Has being on Masters of Sex altered the way you view relationships in your personal life?
“Yeah, absolutely. I think it’s made me more aware that these cultural assumptions — that are such a big part of the show — are still completely alive. I wasn’t prepared for that at all. In a lot of ways, yes, we’re much more liberated and sexually free than we were back then — but, in many ways we still have the same issues as we did back then."
What's one of the issues that you still see existing today?
“Well, what’s interesting for me about [my character] Libby is that she believes this fairy tale — and that fairy tale still totally exists for some people. Like, if I find the right guy, and I get the perfect house, and I have all the right clothes, and the right hairdo, I’ll be happy; the fairy tale will come true. And, I definitely have friends that bought into that mythology, too. And, now, as we get older, those friends are totally shocked and thrown that it’s more complicated than that.”
If you had to travel back in time to the '50s, what's one thing you know would be a huge struggle for you?
“I don’t know how I would be able to keep my mouth shut with all the blatant misogyny."
What advice do you wish you were given when you were first starting out?
“That it’s all just a game of holding out, and it definitely just takes a long time to get there. And, that’s been true for every actor I know.”
What's the worst audition you’ve ever had?
“The worst? Oh yeah, I’ve got a good one. I auditioned for a play right out of college that Alan Rickman was directing. I got a callback, and I really wanted it, and I felt like he and I had a real connection. Anyway, I didn’t get the part. Then, like three months later, I’m waitressing at this horrible restaurant, and I’m informed that the opening-night party for the play that I didn’t get is happening that night at the very restaurant that I was a waitress at. So, I got really drunk in the back room since I was so horrified and stressed, and I proceeded to go right up to Alan Rickman and tell him how much I loved the play and how sorry I was that he hadn’t cast me. All the while, I’m holding a tray of crab balls. And, he looks at me, and has absolutely no idea who I am or what I'm saying. It was awful. And, I was holding crab balls!"
You’re on a show that’s insanely sexual. But, you might be the only actor on it who doesn’t have to worry about their family seeing them naked.
“Yes! I was literally the only cast member this season who didn’t have to get naked. Literally, the only one! I was very grateful of that, and slightly offended [laughing]. But, no, seriously, my father and my three brothers were definitely quite pleased with that.”
What advice do you wish you were given when you were first starting out?
“The one thing I would tell myself is that you don’t have to be anything for anyone. And, that it’s all right to just be who you are. When I was first starting out, I would meet people who were famous, or who I thought were influential or important, and I would feel like I had to talk a certain way or be a certain way to have them like me. But, you kind of realize as you go along that either people are going to like what you do or they’re not going to like what you do — and that’s fine! Everyone has his or her own aesthetic. And, if you’re changing yourself for every person and every situation, you can’t really find out who you are for yourself.”
What was your first acting job?
"It was right after I graduated from Juilliard — I had been out for about three months, and I booked this movie called The Sitter with Jonah Hill and Method Man. It was great, but it was also really overwhelming. It was kind of a big part to be my first one. But, I had Method Man by my side, so I felt very protected!"
Considering OITNB was not only created by a woman, but boasts a cast that’s about 90% women, it's different from what else is out there. Was it an adjustment for you to work on such a female-dominated show?
“Well, Orange Is The New Black is definitely the biggest job I’ve had in my career, so I don’t really have a lot to compare it to. But, it’s interesting to hear a lot of other women who are on the show talk about how this set is so different from other sets, and how it’s so much better. I think this show has probably made me really spoiled, because I haven’t been on other shows’ sets, so I’m totally not able to appreciate how different this set is."
Is it as empowering to be on the show as everyone thinks it is?
"Oh, it’s very empowering! I think our show probably has the most women writers on staff than any other television show that’s on now. There [are] so many women on the show, and so many women who work on the show behind the scenes. And, all of these women are of different generations — it’s so wonderful to have a wide range of experiences and backgrounds. Orange feels like such a family. The girls feel like my sisters."
Who are you closest with in the Orange Is The New Black cast?
“I was friends with Danielle [Brooks] before we got cast on the show, but I think the show has definitely brought us closer. Natasha Lyonne has really become one of my closest friends — and Uzo Aduba who plays Crazy Eyes. Those two have really taken me under their wing. It’s great to feel like I have people looking out for me, regardless of whether I’m on the show or not. I feel like I’m forming lifelong friendships with them.”
What’s it like having to wear a prison uniform every day?
“That was probably the easiest thing to get used to! I go to work, and I get to put on basically pajamas. And, I don’t have to worry about any vanity or anything like that. All the girls wear the exact same thing. I’ve actually really enjoyed not having to worry about wardrobe!"
As an actor, is there one genre you’re drawn to more than others? What comes more naturally to you — comedic roles or dramatic?
