Clarksville native stars in Dolly Parton Christmas movie, a stepping stone in his acting career

CLARKSVILLE, TN (CLARKSVILLE NOW) – Following his dream of becoming an actor and performer, Joseph Yang landed him a role in Dolly Parton’s new film Mountain Magic Christmas.

In the film, Yang plays a supporting character named Woody, but he has landed lead roles in other films and shows. It all started at Clarksville High School when he chose theater as an arts class.

Joseph Yang with Dolly’s chair. (Photo courtesy of The Dollywood Company)

sparked a passion for acting

“The theater at Clarksville High in my day was actually a cool thing to be in, like it wasn’t nerdy,” Yang told Clarksville Now.

But it wasn’t always easy. After struggling to keep his grade in history-based drama class 1, Yang poured all his energy into a lip-synching contest that might improve his grade. Yang’s performance and choreography impressed the teachers, and Barbara Wesner asked him to perform with the Theater 2 and 3 students.

“In that moment, in the second year of 2010, it really all started. Wesner tricked me, let me skip Theater 3 to do Theater 4 with dual enrollment. And that kind of changed the trajectory, and now it’s kind of a full-circle moment,” Yang said.

When Yang graduated in 2012, he attended the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga, where he spent a stint working at Dollywood. He started in dentistry and changed majors four times before earning a degree in communications, then relocated to Atlanta to pursue a career in the performing arts.

The acting career is picking up speed

Yang is perhaps best known for his recent appearance in DMZ, a streaming miniseries on HBO Max starring Rosario Dawson and Benjamin Bratt. He also does theater and improv in the Atlanta area. However, next time he’s on screen, it could be the role that means the most to him.

“I couldn’t even audition for this film originally,” Yang said in a press release. “I was on a flight from LA, but there wasn’t enough time to return to the audition. They extended the audition to one day, so I made a fun tape and got really creative with it. Next thing I know I get a call from my agent saying I have it. I haven’t checked my schedule to see if I’m free.”

Yang’s parents emigrated from Korea, so he had to deal with their expectations of his acting career.

“You know Elvis Presley, Dolly, Tom Cruise and Angelina Jolie. Well, I’m trying to be professional, I didn’t tell them until after the film. They said, ‘Yes, we’ll believe it when we see it.’ I think ‘Christmas’ will be very special because it means a lot to me personally, but I feel like I have to do it for my family.”

While starring with Dolly Parton would make a career for any actor, Yang made a point of staying professional on set.

“I’m trying not to get hit by the star,” he said. “We are all human. But speaking to (director) Joe Lazarov on the set, next thing you know, Mrs. Dolly Parton comes out in that elegant dress, because of course she is! I bet she wakes up and looks like this. We do a rehearsal, then a few takes. After we were done she said, ‘Thanks Joseph, it was a pleasure working with you.’ Then I told her it was nice to be back and that I worked at Dollywood 10 years ago. Next thing you know, we took a picture together.

“Dolly Parton loves people and I think she would stand and talk all day. She is so adorable. She is exactly as portrayed in the media.”

“A Reflection of Herself”

When asked about his career aspirations, Yang’s goals are crystal clear.

“It’s important to see diversity on screen,” he said in the press release. “We’re getting better at representation. I think my goal is to champion the Asian American stories. I love storytelling and want to do theatre; I want to be present on stage; I want to make films. For me as an actor, I don’t want people to come to me, I want them to see a reflection of themselves.”

While Yang moved out of state to follow his passion, he told Clarksville Now he will always remember his roots.

“Clarksville has always done me good wherever I’ve seen it. I will always love Clarksville. I always want to make sure I’m doing everything I can to spread the word about Clarksville. My hometown means a lot to me. I mean, that’s how I came here today.”

Dolly Parton’s “Mountain Magic Christmas” airs Thursday at 8 p.m. on NBC. The film features special guests Jimmy Fallon, Willie Nelson, Billy Ray Cyrus, Jimmie Allen, Zach Williams and Miley Cyrus.

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