The characters that these two actors play in Chinatown are based on their real-life personas. The film itself it based on Precious’ life and her need to find out more about the part of her that is one quarter Chinese on her father’s side. As a ginger that lacks any apparent Asian facial features, it’s comical. The fact that she has become obsessed with it is funny to her friends, especially to Phil who is the most outspoken of the group. He is transparent and uncomfortably honest, calling out those things that he knows everyone else is thinking but afraid to say. While he admits this is a trait he possesses in his personal life, he also states that the “Phil” in the film is a bit more crude, unapologetic, and doesn’t care for political correctness or mincing words. Luzi concedes, “It’s fun for a comedy but a guy like that in real life might find it hard to maintain a steady group of friends. There are definitely moments where ‘real-life’ Phil wishes he could be more like ‘Chinatown’ Phil but I’m too afraid of being lonely. I’m always conflicted about it when something comedic comes to mind in social situations, thoughts that I don’t necessarily believe or condone, but can’t help thinking because of the situation. I want to slip it into the conversation for a laugh, but I’d get chastised like a biblical adulteress. That’s where the filter comes in, I guess; real Phil has a working one. Also, I’m nicer.”
Filmmakers and actors often speak of trust and its importance in the process. While the discomfort level for Phil portraying himself may have been high, it was more than offset by the abundance of trust involved in the production. Luzi has worked closely with Precious Chong for over ten years, creating seven full-length sketch shows with sketch troupe The Specials. He also starred in episodes of “Sex & The Single Parent” written and created by Precious and Melissa Story, which became a hit on Funny or Die. Chong comments, “Phil and I have collaborated on different projects over the years since we've known each other. I think he is one of the most talented and creative minds that I have ever met. When I was casting ‘Chinatown’ I knew immediately that had to be a part of it. He jumps off the screen and creates a character that you want to see more of. ‘Chinatown’ is now in development as a half hour comedy with Frantic Films.” The other professional with the most influence on Phil’s performance in “Chinatown” is the film’s director Sandra Battaglini who states, “Phil Luzi is one of the bravest and masterful actors and comedians I've ever had the opportunity to work and collaborate with. I had the privilege of directing him in ‘Chinatown’ where he brought a joy and effortlessness to the shoot that made my job easy, constantly surprising us with fresh new aspects and connection to the moment with each take. He offered a raw truth to his character that gave the film its true grit. Wherever the film was screened audiences were in awe of his performance and made a point of showering him with accolades and praise. To say Phil Luzi is pure magic is an understatement. He is regal and daring, always willing to delve deeper, exposing all aspects of our humanity from the darkest to the most divine. In ‘Chinatown’ he commanded presence and poise, always willing to heighten the stakes and intensify the conflict; a true gift for an actor. His charm and grace are unparalleled.”
There are moments in “Chinatown” when you can feel all of the different facets of this entertainment experience merging. The real life Phil who plays the fictional “Phil” who has to make peace with what each of these entities thinks and feels about the other. More than any of us wants to admit, the truth lies somewhere in between these two points. The frightening and brave experience that Luzi had in “Chinatown” was finding his location on this number line of negative and positive points of his personality. One scene is especially poignant in relating this. Phil is engaged in a conversation with Precious, Jeanie, and Sarah. Precious is sharing her plan of going back to school to study Chinese because she wants to get to know that part of her heritage. She is telling her closest friends because she wants validation and encouragement for her choices... something we all seek. The character of Phil is the devil on Precious’ shoulder; the one who reinforces the voices in her head that are telling her what she wants and what she’s doing is stupid and a waste of time. At the same time, Phil is dying for her to pursue all of these ridiculous desires for the sheer entertainment value of the stories. He’s just that kind of guy who will hurl doubt at you the entire time but still coax you to keep going and not quit... otherwise, he’ll have nothing to entertain himself. Viewers watching this particular scene are confronted with the truth that we are all challenged on a daily basis to choose between acting selfishly or of altruistic intentions. In “Chinatown” Phil Luzi adeptly performs this exercise as something of a social proxy for the audience. The main difference? Phil does so with humor and style. The real question is, which Phil is it that we love?