“My motto these days is that I don’t want to close myself off from anything. I don’t want to say, ‘Oh, this is the kind of actor I am.’ I don’t want to pigeonhole myself as just one thing. I want to be able to do high drama and high comedy. I would love to be the type of well-rounded actor that you can’t put your finger on exactly what they do, or what type of actor they are.”
What would you consider your big break?
“That would probably be Ghost Girls, a web series I did for Yahoo. We shot the pilot randomly, for fun, and to maybe put it up on YouTube, and Jack Black ended up signing on to it. We sold it to Syfy and eventually took it to Yahoo. It was the turning point in my career, because it got me my current representation, and it’s also the project that I’m still most proud of — I put so much blood, sweat, and tears into it.”
Do you think we’re moving toward a place where a lot of the best material will be on the web, instead of more traditional places?
“I think the web is everything. It’s like the Old West — there are no laws yet. It fosters creativity, but I also feel that all of TV is elevating in a way. Even network TV; I’m loving all the network shows. Everything is more provocative and more fun. But, if you want full creative control, the web offers more opportunities to do things independently.”
What is the biggest thing that’s changed in your life since you got your big break?
“Honestly, I still work my day job. Once a month, I host a show at Universal Studios — and work the theme park. But, for me, it’s just having a little bit of money so that you’re not working 100 different jobs. Two years ago, I was babysitting, going to my job as a hostess, and working as some weird promo girl on the weekends — which is just miserable. It’s miserable when every minute of your free time is spent working to earn money and not doing what you want to do.”
What is the best advice you’ve received?
“The best advice came from Jack Black, who has been pivotal in what’s going on in my state of affairs, because of his support of Ghost Girls. His production company is also producing a pilot I’m writing for Fox. One thing he said was, ‘Always pretend you’re having the most fun.’ I think that’s really interesting.
You’re writing the new pilot with your boyfriend — how is it working together?
“It’s interesting. We can just work in our robes in bed, which is the dream. But, I’ve realized that, even though I love my boyfriend and he’s amazing and super sweet, I can just go into a mean work mode where I’m very internal, so that took a bit of getting used to for him. Like, ‘This is not my girlfriend; this is a mean lady.’ But, once we figured that out, it’s really fun. For me, writing has always been a torturous process, so it always has its ups and downs.”
What can you tell us about the new show?
“It’s just a pilot, so there’s no commitment to film it or anything, but it’s based on my time working at Disneyland as a princess. I was Cinderella from the time I was 17 until 21 or 22, so it’s about what it would be like to work in a fictional theme park called Wonderland. It’s a princess who’s aging out of her role and a younger girl gets hired as a sort of All About Eve setting.”
Do you feel like your personal dynamics have changed, now that you’re more engaged in the industry?
“I feel like I’m kind of insulated in my own little world with my friends and the people I work with. When I go to things like SXSW or Comic-Con or cool industry events, I definitely feel like I’m 99% on the outside, because I’m still watching everyone and being a nerd about it. I think it is about surrounding yourself with people who are down to earth and are working.”
What is the hardest thing about being an actor?
“You’re alone a lot. Ultimately, you are your own hovercraft of an enterprise, which is why I love living in New York. One trip on the subway is enough to remind me that literally no one cares that you didn’t get that part in X-Men 5 or that unbelievably cool indie that was gonna change your life.”
Do you have any insight as to why some people get their big breaks and others do not?
“I have so many different answers for that. It’s like this big, unnamable thing. On the one hand, I feel like this is my endurance test. And, I think that luck definitely plays into it. I’ve had some amazing experiences on all kinds of jobs, and the jobs that you think are going to be the ones that will be the big payoff, sometimes don’t turn out to be. But, everything always sort of works out — I was devastated about not getting a certain part, but then got a small play at Lincoln Center instead. That ended up catching the attention of Lena Dunham, and she wrote something for me in Girls.”
What has changed the most in your life since you started booking bigger roles?
“I don’t know — I think life can sort of stay the same. For the people that I really respect and admire work-wise, that’s the common thread. It’s keeping your life the same otherwise you could go insane. This job is so weird.”
Does your confidence go up when you book roles, or do you become more self-aware and worried about being in the spotlight?
“At a certain point, you begin to see that all this could go away at any time. And, you realize there’s no point in overthinking or over-strategizing about what things mean, or what will happen next. You can’t make a timeline for yourself — none of that is relevant in this industry.”
What’s the best advice you’ve received?
“I think it’s the age-old, ‘If you couldn’t do anything else, then you should do just that.’ Saying no has also helped me. It can seem really scary at the beginning of your career, and it seems like a really big risk and you don’t always see the payoff until a lot later, but it’s the number one thing. Thank God I said no to a lot of things — otherwise, I would have been wearing a lot of different sets of chopsticks in my hair.”
