Asian American Actors in Recurring TV Roles UPDATED3
“Not a single lead actor is Asian or Asian American.*
Yes, I am elated that Daniel Dae Kim has found life after Lost, but he’s technically in a supporting role to Alex O’Loughlin.”
from 8 Asians in 2010
I did a little digging to see what regular, recurring roles on television Asian Americans were getting, both today and in years past. I’m happy to say that while there are a lot of techies and doctors not surprisingly played by Asian Americans, there is a widening of “regular joe” roles, particularly for TV geared towards younger audiences. I was actually pleasantly surprised by the roles Asian Americans actors are getting these days. What do you think?
Who did I leave out? Please help.
Sandra Oh, actually Canadian. Role: Dr. Cristina Yang on Grey’s Anatomy. 2005-currently.
Charlyne Amanda Yi. Role: Dr. Chi Park on House. 2004- currently. She joins House for season 8 in 2011. She had her own show, Inconceivable, in 2005 which lasted 2 episodes. She played Rachel Lu, co-founder of a fertility clinic.
With a Martial Arts Slant
Margaret Denise Quigley or Maggie Q. Role: Maggie Q in Nikita. The series focuses on Nikita (Maggie Q), a woman who escaped from a secret government-funded organization known as Division and, after three-year hiding period, is back with schemes to bring down the organization. 2010-present.
The late Thuy Trang is probably a familiar face to many children and young adults for her role as Trini Kwan, the original yellow ranger, in the hit youth television show Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.
The Beautiful Ones
Russell Wong. Wong supported himself as a photographer and as a dancer (appearing in rock videos with David Bowie, Donna Summer, and Janet Jackson, among others) before scoring his first screen roles in 1985, appearing in a Hong Kong musical called Ge wu sheng ping (aka Musical Dancer) and in a screen adaptation ofJames Clavell‘s best-seller Tai-Pan. A number of undistinguished television and film roles followed, but Wong began breaking into better roles in 1989, when he made a memorable guest appearance on the drama series 21 Jump Street and won a leading role in Wayne Wang‘s acclaimed independent romantic comedy Eat a Bowl of Tea. Supporting roles in China Cry and New Jack City were to follow, and Wong found himself working with Wayne Wang again when he was cast in a role in the film adaptation of Amy Tan‘s best-selling novel The Joy Luck Club. Wong finally scored a high-profile breakthrough role in 1994, when he was cast in the leading role in the short lived TV series Vanishing Son, in which he played a Chinese political activist exiled in America. The show was popular enough to spawn three sequels, and was later spun off into a syndicated TV series. People magazine named him one of fifty “Beautiful People” in 1995. After Vanishing Son ran its course, Wong moved on to more big-screen work, including major roles in Prophecy II, The Tracker, and Romeo Must Die, as well as the made-for-TV epic The Lost Empire.
Olivia Munn is an actress, model, and television personality is best known as a correspondent on The Jon Stewart Show. In late 2005, Munn began her portrayal of Mily Acuna, a teen surfer, over two seasons of the TV drama Beyond the Break. She co-hosted Attack of the Show! with Kevin Pereira in 2006.
Jacobsen began her career on the Australian soap opera, Home and Away, playing Charlotte Adams from 2001 to 2002. She later appeared in Farscape and the SBS comedy, Pizza, as well as a number of TV commercials.
In 2007, Jacobsen landed the role of Kendra Shaw in Battlestar Galactica: Razor, a between-seasons television film of the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica TV series. She also played Sam Tyler’s future girlfriend in the original pilot of the Americantelevision show, Life on Mars.
In 2008, she was cast on the Fox television series Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, playing Jesse, a Resistance fighter and girlfriend of Derek Reese. She also appeared as the character Yoshi in The Devil’s Tomb.
In 1995, Hu played an undercover police officer in the movie No Way Back. She was the star in this movie. She was then cast as Dr. Rae Chang on Sunset Beach for six months in 1997. Afterwards, Hu was cast as police officers Michelle Chan in the television series Nash Bridges (1997–1998), Pei Pei “Grace” Chen on Martial Law (1998–2000), and Agent Mia Chen on the last three episodes of the television series Threat Matrix (2004). Her subsequent movie appearances include The Scorpion King (2002), Cradle 2 the Grave (2003) and X2 (2003). She provided voice talents for the popular video game Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II The Sith Lords as Visas Marr, the Sith woman who joins the Jedi Exile‘s party. Hu has been featured twice in Maxim magazine (May 2002 and May 2005).
In January 2007, Hu began appearing in a full time role on the TV series In Case of Emergency. She plays Kelly Lee, a Korean American woman who accidentally reunites with her high school classmates and realizes none of them grew up according to their high school plans.
In April 2009, Hu developed the character JIA for Secret Identities: The Asian American Superhero Anthology. In July, she appeared at Comic-Con International in San Diego to sign copies of Secret Identities alongside her collaborator, DC Comics artist Cliff Chiang. In the fall of 2009, she appeared in the film The Tournament as Lai-Lai Zhen. She was the first guest actor to cross over between the television series NCIS: Los Angeles and NCIS, playing Lee Wuan Kai in a two-episode arc within both series.
Joan Chen. Role: Josie Packard in David Lynch’s offbeat television series Twin Peaks (1990). She is also known for her roles in Twin Peaks, Red Rose White Rose, Saving Face and The Home Song Stories, and for directing the feature film Xiu Xiu: The Sent Down Girl.
