Interview: Ally Maki

From the interview archive.

You’re familiar with Ally Maki for her work on shows like Privileged and 10 Things I Hate About You, and these days you can catch her stranded on a desert island with her dysfunctional friends on Wrecked. VULKAN chatted with Ally about the development of her character on the series, what we might see from her as Season 2 gets underway and we discuss her experiences working with Justin Simien on Dear White People as well as the importance of tackling race issues in media.

The second season of Wrecked is now underway. What has been your biggest challenge with playing Jess so far?

Jess is such a complicated, fun mix of everything that encapsulates your everyday all American girl. She is fun, feisty, and just trying to navigate that road to finding her own inner strength and sexuality. I think the biggest challenge I have is watching her be the total mess she is and not being able to help her. A girl’s gotta go through it though, especially when it comes to relationships!

Without a coffee bean in sight, how long do you honestly think you’d last stranded on an island?

Honestly, not very long. I am a certified “coffeeholic” when I’m in LA so it would be a disaster. I am closer to my Starbucks baristas than some of my own friends.

Who out of your Wrecked castmates do you think would be the most useful in that situation, and why?

Probably Asif Ali because he is the master of having high energy levels without any sort of caffeine whatsoever. I do not know how he does it! I am convinced he is not of this planet.

Do you consider yourself someone that can adapt to extreme circumstances?

Innately, no. I was that girl that was scared of my own shadow, but I was raised by awesomely strong women who taught me to never let my fears take over my goals. Working on Wrecked was huge for me in my own journey of becoming more independent. When you are literally away from everything you know having to navigate a new culture and location, it is seriously empowering. I am also now a master of battling bugs and humidity. I am a living expert on bug sprays! 

The jokes fly left right and center on the show, how much fun has filming been?

We have an absolute blast. The whole cast comes from either an improv or standup background, so you can only imagine the craziness. Brooke Dillman (who plays Karen) is one of the funniest female comedians I have come to know and I am calling it now, but Asif will be hugely famous in a couple years. The whole cast is fantastic. Plus, we are on location, with the first season in Puerto Rico and the second in Fiji, so our weirdness just escalates. 

What advice might you give a young actor/actress getting into comedy for the first time and what do you consider the absolute #1 rule of comedic acting?

Comedy is such an outlet for me. It was the one place where I felt like I could 100% be my weirdest self, the one that only my closest friends and family get to see. I would say to any young creative, find what your passion is, what gets you going day after day and then spin it to make it your own. I remember being one of my only friends that grew up with all brothers and I always saw it as a disadvantage that I did not have that sisterly energy. But older brothers give you strong perspective. They taught me how to fend for myself, to be feisty and somewhat physical. I bring that energy into every room now. Your experiences are the most fantastic tool you can bring to the table. 

There’s a lot of bickering between the characters throughout the show, what do you think is the best way to deal with someone being unreasonable or relentlessly frantic in such a situation?

These characters are in the highest stakes situations, which of course makes for some constant, yet very hilarious disagreements. I love that dysfunctional feel. It makes me feel at home, like I’m with all my closest relatives packed together on a deserted island just trying to make it through Thanksgiving dinner. In my personal life, the best way for me to get around someone who is frantic, is to simply just keep my cool. Create a plan, find your allies and stick to it. 

How will we see your relationship to Todd (WIll Greenberg) develop this season? Jess and Todd were in a long relationship prior to landing on the island, but is Jess totally over it at this point?

Before landing on the island, Jess and Todd were in their little bubble of living the Scottsdale life. Jess met him as a freshman at ASU, so she was completely naive to the realities of how big the world is and the true challenges she would face. She didn’t know who she was yet. Being in survival mode has put everything into focus for her and made what she wants in life and in her relationship, very apparent. After first season, I had a lot of women from all different places and ages, asking me on Twitter or in person, etc., why Jess stays with Todd. They really wanted her to take the reigns this year. It’s exciting in this new season to see Jess take that leadership position. They’ve become two weird little peas in a pod.

Switching gears a bit, Justin Simien has alluded that your character Ikumi will receive more development as Dear White People enters it’s second season. She seems, so far, like quite an outspoken individual, where do you think her outrage stems from? 

I would absolutely love to come back for season 2. It would be such an honor. Justin Simien has created this world really dissecting these microaggressions that actually occur on college campuses. Bringing the perspective of an Asian American woman into it is incredibly meaningful for me as well as others. We can all see ourselves in her and the outrage she feels from not having an understanding of what defines her culturally and that lack of community. I think the struggle sometimes of being Asian American is finding our voice and the strength to speak out against the way we experience racism. It is smaller and a little harder to recognize, but it is there. Hopefully they delve more into it next season. 

Would you say you are personally similar to Ikumi in that you don’t hold back, or are you more restrained? 

Honestly, I have a little of both in me. I definitely have that feisty side of wanting to speak out, especially when it comes to issues close to my heart like breaking down race and diversity, but I constantly fight against that little shy girl inside who feels shame and doubt all the time. It is a constant battle. When I first got the sides for the character, I was so excited because I thought these are exactly the things that I would say in real life! Ikumi’s ideals and views on societal issues all aligned with mine. 

What has been your experience working with Justin?

Working with Justin is such a fantastic experience. He is a total genius and one of the most hilarious people I have come across. Beyond that, he is one of the frontrunners right now for moving the needle forward in conversations on race diversity in the industry. If anything we can all strive to be a little more like Justin. He makes me want to speak a little louder and be fearless. To be woke as he would say! I am forever grateful to him for allowing me to be a part of this incredible world he’s created and bring Ikumi to life.

What is your favourite part about being on a show like Dear White People that raises issues that some programs shy away from? Why do you think it’s important to raise these discussions?

I think right now we all have an immense responsibility as creatives to be part of these discussions. They are completely essential to moving forward and creating bigger opportunities for the next generation. For Asian American women in particular, I want them to feel like they are beautiful, internally and externally, to feel strong, to feel like they can be anything they want regardless of what the media portrays. Growing up, I didn’t have that representation. I understand first hand how damaging that can be to a person’s psyche. Thankfully, I was raised by strong women who made me believe that anything was possible and to keep on. For those girls out there with seemingly “impossible dreams” I want to say to you yes, the cards are going to be stacked against you, but it is possible. That possibility is everything.

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