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February 04, 2023 12 min read

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Joanne Chew is an actress based in LA. Acting began as something to get her a few extra credits to graduate high school with, and became a full-time passion at 17. After several masterclasses and auditions (and between stints as a waitress, admin assistant, and chicken mascot), she’s gone on to work Street Kings (with Keanu Reeves!), Showtime's ShamelessThe Hangry Dead, and most recently, the crime thriller, Dead Wrong. Chew finds inspiration from the human spirit, naming it a contributing factor for her involvement in the industry, valuing the vulnerability performance allows her to encompass. Offscreen, Chew is a huge supporter of her friends behind advocacy groups, such as Black Women Lead, Hire Survivors Hollywood, and Artists for Trauma.Her advice to young artists? “Trust that wherever you are, there is unlimited potential to improve. Don't be afraid. Just start.” Read on to learn more about Joanne Chew and what makes her an Amazing Asian in the Arts! 


Name:    Joanne Chew


Heritage:   Chinese American


Hometown:   San Francisco, CA


Current City:   Los Angeles, CA


Current project:   A crime thriller, Dead Wrong, directed by Rick Bieber. We had a preliminary cast & crew screening recently and I loved it. I can't wait for everyone to see it. I've also got several art shows in the works.


What are some of your favorite credits/projects:


It's really hard to say! I learn so much working on each project, not just about acting and all of the business aspects, but about myself, and of life in general. Even if some of the lessons were hard to learn, it's really helped me stand my ground and stay true to myself. It's definitely really different from my experiences working at more conventional jobs. 


Any advice for young people getting into the arts? 


Don't be ashamed if you feel like a total newbie fish out of water, and don't be intimidated by those who are more experienced. We've all got to start somewhere. Passion, drive, and the desire to learn will carry you far. Trust that wherever you are, there is unlimited potential to improve. Don't be afraid. Just start.


How did you get your start? 


I took my first acting class in high school because I needed a couple extra credits to graduate, and a friend told me it would be "fun." I really struggled to find my place during my teen years (who didn't?), and that class really piqued my curiosity. I was still 17 when I graduated, and I heard about an open call for more acting workshops in San Francisco. I convinced my mom to take me, and from there I started auditioning for local projects, like music videos and indie shorts. I loved being on set. I think at the time, my parents assumed it was a phase and to let me "have my fun," but I kept getting more and more hooked. I begged them to send me to a three week intensive in LA where we would get to meet with a bunch of casting directors and perform monologues for agents. It was an intense schedule and gave us all a taste of what pursuing an actual career in Hollywood would be like. I think my parents were secretly hoping I would be traumatized and give it up. A few of the actors in our group scored meetings with agents. I didn't. I cried on the phone to my parents, and they asked, "Do you want to come home now?"


"NO!"


They weren't about to let me move to LA on my own to be an actress when I had barely turned 18, but at that point I knew that was ultimately where I would wind up. 


Do you have any favorite moments in your career that you'd like to share? 


Getting to work with Keanu Reeves in Street Kings, hands down!! It was the first studio feature I booked when I first came to LA. I was sleeping on an air mattress on the floor and I used the money I made from that film to buy my first proper LA bed. It was the first time I had a trailer, my own stand-in, and of course, having a scene with Keanu. Everything you hear about him being one of the nicest guys to ever exist is 100% true. David Ayer, who directed the film, was absolutely brilliant.


Working on Showtime's Shameless was also amazing. It was one of the first audition tapes I'd sent in in late 2020 when things were slowly coming back from being shut down because of the pandemic. Normally, casting for TV shows moves pretty quickly, but because we hit another scary surge that winter, production was delayed again. I found out I was pinned shortly after the New Year in 2021, production resumed a couple weeks later, and we shot on February 1st. I got to see firsthand how quickly and seamlessly the industry adapted to working around the pandemic. I got sent to Warner Brothers Studios twice the week beforehand to get tested, and I was tested two more times on set before getting sent to hair and makeup. I remember jumping up and down in my trailer when my final tests came back and I was cleared to officially work. The set was amazing. Everyone was so kind. My scene was with Noel Fisher, who is the friendliest and most down-to-earth guy, which is the total opposite of his character on the show. I remember in between takes he was talking about how grateful he was to be a part of such an amazing show even though his character was one of the most popular amongst the fans. Anthony Hardwick directed the episode I got to be in, which was also incredible. He's directed so many episodes of some of the top shows on TV.


