Only one of those characteristics is true, but all are virtual facts based on the collective intelligence of the Internet. A chief preoccupation online may be objectifying young women for easy consumption, though every one of them is more than the sum of her body parts. Let me repeat “Jessalyn Wanlim is hot” to use search engine optimization to increase the chances this article will wash ashore with the regular flotsam and jetsam when anonymous admirers Google that phrase. Consider this a message in a bottle about the thoughtful, smart person behind the racy pictures.
Here's the truth about Jessalyn Wanlim: As of June 2016, she is 33 years old, grew up in Calgary, Canada, was accepted into Toronto National Ballet School at age 12 and graduated from Juilliard. She’s an expert in martial arts, most recently Muay Thai and Wu-shu. Her mother is Filipina; her father Chinese Indonesian. She’s committed to health and fitness. In fact, when we met one afternoon at Starbucks, she had walked her bijon schitzu and German shepherd and worked out all morning. She prefers vanilla lattes.
During her seven years in Los Angeles, she has built a long résumé with over 30 roles, many recurring, most prominently four years as Rachael on the soap “All My Children.” She has built a brain bin of opinions, advice and reasoned choices from the Hollywood school of hard knocks.
Jessalyn was never a model, but early on, she was on the path to the more physical profession of ballet. “I didn’t see myself doing [ballet] for the rest of my life. A lot had to do with the next step after Juilliard would be a move to Europe. I didn’t see myself pursuing that kind of lifestyle.”
Every step of the way, her father, Hiap, from Jakarta, Indonesia and mother, Amandidas, from Aliaga, Nueva Ecija, Philippines, and older sister, Jennifer, have been witnesses to her ascent in television and movies. “A lot of my success has to do with my family’s support. I don’t think there is a tighter knit family out there than the Filipino family,” she said of her upbringing in Calgary where she sang, at age six, with the Young Canadians in grandstand shows at the annual Calgary Stampede.
“It’s tough in L.A. because I don’t have family here. Being part of a Filipino family, you’re used to seeing cousins all the time,” she said. “It’s nice to know I have a support system when I go home.”
Jessalyn does realize California has over 1.5 million Filipinos and more than a half million live in the Los Angeles area. “I would love to get to know the Filipino community here. I’ve been on my own path but would love to venture out.” True to her roots, she added, “If anyone can take me to the best dinuguan or halo-halo in L.A., I would love it.” Warning: Be sure to make room in the car for her fiancé and two dogs.
A View of Whitewashing with Brown Eyes Open
Jessalyn’s IMDb listing takes up four pages, 10-point font, single-spaced. The comedic actress has appeared on TV episodes of “Modern Family,” “Scoundrels,” “Lab Rats,” and “Life on Mars,” to name a few. Her movie credits include In My Dreams, My Sassy Girl, and A Cinderella Story: Once Upon a Song.
As a woman and an Asian, she has experienced a great deal of unfair rejection; but she balances her criticism of the Hollywood factory. “It’s a Catch-22,” she observed. “Society isn’t used to seeing a leading man or woman of Asian descent. Producers have to get a big name to bring in money for the movie. I think people have to be more colorblind and find the best person for the role instead of what they think sells.”
Her long-held belief proved prescient with the casting of blue-eyed redhead Emma Stone to play mixed-race Hawaiian Allison Ng in the 2015 release Aloha, whose box office receipts fell $11 million short of recouping its $37 million cost despite also featuring Bradley Cooper of Hangover and Wet Hot American Summer fame and Rachel McAdams of Wedding Crashers and The Notebook. The outrage among Asians and proxies led director Cameron Crowe to penitently blog: “Thank you so much for all the impassioned comments regarding the casting of the wonderful Emma Stone in the part of Allison Ng. I have heard your words and your disappointment, and I offer you a heartfelt apology to all who felt this was an odd or misguided casting choice.”
(I can vouch for Emma Stone’s wonderfulness. Last New Year’s Day, she honked at me on my morning run to proclaim that Peet’s in Brentwood was pouring free coffee. Or perhaps I saw a pretty convincing freckled woman playing Emma Stone.)
Of the whitewashing controversy, Jessalyn commented, “A-listers are cast to attract the money to make the movie. But people want the movie to be authentic. If everyone casts the best person for the role, there would be so much more great television and movies.” She enjoys British television but never got into “Downton Abbey.”
Because of social media, the entertainment industry is gravitating toward a popularity contest approach for choosing actors. “Producers will look at your Twitter followers. They want to know if you have an audience. It’s crazy because followers can be bought,” she fumes.
