This article isn't really about genetics, geography or geopolitics. I defer to ABC Family for finding a more clever way to merge actors Ashley Argota, a Filipina from Redlands, California, and Jordan Rodrigues, an Australian of Malaysian descent, seamlessly into one story. Ashley, age 21, and Jordan, 22, play cousins in a rock band on the TV series, “The Fosters.”
The Filipino Connection
According to the 2010 US Census, 3,416,840 Americans identify themselves as Filipinos, compared with 26,179 Malaysians. Though the number of Americans of Malaysian descent is growing, Jordan appreciates the wider audience that comes with “honorary Filipino” status in Positively Filipino.
“Lots of people ask me if I’m Filipino, which is awesome. It’s a big compliment, because Filipinos are the coolest people. They’re happy, and I like their music and food,” Jordan says from experience. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics in 2011, an estimated 79,400 persons born in the Philippines live in Jordan’s native state of New South Wales.
Ashley is unmistakably Filipina in the way her music supersedes all other artistic pursuits. Her success in acting dates back to kindergarten, but her first love was singing. “We love our karaoke,” she says of her fellow Filipinos. “For as long as I can remember, there has been a karaoke machine at every family reunion. I personally perform more pop music, but I do have a soft spot for ballads.”
Ashley’s appreciation of ballads shows up in one of her earliest memories from childhood. “My idol growing up was Celine Dion. I was obsessed with her and her voice. I went to a concert when I was four and cried because I thought she wasn’t going to sing ‘My Heart Will Go On.’ I haven’t gotten the chance to meet her, but if I ever do, I think I would cry” (perhaps like Ashley did when Celine ended the concert with the biggest hit in her repertoire).
Without meeting Celine Dion (yet!), Ashley’s music and acting career has gone on with astonishing endurance. Even though Ashley’s California and Jordan’s home city of Sydney, Australia are an ocean apart, their transition from childhood to adult actors has been smooth. The arcs of their careers cross on “The Fosters.”
Ashley and Jordan gave a phone interview in advance of the new season of “The Fosters” starting in mid-January. (The previous two seasons can be streamed on Netflix.) The dramatic series revolves around a San Diego family composed of interracial lesbian parents Stef Foster (played by Teri Polo) and Lena Adams (Sherri Saum), Stef’s biological son Brandon (David Lambert), adopted Latino daughter Mariana (Cierra Ramirez) and her brother, Jesus (Jake T. Austin), newly adopted son Jude and foster daughter Callie (Maia Mitchell). In this multicultural mishmash of teenage angst, unresolved issues and sibling hi-jinks, the breakfast table alone would make for rousing theater.
Last season saw Someone’s Little Sister, a garage band, pulled into the irresistible orbit of “The Fosters.” Fronting the band is Ashley’s Lou; her cousin, Jordan’s Mat, plays guitar. The rock band serves as a counterbalance to the fluctuating emotions trending under the roof of two working moms. In the last episode of Season 2, keyboardist Brandon kissed Lou, Mariana was kissed by Mat.
Asian rock bands may never be known for shattered guitars and smashed drum kits, but clean-cut Mat and peasant-topped Lou do reveal one hint of past storms. The title of their best song is “Outlaws.”
Ashley explains: “I play a high school dropout who’s the lead singer of a band, who isn’t afraid to tell people what she thinks and doesn’t let anyone push her around. You rarely see an Asian character who has dropped out of school!” She considers Lou a rare departure from Hollywood’s female Asian stereotypes of the “sidekick, prostitute, super smart nerd, or submissive character.”
The outspoken and defiant Lou creates friction with Brandon, her brooding, creative band mate. This couple’s Fleetwood Mac-like conflict is a far cry from the budding romance between Jordan’s mature Mat and naïve yet unsheltered Mariana. When he isn’t playing peacemaker between his band mates, Mat is drawing Mariana out of the facade she’s built to fit into her high school.
