Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Interview with actress Julia Cho: I am forging my own path

Please tell us about yourself and what you do?

I am an actor, an American-born child of Korean immigrant parents, and a native of Los Angeles. I am also a founding member of Artists at Play, a theatre-producing collective based in L.A. that presents work by Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) artists.

 

Can you tell us a bit about any upcoming projects or events that you are working on?

Artists at Play just presented the L.A. premiere of “99 Histories,” in which I played a character dealing with mental illness in her past. Soon after we closed the (successful, extended) run of the show, my fellow producing partners and I attended the National Asian American Theatre Conference in which we facilitated/attended various panels for AAPI theatre makers and administrators.

JuliaCho_99Histories (courtesy of Michael C. Palma, M Palma Photography)

As for the acting, I’ll be appearing in an episode of “Real Husbands of Hollywood,” Kevin Hart’s faux reality show series on BET. I also had the great fortune of working with living legends Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin; you can spot me in an episode of their new Netflix comedy “Grace and Frankie” (premiering in 2015).

 

Do you find the pressures of working in your industry significant with regard to feeling the need to have a “perfect” body?  If so, how do you navigate through that terrain?  How do you “not” judge yourself when others (critics, audience members, producers, etc.) “judge” you based on outward measures?

The pressures of having a “perfect” body is put upon us, specifically girls and women, on a broader cultural/societal level. The entertainment industry is not the only purveyor but definitely does exacerbate and enforce unrealistic images of what women should look like.

I would be lying if I said I was completely immune to the images that bombard me from billboards, magazines, television and film screens, etc. Fortunately, I was raised to believe that I was more than good enough and that I didn’t have to look or act like anyone else. Everyone has their own path and you go your own way.

That is so crucial to keep in mind working in this industry: I am forging my own path and I don’t need to compare myself to others. There are certain roles that I won’t be considered for and others that I don’t necessarily want to play. At the end of the day, acting is my job, my career. I may get passed over or lose out on a gig, but you move on to the next. And I am lucky to have friends and family who will love me no matter what.

 

To follow up with that question, how do you deal with bullying or people talking negative about you? Can you give any examples of bullying in your personal life and how you handled it?

I think it depends on the context. If some stranger wants to pick a fight with me on Twitter, I will simply not engage. People are able to hide behind screens, thanks to social media as well as good old-fashioned real life cattiness. So unless you’re saying negative things to my face in person, I have no time to waste on you.

I’ve always been a shy person, and to this day I would much rather avoid confrontation than confront it. When I was a child, I would usually keep quiet and suffer in silence. But the older I get and the more I realize there are so-called “adults” who insist on behaving like children, I see that if given the opportunity I have to speak up and speak out. Especially being a woman, and a woman of color at that. To this day, people will say disparaging things or address me in a condescending way (which are also forms of bullying) based on my gender, race, and/or age. Based on the context, I can politely and respectfully explain the offense and/or simply prove them wrong by showing them I’m far more than their assumptions of me.

 

What made you want to get involved with Mental Fitness, Inc. and what it is about the mission of Mental Fitness that speaks to you?

Well, Jacob Burman sent me a tweet that first introduced me to Mental Fitness. 🙂

At the time, I was performing in the play “99 Histories” which dealt with mental health and how it is still a taboo topic in many immigrant communities. The show was even featured on KPCC, and we had post-show talkbacks with mental health professionals. Through that experience, I was reminded of how one’s mental health is not something that should be easily dismissed. Also, it is so crucial to open up dialogue about this issue. Because it can feel like no one else will understand what you’re going through, it’s almost easier to keep it in and remain isolated. Through our play, through art, all of us involved were able to discover that there were people in our own lives who felt empowered to bring up their own struggles. And through recognition and conversation, we can start the process of healing.

 

Who were the role models in your life?

My mother, first and foremost. As an actor, I admire women like Sandra Oh, Viola Davis, and Rita Moreno.

 

What do you define as beautiful?

I think it’s beautiful to see someone who is obviously comfortable in his/her own skin, who is full of light (whether it burns bright or glows steady) and is gracious enough to share that light with others.

 

How do you define inner beauty?

Having an open heart, loving oneself, being kind (or at least respectful) towards others.

 

What is happiness?

Finding yourself content with who you are and how far you’ve come, and all of that coming into alignment with the people you have chosen to be in your life.

 

Would you be willing to take the Real Deal pledge?  Thoughts about that? (http://wearetherealdeal.com/about/the-real-deal-pledge/)

Yes! The Real Deal Pledge encompasses so much of what I try to instill in my own life.

 

How do you manage your stress levels in daily life?  Do you use music / art / dance, etc. as a coping tool?  Are there other things that you do to live mindfully?

I’ve benefited greatly from channeling stress/emotions through art, acting, theatre. In regard to stress in my everyday life, I try to join friends at yoga or on a walk or even a Dance Central session! Being on the computer or on my phone for most of the day, I’m also trying to be more mindful about “unplugging” and making sure I carve out time for the people in my life. Sometimes just talking about your problems help them go away; hearing them out loud is all you need to realize how trivial and/or manageable those issues can be.

 

How do you find a work-life balance — as a woman, relationships, a professional — what are keys to balance?

I feel like I’m still struggling to find that balance! Shonda Rimes was asked about how it feels to “have it all,” and her frank response was that that just isn’t the case. In any given moment, if she’s succeeding at one thing she’s inevitably failing at another. That was encouraging to hear from one of the most successful women in television. I need to make the decisions that are right for me, trusting that I know my own self better than anyone else.

As an actor, there’s this notion that you have to say ‘yes’ to everything. As a woman, you are expected to multi-task and make sacrifices. I don’t have to fall in line with any of those rules. Just as I can’t tell you whether you should take a vacation, get married/have a baby, or accept that promotion, no one can tell me what the “right” decision is at any point in my life. As long as I can sleep at night knowing that I’m doing what’s right for me and my family.

 

Other thoughts / reflections?

I always feel a little silly pretending to expound wisdom, because when it comes to life no one is an expert. In whatever you read or hear, it’s important to pick and choose what applies to you. And while I think self-awareness and self-assessment are crucial to one’s growth as a person, be sure to have people in your life who love you unconditionally but are unafraid to call you on your own b.s.!

lizzie_bennet

Julia Cho is probably best known for playing “Charlotte Lu” in the Emmy Award-winning web series The Lizzie Bennet Diaries (YouTube adaptation of Pride and Prejudice). Film/TV credits include Wedding Palace, Larry Crowne, Good Luck Charlie, 2 Broke Girls, NCIS, and Scandal. Follow @thatjuliacho on Twitter and check her out on Facebook.

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