Ally Maki | “If you stay true to who you are and what you love, it will all come back to you in the most rewarding ways.”
We all have heard stories of how the road in entertainment contains a ridiculous amount of hard work, patience, and a little bit of luck. But when the road involves leaving home for Los Angeles at 14, popping up on our favorite network television shows, and longboarding through Hollywood it makes all the work worth it. Meet Ally Maki, our new quirky, yet edgy pal from iCarly, 10 Things I Hate About You, Bones (oh the list goes on!) as she shares her experiences as an actress in Hollywood with us.
- What takes up most of your time right now? I love working out. I’ve been taking these Tae Bo classes, which have been kicking my butt. Working out always makes me feel good. It gives you that nice adrenaline boost in the morning and starts your day off right. So I either do that or hiking. I just moved to this cute little townhouse with my roomie, so we’ve been decorating and unpacking and enjoying the summer.
- Guilty pleasure: Playing 007 on the Wii. I’m really good.
- Relationship status: Single and ready to mingle!
- What do you look for in a guy? They have to not take themselves too seriously. Sense of humor is key. Good teeth. I have a thing for dark skin and dark hair, not much for blondes.
- Pet Peeves: When guys wear Ed Hardy t-shirts or Ed Hardy anything. Also dirty stuff like shoes on… it’s fine if you have shoes on (I’m not that Asian, hah), but if you just went on a hike and walked through puddles and then walk around my room, then yes, that’s kind of annoying.
- What is your go-to protein when a girl gets tired of tofu? I’m not a vegetarian anymore but I was thinking of going back. I think chicken most of the time; it’s pretty lean and easy to eat with a lot of different things.
- What’s your dream role? Anything that would be comparable to something like Bridesmaids—anything of that caliber. I love big, crazy comedy characters and that kind of stuff.
- Can you speak/write/read Japanese? Well, in the iCarly movie, we had a Japanese coach and she taught us a little bit but I definitely do not know how to read the characters at all – I’m actually terrible at it. I know just conversational basics. My mom gave me a stack of DVDs and she was like, “I’m on lesson 55” and I was like, “What?! I’m still on the intro?” But I have them in my closet so I should probably start doing it.
- What is your favorite film of all time? Actually, it’s a new favorite – Crazy, Stupid, Love. What a genius film in all aspects; it was like a writing/acting/life therapy lesson. I really enjoyed it. I also love Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
- Favorite cartoon movie? My Neighbor Totoro. I’m have to go Asian here – how can you not love the Miyazaki movies?
- Fun fact: I love doing accents. My friend is on an Australian kick right now. Then, we’ll randomly switch to Asian and back to Australian. We dabble in Southern too.
- Funner fact: I think it’s kind of interesting that my grandmother was in the concentration camps in Heart Mountain. Her husband and my grandfather, who was also Japanese, was fighting for the Americans in World War II in the infamous 442nd Unit, which as most know was the most decorated unit. I love to tell this story because it’s such a twist of irony, a little piece of history.
OA: Give us an insight to a typical day in your life and why you’re Ally Maki.
AM: Typical day, pretty exciting. I’ll wake up, get a coffee, workout by taking a boot camp, boxing class, or go hiking or something like that. I’ll have auditions, or if I’m not working, I’ll be writing a lot. Sometimes I’ll just have fun in the summer with friends; it’s always good to live in the moment and enjoy life. I’ve been learning from my friends how to relax a little because I’m such a naturally structured person; if I’m not doing something productive I go crazy. All the friends who have come into my life the past two years have literally made me such a happier, better person and I love them so much for that.
As for my name, my real name is Ally Maki Matsumura. I was in this girl band, the Valli Girls, and people would always call me Ally Maki, even growing up. People would always say it was catchier, and a little easier, so I just kind of stuck with it. Maki is also my great grandmother’s nickname and so it has a lot of meaning to me.
OA: When did you catch the acting bug?
AM: I started doing musical theater in Seattle when I was really young, nine or ten. I did my very first play, a youth musical called The Magical Story Circus. I was cast as this Asian princess, but I had to kiss a boy which I was not happy about. I was so shy and ended up giving up the role because I didn’t want to. They ended up giving me another role as a circus girl. I was so excited because I got to wear glittery tube tops and hats and got to do silly dance numbers. I was very happy doing that. The moment I was singing, dancing, and wearing these fun costumes, I was like, “How could anything else ever compare?”
