Born and raised in Queens, actress Jodi Long developed her love for acting due to traveling with her vaudevillian parents and growing up backstage. This eventually led to her starring in her first Broadway show at just seven years old in Sidney Lumet’s “Nowhere to Go But Up.” From there, Long graduated from the High School for Performing Arts in New York and graduated with a BFA from the acting conservatory at SUNY Purchase, and began to concentrate on making a name for herself in the industry. She certainly succeeded in that regard. After an illustrious career in several Broadway and off-Broadway productions, Long won an Ovation Award for the 2002 revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Flower Drum Song.”
On television and in film, Long has had similar success. Although best known for her roles as the power lesbian Patty in HBO’s Sex and the City and her role as the Korean mother in The Hot Chick, Long has made appearances in a plethora of other projects, such as the hit TV series Café American, All-American Girl and Miss Match. She recently starred in Vince Vaughn’s TBS sitcom Sullivan & Son, playing Ok Cha, the ever-amusing Korean immigrant mother of Steve played by comedian Steve Byrne. Her other film and television credits include Franklin & Bash, Desperate Housewives, and Beginners alongside Ewan McGregor and Christopher Plummer. Long is also a talented filmmaker; she created an award-winning documentary Long Story Short, which tells her personal family story of her Chinese-Aussie tap dancer father and Japanese-American showgirl mother, who became a beloved husband and wife nightclub act in America in the ‘40s and 50s.
Now, she is showcasing her immense talent on USA’s new supernatural drama Falling Water, in which she plays Kumiko, the catatonic mother of Taka. I recently had the pleasure of chatting with Long about her role in Falling Water, her thoughts on the lack of diversity in the media and her love of online Solitaire. Check it out below!
What appealed to you about the show “Falling Water”?
Mainly, it was the script—and it all tends to boil down to the script for me. But I was also really drawn to it because of the relationship between this mother and her son. She’s been catatonic for seven years, and his whole quest is fueled by the hope that she wakes up. You know, I’ve never seen that before, and I’m really excited by how it develops and unfolds. You’ll have to stay tuned!
How would you describe Kumiko and Taka’s relationship before her catatonia set in?
Well, as you will see, they were in close cahoots when he was a kid. He kind of covered for her because it will be revealed that she’s an artist, so she was a mother by day with a husband, but then she had this alternative life as an artist. Taka knew this as a young boy and covered for her, so they were close.
Is her backstory already pretty fleshed-out or is it still developing as the show goes along?
You know, we’ve only done ten episodes, and that’s all I know (laughs). We’ll just have to see if we get picked up for a second season. I will tell you this: from the pilot, I didn’t know very much. I knew that she was catatonic, and catatonia is interesting because a lot of people think “Oh, this person’s just in a coma” but that’s actually not true. Catatonia is a manic state, of bipolar disorder or depression or PTSD. So people who are suffering from these conditions—of course, not all of them—could find themselves in this unique state. With catatonia, their eyes are open, and they’re not responding to the outside world, but they potentially have this whole existence going on inside. So, that was all that I knew was set for my character at that point. But during the pilot, the showrunner Blake Masters said to me “If the show gets picked up, we have a lot in store for you. We picture Kumiko in Andy Warhol’s factory, (which was the hub of artistic activity back in the 70s in New York City) in a black turtleneck smoking a joint.” I was like “Really? I can do that!” So, I was very intrigued and you’ll just have to watch to see how it unfolds.
As an actress, how difficult was it for you to play her in that catatonic state, especially in the pilot episode?
You know, you can’t blink, and I don’t know if you noticed but there is a very extreme close-up of me. I think all of my years as a meditator and a yogini have prepared me so that I can pretty much hold it. So, throughout that scene where I had to have my eyes open and was just staring, I had to use all of my meditation techniques.
Do you think that Kumiko possesses the same dream-walking abilities as the others?
Yeah, I do, and I believe that you’re on to something, but I can’t really say anything more about it (laughs).
I understand. One of the things that I love the most about this show is that it keeps you in suspense and allows the viewer to put the pieces together themselves. And then, in the end, you get to see how well your picture matches up to the final picture that they give you, and I think that’s really cool.
Yeah, and that’s why I’m hoping that we get another season. At the end of this season’s ten episodes, I was like “Wow! Now we’re ready to rock-n-roll!” So, I hope that the audience and the network feels that way.
