By TOM LAVENTURE
AAP staff writer
Los Angeles, Calif. (August 3, 2010) – Elizabeth Ho is not exactly a new face in Hollywood, however, she is certainly one to watch this fall season as she gains more exposure on television and screen. Ho spoke to AAP by phone from Los Angeles last month, to talk about her upcoming shows and her perspectives as an Asian American actor.
Starting August 17, Ho will appear as a supporting cast member in the new ABC Family situation comedy series, “Melissa and Joey.” Her character, Rhonda Cheng, is a Chief of Staff to the central character, Hailey Burke, a City Councilperson played by Melissa Joan Hart.
Ho described Cheng as the able assistant, best friend and confidant who gets a lot of room for comedy lines set up by the straight-woman role of Burke – with wry remarks at what Ho described as “the craziness going on around her.”
“There is a lot of banter between Melissa and I,” Ho said. “Its quite fun. I like being sarcastic and snarky.”
The situation comedy centers on the home front, where Burke must care for a niece and nephew of her sister who is in trouble with the law. The ultra-professional Cheng must stretch outside of her comfort zone dealing with unfamiliar domestic mayhem.
The show costars Joey Laurence, who plays a male nanny looking for work as an unemployed financial specialist who lost everything in a Ponzi scheme.
“The show is more like Two and a Half Men meets Who’s the Boss,” Ho added. “Its really, really fun and I can’t wait for people to see it!”
The potential for Melissa and Joey to succeed is strong – given its star power from two former teen actors that have had good reviews in adult roles. ABC has already ordered 10 episodes already this first season.
“Right now I am in at least five episodes,” said Ho.
Another reason Ho said she likes the show is that its target audience is teens on up with some edgy humor. She said Hart and Lawrence bring a fan base from their earlier years. The ABC Family Network differs from the pre-teen cable sitcoms on Disney or Nickelodeon aimed at much younger audiences.
Ho is impressed by both Hart and Lawrence, as seasoned actors in touch with their characters because they both have young families. She said they can digest a script and see the jokes, and keep the mood on the set light and fun.
“Its like watching professional athletes doing their work,” she added.
Ho said the part was originally designed for an older person but that the producers opened up the auditions. She won the part from what she called a naturalness of banter between herself and Hart.
She recalls walking into the room and becoming very nervous at the site of Hart, a child actor she had grown up watching on TV in the 90s, starring in “Clarissa Explains It All,” and “Sabrina the Teenage Witch.”
“To see her in that room and get to read to her – and actually have fun doing it!”
Working in television offers comparatively a more 9 to 5 job than films, with rehearsals Monday through Wednesday, taping scenes that can’t be done in front of an audience on Thursday, and the live audience taping on Friday. She compares this to film work, with odd schedules, long hours and lots of waiting.
“I can be on an all night shoot, and then turn around and have another 18-hour day,” she said. “You can get spoiled on television.”
Earlier this summer, Ho made a guest appearance on the ill-fated CBS drama “Miami Medical,” playing the part of an art teacher who survives a serious bus accident while on a field trip with her students. Her teacher’s intuition tells her that Dr. C (Mike Vogel – the cutest doctor on the cast – according to Ho) is having difficulty solving the source of her internal injuries.
The medical dramas have taken a big step toward realism, especially in the age of High Definition cameras. Ho said the prosthetics for her swollen arm and the abrasions were so technically perfect that friends responded with concern about the photos from the filming she posted on her Web site – www.LizHo.com.
“People thought I was in a real accident,” she added.
The episode originally aired on July 2, and was titled “Medicine Man” for those who want to watch it online or in reruns.
In recent years Ho has had guest roles on major network shows, “Two and a Half Men”, “Castle”, and “Grey’s Anatomy.” Her film career has taken the traditional route with independent films and corporate productions.
She has worked with Dina Kadisha Productions as the lead in “News”, and most recently had the starring role in the award-winning independent film, “Kilo” that is reportedly doing well on the festival circuit as a 40-minute short film.
She returns to the Bay Area with filmmakers, Phil Lorin and Kiel Murray, to portray Min Lo, a rookie police officer who is tired of the beat and wants to make a big bust to make a name for her self. She gets the chance when she busts a drug dealer with a kilo of cocaine, but somehow loses the evidence during the arrest.
Officer Lo knows that she must do the ‘right’ thing – but the fear of becoming the laughing stock of the precinct pressures her to look for a replacement kilo to make her big felony arrest possible.
Kilo is a drama but Ho said there is humor with an NYPD Blue feel to it.
“There was a lot of great moments,” she added.
“I got to learn how to handle a fire arm and got to do ride-along with cops,” she added.
Ho said this part differed from her television roles in that a film allows her to more fully develop her character. She said it was fulfilling to see her character change throughout the course of the film.