Whenever I'm feeling down, doubting myself, or doubting my career, I think about these two jobs in particular. One I booked at the very beginning, and the other happened during a time when I was wondering if we would ever truly bounce back from the world virtually shutting down for a few months. No more doubt. Just hang in there. I'm exactly where I'm meant to be.


What have you found is the biggest challenge in your career?


It sounds incredibly simple, but it's taken all this time for me to feel like I'm finally starting to embody it: not doubting or second guessing myself if I go through a dry spell of not booking projects. They are inevitable for EVERY actor and they don't last forever. It's only human to be disheartened and discouraged because we put so much of ourselves into our auditions, managing our careers, and  constantly putting ourselves out there. It's a very vulnerable place to be in, and it's all too easy to spiral and feel like we're not good enough.


Don't get me wrong, there will ALWAYS be room for improvement (and that's one of the things that excites me most about being an artist – unlimited potential for growth), but if you've given it your all and done your absolute best, the only thing you can do after that is to let go. Congratulate yourself regardless of the outcome. Don't allow your self worth to be dictated by how many jobs you book. So many factors are out of our control, and that's the truth. Love yourself and trust in your abilities, always.


Do you have any organizations or non profits you work with you’d like to highlight?


Three come to mind immediately, and they're all based in Los Angeles.


Black Women Lead, founded by my amazing friend, Shannon Morton. By the time this makes it to print, she's likely to have given birth to her beautiful baby girl. That's one of the many amazing things about her! Even while heavily pregnant with her first child, she was still running this incredible organization. Black Women Lead started after the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor to help raise awareness and amplify Black leadership. They've done so many outreach events benefiting the community from food and clothing drives, rallies, and collecting school supplies for kids. They funded and put together an amazing rally immediately after the horrific Atlanta spa shootings where the majority of the victims were Asian women. Leading by example, they've shown how important it is for us to build bridges between our communities and support one another. Their Instagram is: @black_womenlead


Hire Survivors Hollywood was founded by another incredible friend, actress and Silence Breaker, Sarah Ann Masse. She was one of the first women who came forward after suffering abuse at the hands of Harvey Weinstein. So much career retaliation followed, which cracked my heart open on her behalf, which is why I'm so thrilled that she's now been recognized by The American Film Institute (AFI) for being a part of the ground-breaking movie, "She Said." I was so incredibly honored when Sarah invited me to join the Board of Advisors for Hire Survivors Hollywood. She's spent years laying the groundwork for this organization, aimed at advocating for and protecting fellow survivors, and also creating safer working environments on film sets, along with promoting better equity and inclusion within the performing arts industry. Their Instagram is: @hiresurvivorshollywood


Artists for Trauma, founded by Laura Sharpe is another amazing organization I had the privilege of getting to know during my journey as a visual artist. Laura survived a horrific plane crash in 2008 and spent the next two years in recovery. Part of her recovery entailed interacting and collaborating with a diverse group of artists that inspired her to found Artists For Trauma. They aim to provide resources and healing for military and civilian survivors by connecting them with established artists. Harnessing the healing powers of the arts has had a tremendously positive effect on trauma survivors, and Artists for Trauma has helped facilitate countless events and initiatives furthering this important work. It's been a blessing being connected with them. Their Instagram is @artistsfortrauma


Did you have any interesting “odd jobs” you worked at between gigs to pay the bills?

 

Oh my goodness! SO MANY. Where have I NOT worked is the question. I've waitressed, done retail, worked admin jobs, had a stint as a licensed massage therapist (I wound up quitting because of all the stereotypes associated with Asian women and massage therapy. I've had my share of unpleasant experiences because of them, and I'll forever be haunted by the Atlanta Spa massacres.), and worked a ton of events.


As for the most "interesting," survival gig, I worked quite a few events dressed up as a bloated, sodium-injected chicken (I wish I could find a photo!) to help promote Foster Farms chickens, which were "all natural and antibiotic free (according to their website). They had us at county fairs and other events as photo ops. The outfit was actually just a giant dome with mesh netting so we could see out, but nobody else could see in. We were actually on our phones inside the whole time since all we had to do was stand still for the photo. We even got to make several appearances on some morning talk shows. Hopefully, one day soon I'll get to appear on one as myself!


If you come from parents who aren’t in the arts, what parts of them do you see in yourself that have helped you succeed in the business?


