Arden Cho | “Don’t be afraid to fail. Unless you fail, you will never really succeed.”
The most commonly used word to describe this week’s OA feature is beautiful. Jaw-dropping. Stunning. Gorgeous. So beautiful she was the face of Clinique’s international campaign. It’s hard to believe that she, too, has struggled with self-image; she, too, was shy; and she, too, has been pressured by society to alter her body. This explains why Arden Cho—multi-talented actress, model, and singer—is in fact one of the most down-to-earth, pleasant “dorks” whose mission in life is not fame or fortune, but to inspire the next generation, especially Asian American girls to accept themselves and pursue their passion. The world is beginning to witness the exciting fruits of her painstaking labor, and she is on track to becoming an international role model. Yes, Arden is the living breathing embodiment of OA’s mission.
- What takes up most of your time: Sleeping. I love to sleep.
- Guilty pleasure: Massages and food. There’s nothing else! Eating a good meal, getting a nice massage, watching a good movie or good music – that’s my dream come true. Every night after that happens, I feel like I can die happy.
- Relationship status: Single, and getting ready to mingle!
- Pet peeves: Flakyness – I really hate people who say they’ll do something and they don’t. Also people who divert a lot – divert in life, in taking blame, in taking responsibility. I like to keep it pretty frank, so I like people who keep it real. Another huge pet peeve – when people smack their food or gum really loud. It makes me want to take the gum out of their mouth and throw it away. It drives me crazy.
- Favorite thing to order at Panera: Chicken frontega sandwich and Caesar salad. I also like their Thai Chicken Salad. And their mac and cheese.
- Favorite film of all time: A Moment to Remember, a Korean movie. It’s a movie for a good cry. I love everything about it – the soundtrack, the cinematography, the actors. It’s one of those movies that’s just so brilliant. I met the director, and he shared that when he wrote this story, he wasn’t a romantic drama writer, but that’s what they wanted him to write. He decided that if he was going to write a romantic dramatic film, it was going to be the saddest thing ever. He locked himself in a room and wrote until he cried. It’s that good and that brilliant because he wrote something that he knew would make him cry.
- What does the B stand for in Arden B. Cho: I was in high school when Arden B was really popular. I never had a nickname growing up because I lived in 14 different cities and I was always the new kid. I never really had a lot of friends because I was shy. I had always wanted a nickname, but you don’t get a nickname unless people have known you for years. I would wear clothes from Arden B, so people would tease me, like, “Oh, Arden. Do you shop at Arden B?” It wasn’t that funny, but people started saying, “Hey Arden B!” and it kind of stuck. When I made a screenname for AIM I went with ardenbcho. And when I made my Youtube, I didn’t even think about – I did ardenbcho because that’s what I thought of as my name back then.
- What you look for in a guy? Definitely someone who is confident and loving. Someone who believes in God and has a good heart. I think confidence is really important to me. Not arrogant and cocky, but just confident in who he is and what he’s got to bring – fresh, charming, respectable confidence. Someone who is funny and smart and doing what he loves, someone who has direction and knows his vision and purpose in life. And if he’s cute, that’s a nice plus! And a great smile is my weakness, I want to meet someone I can forever laugh with.
- Fun fact about yourself: I used to be in a bowling league, and I got made fun of for that. I would bowl ten games a day and I wanted to be a professional bowler. In highschool I worked at a bowling alley and got to bowl for free, so I’d bowl by myself a lot. I was good, man. High score 265, used to average 175!
- Funner fact about yourself: My dream role in a movie is to be a hit man – a good hit man who’s really kickass. I want to be like the girl from Kickass because she kills for a good reason. (Not that anyone should be killing anyone).
- Funniest fact about yourself: I’m a really big dork. All of my close friends will vouch for it. I say things like “cool beans” and “awesome possum”, and people give me that look.
AC: On a normal day, I wake up hopefully before 11:00am. If I’m shooting something, I shoot all day and I’m too exhausted to do anything after. If I’m not shooting something, I usually have an audition or two, maybe three. I probably would have prepped the night before, and after that I’ll go to a couple of meetings and grab some coffee or lunch or breakfast. It varies from auditions and meetings to hanging out with friends. That’s about it.