Then, when I was fourteen, I did this workshop in Seattle where I was scouted to come to LA for the summer and live in a house of kid actors with a manager – I thought it was just going to be a summer camp kind of thing. I was only scheduled to go for a couple months and just never went back home.
OA: A little bird told us that you were in a music group. Is music still a creative outlet for you?
AM: Absolutely. Singing has always been a huge passion of mine. Before acting, that was probably my first creative outlet. I was three or four, singing Disney songs in my living room. Singing was more of a passion for my own enjoyment and spirit rather than a career option. As far as the music business goes, I don’t think it’s the right place for me. I love acting, because you can be so creative and so individualistic, and have your own take on things. It’s also a little more stable; you can book a job and know that you’ll be working and that it’s going to be on TV. Whereas the music business, if you get signed, it doesn’t mean anything. I think a lot of my spirit was broken—you have to be a certain person, especially in a girl group where each person’s personality is defined. It did help a lot with my confidence and being on stage but, in the end, I think acting is where I’m supposed to be. I’ve always been sort of a lone wolf; I like to do my own thing and have my own views.
OA: You have quite an extensive resume–can you walk us through your start in television? How do you transition from each role?
AM: I feel extremely lucky to have started so young. I owe that all to my amazingly supportive parents. The first thing I ever did was That’s So Raven, which will always be memorable because Raven Symoné is a comedic genius. That was the first thing that I did; I had braces and I had to give treats to a big dog and I was petrified of dogs–so that was fun (note my sarcasm). I was so shy and reserved. After that, I did My Wife and Kids and played a cheerleader, which was also great. I tested for Phil of the Future back in the day; it’s funny looking back at the things you did and didn’t get.
I then got called for the girl group because they were looking for an Asian girl who played the keyboard and I had trained classically for six years growing up (yes, I’m so Asian). I literally did not want to do it. I wasn’t really sold on the idea, but as I got more and more into it, it became a lot more fun. We were writing songs, traveling, and doing shows; it was all very exciting. Sadly, it took me away from acting for about three years. We got signed to Columbia Records, did some reality show stuff, and it was a great learning experience; but the whole three years, I knew something wasn’t right. I knew I had to go back and take what I was given and make the most of the situation I was given, which was good for me as a person and my self-confidence.
After that whole thing, I went back to acting and haven’t looked back since. I did the iCarly movie, which was unforgettable –I love big, sketch comedy type of work and got to work with big bro Harry Shum Jr.. We played evil brother and sister duo, Kyoko and Yuki. I did Bones after that, which was a totally random thing. They were looking for a man or woman, and I don’t know how they ended up with me. I went in and I knew the character was androgynous, so I darkened my eyebrows, wore a baggy outfit, and I guess it worked. Step Up 3D was another super random thing; it was a small part, but the meeting was random. I booked a job where I was performing something from the writer of the Vagina Monologues and we were performing at the TED conference. I did this whole thing about being a factory worker in Asia and [Jon Chu] was there in the audience with LXD. When the time and the role came around, they were like, “Jon Chu would like to meet with you.” He met with a few actresses and ended up giving me this little role. I will forever be grateful for Jon because it was the first time I had been in a big theatrical movie like that. I took my whole family to the Arclight and they were so in awe with their 3D glasses and all. It was one of those defining moments for me.
OA: Between all these guest-starring roles, are you happy to be auditioning and auditioning?
AM: It’s funny how it’s always the same thing–you get a job and then you’re back to square one, back in the game. Got to get that next job. It does get a little easier over the years, but I love the adrenaline rush of auditions.
OA: Where there any bumps along the way?
AM: I always have this term I refer to, I call it “post-partum audition.” It’s this feeling that I’ll get before an audition where there’s an adrenaline rush and I’m so pumped up. Then you do the audition and you have this feeling of an immediate let down. I would compare it to that feeling after you go to Disneyland; the disappointment that the fantasy is over. I’ve been auditioning for so many years that I grew up feeling that. I think people who come out here who are older sometimes have a harder time because if you haven’t grown up with that amount of rejection like I did when I was younger, it’s much harder. I think I’ve grown a tough skin over the years that I’ve been out here.
OA: Any examples? How did you get over them or what motivated you?
