Francesca Calo is a performer and voice actress based in NYC! As the child of parents in the film industry, she grew up watching their projects unfold. After her father enrolled her in acting classes at The Academy of Dramatic Arts, Calo developed an interest in the Arts and pursued her craft professionally by studying at the New York Stage and Film/Powerhouse Program, and Moscow Art Theater, later graduating with a BFA from Vassar College. Her work includes starring along Sandra Bullock in Ocean’s 8, Mare of Easttown with Kate Winslet, Cheng Chen in Seven Knights 2, and Pokemon: Sun and Moon! Aside from performing, Calo has studied Tae Kwon Do since kindergarten to become a practicing 2nd Degree Black Belt, loves baking and learning languages (and can speak conversational Spanish and Japanese!) enjoys Wasabi Kit Kats and TTRPG (like Dungeons and Dragons). The 3 takeaways she has for young artists? “ Take classes and learn as much as you can in the fields you are interested in, even if it has nothing to do with the arts. Everyday life feeds into your artistic and creative worlds as well, so the more you explore, the more you live your life. Remember to thank those who helped you, and be kind to everyone on set, in the studio, etc.” Read on to learn more about Francesca Calo and what makes her an Amazing Asian in the Arts!
Name: Francesca Calo
Heritage: Chinese and Spanish
Hometown: New York City
Current City: New York City
Current project: Cheng Chen in Seven Knights 2
What are some of your favorite credits/projects:
I had a small role in Ocean’s 8, alongside Sandra Bullock which was a highlight of my career because I got to work with her one on one. I also worked on Mare of Easttown with Kate Winslet as a reporter, which was like a masterclass on acting. As a kid, I used to wake up every Saturday morning to watch Pokemon, so getting to be a part of Pokemon: Sun and Moon was such a dream come true. Other favorite projects include the video games Warframe, Wasteland 3, and the latest one that came out November 30th, Seven Knights 2.
Any advice for young people getting into the arts?
Take classes and learn as much as you can in the fields you are interested in, even if it has nothing to do with the arts. Everyday life feeds into your artistic and creative worlds as well, so the more you explore, the more you live your life, the more you allow things and people to enter into your lives, the more you will have to draw on. Also, I think that the arts are romanticized in some way by places like Hollywood, conventions, or what you see online. All you see is the red carpet, the glamour, the success of those people. But what you don’t see is the work that went into all of it, the training, the years of denials and rejections. It’s not an easy journey, and should you choose to follow this path, it’s one that takes a lifetime to master. Everyone is always learning and always changing. It’s part of what makes this life so exciting, but also so scary because you are constantly evolving. So be open to that, and remember that grace and gratitude go a long way. Everyone is replaceable. Remember to thank those who helped you, and be kind to everyone on set, in the studio, etc.
How did you get your start?
I was fortunate in that both of my parents are in the film industry. My mother is a Production Coordinator who has worked on films such as Ghostbusters II, Mickey Blue Eyes, Hustle & Flow, Uncut Gems, and more. My father is a writer, producer, and director, who has worked on films like The Believer, The Cookout, Ghostbusters II, and Here and There, so, I grew up around the industry and was always interested in it. However, I was extremely shy and clingy to friends as a young kid, so my father decided to put me into acting classes at one of his Alma Maters, The Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York when I was seven. It was an amazing professional acting program: we took acting, scene study, movement, voice, singing lessons, and it opened me up completely. I continued to study acting at various summer programs as a child, and throughout my career, until eventually, and fortunately, it began to turn into a profession.
Do you have any favorite moments in your career that you'd like to share?
Working on Ocean’s 8 was a real highlight of my career. It was the first time I had a Principal role on a film set, and to be a part of such an amazing cast, amongst so many talented women that I looked up to as actors, was exhilarating. I had the opportunity to play the maid Sandra Bullock encounters in the beginning of the film, when she manages to get her way into the Plaza Hotel. It was just me and her in the scene, and we shot that on a closed set (meaning only crew and cast were allowed). They had recreated a hallway and room in the Plaza Hotel on a studio lot, and it was incredible to walk in and feel the energy and excitement of the room. Working across from Sandra Bullock was so incredible. I also got the chance to go to another lot and watch Cate Blanchett work as well. I learned so much from watching them. I had a small part, but I’ll remember it always.
What have you found is the biggest challenge in your career?
I think everyone in the arts struggles with this, but the downtimes in between jobs is always harrowing. There are waves where you’ll be booking and working a lot, and then the next thing you know, you won’t have anything on the schedule for months. Coming to terms with that pattern and not letting it get to me too much is always a challenge. It can be disheartening, scary, and depressing, and it makes you question your skills and your passion. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked myself, “Is this really what I want to do with my life?” to which the answer is always an unwavering, “Yes. It is.” The industry is slow, tiring, filled with more rejections than successes, and the downtime between jobs can be torture. But when the good stuff comes, boy does it outweigh it all.
