Glass meets Harry Shum Jr, star of Shadowhunters and Crazy Rich Asians


HARRY Shum Jr is much more than your average Hollywood heartthrob. An actor, singer, and dancer, Shum has proved himself to be a triple threat, with the charm, wit – and good looks to back it up. Born in San José, Costa Rica, Shum moved to San Francisco at six years old, and quickly developed a passion for theatre. Despite diving into the dramatics, it wasn’t until he auditioned for the high school dance team on a dare that he began to train as a dancer and choreographer, a feat which would lead him to roles like Mike Chang in the hit comedy-drama series Glee.

Since then, 36-year-old Shum has flourished creatively, starring in several musically charged roles, as well as his most demanding role yet, Magnus Bane in the supernatural series Shadowhunters. A handsomely alluring warlock, complete with eyeliner, black nail polish, and an abundance of metal jewellery, Shum has stolen the hearts of men and women across the globe through the role. Stretching his acting muscle even further, last year Shum featured in Crazy Rich Asians in a mid-credits scene as Charlie Wu, finishing off the film with an indication of a romantic plotline between himself and the character Astrid in the upcoming sequel.

Shum also announced at the end of last year that his wife, fellow actor and dancer Shelby Rabara, is expecting their first child. With fatherhood on his horizon, we talked to Shum about the end of Shadowhunters, Asian representation in Hollywood, and the changes in the year ahead.


Harry Shum Jr. Photograph: Heidi Tappis


2018 was a huge year for your career! You appeared in Crazy Rich Asians, and of course continued your role as Magnus Bane in Shadowhunters, can you tell us some of your upcoming plans for 2019?

Yeah, other than bringing another human into this world which I’m excited about. There is a lot more prep than any other gig I’ve ever done, it’s like nine full months of prepping time. But, you know with Shadowhunters opening soon, I’m excited for fans to see the end of the saga to this whole world, and specifically playing a kind of character which has meant so much to so many people around the world.

Crazy Rich Asians was a huge milestone for representation of Asian culture in Hollywood, and its full of important lessons about love, family, and relationships. What lessons would you want your future daughter to take from the film?

I think the thing which is most beautiful about the film was self-worth and knowing that, discovering that, whether it be your own family or your future possibility of marrying into another family, or even just the people around you. Knowing that you are worthy enough to be in the place that you are at, and for me I wanted to pass down that tradition of family. To me, it is incredibly important. This in mind, I also want people to challenge those traditions themselves, that’s the only way we progress and move forward. That is the kind of thing I want to pass down to my daughter, about finding the balance, not slanting to one side more than another, and to be able to understand where people are coming from.

You’ve had the honour to play a lot of different characters, from a dark and broody warlock to a Rom-Com tech billionaire. What roles appeal to you most and why?

I don’t seek out roles that don’t usually have a voice or is a certain representation which is voiceless. It ends up being that way. I’ve come across a lot of roles which I have been so fortunate to play, a lot of these characters they end up, from the fan letters I get and the response I get, it seems like they’ve never this kind of character, like a Magnus Bane or a Mike Chang. They showcase a kind of personality which people tend to resonate with. I think, for me, I gravitate towards characters that don’t usually have a voice, that don’t drive into a stereotype that we’ve seen in other films.

Harry Shum Jr. Photograph: Heidi Tappis

Music and dancing has been a huge part of your career. You’ve appeared in musically orientated shows, such as Mike Chang in Glee, as well as the film Step Up 2. Do you feel like you gravitate towards roles where you can express yourself musically?

You know, when I first got into the arts, what really drove me was the rhythm. I’m pulled to something rhythmic, and I’ve been able to carry that over into other roles where it isn’t necessarily musical or even dance related. I’ve been able to use that rhythm in a way, whether it be comedy or drama, in a way that has a sense of musicality. For me, playing a character like Magnus Bane, there is a certain essence which calls for that, not in a way which I would sing and dance, in a way in which I carry out the way I speak. I don’t think I’d be able to play that character if I didn’t have that background. I come from a background where I’m able to utilise that as much as possible.