On Girls, Hannah gets a lot of flak for being a self-centered mess. What do you think about that?
“I remember myself at that age, and I was kind of a flying asshole. It’s sort of a survival instinct — that level of narcissism. It was totally true for me and my friends. I love Marnie and Hannah and Jessa and Shosh. All of them. It’s very real. It’s really rare to meet a person who’s perfectly poised and has it all figured out right after they graduate from college.”
What about the complaints about the lack of diversity on the show?
“I’m on the show and I happen to be Korean-American. I don’t think Soojin had to be Asian. So, what’s the issue? I feel about this issue the same way I do about the argument over women being funny — why is this still a thing? If Girls was a perfect cross section of America, it would be a very different show. I don’t know if I’d watch that show, because what makes Girls so good is Lena’s perspective.”
When you got the job with Girls, you made the big move from New York to L.A., but what else changed in your life?
“I guess I just made more money and was able to join a union. So, it was all that adult stuff. Just a growing-up kind of change.”
What is the best piece of advice that you’ve been given since starting out with your career?
“Somebody once told me that when you’re in a marathon, never look behind you. And, that works with writing. Just don’t focus on other people and keep doing what you’re supposed to do. Another great piece of advice is less is more — that’s a constant struggle for me. I get very enthusiastic and excited and I have to remember not to take things personally.”
Were there any parts of Girls that were reminiscent of your own life?
“Well, there was a lot of Jessa that I related to, but there was nothing super specific that came from my own life. It’s such a collaboration that it doesn’t do anybody any good to claim ownership. It’s Lena’s show, and we were there to service her needs. That’s what it’s like in any writers' room — it’s the same with Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Awkward. Everybody brings what they can to the table and the showrunners decide what to do with it.”
Why do you think that Girls, on one hand, gets so much admiration, yet also receives a lot of criticism?
“I just think it’s because it’s unlike any other show. People have a difficult time comparing it with other shows, which can be aggravating. But, Girls is funny, because it created a new genre and no matter what, it gives people something to talk about. Even now, when I watch the show, even if I’m not in the mood for it, I’m never mad that I watched it.”
A lot of your work is centered around the humor in awkwardness — what is it that appeals to you?
“I think that’s just the honest truth. It’s important to keep things real in writing. Even if we’re doing, let’s say, a movie about Michelle Obama, we want to see her flaws. Let’s see her trip, but only because it’s real.”
Do you have any mantras or rules that you try to adhere to?
“I’m constantly reminding myself that success is about longevity. There’s this quote from George Harrison’s wife, when someone asked her the secret to marriage. She just said, ‘Don’t get divorced.’ Which is really profound. What’s the secret to writing, to having a career? Don’t quit. Just keep writing.”
What career goals do you have now? Is there anything else that you really want to do?
“I definitely want to write more books, just to make up for the last one, because I don’t think it’s that good. That’s the problem with writing a book when you’re young — I just wasn’t a great writer. It is what it is, but I’m a better writer now. But, I want to make movies, self-publish, and all kinds of things.”
Being an agent is one of the more stressful jobs out there. Do you ever have moments where you just want to give up?
“My whole thing is to not take things personally. I practice a lot of yoga, and I really try to stay balanced. My dad once told me, when I was trying to take things seriously, that 10 writers wrote The Flintstones, but only one writer wrote War And Peace. So, essentially, don’t freak out. I feel really lucky and excited about the job that I do, so I don’t often have bad moments. But, when I do, I love that I live on the west side where there are all kinds of yoga classes available.”
Do you have any rules or mantras that you try to work and live by, especially when it comes to your clients?
“As simple as it is, do what you said you were going to do. I think follow-through is so important as an agent. Artists really want to know that something is taken care of. They want to have a comfort level and know that you have their best interests in mind. I really pride myself in that. Another thing I believe in is karma — it’s just treating people well and how you want to be treated. Golden-rule style.”
So much of being an agent is making demands and refusing to back down — do you have to adopt different mind-sets or attitudes to get things done?
“I definitely fight for my clients. I think people are going to be more supportive of giving you what you want if you’re passionate; when there’s advocacy versus just anger. I think being an agent is more of turning a ‘no’ into a ‘yes’ — as opposed to just making demands. When you look at it that way, it’s a positive thing. It’s like trying to figure out how to get through a door that’s about to close.”
In the beginning of an agent’s career, there’s a lot of going after clients and trying to sign them. But, then it becomes the client wanting to sign with you — are you at that point now?
“There are a million writers in L.A. who are trying to make it, and so many actors in L.A. who are trying to make it. There are always going to be people that want to sign with you, even when you’re an assistant, because you have an ‘in.’ For me, I try to respect and honor that whenever I get a submission from someone. When I’m reading a script and I’m tired or not giving it 100%, I try to remember the man-hours it took someone to write it. It’s 120 pages and they’re only asking for an hour of my time. As far as big movie stars or big directors, that’s always an effort on the part of the agent.”
