Anna Akana: Staying True to Herself as She Inspires True Empowerment
The beautiful and talented, Anna Akana, sheds a light on what it is like being a queer, Asian-American, female actress in the world of film and television as well as discuss who she is, her upbringing, and more. Having recently starred on JUPITER’S LEGACY, Anna was lucky enough to live out her dream role in the world of comics! Having encountered many situations in which her race was stereotyped, laughed at, marginalized, but that never stopped her. As we work towards promoting change and acceptance, here at BELLO, we celebrate everyone’s differences rather than shun them… Keep reading on as Anna Akana shares many beautiful, funny, and real things!
As an actress, what do you look for in a project before auditioning for a certain role?
In looking at a project, my main questions are: Does it have a good message? Are the female characters being portrayed as flawed, yet three dimensional human beings? Is this project adding something to the world, even if it’s as simple as making people feel good? And perhaps most importantly, will it be fun?
As a queer Asian actress with a digital audience of young people, I feel a responsibility to ethically stand behind whatever project I’m in. Even though I’m playing a character within a fictional story, that story’s values and message are ultimately representational of what I believe.
Sometimes that message may be as simple as “love is real!” in a rom com, sometimes it’s more complex, like “patterns of emotional abuse may feel unique to you, but predators use these tactics on all of their victims.” Whatever the project, as long as I agree with what it’s putting out into the world, I’ll typically throw my hat in the ring.
What drew you to JUPITER’S LEGACY? Can you share with us how your audition for it went?
As cliche as it is to say these days, I’m a nerd. I’ve had first edition mint condition Watchmen prints tucked away in plastic, protected from sunlight, in my closet since I was 19. Saga, Gotham City Sirens, Silk, Y: The Last Man, Blacksad, Locke & Key – my bookshelf is full of graphic novels and comic books. Brian K. Vaughan is my god and Marvel is my place of worship.
So when I read that Jupiter’s Legacy was a superhero epic that spanned multiple timelines and addressed the cultural clash between the older generation and the new, I was in. Plus, I knew of Mark Millar and was a fan of “Kingsman” and “Kickass” and his “Civil War” days.
My audition for “Jupiter’s Legacy” was with Steven S. DeKnight, who liked my sardonic take on Raikou. Steven is a powerhouse (“Dare Devil,” “Pacific Rim,” “Spartacus”) and I was floored (and continue to be floored) that he saw something in me. After booking the role, I devoured the comic books. And I am so thankful that I hadn’t read them prior – I absolutely would have choked during my audition.
(SPOILERS) The comic books are so good – there’s a “Game of Thrones”/Shakespearean twist throughout that we, unfortunately, won’t get to see. But I remember the chills I got reading that scene.
On set, what are some valuable lessons you learned as a person? As an actress?
Man, I’ve learned so much from being on set. Having a good attitude gets you far. Treat everyone with kindness. How to speak up for myself and set boundaries. Transpo has the best gossip. Sound is always listening. Make friends with crafty, always. I’ve also learned some horrifically embarrassing lessons that will never live to tell the tale.
Who did you connect with most on the show? Explain.
Most of my scenes were with Ben Daniels who played my estranged father Walter. We had to do a few night shoots together and were absolutely delirious, laughing over absolutely nothing and snacking well into the morning hours. Ben also is a fellow cat parent, so we bonded over our mutual love of cats.
You wear many different hats such as actor, director, writer, producer, comedian, musician, content creator, YouTuber, author, and more. How do you balance it all? What does each title mean to you?
I grew up with an artist mother and military father, so I learned creativity and discipline in equal measure. In terms of being the dreaded “multihyphenate,” I often think of myself under the umbrella catchall “artist,” and each platform is just a different way of expressing creativity. I’m also incredibly type A, and a firm believer in accomplishing a little bit every day for large payoffs over time.
Tell us more about how you started your career in the Entertainment Industry. What are some of your favorite projects up until now and why?
I got started as a stand-up comedian when I was a teenager. I used to commute from Temecula to Los Angeles every night for open mics and shows until I moved here on my 21st birthday.
My favorite project to date has been “Youth & Consequences” with Jason Ubaldi, who I love dearly. The show was a mix of “Mean Girls” meets “Scandal,” with a justice-doling high school student changing her world for the better, even though it often seemed on the outside like she was the antagonist. Playing Farrah and leading a well-written show was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. We were also nominated for an Emmy, which felt incredibly validating!
Being Asian American, what are some first hand experiences you have had where your diversity was met with a negative encounter? Positive one?
I’ve booked lead roles, only to have the paperwork come in for the best friend and be told “on second thought, an Asian lead is too risky of a move for us.”
I’ve dealt with, “Can you do it again with an accent?”
I’ve been on set in an improv scene and asked by my scene partner, “Is your pussy slanted?” on camera, while everyone in video village howled with laughter.
I’ve had directors of huge blockbuster movies comment on my body, asking wardrobe women why my breasts were so small.
I’ve made fun a mockery of my own race/gender on camera, booking roles that were ultimately stereotypes because I needed the work.
If we’re talking negative encounters, the list is endless and exhausting. Racism is so expected at this point that I can eyeroll at it and brush it off.
Positive experiences where my race and this industry intersect – though fewer and farther between – are firmly cemented in my memory. On “Go Back To China,” an indie film by Emily Ting, we had an all Asian cast and crew. I remember being in awe when I realized I was completely surrounded by other Asian Americans and Asian cast and crew members for the first time in my professional life, telling an authentically Asian story.
On “Hungry,” the creator/writer Suzanne Martin texted me to ask questions about how to authentically integrate being Japanese into the show’s premise of disordered eating. I stared at my phone for a full minute, completely baffled. I’d never been asked that before, and the level I was touched at this thoughtfulness is incomparable.
Growing up, what was your family dynamic like? How did your upbringing play a part in who you are today?
I’m the oldest of three, so I naturally am more responsible, organized, and inclined to obey authority (for better or worse). We lost my little sister in 2007, so my family dynamic became more fractured after that. We’re still figuring out how we fit together without that piece.
How can we continue to move forward in a positive and accepting way?
I think the best thing we can do for the world is to first heal ourselves. If we can become more whole within ourselves, we have so much more to offer – compassion, kindness, help.
What comes next?
All the plates are spinning in the air at the moment. I’m currently in development on a few shows as a writer, filming a pilot, and putting the final touches on my next album.
Talent ANNA AKANA @annaakana
Photographer TED SUN @tedsun77
Retoucher CRYSTAL RETOUCH @crystal_retouch
Creative Direction ALEKSANDAR TOMOVIC @alekandsteph
Styling AMBIKA “B” SANJANA @styledbyambika
Styling Assistant SHELBY WATSON @ shelbswats
Hair STEVEN MASON @stevenmasonhair for Exclusive Artists using Oribe Haircare
Makeup ROBERT BRYAN @robertti for Exclusive Artists using Dior Beauty
Interview ALEXANDRA BONNET @alexbonnetwrites
Production @bellomediagroup x @maisonpriveepr_la x @alexbonnetwrites