“Mariana is trying to find out who she is and what’s she’s about,” Jordan observes. “It’s a big deal when you’re in school trying to belong and be accepted. She joins a dance team, pierces her nose, dyes her hair. Mat already knows himself and what he’s passionate about. He sees through Mariana’s exterior and finds her charming. He really wants her to know she’s perfect as herself.”
In a message sent to Positively Filipino, Bradley Bredeweg, executive producer and co-creator of “The Fosters,” states, “Ashley and Jordan are two very talented young actors who have really brought it this season! The dynamic between Mat and Mariana and Lou and Brandon has grown and become an important part of the series. Brandon’s music is an integral part of who he is, and we’ve really enjoyed having Lou (Ashley) and Mat (Jordan) jam with him as band mates, and in Lou’s case, as a love interest. Mariana is smitten with Mat, and we’re watching it blossom into her first real relationship — and the two of them have some intensive onscreen chemistry. So Ashley and Jordan, with their incredible talents, have really helped us explore some pretty exciting and important storytelling this season.”
She’s All About the Music
Ashley has always favored her musical talent over her dramatic skills. Landing the role of lead singer in the show’s band has given her voice the widest exposure since she was an eleven-year-old in the touring company of “The Lion King.”
On The Fosters, she performs original songs in the fictional band, Someone’s Little Sister. “I get to sing on the show!” she gushes. “Nobody’s ever given me the opportunity to sing on any other TV show I’ve been on. Being able to intermix both singing and acting on a project has been a dream come true.”
Much of her time away from the set is devoted to an album she is slowly constructing on her own. A highlight of the album will be the song Fosters composer Brad Hooks produced for Ashley. “Brad writes and produces all the music for Someone’s Little Sister, and he is brilliant. I usually get a demo from him a day in advance and record it at his studio, and the next day I get an email with this amazing song in it.”
To viewers, Ashley’s partnership with Jordan may seem preordained, but it involved an element of chance. “We didn’t audition together, but I do remember seeing Jordan in the hallway when I left,” she recalls. “We didn’t officially meet until our first table read. I think the band had chemistry from the beginning. We were thrown together on stage the first day, and it just worked.”
“I knew it when we did our first read-through together,” Jordan says. “We’re in so many scenes together. There’s definitely a connection.”
Jordan and Ashley discovered they both came of age in “The Lion King” productions. At age ten, Jordan began his career in the Disney musical that ran three years in Sydney. “People on the [‘Fosters’] set thought it was funny that we could sing Lion King tunes in perfect harmony,” Jordan says.
Busy production schedules don’t give the two actors much time together to sing “Hakuna Matata.” They are, however, compatible in one significant way. “We look cousinly,” notes Ashley.
Ashley has been on several preteen and teen shows, but is most famous for playing Lulu Johnson on “True Jackson, VP” on Nickelodeon from 2008 to 2011. “My audition for ‘True Jackson’ came along at a time when I kept hearing ‘No,’ and it was supposed to be my last audition ever,” Ashley remembers a decision her mother, Aurora Argota, made out of frustration.
“My mom told me before we left the house that she was going to pull me out of the business because it was so emotionally and mentally draining on both of us. I went to my audition still in tears and thought I did less than an okay job.”
She and her family were surprised. “I don’t know what the casting directors saw in me that day, but I will forever be grateful for giving me a chance. Two callbacks and a chemistry read later, I booked the part and went on the craziest, most incredible ride of my life. I grew up working on ‘True Jackson’ and learned so much from it.”
After the show wrapped in 2011, Ashley started her first semester at New York University. “But I had to come home to promote a show I worked on, so I deferred and haven’t been back since.”
To impressionable teens who think college doesn’t matter, Ashley counters, “Education has always been very important to me, and I’m determined to finish school. I always joke with my parents that I’m going to be NYU’s oldest graduate!”
About the time Ashley was moving from “True Jackson, VP” to Nickelodeon’s “Bucket and Skinner’s Epic Adventures,” Jordan had finished two seasons of Australia’s long-running TV series “Home and Away” and was embarking on his signature part of Christian Reed in “Dance Academy” from 2010 to 2013. “Before I auditioned for ‘Dance Academy,’ I had trained in all styles of dance. I had to get back to my roots.”
