When actor Dustin Nguyen decided to leave Hollywood three years ago to start life over in Vietnam, he had no idea what life would bring him.
It turns out it was the greatest move he could have made.
“It’s just destiny, I suppose,” Nguyen, 52, tells PEOPLE of returning to his native country. “If you’d asked me 10 years ago if I’d live in Vietnam or work in Vietnam, I would never have even thought of it. But I’ve found a lot of creative satisfaction for me as an actor, and eventually as a producer and a director here.”
After a lot of back-and-forth between Los Angeles and the Asian nation, Nguyen decided to make a full-time move to Vietnam to pursue the next chapter of his cinematic career after quietly separating from then-wife Angela Rockwood – a model and actress who was tragically paralyzed from the shoulders down after an automobile accident.
“I had been separated from Angela for almost two years,” says Nguyen, who married Rockwood in 2001. “It was something that not a lot of people knew, but we kind of were living our own lives.”
As for his ex-wife, she has no bitter feelings over their breakup: She tells PEOPLE she made the decision to separate from Nguyen because Vietnam was not an accepting environment for people with disabilities, and the long distance became a barrier in their relationship.
“We were together happily for 10 years, and I made the decision to separate from him,” says Rockwood, 39, who went on to create and produce the reality show Push Girls. “I had a freak accident at this workout facility and I realized that life is short, and we have to live in this moment and we have to be happy. Dustin is such an amazing man, and we’re still friends. It’s the same relationship, it’s just that we’re not married.”
Nguyen has had a second chance at love in Vietnam. He met his now-wife, fellow actor and model Bebe Pham, 31, while co-starring in the English-language film Zero Tolerance.
“When Bebe and I met, it was just one of those things,” Nguyen says. “We just clicked. Neither one of us would have actually thought that we’d be together and have two daughters three years later. I sit here today and I go, ‘Gosh, within three years so much has happened!’ ”
Together, the couple are parents to Sky, 2, and Scarlett, 4 months.
“They’re just wonderful,” Nguyen says of his children. “Bebe and I just couldn’t be happier.”
While he continues to work on films as an actor, director and producer – he’s co-producing the upcoming film Secret Book of Wife Finding along with partners in China and the United States – becoming a father has shifted his priorities.
“When you have your own kids, it just changes everything,” he says. “Kids make you forget about yourself – for better or for worse, but of course it’s for better. At this age, Bebe and I have to try to spend a lot of time with them because before you know it … you just miss all those wonderful first years where they’re learning and everything.”
“We made a vow to try not to miss a lot of that,” he added.