Canada has many talented actors, writers, directors, and other content creators. To help our industry grow, we would like to introduce you to some of those talented folks that have managed to capture that magic on screen.
This week we spoke with Vancouver, writer, director, and performer Yan-Kay Crystal Lowe.
Crystal has over one hundred professional film and acting credits including major films and TV shows such as Insomnia, Black Christmas, Final Destination 3, Hot Tub Time Machine, Snakes on a Plane, Stargate, The Twilight Zone, The L Word, Psych, Supernatural, Smallville, Primeval, Almost Human and series lead Rita Haywith on Signed, Sealed, Delivered.
HNMAG: How old were you when you moved to Hong Kong from Vancouver?
Yan-Kay Crystal Lowe: Nine.
HNMAG: How long did you live in Hong Kong?
Yan-Kay Crystal Lowe: About two years. I was also partially raised by my Chinese family and I lived with my Chinese grandparents, so it was a big part of my identity.
HNMAG: When you moved back to British Colombia, did you move to a different area?
Yan-Kay Crystal Lowe: I did, I moved to Maple Ridge.
HNMAG: Did you know Larry Walker?
Yan-Kay Crystal Lowe: No.
HNMAG: Maple Ridge has two famous sports figures, Larry Walker and Greg Moore.
Yan-Kay Crystal Lowe: I was Miss Molson Indy after Greg Moore won.
HNMAG: Larry Walker was one of only two Canadians in Cooperstown (Baseball Hall of Fame), he played for the Expos and Colorado Rockies.
Yan-Kay Crystal Lowe: Yeah, I know of him. There were some great people that came out of Maple Ridge. Like the Property brothers. Fun fact: I was Jonathan’s Magic assistant back when he was a magician.
HNMAG: Did he saw you in half?
Yan-Kay Crystal Lowe: He never sawed me half. He would make me appear and disappear. They’re awesome dudes. They worked their asses off and it paid off.
HNMAG: When did you start acting?
Yan-Kay Crystal Lowe: I was little. I wanted to be an actor since I was five. I got an agent, and shortly after that I was going to auditions, and then my mom pulled me out because she felt the other parents were taking things too far. She told me “If you really want to do this, when you can take yourself to auditions, then you can do it.” The minute I turned fifteen, I got back into it. I ended up having Tyler Labine’s mom as a manager. She started this management company because she was already dealing with her boys. She became like a stage mom and we would pay her a commission. I did that with her for a little while until I was able to drive myself to auditions. She got me my agent and she knew everyone in town. It was great to have her. She was an absolute doll. Tyler and I went to high school together. It’s funny since Geoff Gustafson was friends with Tyler as well and went to the same high school. Many years later, Geoff and I starred in Signed, Sealed, Delivered together for eight years.
HNMAG: Did you know he was up for the part?
Yan-Kay Crystal Lowe: It was funny. Martha Williamson, the show-runner (executive producer), phoned me. She convinced me to take the role because I tested for something else. “She told me that if you take this job, I will write for you every day.” The other show I tested for was Helix, I would have been number two on the call sheet. I was number three on Signed, Sealed, Delivered. Looking back on it, I might not even have booked the other show because I was probably too young for the part. Martha also told me that “If you take the sci-fi show, you’re going to be screaming every day into a green screen. If you take this show, you are going to inspire people every day. You’re going to give them hope, you’re going to make them laugh and you get to be funny.” My manifestations every day was “I need a job that scares me.” Then when I booked it, I thought to myself “Oh my god, what am I doing? I don’t do comedy. I’m not quirky or funny. That’s weird.” It was perfect, it challenged me and pushed me to change everything that I wanted out of acting.
HNMAG: You were intimidated about doing comedy?
Yan-Kay Crystal Lowe: Yeah also the character. Even when I auditioned for it, I thought they sent me the wrong sides. I said, “This is weird, why am I auditioning for this?” I never played quirky. I had zero fear and stress. I didn’t think I was going to book it. I was just going to do it the way I think it should be done. For one of the first times, I didn’t wear any makeup. Even my husband couldn’t believe I would do an audition like that. This was not my kind of role. I wasn’t trying to please anyone. I just made choices based on the only way I thought I could do it. That frees you up. I booked it that night. They started shooting in two days.
HNMAG: Back when you were able to audition on your own as a teenager. What did you do to make that happen?
Yan-Kay Crystal Lowe: Tyler’s Mom helped me get his agent at Characters, Tyman Stewart. I’m still with Characters. She started taking me to auditions and the first one I had was for Breaker’s High. I tested for it and I didn’t even know what that was. Tyman called my mother to tell her what was going on and not to get my hopes up too high since it was still up in the air. I didn’t book it. I booked an audition right after that as a guest star on Stargate. I didn’t have any training but I knew how to memorize lines and I was charismatic.
HNMAG: As a new actor, did it help to be represented by Tyman?
Yan-Kay Crystal Lowe: For sure because he was one of the top agents in the country. He was the guy for young actors.
HNMAG: You had some success right out of the gate.