Harry Shum Jr. Photograph: Heidi Tappis

Your show Shadowhunters, in which you play Magnus Bane, consequently won you Best Bisexual Representation by a Supporting Character Male at the Bisexual Representation Award. Can you tell us what it was like playing an LGBTQ character, especially in apprehension of the shows conclusion this year?

Yeah, you know it was unfortunate the way that the show is ending, but at the same time it is getting a proper ending, which is something I’m very happy about, the way we’re able to wrap it up. To be able to play this character, you know it’s an honour to get a different perspective, working with the show has given me a new perspective of the LGBTQ community, and playing this character has been something really special. The relationship Magnus Bane has with Alec Lightwood, it’s not just portrayed as a typical gay relationship, but rather it’s normal, you find them in domesticated situations which is nice considering the craziness of their world. Along with figuring out, what they are going to eat for dinner, I think it’s really nice to see the normal part of their lives, rather than to just see them as an LGBTQ couple. It’s been very special.

Shadowhunters is one of the most popular supernatural series of today. With it coming to an end this year, could you imagine yourself taking up a role in another supernatural/sci-fi series?

Absolutely. There is something many different worlds, so many types of characters, this one we’re dealing with werewolves and vampires and warlocks, one of the first in which I’ve seen warlocks this way. So, I think there is room for so much, and so much genre-bending. Yeah, I’d say I’d be totally down.

Harry Shum Jr. Photograph: Heidi Tappis

So, the thing I love most about your character Magnus Bane is his dress sense. He’s known for being very eccentric and gothic and over the topic. Can you tell me about some of your favourite things you’ve had to wear in the role?
Yeah, Shelley Mansell is the costume designer. We’d be going to fittings which took from two to four hours, and sometimes we would have to have five or six different costume changes, which would draw out from trying out maybe 15 different costumes in. For me, often in roles I’d be like oh that jacket looks cool, or those shoes look cool, but for this one it was completely built from scratch. Sometimes you can get a jacket and experiment with the cut, but in this one it was all made from complete scratch, which was a really cool process to be part of.

Understanding what Magnus would wear, and how Magnus would compliment or critique the style, was very important. A funny thing that happens when I go on set sometimes, when I have no make up on, people wouldn’t even talk to me, because they only know me as Magnus Bane when I’m on set. Half the time, I’d be standing right next to them and they wouldn’t even introduce themselves to me. The whole transformation with the team is just really incredible, it’s like having another skin, it’s really neat.

Harry Shum Jr. Photograph: Heidi Tappis

With the sequel to Crazy Rich Asians in the works, China Rich Girlfriend, we’ll get to properly delve into your character Charlie Wu. Can you tell us anything about the character, and his story, in the upcoming film?
Yeah, there is not much I can really, really say, but they are developing it right now, they’re working on it, in the books Charlie Wu is, I might be bias, but it is one of my favourite story-lines. Him and Astrid, it’s just such a beautiful love story, and this amazing romance, and I don’t think it’s ever been on this scale, in this cast, and in this world. So, I’m just excited to see what the writers come up with, they did an incredible job adapting the first book, and the second book has just so many details, so much extravagant and heart-felt moments that I know there is a lot to find, so I can’t wait to get to it. It’s incredible what it has become with the film, and I look forward to making the sequel.

With Shadowhunters concluding, and you becoming a father in 2019, this year is going to have big changes in store for you. What are you thinking about the year ahead?

For me, it’s waiting for fatherhood. Now, what’s interesting, and I understand its going to be hard work, and a child now for me is really bringing back an element about caring, everything in my work about caring for the other characters, I’m going to bring that to caring for a child. All that has been incredibly important to me, but I’m also looking into a few other projects right now, but I have to make sure I think of her first. I’m sure it will be very exciting!

By Emma Hart


Photographer: HEIDI TAPPIS
Photography assistant: ANASTASIYA OSTASHEVSKA
Fashion assistant: LEONARD MURRAY

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