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When I first heard about Bling Empire, friends said it’s “Crazy Rich Asians IRL,” and nothing made me not want to watch it more. I’m not a reality TV person. I don’t watch any of them and have never cared to. In fact, I’ve never seen a single Kardashian episode (Gasp. I know.) Only in the past three years can I tell Kim, Kourtney, and Khloé apart. While I liked Crazy Rich Asians, the last thing I wanted to see was something that I thought would add more negative Asian stereotypes. My least favorite: the materialism, plastic surgery-obsessed, money-hungry trope of Asian women.
But Blake Abbie made me reconsider.
At the Netflix premiere of Bling Empire: New York City, I had the opportunity to sit down with the star, and not only was he a breath of fresh air, but his stylish GQ Timothee Chalamet fit (Ouer) had me sold. Abbie is one of the younger cast members on the show, but he’s also perhaps the most down-to-earth. He’s an editor, actor, in fashion, and I could easily see him at a non-flashy underground artist party with us “normies.” Self aware of all this, he is here to shake up these old school, old money royals.
Jaime Schwarz: You’re from Vancouver, right? And tell me about your fit!
Blake Abbie: I’m from Vancouver, yeah. Their whole thing is like, you know, queer men’s wear. Well, it’s not really queer men's wear. It’s men’s wear, but it’s fluid-ish. I was very explicit with the show. That I was only really, for the most part, wearing Asian designers. Because we need to be represented. There’s fucking amazing shit out there, and it’s super well made. I work in fashion, right? So we need to represent. I wear some other friends who are not Asian, but they’re friends.
JS: You’ve had such a multi-hyphenate career so far, what made you want to be part of this show? Specifically, how did they approach you? What’s that backstory?
BA: So as a part of that multi-hyphenate journey, I’m a fashion editor. I do a magazine called A Magazine Curated By, and I go to the fashion shows, and I met Tina Leung very early on in my career. There are not that many Asian people. I mean, there are definitely more people now who travel to shows, but at that time it was kind of a small group. It was, like, a couple Japanese editors, a couple Korean editors. This week is Men’s Fashion Week, Paris. I’m not there this season, but normally we would all get together for Chinese New Year, Lunar New Year, and have some sort of meal during Fashion Week.
Nearly two years ago, Tina hit me up. She was like, “Hey, what's up? I've been approached by this show, they’re looking for guys, would you be down to talk?” She had known I was an actor too and did Meteor Garden (Chinese television series) and I did another film in China, and she was like, “I know you want to be doing more acting. Why don’t you just take up a chat?” I was like, “Sure,” with really zero thoughts that they would cast me. I have my own opinions about reality shows as well. You know, like it’s “salacious.”
JS: You’re an actor as well, any mixed-race actor struggles?
BA: I think it’s an amazing thing that directors and casting directors are being really clear with casting for the race, but oftentimes it’s like a fully Chinese person or fully Japanese person.
JS: Do you feel like you don’t want to step into a fully Chinese role because that should go to someone else?
BA: I really feel I am Chinese. I’m so culturally Chinese. I speak Mandarin. So I’m not saying that I shouldn’t take those roles. But, you know, I read for this TV show, and it was about a Chinese family, and I can’t necessarily mix in with the family, you know?
JS: Two monoracial parents.
BA: Exactly, with another child. It just doesn’t necessarily work aesthetically.
JS: Were you familiar with the L.A. version of Bling Empire?
BA: Yeah, I loved it. That’s the reason I was open to talking, is that I loved the L.A. version. I thought it was really fun and escapist, which I thought was really important. I learned a lot about my own Asian culture. I’m someone that also likes reality TV shows, but I’m also aware of all of the criticisms.
JS: What do you think of the criticisms? Is Bling Empire negative representation? Is it positive representation? What are your thoughts on that?
BA: I definitely think representation is representation. There’s not enough representation in general. Period. I do know that I’m gonna show up authentically on camera. I’m maybe the most progressive thinker on the show. I don’t know how much that comes across, but, like, I believe in anti-capitalism, I believe in all these things. I can actually bring something that feels real and different to the representation of Asian people. Because the kickbacks are that Bling Empire underscores the wealthy Asian narrative, and not all of us are billionaires. I’m very glad to say I’m not a billionaire. Do I aspire to be one? No. Because you step on a lot of people to get there. Yes, we can have beautiful, engaged, fun, fabulous lies, but at the same time, I think we can also reflect. Maybe in the second season this will come out a little bit more and maybe more directly, but we’re not there yet.