Playing Regular People
Brenda Song is a Thai-Hmong American actress known to younger audiences for starring in several Disney Channel productions including The Suite Life Of Zack and Cody, Wendy Wu: Homecoming Warrior 1 and 2, Stuck in the Suburbs, The Suite Life on Deck, and, most recently, The Social Network.
Kirk Acevedo was a lead actor on various TV shows and was known for his regular roles on popular television shows such as OZ, Law & Order: Trial by Jury, and Fringe. The American actor who stars as Miguel Alvarez on the series OZ, is of Puerto Rican and Chinese descent.
Both Mark-Paul Gosselaar and Jennie Kwan in the past were both popularly known to the teen and children audiences for their roles on television series Saved by the Bell and California Dreams respectively both aimed at youth in the 1990s. Mark-Paul’s father Hans is Dutch and his mother Paula is Dutch-Indonesian.
Lauren Tom (born August 4, 1961) is an American actress and voice actress perhaps best known for her roles as Lena St Clair in The Joy Luck Club, Julie in the TV series Friends, and for providing the voices for both mother and daughter characters on two animated TV comedy series: on Futurama she voices Amy Wong and her mother Inez, and on King of the Hill she voiced Minh & Connie Souphanousinphone.
Her television acting career began in 1985 with an appearance on the show T.J. Hooker alongside William Shatner, Richard Herd, James Darren and Michelle Phillips. More recently, she starred on Boston Legal alongside Trek alumni Shatner, Rene Auberjonois, Corbin Bernsen, Joanna Cassidy and Philip Weyland. She resides in Hollywood, California.
Linda Park (born July 9, 1978) is a South Korean-born American actress. She is best known for her portrayal of communications officer character Hoshi Sato in the television series Star Trek: Enterprise. She is also known for her role as Maggie Cheon on the 2008-10 TV series Crash.
Grace Park (born March 14, 1974) is an American-born Canadian actress. She gained recognition as Sharon Valerii & Sharon Agathon on Battlestar Galactica, as well as Shannon Ng in the Canadian television series teen soap Edgemont. Park currently plays Detective Kona “Kono” Kalakaua in CBS‘ remake of Hawaii Five-0, which debuted September 20, 2010, on CBS.
Rosalind Chao born September 23, 1959) is a Chinese American actress. Chao’s most prolific roles have been as a star of CBS‘ AfterMASH portraying South Korean refugee Soon-Lee Klinger for both seasons, and the recurring character Keiko O’Brien with 27 appearances on the syndicated science fiction series Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
Steve Park is a Korean-American comedian. Originally a stand-up comedian, his best known work includes being a cast member of In Living Color during the 1991-1992 season and the roles of Mike Yanagita in Fargo, Sonny in Do The Right Thing and Detective Brian in Falling Down. During his run on In Living Color, he often portrayed Asian born characters, or spoofed people such as Yoko Ono and Connie Chung. He is married to another former cast member of In Living Color, Kelly Coffield.
After witnessing a racist incident while doing a guest role on the show Friends, he wrote a mission statement requesting that mainstream media portray East Asian people in a more positive light rather than encourage hate towards them.
Margaret Cho. Role: lead character of TV sitcom, All American Girl, based on her stand-up routine. The show, All American Girl, was initially feted as the first show prominently featuring an East Asian family, although the short lived sitcom Mr. T and Tina preceded it by nearly two decades. 1994.
Heroes on Heroes
James Kyson Lee. Role: Ando Masahashi. Ando is a partner to his co-worker and friend Hiro Nakamura on various quests to save the world. He often has to overcome insecurities about being undervalued and being seen as a sidekick or liability due to his lack of special abilities in contrast to Hiro and other characters. At the end of the third volume, “Villains,” he acquires the ability to massively amplify the power of any posthuman he touches. Later, in the fourth volume, “Fugitives,” Ando has learned to channel this energy into concussive blasts, projecting the energy outward to knock back any targets.
George Takei. Role: Kaito Nakamura on the NBC television series Heroes. Kaito was the husband of Ishi Nakamura and the father of Hiro and Kimiko. In 1963, he met Angela Petrelli and joined her and her friends in their mission to find and protect other evolved humans, becoming one of The Company’s founders. Kaito was also a powerful businessman, serving as CEO of Yamagato Industries.
Jon Gosselin. Jon and Kate Plus 8.
George Takei. Role: Hikaru Sulu, helmsman of the USS Enterprise in Star Trek. Takei also played Kaito Nakamura on the NBC television series Heroes. Kaito was the husband of Ishi Nakamura and the father of Hiro and Kimiko. In 1963, he met Angela Petrelli and joined her and her friends in their mission to find and protect other evolved humans, becoming one of The Company’s founders. Kaito was also a powerful businessman, serving as CEO of Yamagato Industries.
Noriyuki “Pat” Morita. Role: Matsuo “Arnold” Takahashi on Happy Days. Morita depicted the owner of Arnold’s Drive-In for Season 3 (1975–1976). He stated that he obtained the moniker when he purchased Arnold’s restaurant and people thought it was named after him, explaining that it was too costly to buy enough letter signs needed to rename it “Takahashi”. He moonlighted as a martial arts instructor, teaching self-defence classes at the drive-in after hours. Morita also played “Arnold” as a guest star in 1977 and 1979 before returning as a recurring character after Al Molinaro departed in 1982. 1974-1984. In 1976, Morita starred in the first American sitcom centered on a person of Asian descent, Mr. T and Tina and would go on to become widely known as the mentor to the main character, Mr. Miyagi, in The Karate Kid movies of the ’80s.