I have to tell you, as someone who has been a regular on several TV shows—the last one I was on was “Sullivan & Son,” where we did three seasons. In the beginning, everyone is feeling things out. The writers, are feeling the stories out, but they are also discovering who their actors are, what they are capable of and what the chemistry is.
The first year is always the hardest because it’s all coming together in many different ways. Then, all of a sudden, you find your groove. By the end of these ten episodes, we all started to know our characters better, and it takes that long to figure it out, not just with the actors but also with the writers. I think series need that time and breath to run. Think of some of the shows that you really love; they had the opportunity to find themselves and dive into it really, and that’s what I’m hoping we get with this show.
Besides the ability to work through dreams, what other threads do you think connect Taka, Tess, and Burton to each other?
Well, I think one of the things that this show will continue to explore is the interconnectivity of everything—some people call it “the collective unconscious.” When it comes to these characters, they tend to all be more attuned to things. Take Tess, for example: she is said to be a very powerful dreamer because she’s very in touch with her primal self, I would say. So there’s this interconnectivity and, if you’re really in touch with it, you’ll find that you already know it. I think we find this in our daily lives, too; we tend to get so inundated with the mundane, but if we actually sat and got in touch with ourselves, we’d realize that we know a lot more than we give ourselves credit for.
One of the things that I also love about “Falling Water” is its diverse cast. Why do you think diverse representation on television and in film is so imperative?
I think it’s imperative because we live in a diverse world and the media needs to represent that. I went to a symposium recently called “Women in the Media” that discussed the importance of representation, and my opinion is: if you can’t see it, you can’t be it. The most powerful tool on our planet right now is the media, for instance: we have to be aware that young girls, minorities, etc. aren’t seeing themselves as scientists, mathematicians, technicians…if these young people can’t see themselves in these roles through the media, their talent will be lost to these fields and our country will not be as competitive in the global market.
We have to raise our consciousness and look beyond our understanding of the world and how we see it to what it actually looks like. A little while ago, I was in an elevator in New York City, and there were all sorts of people getting on, and I just started counting. Do you know that there wasn’t a single Caucasian person on that elevator? Not one. But you’d never see a Hollywood movie like that. So, I think that the work that I do in that regard—for example, I’m part of a group of Asian Academy members that wrote a letter to The Academy about lack of Asian representation on #Oscarssowhite, the continued presence of stereotypes, insensitive jokes and the unacceptability of all three—which has created a conversation for more inclusiveness.
How do you think “Falling Water,” with its diverse cast, can help in this effort to raise awareness and increase diversity in film and on television?
Well, it’s two-fold. First of all, Gale Anne Hurd our producer, also produces The Walking Dead”— and that’s a very diverse cast too. She’s a great producer, and with our show she also taps into the international market. Our cast on “Falling Water” is not just diverse in terms of race but they are also diverse in other ways. For example, David Ajala is a black man from England, so he has a British accent. Lizzie Brochere is French but speaks with an American accent, and she’s beautiful and interesting-looking but she’s not the typical Hollywood lead.
You know, when we were filming the pilot, I turned to Will Lee who plays my son and he said that he had never read anything like this in terms of the relationship between the son and the mother, and I said “I’m just so happy that I don’t have a Korean accent.” And he laughed and said “Well, I’m just so happy that I’m not killing anyone in the first five seconds of this show” because he is a martial arts guy. So, I think that we all have our own niches that we’re known for and I’m not knocking it. I love doing comedy and that’s really my forte, but I’m just so pleased that, with this show, people will see me doing something different.
I don’t know if anyone is going to watch our show and exclaim “Oh, what a diverse cast!”—some of them might, I don’t know—but I do hope that they learn to just see us as human beings going through these particular trials and tribulations.
You also have another project coming out soon called “The Tale.” Can you tell me about that project?
Sure! It stars Laura Dern and is directed and written by Jennifer Fox, and it’s a really personal project for her. She normally does documentaries so this is her first dramatic narrative. I loved working with her and Laura Dern who is such a wonderful actress. Like with “Falling Water,” I was really taken with the script so you’ll have to stay tuned for that.
What books, movies, TV shows, etc. bring out the nerd in you?
(laughs) I don’t know if I have a nerd in me! The only really nerdy thing that I do is that I play Solitaire on my computer, and I do it for maybe like 20 minutes in the morning after meditating. It’s really good for problem solving. I love puzzles; I used to do crossword puzzles all the time but not anymore, so now it’s computer Solitaire or Backgammon.
New episodes of Falling Water air on Thursday nights at 10:00 pm ET/PT on USA.