JS: I love that. You’ve lived a bunch of different places. Have you noticed, being mixed race, you are treated differently in all these different places? China versus U.S. versus Europe?
BA: It’s an interesting experience to be mixed race. You can definitely slip in and out of spaces. It’s funny. I look exactly like my mom, I think. She’s on the show, you can decide that yourself. But people don’t think I’m Chinese, which is very strange to me because I think we’re quite carbon copies. But then I start speaking Mandarin and they’re always like, really surprised. Then I’m like, “Oh, my mom’s from Hangzhou.” And they're like, “Of course you speak Chinese.” That’s not quite it. I studied and I made sure. I wanted to be able to speak to my grandma.
Europe is an interesting space to be in. I lived in London and Paris, and I worked there with fashion. It’s not the easiest being mixed or Asian. I think you’re always kind of seen as an outsider. I think that’s quite a French cultural thing, right? I speak French as well, but if you’re not French or you didn’t go to the right school or didn’t grow up in Paris or whatever, like you’re always kind of viewed as an outsider. I can’t really speak to other spaces because I don’t spend all that much time there.
JS: Does it feel more behind than America in terms of language?
BA: Yeah, they’re on a different track than America. In New York, I feel super easy, like I wander Chinatown, I speak to my aunties.
JS: Do you feel like there was a difference between the West Coast and East Coast? I lived in L.A. for a little bit and I found being mixed was different in both.
BA: Hmm. I guess so. I mean, there’s definitely more Asians on the West Coast. I do think there is a different experience being Canadian, compared to my friends who are American and Asian or mixed, it’s a different thing.
It was never weird for me that I was mixed because I grew up with my friend who’s Polish and Korean and my friend who was Trinidadian and Canadian. There were always these mixed people around you. It was really important for my parents and their friends and my friends’ parents to celebrate all of our backgrounds. I had a good upbringing.
JS: You didn’t think about it.
BA: No, but I think in America it’s a different thing. So not to say Canada’s better, but it’s just like a different experience, you know?
JS: I think sometimes as mixed people, going into monoracial Asian spaces or any sort of monoracial culture, there’s a weird, you don’t belong thing, but also you’re a one-drop rule. So it’s this weird push and pull. With the cast, did you feel a little bit like you had to prove yourself?
BA: I know I’m Chinese. That’s what it is. I feel just as Chinese as I am Scottish. If you have a little bit of Asian, you are Asian. For me, I celebrate the culture and I’m intrigued by it and it feels aligned to me. For some people who are mixed, maybe that’s not the case and they don’t feel whatever the mix is. I didn’t really show up feeling like I needed to prove myself. I know that people might question it, but that’s just doing a disservice to the greater community. I’m not taking up someone’s space. I’m just like a different person, bringing a different perspective to what is ultimately an Asian experience.
JS: What’s your favorite thing about being a New Yorker?
BA: As cliché as it is, I love walking the city, and I love biking the city. Like today I was in Chinatown literally being the Asian Chinese boy. I’m going to all the flower stalls asking how much they’re charging for their cherry blossoms, because it’s New Year. The first one is like $40, and then I walk along, it’s like $80, and I walk all the way to Canal and it only got more expensive. So I walked all the way back. I was like, I’m not paying $80, you know? I think in New York, for lack of a better word, we’re real.
*This interview has been edited for flow and clarity.
Published on February 20, 2023
Words by Jaime Schwarz
Jaime Schwarz, the daughter of a Jewish father and a Korean mother, is an actor, singer, and writer based in both New York City and Los Angeles. She has worked Off-Broadway and in television, appearing in shows like Difficult People, Younger, Jane the Virgin, and Sorry for Your Loss with Elizabeth Olsen. In addition to acting, Jaime is writing several projects, one of which is a story about being the child of a mixed race family, and has written, starred in, and produced a short film called On a Scale. Along with storytelling and the arts, she’s passionate about social justice, with a personal interest in women’s and immigration rights, mixed race advocacy, and men having a skincare regimen. Instagram: @jaime.jpeg_ Twitter: @jaime_schwarz