From the Stage to the Screen, Will Gao's Journey Is Centered Around Family and Friendship

For the latest episode of ‘Hypebeast Diaries,’ the actor and musician discusses celebrating your roots in the lead-up to his Roundhouse performance.

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This year marks the 90th anniversary of Disney Donald Duck, and to commemorate this milestone as well as the full Disney Mickey & Friends lineup, Disney has teamed up with Hypebeast to spotlight actor and musician Will Gao for the latest installment of Hypebeast Diaries – celebrating music, friendship, and individuality.

Widely known for playing Tao Xu in the Netflix coming-of-age series Heartstopper, his acting debut earned him an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Supporting Performance. This passion for performing arts was fostered from an early age through frequent visits to the theater and live music events. “I always found that energy and connection between people really interesting,” he says. “There was a buzz there and I wanted to get close to that buzz, whatever [it was].”

As he takes us on a tour of his family’s South London home, Gao reminisces on his childhood love for animation while sporting a varsity jacket from the Disney x Tommy Hilfiger “100 Years of Wonder” collection released last year. Highlighting the various spots of his writing room, he wanders to a whiteboard inked with mapped-out personality traits and notes that give an insight into the extensive process behind getting into character, and as well as acting, the writing room also doubles up as a space of solace to make music.

His band’s name, Wasia Project is inspired by Wasian (white and Asian), a trending term coined in 2018 to celebrate, specifically, East Asian joint nationalities. “I was brought up in a fusion of culture, fusion of perspectives,” he says of his Chinese-English dual heritage. And it’s this rich mix of culture, history, and identity that forms the foundation of why he holds such importance to championing representation within the industry.

The group’s lead vocalist is Gao’s younger sister, Olivia Hardy. And while nothing compares to the harmony of family, working alongside a sibling has its moments of pure greatness and a fair share of locking horns. However, the unity within the band exemplifies how significant preserving close relationships is to the artist. A hallmark trait he spotlights is how they’re able to express themselves freely without judgment whilst the time they spend together strengthens their bond and understanding. “Creatively there’s this balance, I don’t know if I can put it into words. But, there’s this warmth between us,” he says of making music with Hardy. “She will hear very specific things in her head, [while] I’m much more like ‘spray it on a canvas’ throw ideas out,” a contrast that allows them to bounce off each other through the creative process.

Alongside the siblings, the band is complete with Gao’s friends drummer Luca Wade and bassist Tom Pacitti. Having first met at school, they made music as a collective for several years which allowed them to truly understand each other’s strengths as well as the unique offerings they bring, and it’s this togetherness that has fostered an open environment where everyone’s input is valued. During that time, they prioritized honing in on their craft and building strong foundations first before ever performing live. Now, they’re embarking on their first tour. “There’s something about playing with people over three or four years. We’re locked in. It’s pure feeling,” he says of Wasia Project’s long-standing friendship.

Unofficially marking the band’s first pre-tour performance is a fundraiser for the National Youth Theatre – a charity dedicated to developing young people’s artistic skills – at Camden’s iconic Roundhouse venue. As we travel with Gao to sound check, he explains how giving back is just as fulfilling as being celebrated for the work and being an NYT alum, it’s where he trained as an actor during his formative years, so being asked to return to the institution that helped kick-start his career is something he was honored to participate in.

Going behind the scenes as they prepare for their set, we get to witness the band’s deep-rooted connection exhibited during their pre-show team huddle as each member shares a few words of encouragement before they hit the stage.

Check out Will Gao’s Hypebeast Diaries episode in the video above. Stay tuned for more Mickey & Friends via Disney’s social media channels as we gear up for Donald Duck’s 90th anniversary.

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