Gwendoline Yeo chats about ABC’s American Crime

Gwendoline Yeo by Brooke Mason
Photo by Brooke Mason

 

Young war vet Matt Skokie is killed following a violent home invasion in Modesto, CA.  Four suspects are brought to custody at the start of the series.  As Russ Skokie (Timothy Hutton) and Barb Hanlon (Felicity Huffman) are forced to come together to bury their son, they discover their son may be far from innocent. As the series continues, the suspects are released but troubles continue to plague them and the Skokies, even as Matt’s wife Gwen, also a victim of the invasion, awakens from her coma.  Surviving son Mark Skoki reveals to his mother that he’s engaged to a “person of color” who outranks him. That women is 1st Sgt Richelle Yoon, and she’s coming to Modesto from Germany.  Gwendoline Yeo who plays Sgt Yoon, took time to chat with Eclipse Magazine about ABC’s latest hit crime drama “American Crime”!

American Crime poster 3:12:15

 

Gwendoline Yeo red carpet 3 4:3:15

The talented Gwendoline Yeo was born in Singapore and moved to the US at an early age.  She mastered English by watching “General Hospital”, a show that she would later be a part of.  She graduated from UCLA at the tender age of 19 and immediately embarked in her acting aspirations on the stage.

She first caught the eye of movie critics when she was in Emmy Award Winning “Broken Trail”, playing opposite Robert Duvall and Thomas Hayden Church, where she was nominated for best actress for the 2007 NAMIC Vision Awards.   Since then, she has held a number of notable primetime roles on television, including Castle, The Mentalist, Chuck & 24.  She is best known for role as sultry adulteress “Xiao Mei” in the hit series “Desperate Housewives.”  She has also been a featured voice in a number of hit cartoon series including Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Wolverine & the X-men, Lilo & Stitch to name a few.  She won a Golden Remi in 2013 at the WorldFest Houston Awards for best actress in “Heathens and Thieves.”

In addition to acting, she is a writer.  She wrote a one woman play “Laughing With Mouth Wide Open” which premiered in Los Angeles based on her personal life experiences.

This amazing actress continues to seamlessly shift between roles, whether it is a doctor or maid or gun toting spy.  As she continues to break Asian stereotypes on tv and film, we can’t wait to see what Gwendoline is up to next.   Don’t miss her upcoming performance in “American Crime”!

“American Crime” is amazing! It’s so good that I’m still thinking about even now.  And you play 1st Sergeant Richelle Yoon?  Tell us about your role.

 She is a first sergeant in the US Army which is highly unusual being Asian American. She is, as Paula Abdul would say, “Straight up.”  She’s the girl that’s going to say, “The emperor has no clothes.”  Although she hasn’t been dealt the best hand, she makes the best of it. She believes in love.  She believes in family. She believes in country.  I  don’t know how much I can get into it, but the show is about a murder that happens in this inciting incident that causes collateral damage that ripples through races, families,  and different cultures.  It affects everybody.

That is her function, her impetus, which is, there’s no BS. Here’s the way it is.

How did you get involved in this show?

A regular audition.  I looked at the sides and I was so impressed that it wasn’t occupationally defined.  I don’t mind playing the doctor or lawyer or those roles, but I also want to play a wife, a daughter, a part of a bigger unit of people.  It was nice.  It was written beautifully.  I don’t have a problem playing a character with an accent if it’s within context, which is fun, but it was nice playing an Asian American role because that identity is still being defined.

I’m not Asian from Asia.  I’m not Jackie Chan.  I’m Asian American.  I’m from Singapore originally. It’s a new world.  Some of the best roles written for me have been by women of color or gay men.  I think it is because who thinks about a storyline for a really strong Asian woman for a sergeant in the military.  Who comes up with that? But John Ridley does!

Would you say the best part of playing Sergeant Yoon is you get to break the stereotype?

Yes.  Just like what you were saying which is what I love, that “I’m still thinking about it”.  It wasn’t “I took action on it” or “I’ve been talking to tons of  people about it.”  It’s experiential- the fact that people see this image of an Asian American woman in full military garb . . . I remember shooting the first day on set in full military gear.  People immediately looked at me differently.   It was a sense of respect.  I didn’t feel  like they were seeing color first. It felt like they were seeing the uniform.

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Gwendoline Yeo in “Laughing With Mouth Wide Open”
Are there parallelisms between you and Sergeant Yoon?

Yes.  I try not to get too personal, but the similarities were so uncanny that I felt a deep emotional response to it.  I did a one woman show “Laughing With Mouth Wide Open” about my immigrant experience from Singapore to America.  It was about growing up in a family that was pretty dysfunctional, but that is how it was perceived. Two siblings and we all processed it differently.  You can  a) be bitter about it and be an angry depressed person or b) process through which is really hard and take courage and make the best of it.

Meryl Streep says “You become a cynic, you die.” Especially as an artist in this business. But in the world, if you get too cynical, your soul  can die. I had to work through that.  If you’ve been exposed to so much pain, all your life, how do you know when something is good?

For Richelle which  is implied through conversation, she chooses love.  She still wants family, the American dream.  She still believes and is not a cynic and tells the truth.  I love that.  A lot of people live in complete denial.  She is not like that.  She lives authentically.  She is straight up to the point of being blunt which is how I can be. It was a privilege to do that and speak up.  We are similar in that way.  We are just really direct with the intention of not being rude. We just want to move forward.

