Urbanasian.com goes Hollywood with Keiko, 05.21.02 ...
Name: Keiko Agena
Birthplace: Honolulu, HI
Living status: Los Angeles, CA
College: Whitman College
(Walla Walla, WA)
First start: Narrator for "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever" at 10-years old.
Calling all fans of the WB! You may be thinking to yourself whatever happened to the spunky Leila Foster from "Felicity?" You don't have to look any farther than the WB primetime lineup to see that Keiko Agena is back! Now on the cast of "Gilmore Girls," Agena plays Lane Kim. We find out about this multi talented actress, former model and mime performer, as she unfolds her story about growing up in Hawaii, becoming an actress and working with Hollywood stars like Tamilyn Tomita and Dustin Nguyen.
UA: Where are you from?
Agena: I grew up in Hawaii. I'm Okinawan. I have three younger sisters and they all still live there. I now live in LA. I grew up in Oahu, I think it is the best place to grow up. You cannot beat the weather. I love the humidity, I love the skies and it's always warm. The people are great. The people are much more relaxed. I think that's how it is in a lot of tropical places. It's about enjoying the community, and enjoying the weather. It's great and not so great because you don't meet a lot of people who pressure you. That's one reason I don't live there now. But it's a great place to live and I'd love to be close to my family.
UA: When did you get bitten by the acting bug?
Agena: My mom was really great at giving us kids a lot of different extracurricular activities. I did modeling, I did mime, and none of them really worked out. From my mime class they told me about this play. The thing that really made an impression on me was the last performance. Every time I got off stage I would cry because I was sad that it was all over. [Laughs] There was this one other girl who was just like me and she would cry. We pulled each other together and encouraged one another. But I just realized I had to be a part of it. It was a second home to me.
UA: What made you decide to be an actress?
Agena: I think it was a gradual thing. It was the only consistent thing in my life that was fun. Acting was fun.
UA: If you were not into acting what would you be doing?
Agena: I'd probably go into computers. The second best job I ever had was as a computer trainer. It pays pretty well and it's interesting to learn all of the software.
UA: You were best known for your character on "Felicity" as Leila Foster...How did you come by that role? Tell me something about the experience.
Agena: I actually went in originally for a larger role, an ongoing role at the beginning of the season. I wasn't quite right for it, but they liked me a lot, so they tried to fit me in. They hired me for a smaller character but that got written out of the show.
So I got a call about this character not specifically written for an Asian person, which is one thing I really liked about the role. Originally the character was only suppose to be on for one episode, but they liked it so much, they wrote me in for two more episodes. At that time, I was [also] auditioning for "Gilmore Girls."
Keri Russell is great. She is a great actress. I was impressed. The person that was nicest to me off the beat was Tangi Miller (Elena). She was great. She helped me out a lot. I said "hi" to the guys, but I really didn't talk to Scott Speedman (Ben) and Scott Foley (Noel). Greg Grunberg (Sean) is very funny off camera as he is on camera.
UA: Tell me about your character Lane Kim.
Agena: Lane Kim is a second generation Korean American. She's sixteen. She plays the best friend of one of the two leads. The biggest conflict for that character is that her mother is very, very strict. Her mother is religious. We don't talk about it on the show. She [Lane Kim] always has to change her clothes when she goes out, because at home she is dressed very proper, simple and bland. When she's at school she changes into her best friends' clothes. She leads a dual life. She's smart, and witty. She's a music freak.
UA: Can you relate to Lane Kim in any way?
Agena: My home life was very different from hers. My mother was very supportive of my acting. Even though it doesn't seem like it should be a stretch, it is. She's much more reserved than I am. Her sense of humor is much more undertone whereas, I am flighty and say whatever is on my mind.
UA: Now your character, Lane Kim, is a Korean American character, while you are Okinawan...are there any conflicts there for you?
Agena: I think I've been sensitive to that from the very beginning. As soon as I heard that she was a Korean character, I didn't think I would get it. And then I was sensitive to the Asian American community because I could see how people might be upset that this character was played by someone who wasn't a Korean American.
