• Lindsey Bowden

Conversations...with actor, Tina Huang.

Updated: Apr 24


Tina Huang

In 2015 I was introduced to a group of actors in Los Angeles. I had seen their show at the famous Groundlings Theatre on Melrose Avenue, and knew the show would be a hit at the Edinburgh Festival. Michael J. Feldman was the genius behind Fairytale Theatre 18 and Over, and together we took the show to Edinburgh where it was indeed a hit.

Throughout that project, I formed a close friendship with cast member, Tina Huang. Tina is probably best known for her role as Susie Chang on the crime drama Rizzoli and Isles, but there's also CSI, Arrow, Hollywood Heights, and more recently Grey's Anatomy, she's done them all! She’s hugely intelligent, incredibly focused, and she and her husband Mickey put up with me crashing with them every time I’m in LA. She’s a little gem and I couldn’t wait to introduce her to you.

Lindsey Bowden (LB)

Hey Tina, thanks so much for joining me for this chat. How are you doing at the moment with all the craziness (Coronavirus) in the world?

Tina Huang (LB)

All in all, I’m doing okay. I am very grateful for all that I have but there are serious ups and downs and I'm seeing how compartmentalising is a necessary coping skill in order to maintain my mental health. There is so much uncertainty right now, it can be overwhelming. One of the hardest parts about all this is worrying about family and friends that I have around the world; especially in NYC. I have family that are medical professionals, so they tell me what’s going on and it’s a pretty desperate situation. So, I want to be able to support them emotionally, but it is a bleak situation. That said, New Yorkers are so resilient and everyone I have talked to has their downs but none of them have let their fighting spirit be crushed.

I vacillate between, being okay, full of rage, angry and slap happy. I just have to surrender to the swings. It’s definitely a strange time that I know I won’t be able to fully process until we are through it on the other side. And despite the darkness, I’m hearing amazing stories of people being so generous and kind to each other. When my family member said they needed masks at their hospital, I put out one social media post and one email and in turn, received so many responses. People sent masks to NY and offered to send food to the medical staff. People are truly amazing. Artists are sharing their talents on Instagram and Twitter. People are helping their neighbors run errands or offering up their own groceries. There’s a comfort in knowing we are in this together and that people are showing their kindness as well. Thank you for asking, how are you doing?

LB

I’m ok, same as you really, different ranges of emotions, and so impressed at the kindness and resilience of people. I feel like mother nature is making people put everything into perspective, we were very divided and now we’re coming together. Anyway, let’s talk about you. Tina, You have appeared in some incredible TV shows such as Rizzoli and Isles, Arrow, CSI, you’re really very much a jobbing actor. How did you get started in acting?


Tina Huang in Hollywood Heights

TH

I always wanted to be an actor but really didn’t think I could be one just because I never saw anyone like me on TV or in movies. I thought the desire to be an actor would go away, but it just didn’t. It nagged at me. I had a teacher who believed in me prior to high school and convinced me to apply for the art program at LaGuardia High School in NYC which might be known to some as the “FAME” high school. She helped me build a portfolio and encouraged me during the application process. I got accepted and started my freshman year as a Fine Arts major. That nagging desire to be an actor never went away. I was being a “bad” teenager, getting into all sorts of random trouble, skipping school, etc… I saw the drama majors and the senior shows, and I just felt compelled to be a part of it. I mustered up my courage to apply to transfer, went through the audition process and to my surprise, I was accepted. Theatre saved my life. Though I didn’t feel totally that I belonged or deserved to be there, I was able to connect with many other “misfits.” Rehearsals kept me busy and out of trouble and I finally felt like I had a voice. In my senior year, I was cast as a lead in the Spring Drama Festival and I felt empowered enough to apply to conservatory programs. In the end, I got into NYU: Tisch School of the Arts and I accepted. Flash forward, I moved to San Francisco, California and pursed doing some very interesting theatre there. I knew, being in SF brought me closer to Los Angeles. Late in the game, I was cast as a lead in a movie that got me into the union (Screen Actors Guild), and that was the nudge I needed, at age twenty-six, to move to Los Angeles. I couch-surfed and interned at casting offices and acting schools just to learn about how things were done. I took classes, too many to name, which lead to a referral to my first agent and my first audition. I was also hustling on the side. I created my own letterhead and changed my voicemail to be a management company and was submitting myself for projects. I got one of my first auditions that way.

LB

One thing I’ve always admired about you is what an intuitive, hard-worker you are, it’s interesting that this is something that has always been in you since you were young. You say you trained at the Tisch School and LaGuardia in New York, how was the training experience for you, and did you feel that you needed the discipline they teach?

Tina Huang & Ted Danson on the set of CSI

TH

I think everyone has their own path. I believe in training. I’m not sure that everyone HAS to do it, but I think it’s a good idea if you’re serious about doing this for the rest of your life, to at least audit a class. What I do know, is that I needed it. I needed it to build a strong foundation and for confidence. I also think it was a safe space to explore my boundaries and start to understand myself as an artist. I also have met the most amazing friends through my training and people I collaborate with to this day. My training also exposed me to the multiple disciplines that are necessary to make theatre and film. I have greater empathy and compassion for others working to make a project come to life, because training exposed me to the work and determination it takes to get something done. Training gives you grit. You can take criticism constructively and hopefully, encourage you to continue to grow.

