When David An graduated from school in New York and was looking for ways to enter the film scene to be an actor, he had no idea how to do it as there weren’t many jobs to begin with due to the economic crisis in 2008.

Luckily, An – whose parents are in the IT industry – had computer programming skills. He reached out to a visual effects company that had done work with directors like Oliver Stone, and secured a gig.

“I started from the bottom – taking out the trash, getting lunch, answering phones. I knew literally nothing, but was just happy to be amongst filmmakers. Slowly, they mentored me like Mr Miyagi to the Karate Kid, showing me one thing at a time until one day, I was like ‘I know kung fu’,” An recalled in an e-mail interview.

From 2010 to 2013, An worked as visual effects editor on Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief, The A-Team, Transformers: Dark Of The Moon and Ender’s Game. At the same time, the New Jersey-native had gotten guest-starring roles on TV shows like The Vampire Diaries, Scorpion, Grey’s Anatomy and Agents Of SHIELD.

This year, An appears in four films including Clint Eastwood’s The 15:17 To Paris, and Dwayne Johnson-starer Rampage (currently showing at cinemas nationwide). In Rampage, An plays a member of the US military trying to take down the animals that have grown ginormous and violent after a genetic experiment goes wrong.

How did you get into acting?

I wasn’t the most naturally gifted in my (acting) class, but my teacher would say every season I was the most improved actor! It was kind of the same story as editing, I was hungry to learn because I loved it, and then one day I was seen as one of the stronger students, and the confidence followed.

What do you want to achieve in the long run as an actor?

It sounds cliché but honestly to just work on great stories. I love both fun blockbuster films and the true story dramas, they all enrich us. Film and TV have such a unique opportunity: People sit in a room and watch a story through the eyes of someone else – from a background they may never interact with in life. That chance for empathy and understanding is something not many other professions can touch.

Having worked with Dwayne Johnson, Clint Eastwood and Viggo Mortensen (on Green Book), what is your impression of them and how do they inspire you?

The one thing I felt from all of them is, they really love what they do. Collaborating to create something bigger than themselves. I’ve been very blessed at a young phase of my career to work with heroes who show me you can be a leader with grace, respect and hospitality. I also credit Octavia Spencer as my first role model in that, she deserves all the success!

As an Asian-American actor, what is your take on the changing landscape in Hollywood since #OscarSoWhite, and your hope for the future?

I think all the movements (#OscarsSoWhite, #TimesUp) are important catalysts for change. Women and minorities standing together is a good thing, and sometimes it takes uncomfortable protest for things to change. (Opportunities for) Asian-Americans are improving, but there could be more across the board on film and TV.

I’m heavily focused this year on contributing behind-the-scenes in creating those opportunities not just for myself, but all of us. The more creators we have in the community (like Daniel Dae Kim producing The Good Doctor), the better chance we have of creating complex roles for our community.

Do you still do visual effects/editing?

I still edit commercials and work with directors on pitches for developing features. But it’s hard to take the long-term studio projects that are almost two-year commitments. I did have an opportunity to edit for a few months in Shanghai on a Chinese feature, and that was a great way to reconnect with the motherland, practise my Mandarin, and eat such good food like my grandma used to make.