Starting to Click
Jessalyn smiles easily and exhibits little of the rage implied in her words. “I know I’m being negative about my industry. This is why I’ve been frustrated.”
Those are the battle scars from a seven-year struggle to earn acceptance in Hollywood. It’s a curious attitude. “You’re asking me if it is easier now that I have had some success. Oddly, it is. Sometimes, they look at my résumé and I get the part.”
Finally, Hollywood agrees “Jessica is hot” and she deserves her success. “I am a firm believer in it being your turn,” she said. “It’s only a matter of time before your hard work comes to fruition. I almost gave up last year. The one-day jobs don’t pay the bills. A job gets another job, but it’s been hard. There were times when it felt impossible.”
In the current TV season Jessalyn plays Bright Born CEO Evie Cho on “Orphan Black,” the critically acclaimed sci-fi series on BBC America. Genetic manipulation saved Evie’s life and she is willing to sacrifice lives to make humanity disease-free and flawless. Asked for the inspiration behind her morally ambiguous character, Jessalyn relates, “I didn’t really use a person for my inspiration to create Evie. There is always a percentage of my own self in all the characters I play, and I think it’s important to always bring yourself to the character rather than create someone detached from yourself. We, as individuals, are so unique with so many different qualities and personalities when we’re with different people or different circumstances that each character we play can be inspired from specific moments in our lives. That’s who I ‘pattern’ my characters after—me!”
Once her part in “Orphan Black” ends this season, she expects to return to the comedic roles that made her the tan, Asian actress who causes Filipinos to fast forward to the credits to find her name before opening their browsers to confirm a hunch about her ethnicity. All too often, she’s sent out to read for prostitute roles, though she is more accustomed to playing characters who aren’t being exploited. “I like playing a best friend or the Asian girl with glasses.” Jessalyn observed, “Those roles portray good aspects of Asian culture, because we’re smart.”
An Asian Who Happens to Know Martial Arts
Having the genes of a father who is ethnically Chinese has been an advantage for playing Chinese American characters, though she would welcome a Filipina part. The trouble is writers seldom think “Filipino” when they’re creating an Asian character. “Filipinos are not a race casting directors specifically look for. I auditioned once for a Filipina role, but the film fell through,” she recalled.
She has a martial arts background and sees no insult in casting Asians for those roles. It becomes a shameful bias when studios expect actors to show up with a black belt or gold sash when their budgets will automatically accommodate motorcycle lessons if a scene requires it. “It shouldn’t be necessary for me to learn Kung Fu unless I get the job first and someone says go train. I think it’s silly,” she said.
Jessalyn is now preparing for the role of a lifetime. In August she’ll be in Toronto to play one of the four main characters in the upcoming sitcom “Workin’ Moms,” created by actress Catherine Reitman. “It’s about motherhood from the perspective of a woman.” More significantly, she said, “It’s written by a woman, stars a woman and is directed by a woman. In an industry dominated by men, these women have the cojones to do it.“
The part of Jenny went to Jessalyn because she best fits the bill for a cute, young American mother with a timid disposition. She said, “I got the part the same way I won ‘Orphan Black.’ I put myself on tape in my bedroom then tested in L.A. for it.”
“Workin’ Moms” will debut on CBC in Canada in the coming television season with the possibility of being picked up by American and overseas networks. Viewers might petition TV stations and streaming services to air the sitcom.
How She Does It
Jessalyn’s personality is wired for the conventional method of winning a part. “I’m a control freak,” she admitted. “Agents get me the audition. I’m stuck going into a room to book the job. It’s all on me. They give me the baton and I run.”
Having delivered volumes of dialogue throughout her career, she shared her technique for remembering lines. The key is to place the script in context with the scene. “I’ve been fortunate to have the ability to learn my lines quickly.” She explained, “Everyone has their own process, but for me personally, it’s about knowing what’s going on in the scene and trying to link all the words together so that it makes sense and flows. If you just memorize lines without putting some thought into it, it just ends up being words.”
To paraphrase Marshawn Lynch, retired Seattle Seahawks running back, Jessalyn Wanlim is “just ’bout that action, boss.” She also likes the NFL, especially the Seahawks.
Anthony Maddela is based in Los Angeles. For those looking for inspiring, non-proselytizing thoughts on the web, he recommends a weekly visit to the Stella Maris Hermitage reflections by Fr. Doug Glassman at https://sites.google.com/site/stellamarishermitage/reflections.
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