He is pleased that “Dance Academy” has taken on a new life via worldwide syndication and streaming. “’Dance Academy’ did well in Australia and has since blown over to 180 territories around the world.” On the possibility of a reunion show, he says, “I have heard discussions but nothing has been confirmed. So, I would have to say my answer is 'No' for now."
Jordan isn’t waiting for a call. Last year, parents Julie and Brian Rodrigues encouraged their son to leave Sydney for the United States in time for pilot season. Jordan found four friends to rent three units of a Los Angeles apartment complex. He took voice lessons to develop an American accent that others have likened to Leonardo DiCaprio. He cites greater influences on his career than the “Titanic” actor.
“Growing up, Michael Jackson was the performer for me,” Jordan says. The King of Pop was known for his music and his dancing. Another virtuoso Jordan admires is countryman Hugh Jackman, a talented film and stage actor, singer and dancer.
“He’s versatile actor and a hard-working bloke from Australia. He went to my school (Knox Grammar School) and he’s Wolverine. I’d love to play a superhero.” This aspiration recently got a moral boost from “X-Men: Days of Future Past.” Jordan noticed that the Warpath character (played by Booboo Stewart) “has the same hair as me.”
The acting careers of both Jordan and Ashley have progressed due in major part to their well-displayed reputations as multi-talented actors. Jordan has had the good fortune of having personal interests become essential for his roles. “Personally, I’m fascinated by exploring new and exciting activities. Whether it is sport, music, or art, it opens me up as a person and also opens opportunities as an actor,” Jordan says. “For example, “The Fosters” wouldn’t have cast me as Mat if I didn’t know how to play guitar.”
Through their high-energy TV shows for kids, Disney and Nickelodeon may have inadvertently developed a whole generation of comedic actors. Ashley acknowledges the comedic timing she’s acquired on the sets of “Lab Rats,” “iCarly” and other shows. “I’ve always had really natural comedic timing, but I think my experience on True Jackson was most instrumental in honing that.” Ashley credits Gary Halvorson, a “True Jackson, VP” director, for her ability to “ground” her characters and “make them as real as possible” before imbuing them with comedic elements.
One challenge for Jordan has been overcoming popular preconceptions of how an Australian should look. “People don’t think I’m Australian straightaway. I don’t look like a Chris Hemsworth or Hugh Jackman type,” he says. “They have to give me a second take.”
Just Putting It Out There
Then again, neither Chris nor Liam Hemsworth has the look to play the most renowned Asian actor of all. A little over 5’8, Jordan has the physique and a mild manner reminiscent of Bruce Lee as a college student in Seattle and martial arts instructor on the West Coast. Jordan is an intriguing choice when Hollywood is ready to revisit Bruce Lee for a new generation of fans. He could play the Little Dragon in a re-imagined youth, as the studios have done with Superman and now Batman. Like Jordan, Bruce Lee was also an acclaimed dancer; indeed, Hong Kong’s 1958 Cha-Cha Champion.
Tomorrow and Today
Picturing themselves ten years from now, Ashley and Jordan have definite visions. “I want to do more films,” says Ashley. “Hopefully, I’ll have had a bunch of albums, traveled the world, and won a Grammy.”
“I’d love to have more films under my belt and work with people I look up to,” Jordan follows. “I want to travel a decent amount of the world for work and pleasure.”
While Jordan and Ashley have a long future ahead of them, they already have ample experience to guide beginners in their profession. “Anyone who wants to make a career out of acting, dancing or singing, don’t let Asian stereotypes define your work. Go into the room and own the character you’re going to portray,” advises Jordan.
“I couldn’t say it any better myself,” follows Ashley. She’s eager to return to the stage after Christmas in Houston, where she and relatives surprised a pregnant cousin. And, no, the unexpected visit of a celebrity cousin did not send the poor girl into early labor.
As Disney enters casting for the “Frozen” musical on Broadway, Ashley represents a radical option. Ashley certainly has the pipes for “Let It Go.” “Like the rest of the world, I am obsessed with ‘Frozen’ the movie, and if I was presented with the opportunity to try out for the Broadway show, I would take it in a heartbeat,” says Ashley.
