a conversation with actor
By Cami Thomas
Jake Choi is a breath of fresh air. The Queens New York native has quite the story; from playing professional basketball, to taking acting classes, to becoming a distinguished professional in his craft. As a Korean American actor, he has plenty to say about the state and portrayal of Asians on the big screen. Jake shares his story, and talks about respect (give it, or you'll get checked).
[update] This Q&A was conducted before Jake's latest role in the sitcom, Single Parents. You can catch him as Miggy on Single Parents, on ABC,
Q: So, Jake. Tell us a little background about yourself. Where are you from, where do you live, and how did you get into acting?
A: Hey! I’m born and raised in Elmhurst, Queens, NYC. Elmhurst has to be one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the world. I currently live in Hollywood, Los Angeles. Not nearly as diverse hah. I actually was playing semi pro basketball in South Korea and then quit after losing passion for the sport. Then my friend suggested I should take some acting classes. So I took some acting classes in Korea and loved it. Then I came back home to NYC and signed up for classes at the Lee Strasberg Institute.
Q: What’s the best part about your city?
A: The best part about NYC has to be the hustle and bustle energy and the edge. Doesn’t matter who you are, what you do, how much money you have, you have to respect yourself and others or you’ll get checked.
Q: Have you ever been to St. Louis?
A: No I have not but would love to one day. Go Cardinals? Lol
Q: What’s been your favorite moment so far in your career?
A: Getting all the positive feedback from people watching “Front Cover.” It’s not unusual for people to message or email me saying that they were so touched by the film, and that they finally got to see themselves on the screen. It’s so important for us to see ourselves represented in the right way because that affects our self perception, which affects how we navigate through this world.
"Write us as the complex human beings we are" - Jake
Q: Through time, what have you observed about diversity in tv and film? More specifically, with the representation of Asians on screen.
A: I have observed more talk than walk if you know what I mean. A lot of these studios and networks talk about inclusivity/diversity but don’t act on it as much as they talk about it. I have seen progress don’t get me wrong, but it’s been super slow. In regards to representation of Asians on screen, it seems TV has been more progressive than film. I’ll admit, growing up, I didn’t see Asian faces on tv, which made me feel invisible and question my identity. I felt ugly, and insignificant. Nowadays, we do see more Asian actors on TV but rarely are we playing leads or three dimensional characters with emotional arcs and complexity. Asian men are still stereotyped as awkward nerds, asexual, or comedic reliefs. Asian women are still stereotyped as submissive, or hypersexual, fetishized. Also, Asians play about 1% of the lead roles on film/tv but we make up more than 6% of the population in the country. So that’s a problem there. And then there’s whitewashing in all these films, the newest one is “Death Note.” These studios/companies really think Asians are passive and they can shit on us without any backlash. Imagine, Death Note with Asian and Black leads. How incredible would that have been? It’s also a remake of a Japanese manga. Why didn’t they hire any Japanese Americans to play the lead role of Light? It’s frustrating. But it’s good to see that there are Asian shows out there like “Fresh off the Boat.” That’s big.
Q: What's been your experience as an Asian actor? What are one or two key defining moments for you, in this regard?
A: A big positive moment was playing the role of Ryan Fu in “Front Cover.” To be able to play such a fleshed out, humanized character and the lead of the film, that was incredible. Sad to say, Asian actors don’t get to play these types of characters as often as white actors. It’s something that I took for granted while shooting the film, but in hindsight, it was a privilege.
Q: What would you like to see happen for the portrayal of Asians on screen?
A: To not only see more of us, but in a humanized way. That’s all I ask. I don’t think it’s too much to ask. Write us as the complex human beings we are.
Q: What new projects are in the works for you?
A: I just wrapped a gamer comedy pilot in NY, it’s really well written and the whole cast is hilarious. I play Beau Chang, the cool, successful ladies man of the group of friends. And I just got cast as a co-lead for an indie feature film that explores the world of polyamory. Excited to start shooting it next week in NY!
Q: What’s your dream role?
A: Any major superhero but as the lead of the movie or tv series. Or to play Sessue Hayakawa.
Q: In closing, what advice would you give young, budding Asian actors who may be following in your footsteps?
A: I would highly advise that you get good training, somewhere you feel safe but challenged. And really pursue this career because you love acting, telling stories, not for the fame and fortune.