They taught me an incredible work ethic, almost to the point where we will push ourselves past extreme exhaustion and still find a way to keep going. My dad used to work double shifts bartending & waiting tables when I was a kid and I never used to see him unless I woke up in the middle of the night and caught him coming home. I've definitely had that schedule a ton as an actor. It was always a huge juggle trying to find enough work to keep the bills paid, but would also leave me enough flexibility for auditions. I would come home from working event jobs at 2AM and then get myself ready for a 10AM audition. Definitely a lot of nights I fell asleep studying scripts! Or, I would be at my art shows prepping for auditions in between all the networking, and of course, selling paintings.Even though my parents both worked, they were still super present while I was growing up. Volunteering during school field trips. Helping me with school projects. Driving me to and picking me up from extracurricular activities. I definitely learned a lot about the art of juggling and wearing many hats from them.


If you could go back in time, what would you tell your younger self? 


You can do this. You have what it takes. Never let anyone tell you otherwise.


What is your greatest accomplishment? 


I'd like to think I haven't reached it yet, but in between acting and art, I've also run five marathons.


What skills did you find to be the most helpful in your career? 


Multi-tasking, and endurance. Training for marathons definitely taught me a lot about that.


What helped you most to rebound from what you considered your biggest failure or mistake in your career? 


We need to reframe our mindset around failure, which may be particularly hard for those of us who grew up in "traditional" Asian communities. If you did your best, you did not fail. If you hit some bumps in the road but persevered, you did not fail. If all of the (temporary) hardship helped lead you to switch directions and ultimately land in a more fulfilling path in life, you did not fail. "Mistakes" can sometimes be viewed as redirection. This may sound really cheesy, but it's turned out to be true for me. What I once thought of as some of my biggest mistakes, whether it was investing my time (or heart) in the wrong situations or people, turned out to be blessings in disguise. It just took a while to realize that, and I definitely couldn't see it as I was going through it. I went through a particularly trying few years starting in 2014 when I first had a string of health issues (there's a long history of thyroid and autoimmune illness in my family), and then I got stuck in the wrong crowd for a while. It felt like I crashed and burned, but that's what brought me back into painting. I started exhibiting my work in 2019, and that's opened so many doors for me. I've met so many incredible people and had so many more experiences that I wouldn't have had if I was just focused on acting. Acting is still my number one priority, but now as an abstract artist I have another creative outlet, so I'm not as obsessive or worried about when I'm going to book my next job. Ironically, my acting career picked up and felt way more rewarding after that.

 


Since so many of us spent a lot of time isolated during the pandemic, how has that experience specifically changed your creative or preparation process or your outlook on life? 


Oh my goodness. The pandemic was especially insane for me. I live in a studio apartment, so the stay-at-home order was definitely challenging. A classmate of mine died very early on at the beginning of COVID, and he was younger than my sister. It was really tough because my parents are elderly & have a fair amount of health issues and we were worried about them, but in the very early stages, it almost felt safer if we didn't go home. At this point, a lot of people assumed my career was over and I may as well throw in the towel and move home. Film & TV production halted for a bit, so auditions stopped, but the amazing thing was multiple casting directors were thinking of challenges for actors and inviting us to send in scenes and monologues for them to evaluate. I'm forever grateful for that. We often think of casting directors as the gatekeepers to the roles we hope to book, which isn't the case. It's 100% a collaborative effort. We had the opportunity to film our own short scenes at home for one of the most innovative ideas I'd ever witnessed, to make the "Biggest Instagram Movie Ever," called The Hangry Dead about navigating a fictional zombie apocalypse. Casting went through I believe over a thousand scenes and selected a few hundred to piece into a full length film. It meant a lot for them to do that for us during such a trying time. Nobody was getting paid for anything. It was all about keeping hope alive.


So many businesses unfortunately had to close their doors due to lack of revenue during the pandemic, but after the initial shutdown, the Film/TV  industry came back in full force. I was back to auditioning for TV shows by the end of 2020, which I owe to my amazing team. And since the majority of auditions had transitioned to us self-taping at home, it opened up a lot more opportunities for us to be called in. I actually had one of the best years of my career in 2021. Now my mindset is, COVID couldn't shut us down. If we are still here living the dream, this is truly meant to be.


What inspires you? 


The human spirit. It's part of why I fell in love with acting, because that's what we get to study. Hearing everyone's stories. I love rooting for the underdogs, because I feel like I'm one of them, also. If you've been working hard and persevering, regardless of what field you're in, you inspire me. 


To find out more on Joanne Chew, please visit her at: 


Personal Instagram:  @joannejchew   

Artist Instagram:  @joannejcartist

IMDb:   https://www.imdb.com/name/nm2415065/




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