LB

So, you grew up and trained in New York, do you feel that the move to Los Angeles was the right choice for you?

TH

I think about that all the time! I love New York. I will always love it. After college, I just knew I needed to experience life somewhere else in order to keep challenging myself and continue developing as an artist. I’ve lived many places, but Los Angeles was the industry town of TV and Film. My heart was always drawn to it. So, after taking a brief detour to San Francisco and doing theatre there, I knew I had to start planting seeds in Los Angeles. And like I said above, I joined the union because of that movie, and that was the clue it was time to push forward. I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself if I didn’t take the leap and really give acting professionally a serious try. I was so scared I’d dislike Los Angeles for all the stereotypical reasons there are out there, but in the end, I have an amazing community and inspiring artistic family and I love it. That said, I know New York will always have my heart.


Tina Huang in Arrow

LB

Well you know my love of Los Angeles, I can’t wait to move over there and even chatting to you is making me miss it so much! I actually never realised what a soap opera queen you are! You’ve been on The Young & The Restless, Days of Our Lives, General Hospital, and The Bold and the Beautiful. With General Hospital and The Bold and The Beautiful in particular, you were guesting in multiple episodes. Is it hard to penetrate and find your place in a cast that has been working together for some years?

TH

SOAPS! Yes! I’ve been lucky enough to work on a few and see veterans of the shows blow me away with their work. It is just a whole different skill set. You have to learn so many lines so quickly and you generally only get one or two takes. The pace is insane. You have to realize you are shooting like sixty scenes a day. On Rizzoli and Isles, we would shoot four scenes a day. Like joining any set, there are always nerves, there’s a lot of feelings to navigate but I have been so lucky to work with really generous people that have created great environments that allow me to be a part of it. It’s always a challenge but sometimes you just have to turn off the voices of doubt in your head and get out of your own way. Working on any set is so much more than just “Acting.” You’re navigating your feelings of insecurity, fear of not fitting in, figuring out the cast dynamics…there’s so much swirling in your head but I guess you get used to that after a while. I’ve actually just joined another cast, but I don’t think I can say yet which one…my episodes don’t start airing until the fall.

LB

You are, perhaps, best known for playing Senior Criminalist, Susie Chang for six seasons on the drama Rizzoli and Isles. Did you have to do a lot of studying for that role to get familiar with the terminology and forensic world?


Tina Huang, Angie Harmon & Lee Thompson Young in Rizzoli and Isles

TH

I loved playing Susie. She was so pure of heart and absolutely tickled by science. My husband is a scientist so sometimes he would give me tips about how to do certain science-y things, like, how to remove latex gloves correctly. (I never learned how to do it absolutely perfectly.) Our scripts always had a glossary of medical/science terms in the first few pages which also told us how to pronounce the words. I turned to Google a lot! I once met a woman who was a fan of the show, and happened to be a criminalist in LA and she invited me down to visit her lab. It was incredibly fascinating. I got to see how all the forensic work gets done and the many departments they have, from the ballistics lab to the physical gun library, to testing kits for sexual assault and rape.

LB

That must have been mind-blowing. I don’t know if I’ve ever told you this, but I always thought if I wasn’t in this industry that I would be in forensics.

TH

I don’t think you have told me that.

LB

Well, now you know, ha! So, do you have a particular process when auditioning for roles, especially a big role like that?

TH

I have a process and it's weird and personal. I'm not sure exactly how to put it into words but I do a lot of daydreaming. My process is always shifting. But I definitely daydream in character, speak aloud in character (not necessarily the lines), work on the script by marking out beats and scribbling down intentions and then I usually have to sleep on it.

LB

Oh, I do the same, especially learning lines, I would put the script under my pillow in the hope the words would sink into my head. We all have our little things!

TH

Did you really? That’s hilarious.

LB

I know, I am hilarious. What advice can you give for an actor who is wanting to secure an agent in LA, and do you think having an agent is vital in the US?


Tina Huang & Ken Leung in The Night Shift

TH

I do think having an agent is vital. Although it’s important to work hard and search out opportunities on your own, it is very necessary to have an agent that can get you the auditions that are union and professional. My advice to any actor starting out is to develop grit and seek out any opportunity to get yourself some tape that you can use as a reel to submit to agents. Audition for Master of Fine Arts thesis films at film schools, read the trade papers, find out legit classes, and join legit direct casting websites. Also, even if you have an agent, continue creating on your own or with your friends, and continue to make your own opportunities.

LB

Yes, I agree about making your own opportunities. I’ve done that most of my life. It’s very easy to sit back and think the work will roll in, and then you suddenly get a realisation that you have to keep working at it too!

TH

Exactly.

LB

So, over here in the UK, we have the actor’s union, Equity, and also BECTU for anyone in the industry who isn’t an actor. It used to be necessary to have an Equity card to work here, but that’s not the case anymore. Do you have a similar union in Los Angeles, and is it necessary to be a member?