OA: Having guest starred in several of the biggest TV shows, what is the current scene in Hollywood and at the major studios? Do you get called for a lot of Asian-specific roles? How much does race matter, and are there a lot of non-stereotypical opportunities for Asian Americans and minorities in general?
AC: I feel like I’m not qualified to answer this question because I’m not that experienced. I’m just starting to walk and take baby steps. I’m now just starting to have some of these bigger doors open, and more opportunities to read for these bigger shows. I’m really blessed because I get to audition for some of these shows when the breakdown asks for “twenties, blond, beautiful girl.” I’ll be sitting in the room with twenty beautiful blond girls, and I still get a shot. Granted, I haven’t booked many of those, but I have tested for a pilot written for a beautiful blond Caucasian girl, and I’ve had opportunities and I’ve been given chances. If I didn’t book it, I don’t know if it was because I’m Asian, or because I wasn’t good enough, or because I wasn’t ready, or if I just wasn’t right for the part. I definitely do believe though that Hollywood and the entertainment industry has become more open-minded to those things, and they’re definitely a lot more aware of stereotypes, and they do try to be more sensitive. In a lot of pilots for teen roles, I know they really try to match the mother’s ethnicity to the character. There are certain situations where they’re reading for Asian American actresses and they are trying to match our ethnicities. But it sucks because the woman who might be playing my mother is half Filipino and half Japanese, and I’m obviously full Korean – or full something – so if there’s a Hapa or Eurasian mother, I can’t get the part. I think sometimes in those situations it is hard, because I feel like Hollywood is really trying to be politically correct and match people. They want to be fair and they want to be right, but there still aren’t as many Asian American actors as you might think. There’s definitely more, but still not that many. Every day, I feel like I’m seeing more and more actors in the audition room, so that’s awesome. It’s going in the right direction.
OA: Simply put, why acting? Why are you passionate enough about it to put up with all the risk?
AC: Growing up, I did a lot of different things. My parents put me in dance classes, martial arts, sports, painting, music, cello, all sorts of things. I was one of those kids who never was really great at anything, but was mediocre at a lot of different things. All my life I was a kid that did everything my parents wanted me to do. Even with college, I went to the one that my parents wanted me to go to. In high school, I always wanted to try theater, but because the drama program was so good at my school, I was too scared to try. However in college, I finally started taking some theater classes and just fell in love. Being the shy, awkward girl who didn’t have a lot of friends – theater was the first time I felt like I could open up and be someone I could only imagine to be. I experienced emotions that I hadn’t experienced before. I could be really angry; I could be really sad; I could be in love. I’d never really experienced being in love, but in theater class, I experienced what that might feel like. So it was just this experience that was so amazing to me. I loved being able to tell stories and make people laugh and feel different emotions. I love acting, performing, and I love what it did for me. It was like therapy to learn, and I wanted to keep learning. It was the one thing where I could take all of the experiences in my life and put it out there. When I moved out to LA, I wasn’t sure if that was what I was supposed to be doing. Even now, I’m always trying to learn new things – I’m trying to dabble in other things – because I still feel like I’m a blank canvas, and I’m trying to learn what colors to paint and what things to learn. This year, I was taking improv classes and learning comedic stuff. Even though I’m not a funny actor and I’m not in the comedy world, I still think it’s better to learn a lot of different things just to get better and be more well-rounded.
OA: Acting is all about auditioning if you’re not shooting. What are the stats? On average, how many auditions do you get called into every week, and how many do you have to go on before booking?
AC: I have no idea. I have friends who only go on five auditions every few months, but then book four out of the five. I’m one of those weird cases where I fit in a lot of different categories, so some weeks I’ll audition for seven and I won’t book any. But I’ll have three call-backs and get pinned for one, but I won’t book it. It varies and it’s really hard to put a number on it. There was a point where for two months straight I didn’t book anything, but that’s normal and it happens. For those two months, every time I went out for a role, I just wasn’t the best for it. Then there are times when in one week, I book three things. They overlap and I actually have to turn down jobs. Sometimes, during pilot season (which is the busiest time for us), I’ll be going out three or four times a day. This week for example, I had zero auditions on Monday, three on Tuesday, two on Wednesday, and that’s what I know for the week. Booking ratios definitely vary – some people will do very few auditions and book everything just because they’re a very specific type of actor or character, so they know exactly what they fit. For me, I’ll go out for super young teens all the way to twenties, and there’s a lot of mixing and matching and looking for what’s right. I’m happy to get into the office because it’s still an opportunity, and it’s still a chance for them to see me. I’m thankful that they give me a chance to come in and try, and if I’m not right for it, I definitely appreciate them calling me back for other things. When the time is right and hopefully when I’m ready, the right opportunity will come. It’s a terrifying process – people have no idea that it’s so hard.
