I recently spoke to Krista Marie Yu, of ABC’s new series Dr. Ken about her bright career and what it took to become Ken Jeong’s teenage daughter Molly!
Follow Krista on Twitter: @kristamarieyu
Tell me, what made you decide to get into acting?
I mean from the beginning I’ve always had a love for performing. I was part of a singing and dance group when I was really young. I also did ballet and ice-skating in which I was much better artistically than technically. (Laughs). So, I always loved performing and school plays and musicals. Then I decided that I want to do it more seriously in school. My mom pulled out a guide and looked up all the schools that were strong in theater. I went to the auditions for them, and went to school for theater. Then I came right out here (to LA)!
Do you currently study now with anyone?
Yes, I go to acting class on the weekends. For training, I went to Carnegie Mellon’s acting program. I felt really fortunate to have that opportunity.
What was your major at Carnegie? Was it just acting or fine arts or?
It was the acting option in drama.
Great! Who are the people that inspire you?
Oh my goodness. There are a lot of people who inspire me. My grandma is definitely at the top of the list. She is ninety years old now. She is the mother of four and the grandma of ten. She worked as a waitress and attended some College. She grew up always just working really, really hard. She always taught me that family comes first. She taught me pretty much what love is and what generosity is. Sadly, she recently had a stroke, but she is still pushing through that. So, I would say she is one of the top people who inspire me for sure.
Hope she gets better soon!
Thank you! For people in the industry, I’d say Suzy Nakamura (she plays my mom) is an inspiration. She’s an Asian American actress who’s been in the industry for twenty years. She’s breaking barriers for all of us young Asian American women. She’s portrayed such a full and wide range of characters. She’s played so many successful, different characters. She’s not always playing the same thing and it’s so exciting to just work with her and learn from her. I love watching her act everyday. It’s wonderful having her as a mom on screen and off–screen. She’s always guiding me in a way.
Do you have a dream role that you would like to play?
I have a few. I think one of them would be Mulan. (Laughs). If there was like a live action Mulan. Another would be any story that involves a young girl coming of age and learning how to be independent. I’d love to be the heroine of the movie. Or someone who has been adopted to a family, she doesn’t always fit in. Or almost like a Juno type movie. You know, where there’s a problem that a young girl faces and just tackles it. She figures out how to solve it on her own without a prince. Of course, there can be a prince charming in the picture maybe, hopefully like a cute one. (Laughs). But my dream role is a character that can depend on herself. I think those movies are so inspiring.
Tell us about the TV series that your in, Dr. Ken. Tell us about your character Molly?
My character Molly is so fun to play! She is Ken and Allison’s (Suzy Nakamura) sixteen-year-old daughter. She’s the older of the two kids and she is kind of like any typical teenage girl whose becoming sixteen. She’s getting her license and trying to test the boundaries of her adulthood. She’s seeing how far her parents will let her go in terms of the liberties that she has. She’s not wild, she’s smart, she’s really responsible, she does all of her homework, she never texts and drives. She uses her “goodness” almost in a manipulative way, to prove to her parents that she can be depended on and that she is a young adult now and should be able to have more freedom. She is definitely Ken’s daughter because she has a little bit of sassiness going on and a pretty strong personality. I think she got it from her dad.
Nice. Did you audition for the role Krista?
I did. I auditioned for the role four times!
Wow! What was that audition process like?
It was actually a really incredible audition process because Ken came to the second audition, third audition and the fourth audition. He read the scenes with me. I think that right there is a sign that you’re going to be working with somebody who is incredibly dedicated and incredibly passionate about the project. It was a sign that he was going to do everything in his power to make sure that he has a great project. So, to see him so excited and so dedicated made me really want to be apart of it!
Another thing that was great about the audition room was that all the executive producers and the casting director, Suzy Farris, were all on the same page. They all wanted to bring the best audition out of the actor. So, it just wasn’t like you just got one shot and that was it. When you went in the room, you worked with Ken and then they would talk to you for a little bit. Maybe shift the character a little bit and give you notes. They helped me find Molly within me. I think that just made me really comfortable and made for a really strong audition. I think every actor would be really grateful for that.
What traits of Molly are in you? Or vice versa?