Do you have any specific things that you look for when you’re trying to break talent?
“With writers and directors, it’s all about a voice. When I’m watching a film, it’s when I don’t feel like I’m an agent — when I’m taking myself away from it and just watching as an observer. It’s really the voice. With actors, it’s the amount of openness they have. My clients are very open people who makes you feel really comfortable, and I think that’s how they can go into different roles and act so well.”
Have you ever done anything crazy to land one of your clients a part?
“Every day. It takes a lot of creative energy to do the job that I do — I think that’s probably one misunderstanding people have of agents, that there isn’t a craft to it. Whether I’m wining and dining a director, or getting an assistant who I know has influence to be on board, I use tricks I learned as a journalist. Before clients go into rooms, I will have researched the person and tell the client to refer to something specific that the person likes. ‘You love Cool Runnings, too? That’s my favorite movie!’ Then they’re best friends. Maybe it’s a little manufactured, but it works.”
“For me, being called a strong woman is always a compliment, and I don’t ever allow it to be something disparaging. In my experience, being female and being uniquely who I am has not been a hindrance. I think that we’re at our jobs for way too long to not be honest about who we are, so I’m just who I am, and if that doesn’t work for people, or doesn't fit the mold, that’s fine, too.”
When you first started as a writers’ assistant on 30 Rock were you terrified to pitch jokes in a room filled with exceptionally talented comedy writers?
"Oh my god, yes! I was like 23 or 24 years old and not super confident about my abilities at all. I was so in my head, I would think of a joke, and I would wait like 20 minutes and in my head [be] thinking, ‘Should I say it? Just say it! No, don’t say it!’ Then, I would finally come out with it, and either people would laugh or they wouldn’t. And then, for like the next 15 minutes I would be there thinking, like, ‘That was stupid! Why did you say that? You shouldn’t have said it.’ But, then you just sort of get used to it, and get over thinking about it so much. Like, sometimes people laugh and sometimes no one does, and you just have to learn to move on."
You started at The Mindy Project within weeks of 30 Rock coming to an end. Was it an easy transition for you?
"30 Rock was such a family for me because I had been there for six years. So, it was definitely really sad for me [when it ended]. But, Mindy’s been a really fun experience for me, too. I got to start on the first season, and see it grow from its inception, and get to contribute to how the show looks and the kind of stories we tell. That’s been really cool and new for me."
What's been the most surprising difference between working on 30 Rock and working on The Mindy Project?
"You have to dress so much better with Mindy! Tina is obviously so glamorous and beautiful, but when she was just coming in to work on a normal day, she would dress like myself or [how] any other writers I know dress — like a gym teacher. You know, like wearing a sweatshirt you got for free and don’t like and a pair of old mom jeans. I don't think she'll get mad at me for saying that [laughing]. But, Mindy is super into fashion. She’s super glam. And, I feel like she sort of expects her writers to step it up a little bit with how we dress. When I first started working there, I remember calling my mom and being like, ‘Well, I have to go buy an entire new wardrobe.’ So, yeah, Mindy’s definitely made me a better dresser all around."
What’s the most important thing you learned while working for Tina Fey?
“Oh, wow — a lot! Well, one thing that I learned from working with Tina was that everyone she hires for a show not only has to obviously be talented and creative and work really hard, but, most importantly, everyone she hires also has to be nice and respectful and kind. I think that is something that you don’t hear that often, and people definitely don't always factor in when they're hiring people for a movie or show. Tina really focuses on hiring good people that she trusts and who would respect each other."
In addition to writing comedy, you've also done a bit of improv, right? Do you want to pursue acting, or do you prefer to stay behind the camera?
"Yeah! If the opportunity came up, I would love to do what Mindy or Tina does and be a part of both worlds — behind the camera and in front of the camera. Acting and stand-up were so liberating for me when I first started writing, because such a big part of stand-up is just trying things out and failing. I would come up with a joke that I thought was funny, and no one would laugh, and then you just learn to move past that. So, it was such a gift to me in terms of getting more comfortable pitching jokes and other things."
There's so much talk about comedy in Hollywood being a boys' club. Having worked on two female-run shows, do you feel like the inequalities are lessening a bit?
"For me, I know that in other writers' rooms, it can be really difficult for young women, and it's still definitely an issue. Particularly those writers’ rooms that are run by older male writers, and people who aren't interested in having a bunch of different points of view, or a bunch of diverse voices. But, for me, I've only ever worked for TV shows that are run by women, so I've never really had to experience that. If anything, both Tina and Mindy — as well as all of the other women and men in the room — always made me feel incredibly encouraged to voice my opinion or pitch a joke."