OA: How do you prepare for an audition? How do you prepare for a role that you’ve booked?
AC: If I get a script, I do my best to read it. For TV they usually don’t hand out a script, they just give you the sides – it can be anything from two pages for a co-star, to six to ten pages for a guest star. It really varies. Obviously, I do my best to get an understanding of the character breakdown, to see who she is to me and what I can bring to that character. I think it’s really important to know what’s happening in the moment before and the moment present, so I try to develop as much backstory as I can. For TV it’s really hard because you don’t get much of a backstory, and as a co-star, you’re really just in and out. For auditions, it’s about going into the room and being confident and doing your best. With film stuff, because you’re given scripts, you have a lot more material to work and prep with. There’s definitely no one way – it’s best to figure out what works for you.
OA: What has been the most challenging or interesting role you’ve ever played?
AC: The most crazy one was for a short film where I was this sad, sad girl and a lot of bad things happened to her including rape. That was a hard thing to experience because it was kind of terrifying. They didn’t show any nudity or graphic stuff, but just that moment of him grabbing me and being very close and feeling that tension –it was very real and very scary. It was a difficult moment to tap into. I felt bad for the actor, because after shooting it was uncomfortable for me to be around him.
OA: You are very successful in Asia, especially Korea, having done a lot of national and international campaigns there as well as competing for Miss Korea in 2004. Tell us about your opportunity to sign with agents and producers and why you refused. How did you get the strength as such a young woman to reject these amazing opportunities in Asia to preserve your values?
AC: I was 17 or 18, and it was easy because I was young, confident, and really comfortable with who I was. I was doing gymnastics at the time, so I was very fit and muscular, and Korea considered that to be fat at that time. They didn’t like that, even though I was very fit and healthy. To me, I was just like, “Psh… you all don’t know what you’re talking about.” When I went to Korea for Miss Korea, I gained 15 pounds because to this teenage girl, Korea meant vacation! I know winning the pageant was a big deal, but to me it was just something that I got lucky with and that I was doing for fun. I ate a lot of food and I enjoyed my time there. But I gained so much weight – you couldn’t even recognize me because my face was so chubby! I will say when I got back to the States, a lot of people told me, “You messed up. That was such a good opportunity!” I felt that being beautiful wasn’t the same as being confident and comfortable with who you are, and I still believed those things, but after a year or two, it started to weigh in on me and a lot of the criticism got to me. I really struggled with my image for a good two to three years through college. I hated how I looked; I wanted to be beautiful; I wanted to be tall and skinny; I wanted to look different. And then I was like, “Oh my gosh, they were right, I need plastic surgery.” I went through a lot of hard times, and it finally came to this point where I was struggling with who I was and what I believed in, and I came to know God on a more intimate level. It was something I realized when I was so unhappy about how I looked – that was where I found my value. What I was realizing and learning at the time was that if I really believed and loved God, I would know that He created me the way He wanted me to be. If that was something that I was really living for, then I wouldn’t be so selfish about myself. I realized that the more I tried to not look at myself and my flaws, but look at God and see that He was good, the more I realized that looks didn’t matter. Granted, I might look in the mirror and want to change a billion things, but I think everyone feels like that sometimes. Being told by so many people I needed to lose weight really affected my confidence. I struggled with that for years, but I’m finally at a place where I can comfortably say, I know I’m not perfect, and I know there are some things that I could change or should change, but it doesn’t matter. If I want to be a great actor one day and work in this industry and be inspiring to people, having a perfect face or perfect body is not going to make me better or worse at it. It makes no difference. To be a good actor, you need to tell a good story and as long as my mouth works and sounds come out of it, I can still tell a story, even if my double eyelids aren’t perfect (that was one of the many things I was told to “fix” or get plastic surgery on in Korea). I still struggle with it, just like everybody else – but you learn to realize that caring so much to the point where that’s all you’re thinking about means you’re selfish. It’s a very selfish thing because there are a lot bigger things in this world – like people dying of starvation, and sex trafficking, and other things that matter way more than the way you look and what people think about how you look. Every day, I tell myself, “Hey. That’s not what makes me who I am. My identity is found in Christ, and I know that God loves me and God made me this way. If a hundred people tell me I’m not good enough and not pretty enough, then so be it.” Don’t get me wrong, it still hurts every single time I hear it and I get rejected, but I get back on my feet because I know that’s not what makes me who I am. If I work because an opportunity comes my way, then I’m thankful. But if I don’t work, that doesn’t mean I’m not good enough to be here. It just means I might not be ready.
