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Tien Pham Connects Personal History with Role in Robert Downey Jr.’s “The Sympathizer”

Family’s Harrowing Escape From Vietnam Mirrors the Acclaimed HBO Max Series

Vietnamese American actor-musician-producer Tien Pham finds a deep connection between his family’s harrowing journey and the story depicted in Robert Downey Jr.’s acclaimed limited series, “The Sympathizer.” Pham stars as the “Petulant Captain” in all seven episodes of the series, which is now streaming on HBO Max.

The first episode of “The Sympathizer” echoes the perilous escape his parents undertook, smuggling their six-month-old son, Tien, out of Vietnam during the chaotic withdrawal of American forces and the fall of the government. To avoid detection by the Communists, Pham’s parents gave him tranquilizers to keep him quiet during the dangerous journey through the jungle to the Vietnamese coast, where an escape boat awaited.

The family’s voyage to an island near Hong Kong lasted two weeks, during which they faced extreme hardships, including a lack of food. The overcrowded boat, filled with refugees, floated precariously close to the water’s surface. Despite the dire circumstances, the family reached the shore, where they were then transported to a refugee camp plagued by famine and disease. Tien, suffering from malnourishment and illness, spent much of his time in the camp hospital. After 18 months, a Buddhist Association sponsored their move to the United States.

The Nguyen-Pham family settled in East Los Angeles, where Tien discovered his musical talents and became a singer, pianist, and guitarist. Despite initial hopes that he would pursue a more traditional career, his parents eventually recognized the success and inspiration he brought to the Vietnamese American artistic community through his acting.

Pham has performed on stage, in commercials—including the Land Rover Global Campaign “Above and Beyond”—and guest-starred opposite LL Cool J on “NCIS: Los Angeles.” He has also taken leading roles in both U.S. and international film projects. His role in “The Sympathizer,” based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Viet Thanh Nguyen and produced by Park Chan-Wook and executive producer Don McKellar, is one of his most significant roles yet. The series delves into political intrigue, tragedy, and the complex interplay of personalities in the aftermath of the Vietnam War.

Tien Pham is represented by Studio Talent Group in Santa Monica.

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