An MIT-trained engineer doesn’t typically spring to mind when you think Hollywood actor. But Albert M. Chan SM ’99, PhD ’04, who studied electrical engineering and computer science at the Institute, has been balancing a budding acting and filmmaking career with equally satisfying engineering pursuits-all while living in Boston. Learn how he does it—read a profile of Chan. And for some insider Hollywood info, keep reading.

On May 1, he’ll appear on the big screen alongside Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, and Michael Douglas in Ghosts of Girlfriends Past. Chan plays one of three groomsman and appears in numerous scenes, even if in the background in many.

On April 25, Chan’s 12-minute film, Fate Scores, which he wrote, produced, directed, starred in, and composed and performed a song for, will be screened at the Boston International Film Festival at 6:00 p.m. and also at the Memphis International Film Festival. The film was shot on campus, on a long cement bench Carleton Street outside of MIT Medical, and depicts the seemingly random interactions between ten strangers that eventually culminates into something extraordinary. Learn more about the making of the film.

Fate Scores movie poster

So what’s it like being an actor? It’s not as easy as some might think. Read about some of the pressures Chan has faced.

Fake dying can be stressful

In an episode of Showtime’s Brotherhood, for which he played a brothel manager, Chan’s character was shot six times. He only had two chances to nail the scene, because he had to be hooked up to squibs, which took 30-45 minutes to prep for each shot. A squib, for those not in the know, is a small electronically triggered explosive attached to a bag of fake blood that simulates gunshot wounds. Since they are potentially dangerous, Chan also had to follow precise choreography so he didn’t get hurt.

Don’t mess with someone’s sleep

Chan has been accumulating quite a list of Hollywood elite he’s appeared with on film. Added to the names above for Ghosts, he also filmed scenes for the movie Every Day, which stars Helen Hunt, Liev Schreiber, and Brian Dennehy and is currently in post-production. So which well-known actor has he most enjoyed working with so far? Helen Hunt. “Helen Hunt is an incredibly…nice is too tame a word…she’s down to earth, with no attitude,” he says. The two of them shot a fairly emotional scene for the movie during which Chan, in the role of Dr. Lee, gives Hunt’s character her father’s prognosis. The filming occurred at one or two in the morning after Hunt had been up working for about 19 hours-a schedule she’d maintained for four weeks. Yet she still took the time to introduce herself and made a point of thanking Chan after they’d finished—implying Chan had gotten the job done without additional takes and hadn’t taken away any of her slumber time.

Once more, with feeling

Recently, Chan auditioned in New York for the role of a nuclear physicist in Fair Game, a movie about the life of ex-CIA agent Valerie Plame starring Naomi Watts and Sean Penn. Casting directors were specifically targeting actors with science and engineering backgrounds to lend an authenticity to the role, which requires pronouncing a lot of technical terminology. Chan had one day to prepare for the seemingly straight-forward scene in which he explains to the Valerie Plame character how a nuclear bomb works. But a good actor, Chan explains, finds a way to insert emotion into even clear-cut lines to show casting directors what he’s made of. Chan decided to prepare the scene as if his character was smitten with the woman he was speaking to. But auditioning is also about being flexible and casting directors instructed him before he began to pretend he was almost too busy to be talking to Plame but also knew the information like the back of his hand. No word yet on if he got the part, but Chan has learned not to obsess over it. A decision might be made the same day or four weeks later.