When Jadyn Wong was studying business at the University of Calgary, she would “sneak” into auditions for the theatre department.
It was a peculiar strategy. Inevitably, it was discovered that she was not a theatre major and therefore disqualified from actually landing a role.
“I was just auditioning,” says the Medicine Hat native, on the line from Los Angeles on a break from filming the CBS action-procedural series, Scorpion. “They would find out that I was a business major. But I would get past the first round and we would get to talking. I remember this director saying ‘You know, you should do what you want to do.’ And one thing led to another.”
Within six months of deciding to become an actress, Wong was on the Alberta set of the 2006 Emmy-winning miniseries Broken Trail, sharing scenes with screen icon Robert Duvall.
It was, Wong now admits, a somewhat surreal and auspicious start to her acting career, which has gone on to include working with David Cronenberg on Cosmopolis and an recurring role on the CBC hit Being Erica.
In fact, her career might the sort of against-the-odds affair that would puzzle the mechanical-engineer genius she plays on Scorpion, a stubbornly just-the-facts type named Happy Quinn.
In her biggest role to date, Wong joins Games of Thrones veteran Elyes Gabel, America Pie’s Eddie Kaye Thomas and Huge’s Ari Stidham in a show about a brainy but socially awkward task force recruited by a gruff special agent (played by former Terminator Robert Patrick) to battle crime and solve other world-threatening problems.
On the surface, it sounds like a high-concept TV throwback, an updated A-Team for the millennial generation. But Scorpion is actually based on a real group and real cases. Gabel plays Walter O’Brien, who is based on an actual person. The real O’Brien, who is an executive producer on the show, has a 197 IQ and runs a Scorpion-like company in Burbank, California. Even Happy Quinn is based on a real genius, albeit one who is “a guy” and “decades older,” Wong says with a laugh.
Monday’s episode finds the brainy crew rushing against the clock to put the LAX computer system back on line before airplanes start falling from the sky. Based on that seemingly far-fetched plot, one might suspect that these true stories are brought to life with a good deal of dramatic licence. But Wong says viewers may be surprised at how much of the stories spring from real events.
“I talked to Walter about that and he said he changes the names and some of the events and cities so people won’t recognize it,” said Wong. “But he said what people will think is fake is actually real. He said it’s about 70 per cent fact and 30 per cent fiction.”
Whatever the case, Scorpion offers an audience-friendly mix of crime procedure, nail-biting action and quirky characters. The fact that the show comes from Fast and Furious director Justin Lin and Prison Break producer Nick Santora was a draw for Wong, but it was the show’s focus on interesting characters that sealed the deal for the actress.
Playing a genius who is socially inept would seem a dream role for any thespian looking for challenging character roles.
“Which part, the genius or the inept?” Wong says with a laugh. “That’s partly what drew me to the role. It’s a group of people who are brilliant but essentially misfits and I feel like there’s a universal theme of not belonging. It was something I could definitely relate to. In terms of genius, it does’t matter how much I talk to my engineering friends or read books, I’ll never be able to be her in terms of her genius. But it’s the understanding that this is a huge part of her and how does that affect how she sees the world when she interacts. What draws her focus? That’s interesting to explore.”
Happy Quinn — Wong promises the name will be explained in later episodes — is also one of the more action-ready and ass-kicking of the group, which includes nerdy “human calculator” Sylvester (Stidham) and expert behaviourist and lovable small-time crook Toby (Thomas).
Wong has a black-belt in karate, although claims this expertise hasn’t really helped thus far with the sort of stunts required for Scorpion. She is also trained as a classical pianist, which also presumably hasn’t come into play for Happy’s character development.
Still, Wong is not averse to using her own unique skills to land roles. The daughter of Hong Kong immigrants who owned a restaurant in Medicine Hat, Wong said she didn’t have much use for speaking Cantonese while in Canada. Nevertheless, when auditioning for the role of Ghee Moon in Broken Trail, one of five Chinese girls rescued from a slave trader in the western, she impressed producers by reading for it in her parents’ native dialect.
Unfortunately, not long after landing the part she was told she would be forced to learn Mandarin for the role.
“It was like learning another language, phonetically,” she says. “So there wasn’t a lot of improv on set.”
Scorpion airs Monday on City.