OA: We’re digging deep here. What was the worst point in your career where you were close to quitting, and how did find the strength to continue?
AC: In the four years I’ve been in LA, I feel like that’s happened at least once a year. It was definitely really bad two years ago. It was so hard – I came out to LA with not much at all. My parents couldn’t really support me financially, so I worked a lot of odd jobs and spread myself really thin. I didn’t have family or a community out here, and then there were points when friends backstabbed me, and people I trusted in relationships backstabbed me. I felt like everybody I thought I trusted weren’t who I thought they were, and I just felt so alone. I was in a really dark place for eight, nine months, until I finally got out. Somehow, miraculously, I still made it out. Granted I’ve always had a roof over my head, but there were points in my career when I was so broke, I didn’t know where my next meal was going to come from – starving artist – literally! Every day I’m thankful for those times because until I really struggled, I never really appreciated good food, good friends, and good weather, because I thought that those things were expected. I think every year I hit a point like that because I’m still just trying to learn how to walk. I can’t wait until the day I can run. You just have keep going. You have to be resilient and keep your head up. There will always be people trying to push you down. But I believe that God wants me to be happy, He put me in this industry for a reason, and it’s meant to happen.
OA: Where do you see your career going? Is there a shift in focus towards music, or is acting still your primary love?
AC: Acting is still what I want to do. Music is my freedom. I just love it, and I’m learning so much. It allows me to be creative in ways that acting limits. When I’m just doing roles I don’t have a choice in, I don’t get as much creative freedom. With singing, I’m experiencing that freedom. It’s just a hobby. As far as where my career is going, I have no idea! I’m nowhere near knowing where the possibilities are. Maybe I’ll be doing the same thing for ten years – just grinding away. A lot of actors’ lives are like that – grinding away for ten, fifteen years as guest stars and co-stars. It’s really tough. A lot of actors will have long careers before people even know who they are. That’s why I feel like I have no right to foresee the future because it’s so far away.
OA: Congratulations on the release of your first single, I’m Just a Girl. We’ve noticed you not only doing covers but also writing songs, recording, and doing collaborations. What sparked the more serious pursuit of music? Where do you hope to take it?
AC: Recently, the reason I started doing music and putting it on my blogs was because it was a good way to reach out to the youth. It’s bits and pieces of experiences, advice, and encouragement. I really wanted to be able to encourage people through words, through videos and blogs, and then I realized that through songs, I could do that too. I wrote “I’m Just a Girl” because after the Follow Your Heart series, I was telling everyone to follow their heart and not to be scared, but here I was terrified of putting my music out there, terrified of singing in public, because I knew I wasn’t good enough [yes you are Arden!] or that I wasn’t the best. I was always so scared, but then I figured that if I was telling people to follow their heart I might as well follow mine. I wrote a song that I thought would be fitting for my young fans. I hope to comfort and encourage them if they ever have heartbreak, ever felt alone, or felt like they needed to be perfect. I have a couple new originals I’m working on called, “Love Divine” and “Don’t Run.” I wrote those with Travis Graham from New Heights. They’re definitely songs with messages to my listeners and I hope they are encouraged from the lyrics I share. I feel like as I’m putting more music out there, I’m getting more comfortable, even in recording and singing some of those songs. I enjoy it because it scares me… it takes me out of my comfort zone. I love it because literally, they are word for word what I say to my friends. These are all words I’ve said to people over and over in life. These songs have messages I wished people had said to me five, ten years ago. With my songs, I hope people keep an open mind and just appreciate it for what it is. I’m not trying to write hit singles, I’m trying to write an honest song that comes from my heart.
