in a huge pot, phenomenal. If anyone wants this in London, go to Haidilao.
Third is Sticky Rice Dumpling 粽. I love nothing more than unwrapping the little banana leaf coated rice pyramids, biting in and finding dried shrimps, mushrooms, pork, and water chestnuts.
Fourth is Xiao Long Bao 小籠包. Thanking my ancestors that Din Tai Fung is now in London. Nothing beats biting into a dumpling and finding a rich broth full of juices just pop off in your mouth. It’s genius. And I never get bored of eating them. In one sitting I’ve consumed about 18 of them.
My favourite breakfast is congee with mustard pickles, salted peanuts, and tiny dried fish. My favourite drink is grass jelly. And although I used to despise it, my mums slow brewed fresh ginger and Chinese date tea to cure any ailment is something I now miss.
"There are numerous Asian and Eurasian actors that have paved the way for actors like myself. Their hard work and perseverance in an industry where stereotypes influence production heavily has meant that slowly and surely, we are now able to play more than one type of character. There is still a hell of a lot of work to do, changes that need affecting, eyes that need to be opened, and I hope to be a part of that. "
- Actress Niccy Lin
7. Are there any up coming exciting projects that we can look forward to?
I filmed an independent project called Murder Ballads; an outrageously funny dark comedy about the rise and fall of a rock and roll band. I love it when writers are able to balance shockingly violent scenes with wonderfully timed humour, much like the film Hot Fuzz by Edgar Wright.
And the writers Mitch & Neil had this down to a T. I play a very uptight journalist, Megan, who ends up embroiled in an incident with the band and filming it was nothing short of hilarious. We were essentially given free reign to wreak havoc and nothing is more fun than just going for your life and not overthinking.
Murder Ballads should be coming out this year so hopefully you’ll get to catch me in that.
All imagery is provided by Niccy Lin.