Yan-Kay Crystal Lowe:. At seventeen I wanted to model, which in hindsight wasn’t the best path in terms of acting. But I did get to travel the world and I gained a lot of life experience. I just recently made a short about an adult film star who is a single mom and wants to reinvent herself but nobody accepts her. I was never an adult film star but I was in hyper-sexual roles all the time. That’s what all my value became and it took me years to unwind that. I was so focused on being the hot, sexy girl. Eventually, I told Tyman “I don’t want to play hot girl number fifty-two anymore.” I remember the day because I was auditioning for Fast & The Furious Tokyo Drift. I was sitting on the steps of my agency, in my twenties, sobbing. I didn’t want to do this anymore. I wanted to be a real actor. Then Ian Tracey saw me and he spend two hours with me on the steps. He let me get it all out. He told me that if I wanted to take this seriously, I needed to be in classes and I need to study and show them how good I was. I said ok and then I took it really seriously and worked really hard. Before that, I told Tyman that I was going to get breast augmentation, he said “Do not do that. Please! If you do that, you are going to be so much more typecast than you already are.” Most agents would support that decision because it’s a quick cash grab. Tyman suggested I look at all the top actors. I then noticed he was right. He then called all the top casting directors, told them I’m really serious, and asked them to give me a shot. They all did. I remember my acting instructor Shea Hampton telling me that I was a flake. Shea said something that she would deny but I know she said “You’re a pretty girl and you’ll book jobs but if you want to take it seriously you need to get over yourself.” I needed it and she was right. I needed a swift kick in the behind. I needed to stop relying on being an extrovert and actually focus.
HNMAG: What was the first role where you experienced that shift?
Yan-Kay Crystal Lowe: Primeval was the first shift. It was a series I booked called Primeval: New World and originally I went in all dolled up and the director, Martin Wood told me to do it again like Velma from Scooby Do and take all my makeup off. I could not fathom being on-camera without make-up. That was another shift for me. I was so scared that I almost cried but I did it and I booked it. I played this cool, funky character. She was still a pin-up girl but it wasn’t the same as before as being one thing.
HNMAG: Has playing a quirky and funny character made you want to get more into comedy?
Yan-Kay Crystal Lowe: When I’m in LA, I train at the Groundlings. For the beginner class, It was the first time I ever did any improv. I was struggling to start and I was so taken aback because I was already a series regular on TV but they couldn’t care less. Then I was able to get away from my ego and do it again. Then I had a great time. I wasn’t in my head, I wasn’t trying to be funny, I did what they told me and I passed. What I finally got was that you are never in on the joke. You are in it. You play it real and then it’s fun. If you commit hard to whatever ridiculous situation, then it’s hilarious.
HNMAG: How long after Primeval did you book Signed, Sealed, Delivered?
Yan-Kay Crystal Lowe: Primeval ended and then it was the next year.
HNMAG: Were you concerned that you had it and it all went away?
Yan-Kay Crystal Lowe: Yes, I’m like that almost every week. I can relax again because now I booked Wild Cards, a show about Vancouver. It’s a fun procedural.
HNMAG: That’s terrific because we need more movies and shows set in Vancouver instead of the city always being someplace else.
Yan-Kay Crystal Lowe: It would be good if we could define Vancouver culture. Quebec is distinct. Letterkenny is very specific with that small-town Ontario feel. What is our voice? In the US, if you travel from state to state, it’s all very clear and very different. I would like to see more bite in Vancouver. It would be cool to see a show with very distinct Vancouver characters.
HNMAG: You’re also a writer. You wrote the short you directed, After Glow, was that your first script?
Yan-Kay Crystal Lowe: It’s the first short I’ve ever written, directed, and starred in, which was crazy. I shot it during Covid. I’ve written a pilot to go with it and I’m finishing up the season one bible to go with it right now. Before that, I wrote a short about a sumo wrestler that dreams of being a ballroom dancer. It’s very magical, mystical with big characters. The American Film Institute was considering it for a contest but I inadvertently submitted the very first draft I ever wrote and it was too long.
HNMAG: With the current work stoppage due to labour disputes in the US, can this be an opportunity to make more Canadian content?
Yan-Kay Crystal Lowe: We always have the opportunity but we don’t have the star system here. We don’t look at the Canadian film industry as being viable and I don’t understand why. We don’t invest in film and TV as they do in the US. Yes, Canadians can absolutely make our own homegrown productions. Just look at the success of shows like Schitt’s Creek.
HNMAG: What do we have to do in Vancouver to make that happen?
Yan-Kay Crystal Lowe: We have to stop feeling like everything has to be safe. We have to be able to take a risk and know that it might not pay off. We have to take bigger swings and that’s across the board. In our acting, writing, our directing, and in all of it. We have to be able to fail a little more. You’ll never fully succeed if you are too afraid to fail. We know how to make stuff. I pray that this strike re-ignites the indy market. Sure the studios have way more money to promote but there are now ground-level promotions that we could never do before. We limit ourselves to thinking it has to be huge and perfect, it doesn’t. Just start making it.
HNMAG: When did you start professionally using the name Yan-Kay?
Yan-Kay Crystal Lowe: It was about four or five years ago. My actual last name is really spelled Lo. I changed that years ago in order to audition and not be typecast as Asian. I’ve lost roles because I was told I wasn’t Asian enough and when I told someone I was Asian, they told me there was no way I could play an Italian. Over time and after me-too, I decided that nobody gets to tell me what I am. Being bi-racial, there is a struggle because you are always told you are not enough from both sides. People can still call me Crystal. Yan-Kay is my first name. Crystal is my middle name. That was the name I was given when I was born. I was embarrassed when kids made fun of my name as a child. Now I have to ask myself, why was I embarrassed? I speak two languages, how many do you speak?
Yan-Kay Crystal Lowe is very passionate, creative, and persistent. For years, she was able to get by on good looks and natural charisma. She wanted more and struggled to figure out how to get to the next level. It turned out that she had to remove all her armor and take a chance at falling, getting hurt by doing something new. That armor was make-up and the strive for beauty. What did it mean to be real and show the world someone that not even you yourself has ever seen? Her message for the rest of us artists in Vancouver is to be brave, go forth, and take that same risk. Don’t worry about being big, beautiful and perfect. Be real. Go for it and take a huge swing.
We need more people like Yan-Kay Crystal Lowe that are obsessively dedicated to creating meaningful content.