OA: You now have two YouTube channels, ardencho and ardenBcho, and it’s such a unique experience for your fans to be able to follow you on your acting and singing journey through your vlogs. How have your perceptions of YouTube changed over the past few years, especially after doing Agents of Secret Stuff?
AC: I definitely think YouTube is an amazing tool. It’s such a blessing for a lot of those kids who are using it to start their careers. It’s sad sometimes that I hopped on YouTube so late. I’m thankful to Ryan Higa and Wong Fu Productions for involving me in their projects and encouraging me to start vlogging. I’m thankful to AJ Rafael for encouraging me to start singing. I had no idea that I could learn and try all these new things with YouTube. It’s so interesting to be able to connect with people and share my thoughts and experiences with them. I have one YouTube channel that’s for my copyrighted work, and it’s kind of fun because it’s like an online portfolio. Sometimes I feel like I’m immersed in all these auditions, and I even forget that I’ve done some things. I feel like I’m still so much at the beginning, where I haven’t really done anything that I’m that proud of yet, because I could have done better. At the same time, I feel like it’s nice to have a place for my work. I hope years later when I’m done working in the industry, I can look back on it. YouTube is such a good place to connect with people and I feel so blessed by all the encouragement, and all the people leaving me nice messages. I get a lot of really great emails and letters. I don’t get a chance to respond to every single one, but I do read everything. People are in my prayers, and I’m keeping what everyone says in mind. I’m so thankful, I can’t even say it enough. I’m so humbled by people’s kindness. I’ve met artists on YouTube – young singers who are so talented, and I’ll promote it because it’s just so good. Then I’ll get letters from them thanking me. I just think, “Why are you thanking me? You’re so good!” And then they tell me they’ve seen my stuff, and I’m like, “Really?! That’s so cool!” We’re like fans of each other and we become friends. I’m just so blown away by how things work now. With YouTube and the Internet, it’s so easy to connect with people. I’m so thankful for that.
OA: You grew up wanting to do and be everything. How were you able to hone in and focus solely on acting with so many other opportunities along the way?
AC: I think that’s actually what I’m trying to figure out right now – how to focus. I’m struggling to be a good actor because I don’t think I’ve ever really been able to focus on it. Even though I took a lot of classes and I studied, I feel like I’ve never given it 100% yet. I’m still really scared, and I have so much to learn. I’m just now beginning to understand that and really focus and give it my all. I felt like I’ve been distracted because I modeled – I didn’t do it because I really enjoyed it, but because I needed to pay the bills. Obviously, it was the same for commercial work. Commercialing and modeling are so different from acting, and that took away a lot of time and energy. I still can’t survive on acting alone. I live off of commercials and modeling. I can’t wait until the day when I can focus 100% on acting. I thought I would be married with five kids by now. I’m still in my early twenties, but I’ve been looking to try to get married for the past few years. Ever since college, I’ve been thinking, “Must find my husband!”, and that also has really held me back a lot, because I really want to find someone honest and good and settle down at the same time. I still want to work, but I always thought that I could do both. These days, I think I’m more accepting of the fact that everyone is different. Just because my friends back home are getting married doesn’t mean that I’m lacking anything. I always thought that everyone else was moving on and starting the next chapter, and I’m not. I felt like I was missing out on something. I actually struggled with that a lot, but these days I’m trying to embrace the fact that I have opportunities and other things. Hopefully in the future I’ll get married and have a family and still work. Right now, I’m trying to give 100% to my career and not get distracted by other things. The grass is always greener on the other side. People don’t always know that I’m not fully happy, even though I’m working and following my dream. I want to be loved too and start a family. But you have to make some sacrifices and it’s really hard to find a someone who is loving, confident, and awesome, who is also okay with a girlfriend plastered all over the Internet with videos, who is always auditioning, and who might have to do love scenes. It will be really hard to find someone who will support my career as well as be happy for me and still be okay with me working, but I think I will find him.
OA: Growing up in Texas and Minnesota and now pursuing a very visible career, what does it mean to be Korean American and Asian American to you?
