Samantha Wan remembers her first year at Heritage Woods secondary.
She was one of hundreds of students in the inaugural Grade 9 cohort at the Port Moody high school, a new building that also included a 325-seat professional theatre.
Having performed in Jane Ono’s musical productions at Moody middle, Wan felt right at home on the new stage and savoured being under Shanda Walter’s wing.
“I lived in that theatre,” the former Anmore resident said. “I even had keys to get in sometimes. I would lie on the stage and listen to the rain. It was inspired.”
Wan took on many roles — including during the annual MetFEST run for SD43 acting students — and got chances to direct plays before graduating in 2007 and later pursuing a degree in classical theatre at the National Theatre School of Canada, in Montreal.
But it wasn’t until she moved to Toronto to audition for gigs that she realized she was being typecast as the Asian character in shows. At home, “I was completely unaware that I was a minority,” she said, “because, at Heritage, I played every role. Race didn’t matter.”
At the time, another actor of Asian descent, Amanda Joy, was on the Toronto audition circuit, also complaining with Wan about the scripts they were getting.
That’s when the pair decided to create their own content.
In 2014, Joy wrote the pilot for Second Jen, which Wan directed and produced, and they sold the T.V. series at a Banff festival to Don Ferguson Productions.
On Sunday, to time with Valentine’s Day and the Chinese Lunar New Year, their third season of Second Jen will premiere on OMNI Television at 8:30 p.m.
For the six new episodes, viewers of the 2019 Canadian Screen Awards-nominated series see Wan’s character of Jen Wu and Joy’s character of “Mo” Monteloyola return as best friends, exploring themes of female empowerment, corporate diversity and relationships.
Wan wrote and directed three episodes of the comedy for its third season while Joy also penned three episodes and served as a story editor.
They brought back the roles of Alister (Nile Séguin); Bunny (Janet Lo); Eric (Timothy Lai); and Harold (Richard Tse); however, they also introduce a new set of characters such as Vicky, Jen’s influencer cousin (Tina Jung); and suitors Scout (Isabel Kanaan); and Riley (Andrew Bushell). As well, there are a few cameos including from Andrew Phung of Kim’s Convenience, Ken Hall of The Umbrella Academy and Ann Pornel of The Great Canadian Baking Show.
Wan said viewers may also spot some discrepancies in the set and makeup as the first episodes were filmed in Toronto before the pandemic lockdown last March; the cast and crew returned to filming in late spring but under strict social distancing protocols.
Besides Second Jen, Wan also stars as Zoe Chow in the T.V. series Private Eyes and in Sudden Master, a web series about Chinese martial arts, produced by OMNI.
For Walters, she said she knew Wan’s future was bright. “It was clear that Sam would be successful: She was a very intelligent student with exceptional discipline, balanced with a sense of playfulness. She pushed herself to try the things that scared her, to be open to new challenges and trust herself. I’m so proud of all she’s done, and it’s really just the beginning.”