AM: There was one movie that I really wanted to do which was shooting in Thailand and I thought it was going to be the next Oscar award-winning movie. I was on hold for a month. It’s a terrible amount of time – not knowing if you’re going to get a job, you just have to let the feeling go. I heard that they cast someone in Thailand, but it’s like that instant kind of punch to your gut. It almost knocks the wind out of you every time. You start to question yourself and what you’re doing: if you’re doing enough or too much. But you have to stay grounded and remember that there’s only one person in the town who’s going to get the job. There are so many factors that go into it, whether it is your ethnicity or your height. I try to remember that nothing’s personal and that it only takes that one job to really skyrocket you. That’s what I love about this town—one day you can be at one level and, the next day, a phone call can change your life… It’s a rollercoaster.
OA: You’ve played some interesting roles, what goes into creating these characters?
AM: I always draw a little bit of myself because when it comes down to it, I am me. As for different characters, I feel like it’s always good to watch people and their quirks. I’ve always been someone who does the listening. I’ve never been one to dominate a conversation. I’ve always been the one sitting there, thinking quietly in my head. It helps a lot. I’ve always been the chameleon in that I can imitate whatever I see in my own way, which is always helpful. I like to draw a lot of me and then the rest is from experiences or people I’ve met along the way. Even one little thing, you can interpret in your own unique way. Maybe no one else sees it; it’s your own interpretation of people. I feel like the way that I play a character will be so different from anyone else who plays it.
OA: Were there any roles that were challenging for you?
AM: Probably Dr. Tanaka from Bones – it was one of those auditions where I was like, “Ok, I guess I’ll go.” But then when I got it, I said, “Ok, what do I do now?” I didn’t even think I would get a callback, so it was completely unexpected. The development of the character was a lot of me, but at the same time, the producers were really particular in what they wanted. I had a hair and make-up test that was all day long, where they were trying different things. What it ended up becoming was never what we started with, so there was a process getting there. I was really happy with the way it came out. That was definitely a hard character to get in the mindset of. I didn’t grow up in Japan, but I am Japanese American so I felt that I had to study up on their culture, their mannerisms. She had to be non-emotional, and everything was an equation to her. If you know me, you know that I’m pretty opposite – I’m crazy, emotional and sarcastic.
OA: You are one of the few Asian American actresses immersed in mainstream media. What’s the current scene like in Hollywood and are you going for Asian-specific roles or other opportunities?
AM: I think it’s getting a lot better for Asians and Asian-American females in particular. From where I started to now, I definitely see a vast improvement. As for auditioning, there are always those roles that are specifically Asian and I still think that they are sometimes very stereotypical. It has been getting better with shows like Hawaii Five-O and Nikita and I recently saw a show about a Chinese detective; so it’s the first time that they are putting backing behind an Asian American, which is great. My agent and manager are amazing–they try to push for all ethnicities as much as they can. It’s my job to go in there and prove that it doesn’t always have to be Caucasian, or what you would normally think to cast. I don’t always have to go in with glasses anymore, which I had to do a lot before. Everyone’s becoming much more open-minded.
OA: You’re pretty secretive about your age. Would you say that age discrimination is a big thing when you’re going out for roles?
AM: Yes, absolutely. It’s more like knowing a secret before you know them. It kind of ruins the magic or illusion of it. Let’s say I’m going in for a role that’s sixteen and they know that I’m not, they would already look at me and look for things about me that are older. Or if I’m going in for an older role, they’ll go in thinking with preconceived notions or my immaturity. We’re actors and we’re supposed to do a range of things. And thankfully I’m Asian, so you can’t really tell. But it’s not like I’m 30 and I’m definitely not 16–I’m between 16 and 30. I’m in this weird place, to quote Britney Spears, “I’m not a girl, not quite yet a woman.” Hah.
OA: We read that the role Dawn was only supposed to have be in a few episodes, but that involved to be a man recurring character. What was that process like and does that often happen for TV?
AM: It does, especially if you are in a pilot and you’re establishing yourself as a character in the beginning. But it was a unique situation in that I was going out for the role of Chastity, who was the mean girl. The creator of the show really liked me, but the network wanted something different. He called my agent and said that he loved me, but wanted me to do this other role in the pilot. You never know if things are going to come through or not, but it did and I ended up shooting the pilot with about two lines. We finally got picked up and he brought me back almost every episode after. Carter Covington I LOVE YOU. The cast, we all got along so well and I was just being myself on set – I’m very quirky and kind of bubbly. I would hang out with the writers, and I think Dawn became who she was because of them getting to know me – it was their genius mixed with a little of my own personality shining through. That’s just the blessing of being with people who are amazing and who you get along with. It was probably one of the best experiences of my life, being on that show; I couldn’t imagine being Chastity because Dawn was just Dawn.