Another challenge I found myself examining, especially in the past year, is what it means to be a diverse artist. I’m half Chinese and half Spanish, and there are times where casting directors have asked, “So, what exactly are you?” Or times where I felt I wasn’t Asian or Hispanic enough, or put myself down because I wasn’t a size 2, or don’t have perfect skin. It all comes down to how the industry is perceived, and what has been the norm for decades, but I do believe that we’re at a turning point when it comes to diversity of all types in shows. It’s a conversation that we’re all still having and learning to navigate, but there’s still a lot of work we as an industry have to do. I’m still figuring out how to traverse it and my own insecurities myself, but I’ve also accepted who I am and realize that, in reality, everything that makes me different, is what ultimately makes me unique as well.
What are some interesting facts about yourself?
I’ve studied Tae Kwon Do since I was in Kindergarten and am a practicing 2nd Degree Black Belt. I am also an avid baker and love learning languages. I am conversational in Spanish and Japanese. I also was a classically trained actor, where all my studies were revolved around Chekov and Shakespeare. One of my favorite Kit Kat flavors is Wasabi Kit Kats (I will accept all offerings). I also love TTRPGs such as Dungeons and Dragons and hoard many dice.
Who do you admire?
Mark Rylance for his masterful skills of text and conveying subtext, Michelle Yeoh for her beauty, grace, and power in her stunt work, Michael Mann for his directing, Laura Bailey for her command of voice and performance capture work, and my mother and father for everything they do.
Do you have any mentors?
Yes! I will be forever grateful to Erica Schroeder (voice of Eevee in Pokemon, Mai Valentine in Yu Gi Oh, Miss Buckin in One Piece, and so many more), for mentoring me in the world of voice over. I owe so much to her. I wouldn’t be where I am today without her, and I’m so glad to be able to call her a colleague and dear friend now.
Victoria Atkin has been my mentor for motion and performance capture, and it’s a genre that I deeply fell in love with because it encompasses everything I love: theater, film, voice over, and revolves around pure imagination. Everything is possible in the volume, and I’m so grateful to have met her.
My father and mother have been mentors to me in the industry since the beginning, and have been supportive ever since I decided I wanted to be an actor, and now as I also move into other areas of the industry, such as directing and producing. I wouldn’t be here without them.
Did you always want to be in the arts or did you have another path before you got here?
I think subconsciously I did always want to be in the arts, but I also pushed back against it as well. In school, I was always drawn to the more “creative” classes such as English, art, and theater, so I always embraced it. But at the same time, I knew how hard it was to pursue a life in the arts. I would watch my parents work long hours, sometimes coming home at 3 AM only to turn back around at 6 AM for the next day’s shoot. I saw the struggle they faced when they didn’t have a new job lined up, and the worry that came with it. So even though I continued to feel myself being pulled towards the arts, and continued to pursue it in school and during the summer, there was always a part of me that was trying to find a way out or a backup in case things didn’t work out. It took me a long time to admit to myself that acting is what I wanted to do for a living.
When did you know you wanted to have a career in the arts?
I had an epiphany moment in a movie theater, watching Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II oddly enough. I was in my Sophomore year of college, and struggling constantly against the idea of being an actor despite my continuing to take classes in it and an overwhelming pull towards it. It was the moment when Harry goes into the Forbidden Forest to die (spoiler alert, I guess?), and he meets his parents and other loved ones there. He asks Gary Oldman’s character if Voldemort will be able to see them, and Oldman points to his chest and says, “No. We’re here, you see.” It was such a simple and impactful moment, I remember feeling like I had been struck in the chest, and I finally said, “I want to do that. I want to be an actor.” I think I cried. I probably did. Once I embraced it, I could feel the chains of my doubts slipping away, and I never looked back.
Did you have any interesting “odd jobs” you worked at between gigs to pay the bills?
Oh boy, I’ve had so many odd jobs. I worked at a celebrity podiatrist office, which was an experience to say the least. I’ve worked in a lawyer’s office as a legal aide, many administration jobs, and did extra work on film sets just to get some money in my account. Recently, my “odd jobs” have become more and more involved in the industry itself, which I prefer greatly. I love all aspects of the entertainment industry, and learning about different areas of it.
If you could go back in time, what would you tell your younger self?
Not to worry so much. To remember to take breaks and live your life. That everyone is in the same boat and it’s okay. To not judge yourself too much, and don’t worry so much about the grades. Take risks. Have fun. I would also say, “Get on stage with the magician.”
What skills did you find to be the most helpful in your career?
