Meet Arden Cho, the latest Asian American talent to break into the mainstream from her earlier days on YouTube. You might recognize her from Nigahiga and Wong Fu’s feature Agents of Secret Stuff or as a singer-songwriter on YouTube, where she still posts covers and original songs. Now she stars in MTV’s Teen Wolf as Kira, the Japanese/Korean American Kitsune, a fox spirit of Japanese mythology. Not only does her character battle the supernatural monsters of Beacon Hills, she must balance dealing with the monstrosity that we know as the high school experience.
Arden Cho shares her experiences and upbringing as an Asian American growing up in Texas, what nurtured her passion for acting, her role as Kira on Teen Wolf, and her own perception and hope towards the media landscape and its representation of the Asian American narrative.
What was your up bringing like? Were you one of the only Asian Americans in your community?
I was born in Amarillo, Texas, and I lived in San Antonio for a few years. My brother was born there and then Dallas—in Plano, to be specific. Plano is pretty diverse now, but then, in the neighborhood we particularly lived in, we were one of the very few minority families. So I grew up really alienated, thinking that we were just really weird. I didn’t really understand what it meant to be Asian American, and definitely didn’t really know that there were Asian Americans out there. And then on media and TV all you see is beautiful white people. And so, you know, as a young girl, there were so many people that I looked up to that were so different from me.
So it was a little hard, then?
Uh, definitely. I don’t think “little” is the correct word. I mean, I received tons of racism. I’ve been beat up twice because of it and called every bad name in the book that you can think of that you can call an Asian person. I was pretty uncomfortable with the fact that I was Asian for so long. I felt it was such a negative thing because of the way people treated me. Luckily, I went to a university that was really diverse and I think my college years is when I started understand that it’s pretty awesome to be Asian American and it’s not really a bad thing to be a minority. I actually felt really empowered and that there were more advantages to being a minority, if that makes sense. Like, I’m 100 percent fluent in two languages. I understand so many more people and cultures because of the fact that I did grow up differently.
What originally drew you to acting as a profession? Was there anything else you either wanted to pursue or felt pressure to pursue?
Oh, there were so many things I wanted to pursue. When I was younger my parents would always say that I wanted to be a detective or a police officer or that I wanted to help kids and save people. And then, I went through this phase where I really wanted to be a lawyer or a teacher. Then, in college I was a Psychology major and I was actually pre-law. But during my college years I also started taking Theater as an elective because I thought it would be easy. But it wasn’t easy and was actually very, very difficult for me because I am actually an introvert so Theater was really scary for me. Oddly enough, I think I learned more about people in theater, in Theater Studies, and just in acting classes in some ways even more than I did in Psychology.
I loved theater and I started really falling in love with acting—it helped me feel free, like I could express really who I was. And I think for me it had a lot to do with me being a minority and especially being an Asian American—a lot of our culture is very repressed. In a sense you grow up feeling like you have to be perfect. You have to be smart, polite, you have to be pretty but not too pretty, you have to be well spoken but not speak too much. Finally, in theater class was a chance for me to really dig deep and ask myself, what is it that I want, and who am I.
But at the same time I didn’t think theater and acting was a possibility for a career because at the same time, you never change over night, and you grow up thinking you have to have a secure life, a plan. I thought I’d have somebody I would marry, thought I would graduate, get a great job, get married, have kids, have this perfect life that I would have by the time I was 25. Then, here I was graduating college and no idea what I wanted to do. So, I actually ended up actually going to Kenya for a couple of months on a mission trip. I worked with some medical missionaries, girls schools, and orphanages and all sorts of different people that I met in Kenya, and that time is one of the most important growing times for me. And, one of my favorite moments in life so far.
As one of the few leading Asian American ladies on network television, how do you feel the media landscape is now, for Asian Americans, in comparison to when you first started out?
Well one, it’s definitely better. I think we’ve made a huge, huge step. I mean we have so many people today versus even ten years ago. It’s amazing to see people like Ki Hong Lee staring in Maze Runner and being a sexy guy! He’s like cool. He’s an Asian name and that’s about it but he’s a just cool guy and I love that! I like how they show good characteristics of him like his determination, he’s very, very strong. Obviously Steven Yeun of Walking Dead is kind of our main sexy hot guy on TV that is Asian that doesn’t play a stereotyped Asian role.
And then you know now we have Kimiko Glenn on Orange is the New Black. That’s even great too because it’s so different! I love that she’s so brave in her role. It’s a risky show and I love it. And you know I think it’s great that we do have Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park in Hawaii Five-O obviously holding down the grounds cause you know Daniel was on Lost. And I think we have a lot of people who are making a household name for themselves as people that you know, you see regularly and not just as, “Oh that’s that one Asian guy we see on TV.”
I was so excited to see your character develop because it kind of played off the stereotypes in the beginning, but you find out how complex Kira really is throughout the series and the kind of sacrifices she’s willing to make. Not that she’s just a butt kicker, but there is a complex emotional dimension to her. So with all these different characters that Asian Americans are able to play, what would be your ideal character to play, existing or made up?