“It’s definitely a project that I hold near and dear to my heart,” she said. “I met a lot of great people and the directors were really wonderful; they really pushed me in terms of my acting. They really believed in me and that I could pull this off and I think we did.”
Ho also played the lead in “Choices” (Ben Petuchowski Productions) and in Prefiero Vivir Asi (E. Sarah Takahashi Productions). She has another film project in the works but cannot reveal it until everything is finalized.
Ho is a friend of Garrett Richard Wang, who portrayed Lt. Harry Kim, the chief of security in Star Trek Voyageur series. She said her family used to watch Star Trek the Next Generation, Voyageur and Deep Space Nine and she is a big fan and goes to the conventions with her boyfriend.
It goes without saying that a future Star Trek role and becoming part of that timeless legacy would be a dream come true.
“The storytelling and imagination is limitless,” she said.
Like most actors Ho says her first love was theater. She got her first real taste of it after high school when she played Princess Jasmine in the “Aladdin Live Musical Spectacular” at Disneyland.
She got plenty of acting experience in more than six productions at USC. After college in Los Angeles, especially with theater companies that specialize in nontraditional casting and showcase Asian American actors.
She recently starred in the Loadstone Theater Ensemble production of “Grace Kim & The Spiders From Mars.”
Ho said that so many Asian American productions are based on historical events or struggles, and that she enjoys a contemporary play. She said Spiders showed an Asian American family as an American family.
She has also fulfilled a dream of working with East West Players in the production of Ixnay. She also played the lead in “The Intelligent Design of Jenny Chow” for the Phoenix Actors Theatre.
Ho was raised in an artistic family in suburban San Francisco. Her mother, Jennifer Ann Lee, is an actress and dancer who performed in the original casts of Broadway productions, including Chorus Line, Hair, Flower Drum Song, South Pacific, Jesus Christ Superstar and others.
Her mother instilled a work ethic and set high standards. Her father is more traditional and instilled an importance for family and culture – that she says is important now since her grandparents recently passed away.
She attended a college-prep high school and focused on dance to follow after her mother. She thought of it as a natural form of self-expression. She is also a DeeJay, a professional alto singer and even a whistler.
Ho first studied business at the University of Southern California, but left for a year and returned to enroll in the USC theater program. She said the faculty, friends and mentors made the difference in cultivating her talent.
“It really made me pause and think that if this was something that I really wanted to take seriously that I was going to have to get the training that I needed.”
She completed her BA in Theater and put together a management of Stone Manners Salners Agency and Vincent Cirrincione & Associates. Together they seek good roles but with an understanding that she wants to avoid stereotypes.
“I am very vocal about choosing roles that try not to stereotype either Asian or women in film and TV,” she said.
“Which is hilarious because I played a hooker on 2 1/2 men,” she added. “But that hooker had a heart of gold and she was not your typical Asian ‘I love you long-time’ girl. She was a smart cookie and I admired that.”
The acting world is about constant training and auditions and treating it as a business, with office hours, marketing, publicity and networking.
“It’s just like another job only a little more glamorous,” she said. “It’s a lot of blood sweat and tears, a lot of waiting, and it takes a thick skin and lots of self confidence to endure a lot of rejection.”
As for Asian American films, Ho said she is a great fan of films like “Better Luck Tomorrow”, and would enjoy these meaningful roles. She said the Internet has made these films more accessible than the art theaters and that filmmakers are able to get exposure without big budget distribution.
“Those Indie feature films are very important and hopefully I will get to do a couple more of them in my career.”
Ho admires actress Kate Winslet, and said that if she is able to achieve enough fame to control her career – that she would also do a couple of big blockbuster movies each year and then concentrate on the projects that she really believes in – no matter if they are small or obscure.
“That would be my dream job,” she said.
“Another dream project would be to be a (television) series regular,” she added. “I love the medium of multicam and enjoyed doing a couple of them.”
In her spare time Ho likes to volunteer for “Book Pals”, by going into schools and reading to the kids. She said that actors can bring books to life and it helps that they enjoy becoming animated and using their skills to show kids that its fun to read.
She recently started a blog (thepositiveexperiment.com) after a mentor recommended it as w way to change the way she thinks in terms of perception.
“I was tired of being stressed all of the time and obsessing over things that I couldn’t control, which I think is a very Asian thing, at least in my family it is, the idea of control and responsibility,” she said.
The blog is way to hold herself accountable with an open forum online audience. She blogged once a day about the challenges and discoveries in her life and focused on ways to change her perceptions to be more positive.
“Its not like I’m not sarcastic or snarky or that I’m going to surround you with white light, but its really about having your best day every day and having a light spirit to let go of things just a little bit faster.”
Ho said that the great part of life is the journey. It has its ups and downs but she said the momentum is turning for the better and credits hard work and the support of family, friends and fans.
“So hopefully this will all culminate into something really wonderful.”