Everything. I think everything I’ve learned and continue to learn has helped me in some aspect of my career. Learning Japanese has helped me with my production work on Anime because I can understand what the original actors are saying. Martial arts helped me with stamina, discipline, and performance capture. Theater definitely helped me in terms of acting because theater is where you learn scene study, breathing technique, working in front of people, etc. I’m still working on developing new skills and take classes all the time, and each one I do take is just another addition to my arsenal.
Where did you study at?
I studied theater at The Academy of Dramatic Arts when I was about 7, then places like New York Stage and Film/Powerhouse Program, and the Moscow Art Theater. I graduated with a BFA from Vassar College.
What is your greatest accomplishment?
I’m really proud of the fact that most of my days are filled with working as an actor, or in some other aspect of the industry. So much of my work increased thanks to remote recording during the pandemic, and so many more doors opened up to me because studios and directors were willing to take a chance on people outside their normal rosters. Because of that, I was able to work on projects across the world, and on titles that I admired and loved. I’m grateful that they were willing to do that, and I hope that continues as we start to open back up again.
What are some goals you hope to achieve?
I would LOVE to do full performance capture for a AAA video game title. That is my ultimate goal right now. More video games in general, as it’s my favorite genre to work in. I’d also love a recurring character on a TV show, and to do more film in general. Another life goal is to become fluent in Japanese, and continue to learn more languages.
What do you love most about what you do?
I love that every day we essentially get to play. What’s great about voice over in particular is that you can be ANYTHING. I’ve played mermaids, young boys, fearless warriors, robots… the possibilities are endless, and there are no restrictions on what can be done. It doesn’t matter what you look like, what your hair color is, what weight you are, etc. You have the opportunity to transform into anything, and that is incredibly freeing.
Do you have any self care practices you do to stay focused and sane? What was your self care routine before the pandemic and how has that (as well as your views of self care) changed throughout the pandemic?
Oh, good question. Because of the pandemic, I realized that I have trouble staying still. I always need to be busy or working on some aspect in the industry, or else I start to get listless. I’m learning how to control that, and actually, saying “no” to things has been a big help. Realizing that I don’t need to be doing everything, or that it’s okay if I don’t always send in everything, has been a great lesson for me. More and more, I’m learning how to just take time to myself. I’ve faced burnout before, and it can be daunting and depressing, so I’m always aware of watching my personal limits. It helps that I also have friends who aren’t in the industry as well, so I’m not surrounded by it 24/7. I try not to engage on my phone as much as possible on weekends. I’ll go on walks without it, or I’ll make sure to spend some time doing something that I want to do just for me, such as playing a video game or reading. This is a little indulgent, but I love massages, so occasionally I will treat myself to one when I can.
If you’ve crossed the table from performing to being on a creative team, what made you take the leap, and how did it change your way of thinking?
I think there can be a stigma in the industry that If you’re not ONLY working full time as an actor, then it means you aren’t truly one. Which I think is ridiculous. People need to eat, to survive, and they should do what they need to do without judgement. And, in reality, exploring other areas actually helps your craft. I found that learning the behind the scenes process on how our favorite shows get made, or directing an anime, or even just learning what adaptors do, has really helped my own process in terms of acting. When I’m dubbing, I can see things more clearly on the technical side, as well as story wise of where the character needs to be for the story arc to make sense. I also had the opportunity to help produce and cast a project, and even just listening to auditions gave me a better understanding of what makes someone stand out from the pile, or what I personally need to work on in different genres. I think every actor should also take up a position on a set or work production at some point, because it humbles you. It makes you appreciate all of the work that goes into a project, and the time that other people are putting into it long before and after an actor is even brought into the mix.
If you could name one point in time when everything changed for you, what was it?
When I was in first grade, my parents took me and a bunch of my friends to a magician’s show on Broadway for my birthday. We had front row seats, and it was truly spectacular. At one point the magician announced that he would need help with a trick, and if anyone from the audience would like to help him. Of course, all the hands shot up around me, but he ignored them all and came straight down to where I was sitting. He extended his hand and asked if I wanted to go on stage with him. I was shy, and pretended to think, and ultimately shook my head “no.” He asked, “Are you sure?” I pretended to think again, and said no again. He moved on and chose someone else. I turned to my friend sitting next to me and said as an excuse, “The seats are comfortable.” I’ve always regretted that moment, but it was impactful. Whenever I am faced with an opportunity that I’m wavering on, I always ask, “Is this a magician moment?” because I don’t want to lose anything due to fear or laziness. I don’t want to be in a situation where I’ll regret not trying or not doing something later in life, or always have the burning question of “What if I had done that?” It was a hard lesson learned early on, and has shaped me in many ways.
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