TH

We have all sorts of Unions, but I will just mention the two main ones for actors. We have Equity for theatre actors and SAG-AFTRA for Television, Film or Radio actors. Most reputable TV and Film are SAG-AFTRA, and you must be union to work on these shows, but you are also protected in a number of ways because of the union status. Joining the unions can be challenging, yes, it can be very catch twenty-two. You have to be hired on a certain number of days on a union job in order to qualify to join the union, but you also have to be union to get the union opportunities, or someone has to hire you as non-union with the intention of making you union eligible. So, it IS a big hurdle, but worth it. The union protects you in many ways through collective bargaining power, from setting contract standards with producers, on-set health and safety requirements, tracking and collecting residuals, offering affordable healthcare and offering a pension when you retire. Of course, the unions can always be made stronger but that’s a whole other conversation. I personally think, if you want to get to the next level in your career, invest in yourself and join the union when you can and get better paying, higher visibility jobs.

Theatre is different. I don’t earn a living as a theatre actor. I do it because I love it. The unions are vital to the health of larger theatres like Broadway or regional houses, but in small community theatre being union can be challenging, since the smaller houses and theatre companies may not have the resources to meet the union codes despite wanting to…it’s a little tricky.


Tina Huang, Michael J. Feldman & Jason Ryan Lovett of Ammunition Theatre Company

LB

So, just touching on theatre there, you’re a founding member of Ammunition Theatre, can you talk a bit about the company and their artistic vision?

TH

I was lucky enough to serve four years as Co-Artistic Director of Ammunition Theatre Company. I stepped down last year to focus on some of my other projects. Ammo (our nickname) is a collective of inclusive, creative activists. Ammo produces full seasons of theatre, usually two full productions by new playwrights, as well as a few reading series for plays in development. What we mean by creative activism is that we are committed to serving our community. Every year, Ammo partners with a local organisation that services underrepresented populations. Ammo members volunteer on a weekly basis, hosting writing and theatre exercises. Then, at the end of the year, it culminates in either a performance for the organisation, or with the organisation’s community members participating.

LB

Sounds great. I was lucky enough to see one of Ammo’s shows at Atwater Village Theatre and had a blast. Just backtracking slightly, you mentioned before about casting websites. What is your view about online casting platforms such as Backstage?


Tina Huang in Fairytale Theatre: 18 and Over

TH

Backstage is great when you’re starting out looking for opportunities, but it’s also great for the articles. I think it’s important to know what’s going on in your industry, and Backstage has been around a long time. The publication is legit and a helpful resource, but every opportunity should be vetted by your own research and asking around the acting community to see if it’s safe and legitimate. There are other online casting platforms that the industry uses such as LA Casting, Breakdown Services, and Actors Access. You can sign up for your own account which will give you access to certain projects. Also, agents and casting use these platforms, but have a whole different set of projects on there that they have access to.

LB

You are Taiwanese American, is your heritage helpful to your acting career?

TH

Hmmm…that’s an interesting question. I would say it’s who I am. It is what makes me the artist that I am. I wouldn’t say it's been “helpful” to my acting career, but it is absolutely integral to who I am as an actor and my perspective on the story.

LB

Knowing you as I do, I know what a workaholic you are. What do you like to do in your downtime?

TH

I LOVE to cook. I LOVE to travel, learn languages, and meet people. I LOVE to listen to music. I LOVE to read. It’s hard to separate what I do for work from what I do for pleasure. I like to write, make music, draw, jam on the piano or guitar, and I took a tap-dancing class in January, I LOVED that. I hope to sign back up once going outside is a safe option again. Oh, I don’t know, I like to have a beer or a glass of wine and watch TV or a good movie. Nothing really beats escaping on a short trip to Palm Springs or somewhere with friends and laying by the pool in the sun with nowhere else to be.


LB

I also love to tap-dance and haven’t done it in so long. It was one of my resolutions this year actually to go back to my classes, but now I don’t leave my house so…. are there any actors or directors that would like to work with?

TH

I'd love to work with Meryl Streep! Is that answer too cliche? She’d just be awesome to watch and absorb from. I’m a big fan and she’s a master. I’d love to shadow a director or work with a director like Ava DuVernay because she has not only directed fantastic work, but she has also produced incredible work, and is a woman in the industry that lifts others up by giving opportunities to other women. I have a profound respect for her. Her impact is multifaceted. There are so many people I want to work with! I want to make things with my colleagues now who inspire me on a daily basis. I’d like us to lift each other up and continue to rise together.

LB

Absolutely. It’s the reason I’m doing these interviews. To celebrate the people around me who inspire me and who I’m fortunate enough to call my friends. So obviously when I move to LA I’m moving in with you guys, right?

TH

You’re welcomed to stay with us any time! Do it already!



Follow Tina Huang on Instagram @tinahuang381 and Twitter @TinaHuang

Follow Ammunition Theatre on Instagram @ammotheatre and Twitter @ammotheatre

Follow Lindsey Bowden on Instagram @lindseybowden76 and Twitter @lindseybowden76

© 2020 Lindsey Bowden.