It’s scary. Putting yourself out there and allowing people to scrutinize every little thing you do can trigger feelings of unworthiness, anger, resentment, and frustration.
Rejection has always been associated with negativity. Though it’s inevitable, we try to avoid it at all costs. But here’s one hard truth that Filipino-American actor Kieran Tamondong wants us to know: rejection is part of the process. It’s a necessary ingredient for survival.
Here, the Netflix series actor who portrayed Konerak Sinthasomphone in the controversial biographical drama Dahmer: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story shares his journey to becoming an actor, including the ups, downs, and stories in between.
A Glimpse of How It All Started: The Kieran Tamondong Story
Kieran’s acting journey does not follow the usual road-to-stardom plot. Compared to most actors, he admitted that he didn’t really come out of the gate knowing that he wanted to be an actor. In fact, he started out heavily in martial arts. “I was super, super into those shows, especially the cartoons like, you know, Ninja Turtles and Power Rangers. I really had a connection and a bond to those movies.”
To channel his youthful energy, his parents engaged him in karate. And in about 15 years, he began competing at the national and international levels with competitors from different parts of the world. But then all his martial arts engagements were put on hold when the pandemic happened. The young actor then began looking for a new avenue to perform that he could do alongside karate.
In 2015, Skechers held an open-call audition, which Kieran and his father went to check out. With around fifteen aspiring actors in the room who looked exactly as he did, the casting director said that they were only looking for one person who has gymnastic abilities and is a good fit.
“So, I went in there and used my knowledge of martial arts and just acrobat tricking to book the role of Skechers. The first two days of working on that commercial were probably the best two days of that year for me.” Kieran obviously had so much fun being part of such a big production and seeing the crew constantly move around. Working with cameras and allowing himself to do parkour in creative ways ignited the young man’s interest in acting.
Transitioning into a different dream through martial arts, from there, Kieran’s acting career began to blossom. With the support of his parents, he got into management and eventually got himself an agent. Now in his seventh year in the industry, Kieran continues to expand his experiences as he juggles his commitments alongside school, as he is currently studying at college.
While this may sound tough, Kieran’s affinity with the craft inspires him to really give his best. “I could never get tired of like working nine hours on set. Plus, like the entire week and just doing that back-to-back. I would never get tired of that because I’m always so excited to be on set.”
Hurdles and Difficulties in Pursuing Your Goals
While the opportunity to act seemed like it was purposely meant for Kieran, he confessed that his career was not as smooth sailing as it sounds. Like most aspirants, he faced several setbacks and rejections. “There are so many casting directors that are looking for very particular things, and I guess actors aren’t the first thing on their mind when it comes to the entire production.”
There are several roles that Kieran wishes he had. In his early days, he would spend days waiting, only to end up not hearing back from any of the casting directors. “I felt a little disheartened from that. I spent a lot of time in my room just thinking about how I could change these casting directors’ minds.”
But instead of sulking in frustration and wallowing through such hard truth: that rejection is a necessity to survive in the industry, Kieran found solace in the comforting and reassuring words of his mom, who told him, “There are so many different opportunities waiting for you that you are just not aware of. All you got to do is keep hacking away and keep plugging away. You just have to push past these rejections and finally land your next big role.”
Going Out of Comfort Zone and Landing His Breakout Role
Backed by such a supportive family, Kieran fears no roles given to him, no matter how seemingly mature these might be for his age. “Scared to do? No. I’ll do any role. What I did was freakin’ scary enough. I think I’m ready to take on the world with any role,” said the actor with such enthusiasm.
Kieran admitted that he was also shocked upon knowing that he would take part in Netflix’s Dahmer series. He was completely caught off guard as it had been around three months since he auditioned for the role before he finally heard from the team.
Knowing how big of an opportunity it was, Kieran immediately informed his parents and began studying the character and the whole story in general, as it was something that had happened over thirty years ago. “I’ll be honest. I wasn’t even fully aware of what happened. So, through Google searches and through, like online libraries and books, to look through, I got to learn more about what Jeffrey Dahmer had done.”
Part of the preparations that Kieran made was to study and do his research on Laotian culture and look at the story through a different lens. What’s even more challenging is that all these things happened at the peak of the pandemic, back when nobody was allowed to go except for those important crew members and actors.
Knowing that he would be working with Ryan Murphy, Evan Peters, Molly Ringwald, Richard Jenkins, and other veteran actors, Kieran needed to have a good amount of presence and confidence to always carry around with him.
Seeing how professionally Ryan Murphy and all the other actors played their parts motivated Kieran to keep going. “I can’t say that I would ever be regretful of what happened because that show did so many wonders for me. And I’m really, really, grateful for that.”
As it was a very sensitive topic to discuss, he also shared some important learnings he got from the series: “At the very basic level, I think we should all just be very respectful. We need to be mindful of what we say and do about this show because, at the end of the day, we’re bringing more awareness to it. But we’re not sensationalizing it to the point where it’s like it’s just in your face, you know. Most importantly, we have to be mindful of everything that’s going on for the families.”
Dealing with Criticisms and Insecurities
Though a bitter pill to swallow, criticism is a given part of an actor’s life. And Kieran is no exception to it. Because of his Asian look, he is often criticized for looking too young for specific roles. The young actor admitted to having really felt bummed about not fitting in with the parts he wanted to portray just because they required actors of an older age.
Somehow, Kieran has slowly accepted the fact that sometimes, no matter how earnestly you want something, you can’t just have it all. With the experiences he had, he now looks at it from a rather optimistic point of view—that one missed opportunity opens new gates to a new one, somewhere where he can achieve the next big role. “It doesn’t really matter that much anymore. It’s a sort of easier moving process. Staying in the present of trying to book each audition and then moving on to the next one. It’s just a very constant moving trail of auditions.”
Kieran also acknowledges the fact that this career has also taken a toll on him. With schedule demands, back-to-back auditions, and trying out different characters, doing all these things for a long time can really be physically and mentally draining. However, instead of succumbing to exhaustion, he always looks at the brighter side of the experience to see it as a better opportunity. “For me, it’s just a learning curve to help me expand my mind on what could be or what could possibly happen because I could just do something completely wrong. But I’ll learn from it, and it will help me with my acting in the future years.”
To do this, Kieran has to remain focused, open his mind, and just be ready to take in everything—his main goal. Because working with people who have years of experience in the industry can really feel a little intimidating, he tries to put on a brave face and hack his way to success, keeping his portrayals original and creative. As the adage goes: fake it till you make it. “I’m not really sure if my acting is going to be good enough or if it’s going to look good on camera. But I kind of just stuck with my own originality and creativity for it, and I think it actually helped propel me to have better conversations because everything was so spontaneous the way that I had my character prepared and the way that they had theirs prepared.”
Going at it with Full Intent
Currently working as a sensei in his local dojo and studying Kinesiology at California State University Northridge with the goal of becoming a physical therapist, Kieran continues to pursue his dreams in the entertainment industry with the hopes of one day turning his dreams of doing some sort of action film or series into a reality that combines his passion for acting and martial arts. He shared that, in ten years, it would be totally astounding to do something like The Boys on Amazon Prime or something comedic like The Modern Family. “I want to see more roles that I could see myself in and kind of just challenge the boundaries of what I’m comfortable with.”
While there is much work that needs to be done, Kieran sees success in his work when people get to appreciate the work he has done. Because of his portrayal, he got verified on Instagram and even earned a pretty good number of followers, which has tremendously opened doors for the Filipino-American actor.