Hong Chau is quickly making a name for herself in Hollywood.
In 2017 the actress made a splash with a small part in HBO’s Big Little Lies and became a film festival sensation with her breakout role in Downsizing, starring opposite Matt Damon as one of the inhabitants of a miniature world created to combat overpopulation. With a Golden Globe nomination for best supporting actress, it seems the rest of the world has also been struck by her performance.
So who is the up-and-coming actress behind one this year’s most buzzed-about films? Here are five things to know about the rising star:
1. She came to the United States as a baby
“My parents are from Vietnam and they left after the war,” she tells PEOPLE. “They were a part of the boat people who left in the late 70s and they ended up in a refugee camp in Thailand and that’s where I was born.”
Chau says she eventually landed in New Orleans thanks to a Vietnamese sponsor family who they weren’t related to.
“It was organized through the Vietnamese Catholic church in New Orleans,” she explains. “They had come over a few years earlier and out of the kindness of their hearts, took us in and we lived with them for the first year or two when we were in the United States.”
2. She’s fluent in Vietnamese
“My parents left Vietnam by boat and then their very first time being on a plane was going from Thailand to New Orleans. I came over when I was a baby,” Chau says.
“I grew up speaking Vietnamese — that was my first language because my parents didn’t speak any English and I didn’t learn English until I started school.”
Chau still speaks Vietnamese to her parents and confesses she’s never spoken English to them.
“I’m so grateful that they continued to speak Vietnamese with me and didn’t really abandon our culture.”
3. She never thought she would become an actor
“Growing up the way I did, being an actor in Hollywood was definitely never a plausible career choice at all,” Chau says.
Chau says she began taking public speaking classes because she felt so shy when young, which led to improv and acting classes “as a way to get me out of my shell.”
“It was never about becoming an actor,” she stresses. “I started going on auditions just as a dare to myself — that was like my version of Fear Factor. I guess I got enough good feedback from people that I kept with it and part of me I guess secretly enjoyed it.”
4. She read the Downsizing script ‘for fun’ before auditioning
“I like to read for fun and I wanted to read Alexander [Payne]’s script for Downsizing because I was a huge fan of his and was just curious about what he was working on,” Chau says. “I didn’t know that there was going to be a role for an Asian woman in there. It was such a mind-blowing surprise when she appeared in the script.”
5. She admires her character Ngoc Lan in Downsizing
“It’s so nice to get a female character who is direct — she’s not daffy, she’s not insecure, she’s not waiting around for the guy to figure out,” Chau says of the character she plays opposite Matt Damon in the film “That’s refreshing for me as a person who just watches movies, to see a female character like that.”
Downsizing is now in theaters. The 2018 Golden Globes are set to air Sunday, January 7, on NBC at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PST.