Honestly, I love kind of playing Kira so much. I love that she’s just a normal high school girl who is awkward and uncomfortable and seeking for love. And at the same time she’s badass. I love that combination and I couldn’t ask for a better role to play day to day. But, if I had my pick at obviously a different role, I would love something, even, more in the film world as a leading strong female character, like Jennifer Lawrence in Hunger Games or Shailene Woodley in Divergent. I love these films with strong leading ladies and so I think that would be really, really fun. I’d love to be in one of these films as just a normal average girl who is ends up being really tough and fights through it and learns a lot about herself in the process.
Well, so then how did you prepare for the role? Was there a lot of strength training? Do you perform your own stunts?
Well, I had a martial arts background. I’m black belt. I grew up training—my dad’s a grandmaster—and so I grew up with it my whole life. And that just ended up becoming a plus. We learn all our fight sequences usually the day of, I mean fights like the chain fight, the one where I whip the chain around with the light bulb scene, with the date [on a date with Scott, another character on the show]? That one was really really hard because we were breaking those light bulbs while swinging the chain around. It was really scary and it’s a real chain it was really heavy.
Luckily, we always have stunt doubles who teach us everything and then take the hard hits for us. Because they’re tough and we’re not and that’s their job and they’re great at it. We love them but I would say I’m really lucky that my stunt double takes the time to teach me everything and I get to do a fair share of my own stunts and I don’t think that’s always the case. A lot of times it’s double work for them if they have to teach us and do it themselves.
What advice do you have for any aspiring Asian American actors or actresses?
One, I would definitely say focus on honing your craft. If it’s acting take acting classes, theater classes, read a lot of books. There are so many great books. Respect for Acting, that’s a good one. There’s so many ways to challenge yourself and I think now with new media even a get together with your friends and shoot some short films or if you’re in school to take film classes. I feel like there is so much more opportunity available nowadays. So I definitely would say, take advantage of that and then thinking about getting an agent or moving to LA, or New York, or those sorts of things can come later. I think a lot of times people rush and I don’t think that’s always the best because sometimes if you just move to LA or New York and have no experience at all, and you don’t have anything, I think it’s a lot harder to start. But, wherever you live there are going to be theater classes, or acting classes, or opportunities to learn.
Don’t worry either about the plan of action because nothing really works out as planned and you have to really be open and know that your journey is always going to be different and there is no right or wrong way. I mean, everyone’s career is different. There are actors who have make very successful careers for themselves but haven’t taken a single acting class. Then there are people who have graduated from Yale with a theater degree, or NYU or these great, established schools, and you know, everyone’s career is different. And everybody’s story is different. I think it’s best to learn everything and then figure out what works for you because every actor is different and every person is different.
Yeah and I think that’s the main thing is not comparing yourself to other people. Being open to going through your ride. Going for the ride that’s going to be your unique journey.
Are there any upcoming projects we can catch you in?
I just filmed a movie called Stuck. Filmed that in New York right after Teen Wolf, so that is something to look out for, hopefully by 2015. It’s a musical. It stars Giancarlo Esposito from Breaking Bad, he’s Gustavo, Ashanti, the singer, Amy Madigan, Gerard Canonico, Omar Chaparro, and myself. It’s an ensemble cast. The six of us get stuck on a subway. It’s singing, dancing, fun, but at the same time it’s actually a pretty thought-out movie of just life, in the sense of, you might be physically stuck, but sometimes it takes a physical action to wake you up and realize you’re actually stuck in life. And so, I think that’s what a lot of the movie is about, being stuck. And I think a lot of people can relate to that.
Other than that, I’m just working on music here and there, I just released another music video from my first EP album called My True Happy and that’s online on my YouTube channel. And yeah! Just putting out some covers and doing some music and yeah hopefully working on a couple small projects before we head back to Teen Wolf for Season 5.
Catch Arden Cho in HigaTV and Wong Fu Productions’ Agents of Secret Stuff on YouTube:
For Halloween Fun, We asked Arden Cho these questions:
Black or white?
Day or Night?
Trick or treat?
Would you rather be a werewolf, vampire or a zombie?
Twitter Instagram or Facebook
SuperHero, SuperVillain, or a Mercenary?
Stay Natural or become Supernatural?
Scariest moment on Teen Wolf:
The fight in the Argent’s place where we had all these athletes coming after us, a lot of smoke, guns, and I had my sword and had to kick a guy.
That was actually really scary for me because I had to actually cut through the tarp and I had to actually kick the stunt guy. But when I cut the tarp I had to make sure I didn’t cut too deep so I didn’t cut him, but would still be close enough to kick him. I don’t know, and there was so much noise, and so much smoke and gunfire, and it’s fake but you feel like you’re in this war zone and it’s very scary. And even though cameras are rolling and it’s not real, the intensity and the adrenaline, it’s so high and with a scene like that you don’t want to mess it up either. I only did the take twice so, cause you know those sorts of things where you’re actually taking hits and doing things like that, they don’t want to do it a bunch of times. But, that was really scary for me. I’m trying to think of what else is really scary. All the stuff in the caves was really scary too. Our sets were amazing; I hope you guys enjoyed it. Our set designers are freaking phenomenal, but it’s very scary. It’s a pretty creepy place to be.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. The interview is crossposted at Comcast XFINITY. Main image Vince Trupsin.