By Michael Aushenker
In less than the quarter of a century she has existed on this planet, actress Nikki SooHoo has made a film with “The Lord of the Rings” director Peter Jackson, performed opposite Academy Award-winner Jeff Bridges, worked on the Disney Channel, and starred in a successful teen comedy franchise. Not bad in a city where many actresses her age are still waiting tables while waiting for their big beak.
Mere days before the comely actress turned 25, The Argonaut met with SooHoo at a gelato store just off the Third Street Promenade and learned that the Santa Monica resident, who played Holly in Jackson’s 2009 film “The Lovely Bones” and Christina in 2009’s “Bring It On: Fight to the Finish,” is not afraid to take risks.
She just took a smaller role on the web series “John Davis Gets a Sex Robot” to prove she can act in that world. Episodes of “John Davis” have just reached the Internet on the YouTube channel YOMYOMF Network, created by director Justin Lin (“Better Luck Tomorrow,” “Fast & Furious 6”) to provide more entertainment with Asian-American content.
While Asians in America have definitely made some strides in the quality of the roles they land in movies and television, it has sometimes been one step forward, two steps back, as evinced by last month’s controversy of Fox TV’s “Dads,” a sitcom by “Family Guy” and “Ted” creator Seth MacFarlane starring Seth Green. While shock value comes with the MacFarlane territory, critics did not cotton to what some considered a humiliating and racist subplot on the pilot for the show in which actress Brenda Song’s character is pressured to assume an Asian stereotype to win over a group of visiting Japanese businessmen. Song publically stood by her show and chalked up the storyline as MacFarlane’s brand of comedy.
While SooHoo had not seen the offending scenes from the yet-to-be-aired “Dads,” the fallout from the pilot screening did not rankle her. In fact, SooHoo, at 15, had actually played a younger version of Song’s breakout character, London Tipton, on the Disney Channel’s “The Suite Life of Zack and Cody” and she knows Song is level-headed.
“There’s only so many roles,” SooHoo said pragmatically, “and sometimes to affect change, you have to do it from the inside.”
For SooHoo, the Asian factor does not really prove an obstacle. Comparing herself to her close friends Vanessa Born and Rachele Brooke Smith from “Bring It On: Fight to the Finish,” Soohoo said they all audition and struggle to land roles and no one has it easy merely based on ethnicity.
Also, most importantly, SooHoo does not put all of her eggs in one career basket.
“I’m doing a lot of stuff, not just acting. For me, I love having multiple facets in my life,” said SooHoo, who eventually wants to produce but currently is establishing a life-coaching endeavor to give back to the acting community by helping young child actors make the transition into adulthood with some emotional support and career advice. As a former child actor herself, she knows how difficult or at least complicated navigating those Hollywood waters can be.
In fact, there was one year when SooHoo put her acting career on hold for a year because she had let it “occupy too much of my life,” she said. Focusing on finishing college, she was able to then resume her pursuit of her craft.
By far, SooHoo’s greatest professional experience as an actress thus far has been sharing scenes with Bridges in “Stick It,” a movie in which she portrayed teen gymnast Wei Wei Yong at an age when she actually was a teen herself.
“He’s amazing.” SooHoo said of Bridges, adding she learned so much about craft and professionalism from “The Big Lebowski” and “Crazy Heart” star.
In Hollywood, ones’s future always comes with an uncertainty principle attached, and yet SooHoo said she has managed to stay centered and grounded thanks to a great family life growing up in Orange County. Despite starting out as a child star, she has remained stable. She doesn’t drink or do drugs and she said she “never needed to” thanks to the support of her loving family. The actress, also an accomplished dancer, was able to pursue playing a gymnast and a cheerleader because of her training at Orange County High School of the Arts in Santa Ana. She completed her academic education at Chapman University in Orange.
Family is important to SooHoo, even surrogate ones.
“It’s hard to stay connected after leaving a movie set,” she said, but she has managed to stay connected with Born and Smith from “Bring It On: Fight to the Finish” (the fourth sequel to the 2000 feature film starring Kirsten Dunst) made easier by the fact that they also live in Santa Monica within a couple of blocks away.
“I still try to keep in touch with my ‘Lovely Bones’ co-stars,” she added, despite the fact that many of the actors on that production hailed from the United Kingdom and Jackson’s native New Zealand.
Working with Academy Award-winner Jackson, who is currently invested in a trilogy for “The Hobbit,” was another unforgettable work experience for SooHoo.
“His time with you was creative and he is like no other director,” she said. “He’s a perfectionist. He works harder than any other director. He was up rewriting the script until the next morning, when he had to begin shooting.”
Jackson did it all without missing a beat, and SooHoo intends to do the same in her career, whether it’s acting or assisting others with her craft to get a leg up. SooHoo’s message is simple: Bring it on!
Girl on film: Santa Monica-based actress Nikki SooHoo takes her ‘fight to the finish’ on all fronts: movies, YouTube and education
By Michael Aushenker