Sean Baek entered my television viewing world through Killjoys, that most excellent space adventure created by Michelle Lovretta. His character, Fancy Lee, made an immediate impact with fans and, by the show’s end, he was just one of many fan faves on that fine program.
Since then, Baek has turned in memorable roles on The Expanse, Coroner, Private Eyes, Nurses and Utopia Falls. His latest gig? On Omni’s Sunday night drama, Blood & Water: Fire & Ice, as villain Norris Pang.
Airing Sundays at 10:30 p.m. ET, this season follows disgraced former Vancouver cop Michelle Chang (Selena Lee)—now a Toronto-based private detective—as she hunts down Norris Pang (Baek), the man who has kidnapped her daughter. Pang is also the mastermind behind a money-laundering scheme happening at the Xie family’s casino, where Anna Xie (Elfina Luk) is attempting to expand the family business.
We spoke to Sean Baek about his acting origin story, playing a baddie and, well, his facial hair.
Before we get into Blood and Water: Fire & Ice, I was going through your bio and saw that you were part of the Stratford Festival. Did you always want to be an actor?
Sean Baek: Yes. My parents took me and my older brother and sister to a movie theatre. My formative years were spent in South Korea and I can’t remember if I was four or five or six. We all went to the movie theatre and there was this film about a family that gets separated due to poverty. I didn’t understand the entire movie, but I remember just being glued to the screen, obviously, because it was a young family, there were young kids in the cast. I was mesmerized.
Fast forward a few years, and I actually auditioned for a training program [at Stratford] called the Birmingham Conservatory. For five months, six days a week from 10 to 6 every day, you delve into classical theatre and classical theatre performance. You would have teachers from the UK, the Royal Shakespeare Company, people who’ve worked with Orlando Bloom, Ian McKellen and all the legends as well. The first time I auditioned for it, I didn’t get in, but the second time was back in 2005 and I got in. I was one of 10 actors that got selected from across Canada.
Those five months were the best time of one of the best times of my life personally because I’ve met a lot of great friends, but also professionally because I learned so much. I already had nine years of acting under my belt, small to medium-sized theatres and film and TV credits here and there. But, I’ve always loved Shakespeare and I wanted to expand my knowledge. A little bit of luck had something to do with it too, but I put in a lot of hard work.
Let’s go from the stage to the screen. Let’s talk about Blood and Water: Fire & Ice. Creator Diane Boehme told me how COVID-19 messed up the production schedule. Can you give me the backstory of how you became involved? It sounds like your character was one person in one iteration of the show and then ended up being the Norris Pang who we’re seeing now.
SB: We were filming in February of 2020 and into March. I was cast as this one character at the time named Norris Morris, and it was more of a hands-on sort of bad guy, this henchman type. Before we knew anything, production was shutting down. I was playing this character, and then the actor playing the main character in the first block—because he was from elsewhere—due to travel restrictions [could not return].
It was a hair-pulling experience for everybody involved, to say the least. During the hiatus—we had to stop filming from the middle to the end of March until the producers figured out, ‘OK, we’re going to block out these days and weeks to finish filming’—they had to rejig. They amalgamated my original character and the other character, so it became Norris Pang. He became this dude who does everything and anything possible to fulfill his goals.
As an actor, I’m assuming you like to play a variety of characters, but I love it when you’re sinister and Norris is a sinister guy.
SB: Thank you. My wife said after she saw it, ‘Oh wow, the creep factor is high.’ I was like, ‘Well, I get paid to do what I have to do.’ It’s fun to explore that dark side of humanity. That’s the fun part because you get to explore the psyche of this fictional character.
How do the hair and the facial hair play into the building of a character like Norris?
SB: The reason why I tend to have my beard is that when I shave I look a lot younger than my actual age. There was a period of my career, between the early to mid-thirties until my early forties when I was old enough to play young dads just like other colleagues. But I couldn’t because clean-shaven I was too old-looking to be in college, but I was too young-looking to be a dad.
I went through a lot of frustrating time periods like that. Now I go out for dad roles and characters who have kids a lot. That’s the reason why I tend to have that beard, just so that I can look the age that I am.
Blood and Water: Fire & Ice airs Sundays at 10:30 p.m. ET on Omni.
Images courtesy of Breakthrough Entertainment.