Kian’s story is one underscored with optimism and an undying passion. From being a Filipino kid in a mainly white town to being a computer science graduate venturing into acting, his journey has been marked by his perseverance to stand out and prove himself. Now, he’s living a dream he’s nurtured for years as he plays make-believe on the sets of NCIS: Hawai'i.
As Kian opens up about the gratitude he feels for all he’s been able to achieve so far, a quiet determination lurks underneath the humility. One that is resolute on making a space for more Filipino voices in the industry. “I love working with Filipino creatives because it just feels like home,” he says as he emphasises the importance of narratives free from stereotypes.
Shanna Fisher captures his quiet magnetism on camera as he vaults between intense smoulder and infectious laughter. His chameleonic energy informs Branden Ruiz’s ensembles as they explore his island boy energy in delightfully coloured corduroy sets and bright puffers before seamlessly transforming him into Gen Z country chic with studded, big-buckled belts and flower appliqué shackets.
The casual ease with which Kian hops between aesthetics proves the mettle of his craft. He may just be getting started, but he has already mastered the formula to wield his dream and fame with grace: your love for what you do trumps everything else. Dive into our conversation below as he unpacks life lessons, career advice, and core-shifting movies with an ease and familiarity that draws you in immediately.
How would you describe Kian Talan in just three words?
I would say I am definitely introverted, dedicated, and empathetic.
How does it work being an introverted actor? I'm an introverted journalist and I struggle quite a bit.
Yeah, it’s a struggle for sure. I’m definitely not a networking person, I don't go out and try to network – I’ve actually found I'm pretty bad at it. I like to be in a house or apartment with a couple of people and just have good quality conversations as opposed to conversations with a bunch of people. It definitely doesn't help as an actor but I get to play other people and that kind of gets me out of my head.
What are you most excited about in your life at this moment?
I'm excited to hopefully just keep growing as an artist, and as an actor. This career is pretty new to me. It's only been about three years since I started, so everything's very new and I'm learning a lot just from NCIS itself. I'm excited to see where my career grows and the other opportunities I get, there’s a lot to look forward to and it's crazy to think that it's just the start.
Taking it back to your younger self, what did you imagine your future life would look like as a child?
I grew up in a very white suburban town in the middle of nowhere in New Hampshire. I didn't know what my future would look like, what I wanted to do or who I want to be, but I knew I wanted to get out of the suburbs and explore the city. I think New York was always the dream for me. I didn’t know what would happen career-wise, but I knew the vibe that I wanted to be surrounded with.
What is one city you feel most like yourself in?
I would say New York, but living in Hawaii for two years has totally changed my perspective on life and family priorities in the best way possible. I think in New York, it's so easy to get caught up in the hustle, I was all about that too but getting to know the locals in Hawaii and learning about what they prioritise in life, which is relationships, family, friends, food, and culture has really opened my eyes. I would probably choose Hawaii now.
You have a degree in computer science, what was it that led you to pursue acting?
I've always been interested in film and TV, I actually wanted to go to school for video editing and I wanted to make movie trailers. That was my dream job as a kid, I thought movie trailers were so cool. My parents obviously wanted me to pursue a career which was more stable and could provide a good future, so that's why I went into computer science. And then I moved to New York for a tech job and I made a couple of friends who were actors and they kind of convinced me to take acting classes and get into it. That's kind of how that journey started and I never thought I was going to be able to build a career out of acting to be honest because it's so hard. I was working in a tech job while auditioning and trying to pursue acting for three years before I actually booked anything. It was definitely unexpected but I’m loving it so far.
How did your parents react to this change?
So they didn't know I was acting until I booked NCIS, actually. I kept it a secret for three years just because I had nothing to show, or at least that's how it felt for me. I paid for acting school myself and I was supporting myself through it so there was no reason to tell them and I didn’t want them to worry about me. I also know my parents and they would have been like, “Why are you doing it?” I don’t think they assumed I could make a career out of it just because of how they were raised, they’re both from the Philippines and they're very traditional. So I didn't tell them I was acting for a very long time until I booked this job and I showed them I could actually make money from it and build something from it. They were supportive after that, they were really excited to see me on the show and they're still excited today. They send me videos of them watching NCIS all the time.
How would you sum up your experience on NCIS: Hawai’i? Has your approach to the show changed over the course of two seasons?
I'm pretty sure I had a panic attack on the first day of shooting season one last year. I've learned so much. There's so much technical stuff that goes into shooting a show like this which has nothing to do with acting. Learning about that and also just learning how to work with different types of people because when you're working on a television show like this, you're working with new directors, actors and writers every episode. You learn a lot about how to work with others and how to bring out the best of your art in situations like that. So how I started and where I am now are two completely different levels.
What has it been like really getting under the skin of your character?
I would say the most difficult part is we’re a good ten years apart from each other. He's ten years younger than me so that's a different type of energy for sure.
Do you feel yourself going back to your teenage experiences to play him?