The question as to whether audiences would buy into Asian actors playing Nordic parts may have been answered within the team who scored the movie. Collaborating with his wife and partner, Kristen Anderson Lopez, composer Robert “Bobby” Lopez, a Filipino American, is the rare trifecta winner of Grammy, Oscar and Tony awards.
“When I went out for ‘Lion King,’” recalls Ashley, “they were auditioning all ethnicities, but hired mostly African Americans. I believe I was the first Filipina to be cast as Young Nala. If they like your talent, they may be willing to overlook your appearance.” She could see herself as either of Frozen’s lead characters, Elsa or Anna. “Or maybe Olaf, because I like warm hugs,” Ashley adds.
A Voilà Moment
In the future, Ashley and Jordan will have the opportunities that artists with obvious talent attract. Right now, it’s more important to support Ashley and Jordan together through Twitter at @thefostersabcf. Follow Jordan, individually, at @jordansblah09 and Ashley at https://twitter.com/ashleyargota9.
“Twitter is very powerful,” says Ashley. “I remember back when I first joined the show, people would constantly ask me if we’d ever release the Someone’s Little Sister music you hear in the episodes. I told everyone to keep tweeting about it and asking for the songs. And they released a Someone’s Little Sister EP!”
Ashley and Jordan will have a solid presence in “The Fosters” for the foreseeable future. Bradley Bredeweg has expressed his commitment to spotlighting the Asian culture of Lou and Mat in future episodes.
“We feel it’s important to honor the history and heritage of all our characters. We certainly have intentions to continue to explore more on the Lou and Mat front. Being the multicultural show that we are, it’s a big part of the kind of storytelling that we like to do and hope to continue doing in the coming seasons,” Bredeweg explains.
The new season of “The Fosters” begins at 8 PM ET/PT, Monday, January 19, 2015 on ABC Family.
Within the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles, Anthony Maddela works to build programs that help public housing residents explore their talents and achieve economic independence. He and wife, Susan, are raising Charlotte and Gregory, two middle school students. They are active in the Santa Monica Bay Chapter of the Audubon Society.
More articles from Anthony Maddela:
Oliver’s Fashion Twist
February 12, 2013
Oliver Tolentino’s designs glow in Hollywood’s red carpet events.
A Passion For Singing And Sinigang
June 5, 2013
With “American Idol” teensation, Jessica Sanchez, what you see is what you get.
Putting Kids On The Mend
August 1, 2013
MKI provides life-saving surgeries for children the world over.
No Excuse Mom
February 3, 2014
Maria Kang explains her side of the alleged fat shaming “What’s Your Excuse?” controversy.
An Honest Actor With A Deceptive Name
February 28, 2014
In the March 7 episode of “GRIMM” that introduces the Aswang, Reggie Lee draws on his Philippine childhood to get in character.
She Answers The Call Of Duty
March 3, 2014
Who animates those macho war video games? Forty-two-year-old Marla Rausch’s Animation Vertigo, that’s who.
Enter The Food Buddha
May 26, 2014
Prolific Chef Rodelio Aglibot has many “children,” including Koi in Los Angeles, E&O Kitchen in San Francisco, BLT in New York and Sunda in Chicago.
Race And The Asian Male In America
August 19, 2014
Book Review: Big Little Man by Alex Tizon
Lonely Asian males, it’s not all your fault. They really are against you, but there’s hope.
August 26, 2014
Why Sony Pictures will miss Fritz Friedman.
Mr. Angeles Goes To Washington
November 11, 2014
If you’re flying in or out of any of the 3,000 US airports, it’s likely under the charge of Filipino American Eddie Angeles.
Mayor Mark Pulido, The ‘One To Watch’
November 24, 2014
For youthful Mark Pulido, being mayor of his hometown of 40 years is a dream job.
Ad Man Giancarlo Pacheco, The Specialist
December 3, 2014
Advertising man Giancarlo Pacheco and Plan C Agency make American brands Asian-friendly.