Emily Kuroda is an actor, writer, and producer based in Los Angeles!! Since her humble beginnings at East West Players, she has run the gamut from stage to screen, acting in TV shows like “Gilmore Girls” and “The Good Doctor” to new works like “Endlings,” a play about the henyos in Korea, which she had performed in Boston right before the shutdown this year. Keep reading to find out more about what makes Emily an Amazing Asian in the Arts!
Name: Emily Kuroda
Hometown: Fresno, CA
Current City: Los Angeles, CA
Lots of different virtual readings and workshops. I was supposed to do a TV show that was shooting in South Africa before Covid cancelled it.
What are some of your favorite credits/projects?
I was doing a play called Endlings at the New York Theatre Workshops. It’s one of my favorite plays. I did it once before in Boston in the dead of winter! It’s a play about the henyos, the Korean women (most of them are older, in their 50’s or their 80’s!), that are sea farmers. Every morning they work 7 days a week as the weather permits, and they farm the sea. The boat comes in at the end of the day to buy their stuff. They live in little shacks. And the reason that they’re mostly older is because they pinch and bend every nickel so their children can get out of there! So their children go to college in places like England and other Western countries, and very few henyos are left under the age of 50. Our director and producer actually went to Korea and hung out with the henyos there, and we had some of their actual wet suits on our set! It was a nice exploration into that part of the world that I wasn’t familiar with before. We had a pool on stage, it was like a fish tank, and I went in and out of the pool 5 times per show, and did the show sopping wet!
Do you have any favorite moments in your career that you’d like to share?
I did a lot of theater, and those are all my favorites lol
As far as film I did American Geisha, where we shot in Kyoto and we were dressed by real geisha Japanese dressers, and it was based on a book about a Caucasian lady, the only one ever at that time that was allowed to join a geisha house, so the movie of the week was about that. We all went over to Japan and were trained by the real geishas, and we were privy to a lot of things that the public was not privy to. We got to go to their actual wigmaker’s huts and some geisha parties for businessmen. It was a very magical experience for me.
I also did a series called Gung Ho on ABC. We only lasted 1 season so no one ever remembers it ha ha ha
Cambodian Rock Band. I was in NY in Jan through March, and we had 5 kick ass shows, Asian Americans did. And we were getting great reviews and sold out houses. It was the first time I’d ever seen this. Usually there’s one Asian show that does really well and it’s a fluke. The rest of the time we’re in little closets playing to 40 people and nobody comes. So it was like “OH! Our day finally came!” and we were so happy! Then the pandemic closed us down.
Any advice for young people getting into the arts?
It’s just something to do. It’s not you. I think more of you comes from your family, your history, your family’s history. Your grandparents and great grandparents. Study them. Talk to them while you can. That’s where your power comes from. Go to college. Learn, read. Read books. I know for an actor, people go “I want to be on a tv show. I want to do commercials.” Well I hate to tell you but those kind of actors that don’t read and all they care about is how they look. They don’t last. The people who last are the ones who are not so egocentric. Who can listen to other people who can learn by watching who have empathy. Those are the people who last. Those are the people who can really do their art. The other people usually are just temporary little celebrities who don’t last. Then they become terribly unhappy because they become old and then they feel like that’s the worst thing in the world to happen to them, because they have no core. They haven’t worked on themselves, on their soul, and they end up paying for it down the line. So I caution young people not to go there and always be aware of your friends and your family and your history and the world around you. Not just the art, but the world around you because your art is a reflection of the world as well. I have always admired people who didn’t sell out for the money or compromise their beliefs. I was talking to John Cho, and this was when he drove this little red Toyota with a coat hanger antennae lol He had just started working and he was teaching English and I said “John, what if you’re poor and you need a new car?” and he said “I can teach or scoop ice cream. I will never, never compromise my beliefs for money. No,” and he never, never did. Do not compromise. He didn’t say it’s because I’m going to be a star. He just said “I would rather wash dishes.” You don’t need that much, really. I guess in LA you do because rents are so high lol When I started I was working 2 jobs and doing every show at EWP and I was so happy. And even now, I remember one time my agent called and said they want to give you a guest star spot on some big sitcom, but I had promised a friend that I was going to do a reading of a play for free, so I said no, I gave my word on this play. But my agents are used to me so they said ok . But you can’t go wrong if you follow your instincts.
Do you have any organizations or nonprofits you work with you’d like to highlight?
East West Players. All the theaters. Right now all the organizations that are feeding the hungry. With all this going on that there’s a lot of families that don’t have dinner on their table. I would like to remind everyone let’s not forget that there are a lot of people that are hungry. I do a lot for them.
How did you get your start?
I was very shy and I didn’t talk all through grade school. In high school there was a class called Oral Interp where we would say monologues and stuff, and I really liked that, so I started talking only doing that. Then for some reason I went into theater, but because I was Asian I could only direct, or if I was in it I could only be a chorus member, so I directed in high school and then I went into drama in college, and they told me I would have to teach because, come on, let’s get real. So I was getting my secondary credential and East West Players were at the student union and I happened to see them and I thought “Oh, they lied to me!” I talked to them and they said “Yeah, you can act and also be Asian” so that summer I went to EWP and signed up for their summer workshop. Then I auditioned for their fall show I got into that, then I ended up doing almost every single show for the next 5 years. I took every single class and I just stayed. And the people that I met there in 1978 are still my best friends in the world.
