James Hong was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA. He studied civil engineering at the University of Minnesota, but at some point along the way became interested in acting. He graduated from the University of Southern California and practiced for 1½ years as a road engineer with the County of Los Angeles. He took sick leaves and vacation time to do films. He finally quit engineering to focus on acting full time. He is one of the founders of the East-West Players, the oldest Asian American theater in Los Angeles. He served as president and charter member of the Association of Asian Pacific American Artists. Hong is one of the most prolific and well-recognized Asian-American character actors of movies and television. He currently lives in Los Angeles and is planning to produce and direct his own films.