Other than that I think she is a well-written character. My best friend is a second generation Korean and that helped me out a lot.
UA: Do you or have you ever felt any conflicts playing a typically "Asian" character?
Agena: I've auditioned for a few of those types of roles. Either my heart isn't in it or I'm too sarcastic, but I don't get those roles. And then there are roles I won't apply for, if it is an Asian, sexual type of role.
UA: You were in the Asian American Independent Film "Hundred Percent"; tell me about the experience shooting for a film and about your character?
Agena: That was a great experience. It's a great cast. It's the first time I've ever worked on a film. It was a completely different experience. The character was a spunky, rostafara loving, store robbing, joint smoking, blonde haired gal, and she was fun to play. I got to hit people over the head with rice bags...That was my favorite part.
It takes place in Venice, California. It's these three different story lines interwoven. It starts with three guys playing dominos. One of the story lines is about a relationship that has gone awry and how this character is not willing to play a typical Asian character in an Asian film (Garrett Wang, Lindsay Price). The other story line is how one man falls in love with this woman who has a dangerous past (Tamilyn Tomita, and Dustin Nguyen). Darian Bosco and I play the comical part of the show. He wins a car for a week from a gangster and the car gets stolen. It's the two of us trying to figure out what we're gonna do.
UA: I understand "Hundred Percent" is a comedic film depicting a group of Generation X Asian Americans...how did you like playing a comedic role?
Agena: I loved it. I love comedy. I think it's something I'm learning to do as I go along, especially with "Gilmore Girls." That's what I love about the show, there are punchlines everywhere, I am learning to deliver those types of lines.
UA: What was it like working with Asian American acting legends like Tamilyn Tomita and Garrett Wang?
Agena: Everyone was amazing. Tamilyn is so young in spirit. I had no idea she had such a youthful spirit. She's silly on one side and she's very nurturing. She would bring food for the crew when it was late.
Dustin was very nice to me. I grew up watching "21 Jump Street" and I was really nervous. He was very nice to me and very encouraging. And Garrett is just a great guy.
UA: What would you say it takes to be an actress?
Agena: I think that Betty Davis once said that if you can do anything besides acting then you should do it. The other quote was when I was in high school, my drama teacher said that only two percent of all actors make a living off of being an actor. I learned those two phrases when I was very young. I lived by them. I kept asking myself if there was anything I could do. If you continually find that it's more fun to act even with all the challenges, if that's still more fun than anything else, then you'll be okay.
UA: What kind of advice would you give to an aspiring actress who has some doubt in her mind about an acting career?
Agena: I would tell her to enjoy everything that you do, and to keep acting even when you're not getting jobs. Always be in class, even if it's improv class, that I still go to. Keep having fun.
UA: Do you have a boyfriend?
UA: What do you look for in a boyfriend?
Agena: The number one thing, and I don't think this will ever change, is that he has to make me laugh and it has to happen a lot. Everything else is negotiable.
UA: Are there any future projects you are working on?
Agena: Yes, I'm working in this company called "Here and Now", and we're working on a show coming up on February 9th. It's a theatre company, the director is John Miyasaki, It's been around for about 10 years and we're in the process of writing our new show. Vignettes and little scenes, the new show is going to have more visual effects, a dance number and a play on Speed Racer.
UA: What are your future plans?
Agena: I have a lot of future plans. I want to continue to work in Los Angeles, that's the main thing. I want to do what so few people get to do, make a living off of this. I want to buy a theatre space for the theatre company I work with, stuff like that.
UA: Name a job you would not want?
Agena: I would never want to be a doctor because it is too much responsibility. I am very skeptical about medicine and I don't think I would enjoy myself very much.
UA: What is your favorite food?
UA: What was the last CD you bought?
Agena: The last CD I bought. [laughs] it's an interesting combo. I bought both Eminem and The Best of the Carpenters [laughs again] That's my musical taste!
UA: What do you like to do for fun?
Agena: I'm a big TV nut. I'd rather watch TV than go out. I love sitcoms, comedians, if there's a comedy special on, I love them, Saturday Night Live shows...I love those type of shows...like Mad TV.
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