Being falsely accused and arrested for attempted murder on his 18th birthday may have been a blessing in disguise for actor/dancer Lawrence Kao—it solidified his pursuit in acting.
Born and raised in Hacienda Heights, this California native has been known in the dance scene on America’s Best Dance Crew with Kaba Modern and his time now with The Kinjaz. However, he can be seen more often pursuing his primary passion: acting. He’s appeared on shows like Hawaii 5-0, The Walking Dead, and soon—the CW’s supernatural drama The Originals. Kollaboration recently had the opportunity to sit down with him as he talked about Kinjaz, his role on The Originals, and his pursuit of the craft.
The Kinjaz were just announced to perform at Kollaboration Star next month in Los Angeles as special guest performers—How did you get involved with Kinjaz?
It all stems from me doing Kaba Modern in college. All our group of friends are dancers—Mike Song, Anthony Lee—he was on CADC—we were all friends and stuff. They’ve always wanted to create a group.
Kinjaz competed on America’s Best Dance Crew‘s comeback. What was it like sitting on the sidelines this time?
Dude, I thought it was awesome because, obviously, I had to do nothing. All I had to do was watch and support. These guys are guys I grew up with for a very long time, so it’s awesome to see them on such a big stage at the level they are at now knowing how we used to be when we were younger. It helps me appreciate it a lot and all the hard work they’re putting into it not just for themselves but for the whole team in general.
Has your dance background helped in the development of your acting career?
It’s funny—after ABDC and after the show—I started going to auditions because the dance stuff was done now. But I had ABDC on my resume—and it was so popular at the time. At these acting auditions they were telling me to dance. So it was like “oh can you dance for us!” So then I took it off my resume. I set it aside because I felt like at that time, I didn’t want to be just known for dance. I had a really weird relationship with dance right after [ABDC.] I didn’t really enjoy doing it. I mean, I had a good time, but I didn’t really—but looking back at it now, I should have appreciated it more. But at that time, I was like “F— this shit—I want to focus my attention on doing acting” when I could have used dance to propel me toward bigger things. I feel like I had to separate it a bit, so I could go back to [dance.] So now [dance] is so cool. I still dance with Kinjaz.
What made you decide to pursue acting?
It’s a crazy story. So in Senior year [of high school], we were doing a Shakespeare play—Midsummer Night’s Dream—I was playing Lysander. We were doing previews for the English classes just so people can go and watch the show. During one of the previews, I get arrested in school. They take me to jail, and it’s my 18th birthday. I’m suppose to do this show at night, but I’m in jail for over 3 days…and what [the police] said I did was attempted murder and assault with a deadly weapon. So I’m trippin’ out. They’re telling me I’m going to be there for 40 years minimum. So that whole week, I was thinking: “What do I want to do with my life?”
But by the end of the week—for some reason—they let me go, and I got to go back to school. It was the closing night of my performance, and the director’s like “Hey, do you still remember your lines?” So I do the play and I’m on stage, and I’m like “Aw, man, this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.” Because I’ve been thinking about it that whole week. I changed my major [to drama] and went to UC Irvine. I did some main stage shows at UCI—still loved it. I knew that after I graduated, it was still something I wanted to do. Dance obviously took over for a little bit. I love dancing—it’s still a passion of mine—but it was never as strong as my passion for acting.
Did they even find the guy who committed the crime?
They didn’t even find the guy. I don’t even know what the story was; there was a couple stories as to why I was arrested. The people who got really messed up pointed me out in a yearbook. Obviously, it wasn’t me. It was definitely a blessing in disguise—it really solidified what I wanted to do. I feel like knowing that at such a young age is so powerful.
You were recently cast on the CW’s Vampire Diaries spinoff The Originals as Van Nguyen. What can you tell me about your character?
I’m a witch. And something happens. And I get pissed. So far, he’s been pretty ruthless and stubborn as to what he wants to accomplish in terms of revenge. He doesn’t want to get involved with what’s going on in the quarters, but because of certain situations, he feels like he’s forced to and he has to. I feel like he’s a very passionate character—he really believes in the things he believes in.
He’s sort of like your co-star’s character, Vincent (Yusuf Gatewood), in that sense.
Yeah, he’s sort of pushed toward that direction. He has no choice but to do that. I feel like once he gets that [goal], “It’s like alright, things are good again.” But then I feel like it’ll be him having to do more things. Obviously he’s pissed. Like he wants justice for what’s been wronged to him and his people.
What’s it like playing a supernatural character?
It’s fun. I love supernatural things. You get to use your imagination more. I feel like it’s still such a young character too—like early 20’s. I still think they think I’m pretty young, or I feel like the cast does when I’m walking around and talking about stuff. It’s such a roller coaster though. I never know how long my characters are going to last, so I’m sort of hanging on a string.
According to your social media, you’ve worked with Danielle Campbell (Davina) and Yusuf Gatewood (Vincent). How was it working with them?
They’re awesome. It’s just fun. Everyone is just super professional. Everyone’s on top of their game. It’s just fun working with a great cast and great crew. Everyone’s so nice and hospitable.
Have you watched the show?
I started watching it recently—maybe last month. I’m in the middle of the second season. I like it a lot. At first, I was like “oh man, this is going to be like a teen TV show.” But after a couple episodes, I was like “Wow, this is really good.” The actors are actually really damn good—That made me excited. Joseph Morgan is awesome. The sister (Claire Holt)—she’s awesome too.
Do you have any future projects lined up?
I’ve been asked to audition for a couple plays. There’s also a film I shot 5 years ago—it’s in post right now finally. I just ADR’d it maybe two months ago. It’s taken a while. But it’s a cool little movie. It’s a romantic comedy with me and some girl. I’m just waiting for it to come out.
You also had a strong YouTube background too. Can you tell me about that and are you still making online content?
Yeah, like 2 years ago when I was not booking anything—I was like, oh I got to make my own original content. I have a lot of dancer friends that choreograph a lot, and they’re always able to show what they can do [online]. I had a strong desire for people to see my storytelling capabilities and just me being able to act. That was fun. It lasted for about a year. I used to put stuff up constantly, and then I got busy, which is cool. But I still want to go back to YouTube doing stuff and creating content. But right now it’s just focusing on other things that are in the way or are happening right now.
For more of Lawrence Kao, follow him at @iamlawrencekao on Twitter and Instagram.
Also, be sure to catch his debut as Van the witch on The Originals this Thursday, October 15 at 9pm ET/8pm CT on the CW.
Photos Courtesy of Lawrence Kao