OA: While your industry is definitely a type of art, there’s also a business side to it – do you have any advice for aspiring actors and actresses to the business side of it?
AM: Yeah, absolutely. I think just knowing what your niche is and what you want to accomplish is important. At the end of the day, it’s about money and branding yourself. I didn’t know who I was for a long time. The more you kind of find yourself – it was kind of an “Ah ha” moment for me, where something clicked in my brain of what I wanted to do and that was comedy. It’s actually a funny story. My best friends, Colton and David, before them, I was nowhere who I am now. They brought out every aspect of my silly, creative side and literally stripped me of my shell. I had no choice. They would just laugh hysterically at everything I said and did, make fun of me and tell everyone stories about how ridiculous I was. After awhile I started to realize, “Well crap, I guess I am sort of funny!” I never kind of owned that; I always wanted to put the attention on someone else. They brought out everything that was silly about me, everything that I am now I guess, and I really owe that to them. After becoming friends with them and my confidence came alive, I became this ballsy girl that I am now and am always doing these characters or interpretations of people. I was never like that before. It’s interesting how certain people can guide you where to be and help you find out who you are–that was them. From that moment, it kind of sparked. I knew I needed to be doing comedy and be on a multi-camera sitcom or doing something like Bridesmaids. I really knew what I wanted to do, and I’m not going to limit myself to what I do, but it’s important to find what you really love. Honing in and focusing on what you love is really important; it makes you feel great about yourself and your craft. It makes you feel like you’re going somewhere and defining yourself as an actress. I always say I learn the most through experience. I can sit in class all day long, but unless I am actually living, breathing that character, I’m not learning anything or growing. I would tell everyone out there to make your own stuff; putting all these feelers out there in the best way you can. One of them will definitely stick.
OA: We also noticed that you worked with Harry Shum, Arden Cho, and Wong Fu Productions who have all dabbled in online media. Since you come from a more traditional entertainment industry, what is your take on the online media movement and we can look forward to any upcoming projects with you?
AM: I love it. I feel like it’s such a freeing experience, such an amazing way to get yourself out there, and also be creative and do what you want to do. I loved working with Wong Fu, they’re such a great group of guys and I hope to work more with them in the future. Also, three other Asian girls in the industry and I are launching a comedy female YouTube channel in the next month or two. Look out for this, it’s going to be amazing. We’ve been collaborating and coming up with ideas and characters. I think it’s really good to see comedy from an Asian girl’s perspective. It’s the girl’s turn to speak back. I think it’s a great medium, even if it’s for your own creative spirit or soul. It’s really important as an actress because you never really get to do that; it’s always on someone elses terms, through someone else’s eyes. YouTube has brought back imagination and fairytale.
OA: What does it mean to be Asian American to you?
AM: I’ve always really appreciated being Asian American. I think it has given me that unique feeling of always looking different from my friends. I grew up in a relatively Caucasian, suburbia area, and I reveled in it because I liked being the one who looked different. Most girls would say they didn’t like it, but I actually think you can find ways to make it work to your advantage. It doesn’t have to be a negative thing. Looking different is usually a great thing; it’s like making cookies, your eyes are always naturally drawn to the one that’s different as opposed to the ones that are all the same. I think once you realize that, you can really be who you are and go from there. I’ve always thought that being Asian is such a beautiful thing and I think that everyone should look at it that way. Look at all the things over the years that Asians have done and really be proud of it and own it. It doesn’t mean you have to be smart, nerdy, quiet or shy–just be whoever you want to be and that’s enough.
OA: Do you have any words of wisdom for people who want to go into acting?
AM: Just never give up. Giving up is the only thing that will stand in your way of succeeding. If it’s something you love, it will never go away. You will always have that passion and drive. My mom has always said your time will come; everyone has their time. There are so many factors that go into it; if you stay true to who you are and what you love, it will all come back to you in the end in the most rewarding of ways.
OA: How to stalk Ally Maki
Photography by Melly Lee
Tags // 10 things i hate about you, actress, ally maki, Ally Maki Matsumura, arden cho, asian american, bones, harry shum jr, iCarly, japanese, music high, my wife and kids, step up 3d, that's so raven, the valli girls, wongfuproductions
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