Oh for sure, and it's actually kind of crazy but a lot of things my character Alex experiences on the show are stuff I've experienced in real life, but I don't think I've actually internalised it. Going back I relive it and think about it a little bit more because when we're kids and teenagers, we just live through life. We don't think about what's happening or the magnitude of what's going on, so it's very cool I get to go back to these situations that are very similar to things which have happened to me in real life, and I get to go into it with a new perspective.
Diversity has been an important part of the conversation for you. How do you feel about the current state of opportunities for Filipino-American actors and creators in mainstream media?
I think we’re at the best that it's ever been. I see so many Filipino actors working and producing really cool stuff which really excites me. I think steps are being made to make more visibility for Filipino stories to be told, for instance, Jo Koy's new movie Easter Sunday is the first studio-produced Filipino film ever, which is super exciting. There have been a couple of shows that have got pilots picked up which are based on Filipino families and the fact I get to play Filipino on mainstream television is super cool because I've never seen that growing up.
Do you feel pressure to make sure the scripts you pick are a very clear step away from stereotypes?
For sure, and those are the type of roles that excite me too. I want to play the roles you would never expect me to play. I think when you're making steps in order to gain representation, you kind of have to do those stereotypical roles, but what excites me is that in the future anyone could play a character, but it just so happens the character is Filipino and he's the perfect person to tell that story.
So are there any Filipino-American actors, producers, or directors that you really want to work with personally?
Definitely Manny Jacinto.
I love him in The Good Place!
Oh my god! He’s so good, right? He’s also great in Nine Perfect Strangers. He’s so talented. There are so many more rising Filipino stars whom I’ll hopefully get to work with. I just worked on The Good Doctor and I got to work with this guy named Michael Delleva who’s a Canadian-Filipino actor who is super talented, he’s going to blow up for sure. I just love working with any Filipino actor or talent because it just feels like home based on their sense of humour and their experiences. I always have a really good time working with Filipino creatives.
Have you learnt anything about yourself over the last few years as an actor that surprised you?
Yes. I think when you first get into this industry, you're definitely just trying to please everyone. I didn't realise how much I was doing that and now I kind of have a clear perspective on who I am and what I have to offer to my work. So I’d say the biggest lesson I’ve learnt is to just be myself, trust my work, and enjoy the process.
What would you say is the best advice you've ever received in your life?
Everything is temporary, both good and bad. So don’t get swept up in all the hype and don't push yourself down when things are not going your way.
And who would you say has influenced you the most?
Definitely my mum, she’s a huge inspiration for me today. She was a single mom and she worked really hard to help raise me and take care of me. She's the first person who really showed me what happens when you put in the work with true dedication. A big reason why I really wanted to be on NCIS was because of Jane Tennant, who's the lead of the show played by Vanessa Lachey. I found so many similarities between her character and my mom I could relate to.
What gives you pure joy?
I really like going to the beach and playing volleyball or just going to a coffee shop, hanging with a few friends and having deep conversations. It doesn't take much for me to be happy, it’s the little things that really make me grateful for where I am in life right now.
Is there a book or movie that truly impacted your soul?
It's kind of corny, but have you ever seen The Perks of Being a Wallflower?
I literally have the book on my bedside table.
Oh my god, I'm in love with it. It definitely impacted me, it was a big reason why I fell in love with storytelling as a kid.
Yes, and the movie has Emma Watson in it so that can't hurt.
Oh my god, totally!
If you could star in a remake of any movie, what would it be?
A modern-day version of Donnie Darko would be awesome, it’s one of my favourite movies so I'd love to star in something like that.
Do you see yourself exploring the theatre or broadway roles in the future?
I would love to. I think it's so difficult, I respect Broadway and theatre so much. I actually went to theatre school before I decided to pursue film and TV and it's such a difficult art. We'll see what the future holds.
What is your proudest accomplishment to date?
I think it would be booking this show because it takes a while for people to break into the industry. My journey is very rare because sometimes it takes people ten years to book anything, but I am proud of the fact I never gave up on my dream of pursuing this career. I think people only see your wins, but they never see or losses. I didn't book anything for like three years before I booked this job and maybe most people would walk away from trying to put in so much time into something that doesn't give you any validation or doesn’t have a clear path to success. So I'm proud I supported myself and worked hard to get here, and now I get to live in Hawaii and work on a great show.
What was it that made you keep pushing through?
I think at some point in every actor's career when you’re trying to book a job or pursue something, your love for what you do just trumps everything else. There's a breaking point when you're like, “I don't even care if I work or book anything because I just love to do this so much.” It’s definitely the passion that pulls you through.
When life starts to feel a little tough, what is your go-to remedy?
I do something else to get my mind off of it. Being around people who are rooting for you and who support you is so important. What I've realised is that having a good support system outside of the industry is so important because even if you're working, you still have days where you feel like crap and it's so easy to become negative and insecure, having good people around you helps a lot.
What legacy do you see yourself leaving behind?
I would love to be a part of projects that bring Filipino stories to light, whether it's in front of the camera or behind the camera. I would love to work on the production side, I just think there are so many Filipino stories which haven't been told and need to be told, hopefully, I could be a part of it and that could be a part of my legacy.
You can watch Season 2 of 'NCIS: Hawai'i' on Paramount+ and Disney+.