Downsizing star Hong Chau shines in huge role as tiny exile

Film academic Rajendra Roy last month introduced the star of Downsizing with the claim: "This is the last day in your life when you'll ask the question: Who is Hong Chau?"

The endorsement proved astonishingly prescient.

Within a week, the US actress of Vietnamese descent was nominated for some of the biggest awards in Hollywood for her role in US writer-director Alexander Payne's new satire, which is currently showing here.

"After you see this movie, you will never ask that question again, because she will be the brightest star in your universe, as she is for all of us who have experienced this," gushed Roy, chief film curator at New York's Museum of Modern Art.

If the tribute sounds over-the-top, it is an assessment shared by the film industry and critics alike.

Chau, 38, has amassed best supporting actress nominations at the Golden Globes, Critics' Choice Awards and upcoming Screen Actors Guild Awards.

Don't expect elaborate navel-gazing about her method or motivation, however, because she doesn't see movie acting as a particularly complicated job.

"I never like to sit and discuss my character, the other character, our relationship or anything like that," said Chau, who was born in a refugee camp in Thailand.

"I feel like if I did my job and I trust that the other person has done theirs, you just go on set, play around with it, chew the scene for a little bit, then we roll and that's it."

The "other person" in Downsizing is Matt Damon, who stars alongside her in a near-future world where scientists have found a way to literally reduce humanity's environmental footprint by shrinking humans to 12.5cm versions of themselves.

A combination of ecological and material motivations for being downsized appeals to Paul Safranek (Damon), a frustrated but well-meaning therapist, and his wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig). They sign up for the surgery, but she gets cold feet at the last minute, leaving Damon to embark on his adventure in the miniaturised world alone.

Enter Chau, a Vietnamese cleaner who was forcibly miniaturised after being imprisoned as a dissident in her homeland and has lost a leg below the knee as a result of being smuggled into the US in a television box.

Safranek strikes up a friendship with her, taking the film in an unexpected romantic direction that allows Payne to explore the idea of searching for a better life amid impending environmental catastrophe. - AFP