Interesting facts about yourself?
I have 2 cats
My husband is an actor. He used to direct, but now he’s an actor. It’s easier LOL
Did you always want to be in the arts or did you have another path before you got here?
I always wanted to be in the arts. I used to play the violin (not well). I was in a quartet and in the orchestra, and you know when everything works and your spine tingles? It’s like “OH! I want to do this again!” It doesn’t happen all the time (at least not the groups I was in) but it’s the same with theater or any kind of art I suppose, where all of a sudden you lose yourself and you soar. It’s the best high in the world, and it happened early on for me in orchestra before I found theater. But I always wanted to get that feeling again so that’s what I’ve been striving for. A lot of people don’t understand it unless they’ve experienced it. They think you want it for the fame or the money or the adventure. Mako, who was my first acting teacher, said “if there is anything else you could possibly do in your life, do it. I wouldn’t wish this lifestyle on my kids, this uncertainty.”
I came to an odd little turn about 10 years ago where I used to hate teaching because I’m really shy and I’m not good with people. But all of a sudden EWP asked me to teach, and I started enjoying it. Working with young people that have talent, it’s exciting! John Cho was one of my “kids.” I knew him when he was an English major at Berkeley. Once you really connect with a student, it’s really gratifying. You changed something. By changing that person you have changed the world.
Did you have any mentors?
Mako. He was one of the founders of EWP.
Who do you admire?
No one and everyone LOL
Were your parents in the arts and do you see any parts of your parents in yourself?
No, My dad was a farmer. He wanted to be a doctor. He was going to Stanford, then the war hit and they were relocated and they lost everything. They were in the Poston Interment Camp in Arizona. Then he joined military intelligence because he spoke Japanese. He decoded Japanese signals in India. When he got back it was such a racist world that he just became a vegetable farmer. He met my mother in Tokyo before she came over. But it was just not a Japanese friendly world after WW2, so my dad was planting vegetables and he had to work 24/7 and my mother worked in a sewing shop. I started working when I was 14, me and my 2 brothers. If we wanted money we had to work for it.
I think I’m more like my mom than my dad, but it’s mostly just I love organizing. And we both love Costco. Must be an Asian lady thing!
Do you have any other “special skills?”
I’m really boring. I’m like a jack of all trades, master of none!
Did you ever have an odd jobs?
I was a framer. I worked in a framing shop so I framed. I’ve been a waitress. I was a house cleaner but I only lasted one day. I was a car hop (not the kind on roller skates!). And when I was at EWP I did publicity. I’ve been a photographer. Done some writing, producing.
Do you have any special skills?
Probably nothing. I don’t have a lot of special skills, and I have more limitations than anything!
What have you found challenging in your career?
The problem is every 10 years I’ll do an Asian show, and they’ll go “oh that doesn’t sell” then they don’t do it anymore except for recently with the success of Fresh Off The Boat, so I’m hoping that breaks a cycle that lasted for decades. First there was Pat Morita’s show, years passed then there was us (Gung Ho), then a decade passed, then Margaret Cho’s show All American Girl, then nothing, because it didn’t sell. The next one I think was Fresh Off The Boat. Then Ken Jeong’s show Dr. Ken that lasted 2 seasons. It’s also very difficult, I think, and I don’t know if this has anything to do with the longevity of Asian shows or movies, but, Asians just criticize each other’s shows. Like Mulan. They’re like don’t watch! Let’s boycott! Now, granted, there’s a lot of white people involved, but they said let’s put all this money into a blockbuster movie (I hope) and hire all my friends, so there’s a give and take there, but pisses me off because we can’t even applaud them and go ok, next time we’ll do it better. Next time we’ll be a little more culturally sensitive. It happened with All American Girl too. The same thing happened and people were picketing and boycotting and she said “give me a break!” I don’t know if that had anything to do with the fact that there are so few Asian projects.
Where did you study at?
What skills did you find to be the most helpful in your career?
I like people. I would categorize myself as socially inept. I’m not good in social situations, but I like watching people, and it gives me great joy sometimes.
What helped you most to rebound from what you considered your biggest failure or mistake in your career?
I didn’t really have any. Except the time my phone went off during takes on “The Good Doctor.” Twice. THAT was a failure. By the time I left they hated me. That was a mistake! But aside from that, I can’t think of anything, because even when I fail and I’m bad, I still learn something. You don’t get any better unless you’re bad every once in a while. If you’re not bad, then you’re safe. And boring.
What made you take the leap from acting to writing or directing, and how did it change your way of thinking?
When you’re an actor and you forget a line, you think it’s the end of the world. On the other side of the table, it doesn’t mean anything. It’s fine!! You’re looking for a quality, an honesty, a passion. So you mess up your lines. You’ll get better.
What inspires you?
When you’re looking at new projects, what do you look for that catches your eye?
I saw yes to everything. I don’t even read it. And only twice have I had to say “Uh, I’m sorry. I can’t do this.” LOL And I’m like, old, so.
To find out more about Emily, please visit her at:
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