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Gwendoline Yeo in “Desperate Housewives”
You are reconnected again with Felicity Huffman from “Desperate Housewives”.  How was that working with her again?  

It was awesome.  Most of my storyline was with Eva Longoria, but sometimes we’d do group scenes intertwining the other women, including Felicity.  It’s such a joy when you meet not just a first class actor, but first class human being.

I was reading a book by Russell Simmons. It was written fifteen years ago. He said, “Don’t keep your eyes on the prize, not the goal to achieve something.  Keep your eyes on the road paved with gold right there in front of you.”  Felicity was always focused on process.  I love that.   For our scene together, it was “Let’s try this.  Let’s try that.”  We played.  It was about the work.  As an actor, that is the goal.

She was kind to me on “Desperate Housewives” and she was kind to me on “American Crime”. It was a joy to see people lead in that way, both as a great actress and great person  .

.Felicity Huffman and Timothy Hutton are amazing in this show.

 They are amazing.  It is so raw.  I spent time outside of the scenes with them.  There is an authenticity. I look up to them.
Felicity Huffman, Regina King, Penelope Ann Miller – I got to “have a bite and a beer” with these smart and hilarious women.  I had to pinch myself.
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Gwendoline Yeo with the cast of “Desperate Housewives”
Do you have a lot of role models in your acting career?

 

Nancy Kwan is one of my close friends.  You know what’s crazy?  She  emceed my Miss Chinatown pageant that I won in 1999.  I remember she said, “That girl has some talent.  She came up to me afterwards and said “I want you to keep in touch with me.”  I wasn’t even an actress.   I was trying to put myself through school.  Cut to now.

 Full circle!
Yes, full circle.
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Gwendoline Yeo in “Chuck”
 What propelled you to get into acting?

I was raised in a really strict, critical country – Singapore. It’s an incredible country leading in math and sciences, but in terms of art and individuality, I did not feel encouraged.  My dad is a retired endocrinologist.  My mom is a dental assistant.  My brother is a molecular geneticist.  My sister is a pediatrician married to a pediatric neurologist.  l was always “the person” who everything just thought I would amount to nothing.  I felt like I was the overweight, dark skinned, unattractive, not bright —

By the way, they are totally wrong . . .

Thank you! I actually started doing pageants because I wanted to go to UCLA and my parents said no.  I started doing pageants so I could make enough money to go where I wanted.  I happened to win all three pageants that I did.  It changed their perspective.  I didn’t do it to be a beauty queen.  I did it for freedom to choose.  When I got to UCLA, I was still processing.  I was so young.  I had so much anger and had to put it somewhere.  Through acting, instead of  turning my emotions inward, I was able to process through them.

I remember auditioning for a Shakespeare play against actors who had graduated from Carnegie Mellon and Yale.  I didn’t know the correct things to do with it, but I just did it with humor and truth. I booked the part.  That was eye-opening to me.  Not doing things “correctly” but “truthfully in whatever truth made sense to me as a unique person.”

What is the most powerful thing that keeps me going?  The fans.  Especially the handful of fans that have opened up their hearts to me.  Be it a teenager struggling with loneliness and cutting, or a man who was burned but moved by a performance I did that gave him hope . . . I can’t respond to everyone, but by design, corresponding with some of these amazing fans — they feel better.  They feel less alone.  And for someone who grew up lonely–it means the world to have the power to make someone’s life just a little better. I know, cheesy, but I mean it.

 That is really beautiful. 
Yes.
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Gwnedoline Yeo in “Broken Trail”
Do you have a daily mantra you live by?  

About 4 to 5 years ago, I was watching Renee Zellweger on “Inside the Actors’ Studio”.  She said, “If you don’t have a constitution in your life, you’ll be lost in this business.”  Soon after that, I started writing “Who Gwen is”, a “how do you live your life”.  I would say, my number one is authenticity to self.  I’m reading you my number one constitution.  Any kind of lasting success is rooted in honesty.  It is to be in touch with a higher voice inside of you.

That is deep.  I love it.  Well, thank you so much!
Thank you!
Gwendoline Yeo by Brooke Mason
Photo by Brooke Mason
Being a fan of John Ridley’s “12 Years A Slave”, I was excited to see “American Crime”.  It did not disappoint.  It is not just another crime drama.  It is a show about the family unit and how a major disaster can make or break it. With a brilliant cast and writing, you are drawn in from beginning to end.  No spoilers here, but it leaves you wondering – did they get the right suspects?  If you missed the previous week’s episode, you can catch it online on the website below. And don’t miss April 16 where Russ and Barabara Skokie meet Yoon– their future daughter in law!
Stay tuned to ABC every Thursday at 10/9c!
American Crime promo 2 3:12:15

 

Official web site: http://www.cbs.com/shows/scorpion/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AmericanCrimeABC

Twitter:  @AmericanCrimeTV / #AmericanCrime

 

Gwnedoline Yeo is on social media!

www.gwendolineyeo.com

www.facebook.com/gwendolineyeoofficialfanpage

Twitter:  @gwendolineyeo

Instagram:  instagram.com/officialgwendolineyeo

 

Courtesy of ABC

Photos courtesy of Brooke Mason/Brian Bobila