AC: I have actually gotten a lot of disapproval from older mentors for how open I am, especially with YouTube vlogs and my Facebook and Twitter. Being in entertainment, you’re supposed to have some kind of mysterious facade, but I don’t want to be like that. I care more about connecting with people and encouraging them. I have to share my failures and my faults to make a difference. If it means putting myself out there and risking that, then I risk it. So what if people are not going to respect me on the work side or take me as seriously? That’s the risk I’m taking; that’s the trade-off. It’s more important for me to feel like I can connect with a fan and help her feel more confident, and it’s okay for her to go for something scary. I don’t want people to think that I’m perfect, I’m far from perfect. Vlogging and being honest and telling them my faults and flaws helps these young girls and boys realize that I’m just normal, I’m just a girl, just like everybody else. I’m roughing it out in a job no different than any other job. The only difference is that it’s a little more public. I have to work hard and study just like everybody else, and I want people to know that because I don’t want them to lose sleep and waste time idolizing a career that they think is a certain way. A lot of stars work hard to build that kind of facade and I don’t think that’s really right for youth. Being famous isn’t about partying, getting drunk, hooking up, buying all these crazy things and living in a bajillion-dollar house. That’s not what life is about. If I can get a chance to share what I think life is about with people, I’m going to share it, even if it hurts my career, and even if that makes me lose respect from people in the industry. I do pull back with certain things when I’m really struggling, but I try my best to keep a smile on my face to encourage people. I do think I’m doing my best to keep it real.
OA: You’re a role model for a lot of people out there, especially young Asian American girls. Who do you look up to?
AC: I have so many role models, especially in the Asian American community, and especially those whom I’ve been blessed to meet. Daniel Dae Kim has been such an amazing mentor to me, he has so much wisdom. His career is one that I respect so much. He’s not only brilliant, but his hard work has definitely paid off. He’s humble and just so talented. Same with C.S. Lee – just such good, hard-working honest people who love what they do. For female role models, Grace Park is not only beautiful, but she really does work hard. She has a family, which I think is so cool, and she has this great spirit and energy about her. Kelly Hu – I have always looked up to her and thought she was so gorgeous – meeting her and hearing her story was awesome. She’s still doing great. There have been so many people! The list just goes on. I hope that I can keep going and meet them there, wherever they’re at.
OA: Words of wisdom for aspiring actresses, models, and singers:
AC: I feel like a broken record when I say this in my livestreams and my vlogs and to my friends, but yes! Whatever it is that you want to do, hone your craft. Learn. Study. Read books. Take classes. Do the best that you can so that when the right opportunity comes, you nail it and you’re prepared, so you can be the best that you can be. Don’t be afraid to fail. Don’t be afraid to seriously suck. Unless you fail, you will never really succeed. It is those failures that really do build character, make you stronger, and prepare you to become better. What fun is a book that starts and finishes on one note? You’ve got to have those ups and downs, those rides and journeys, to have a story that’s exciting. I feel like all of our lives are like a book. I know my life is crazy right now, but I can’t wait to see how God finishes writing this story. Every day I’m trying to take risks and do things I’m scared of. It’s terrifying – don’t get me wrong, I’m scared all the time – and it doesn’t get easier, but I think you get used to putting yourself out there, and taking those risks. The results will be good. Hard work – good, hard honest work – does pay off. Nothing good comes easy. And if it does come easy, watch out – you’re going to lose it, fast! Being a girl in the industry is really hard. A lot of people try to take advantage of you, and a lot of people try to get you to do things and take shortcuts. I’ve had to shoo a lot of bad people out of my life, and I’ve had to dodge a lot of bullets, but I will say that it is possible to do it and do it right. I don’t think you have to sell out in this industry to make it. I hope young girls will respect who they are, respect their bodies, and respect themselves. Girls should stand up for themselves more and be confident in who they are so that they aren’t disrespected. The more confident you are and the firmer you stand, the harder it is to push you off. For me, it’s a struggle every day – I’ve fallen many times and I’ve made many mistakes – but I’m still standing now. As much garbage that gets thrown at me, I just try to stand strong. I hope that everyone else out there tries to find some sort of foundation in something, because otherwise it’s going to be really, really tough. Whatever industry it is.
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