I relate to Molly a lot. I am addicted to my phone a little bit too much and Molly is always on her phone. (Laughs). So, I definitely relate to her in that way. I also relate to Molly because I think as a teenage girl a lot of people really don’t understand you. I think there are a lot emotions going on because of hormones and just pressure in school and new things that happen when you change as a girl. You can definitely see that Molly struggles with that, but she isn’t afraid to be herself. She really stands up for herself and stands up for what she wants. I don’t know if demand is the right word, but she sees her parents wanting to baby her and she wants them to trust her more. She wants them to know that they can treat her more like an adult because she is responsible and trustworthy and I relate to that in Molly.
Does Molly have any upcoming story lines where this comes into play?
Yes, Molly, without giving anything away, I would say causes quite a few problems in Ken’s life. She tends to be a topic of Ken and Allison’s problems. (Laughing)
How funny is Ken?
Oh my goodness, off the charts funny. He is unbelievable. I don’t know where these ideas come from. He will be standing there having a normal conversation with you … suddenly he’s just like dancing or doing a whacky impersonation which are all pretty good too. He’s so quick, he’s so fast. I think working on “Community ” he learned a lot from Jim Rash. He always talks about Jim Rash. As a comedian himself, he has so much to bring to this show, it’s just such a joy to watch him come alive in front of a studio audience. It’s like a firsthand lesson in live comedy.
Fantastic, that’s awesome. Do you have any funny stories that you can share with everybody?
I can’t remember if it was in front of the studio audience or if it was just us pre-shooting. We were in the middle of the scene and Ken said something funny and then decided to turn directly to camera and run over to our piano. The piano is in our living room. He started narrating what was going on in the episode. (Laughs). I just died and he’s just looking straight at camera. It was so funny.
He is really good at piano. I forget what age he started at, his parents forced him to do it. I think he put a lot of pressure on himself to be a good pianist. So, while I think he really didn’t want to do it back then, now he’s really happy he did it. I asked him if he serenades his wife and he said yes.
This fall and especially with this show, we are seeing a lot of diversity on TV! What are your thoughts on that?
Oh I’m so excited. We are really grateful to ABC for giving us an opportunity to do a second Asian American show in twenty years. I think that the show itself, Dr. Ken, represents just another step towards normalizing Asians, Asians Americans on T.V. It’s making TV as a whole a more realistic reflection of American society. I think when I was very little; growing up like Trini was my idol from power rangers. She’s awesome. But, she was like the only one. I think I was told recently that I was the only Asian American teen girl on primetime right now. I just hope that young Asian girls know that they are not alone and that they can relate to somebody, hopefully on TV. They should know that they can also be an actress someday. I think that it’s such an important time for all of us; Fresh off the Boat has totally paved the way! All of the Asian actresses have paved the way for me: Suzy, Grace Park, Sandra Oh, Rosalind Chao, etc.
I would watch movies and anytime an Asian person would come on I’m like, “Asian!” That was before I even wanted to be an actress. I was just so excited to see myself reflected on TV in some kind of way. So, I really am so grateful to ABC and Sony for making this an opportunity for all of us to represent a normal American family that’s also Asian.
You’re pretty early in your career right now. Have you ever given the thought of writing or producing one day?
I would love to collaborate with anybody one day. I think that working together with people and working, as a team is something I just really value. This show has taught me that. I see like 15 writers, the producers, the entire crew (from lighting, to editing, to clothes, to sound) really working together as a team. It’s really awesome to watch. I hope I can always be a part of a team, whether it’s writing or directing.
When I was in high school, I was a camp counselor for musical theatre. I had a lot of fun doing that so maybe I’ll do that more one day. Maybe I’ll direct something in a youth program? I don’t think I need an academy award or anything for directing. (Laughs). I think that it’s so important as a young child that you have the opportunity to pursue an art. So, whether I’m directing or writing for young kids in school in a club or whatever, I just want to do something that impacts young kids. I want to help them make their dreams come true.
Do you have any final words, any advice to anyone that wants to pursue acting?
Yes, I would say to always stay true to yourself. Follow your own heart. I think that there’s a lot of rejection that happens in acting, but just remember where the root and the fire of that love and passion comes from. You don’t have to be on a TV show to be acting. You can be in a play, or you can be writing or you can be putting on your own thing. If you hang on to that fire and passion, you’ll always be doing that. So, remember to always be yourself because the only person who is yourself is you! I think that it’s really easy to get lost in trying to be someone else especially when your constantly acting and being these characters you have to be. The only thing that matters the most is loving yourself.