Now or Never: Hustling in the Hollywood Revolution

 

Actor Ryan Takemiya remembers the first time he stepped onto the stage. “I was in Middle School, and I was playing some kind of comedy role - and the audience just laughed and laughed.” He remembers the moment as a particularly insightful realization. “In real life, if you were goofy and loud, people would tell you to calm down and be quiet. But on stage...there was some kind of magic to being up there. You could do what you wanted.”

Ryan grew up in a self-described “uneventful” childhood setting. Born in Berkeley, California, and raised in neighboring El Cerrito, Ryan says he spent his days running around in baseball games and friend groups. “It was a quintessential suburban lifestyle,” he says. “And every year, my middle school drama teacher would write a play to make fun of it, and as kids we would have a blast producing it.” His first foray into theater, he says, not only tuned him into the concept of acting, but also presented him with his own community. “It was an extremely collaborative process - and I think that’s what I liked the most about that first play. It was a play about us, about my hometown, and we worked together to make it happen.” He adds, “It’s almost as if, through the literature of theater, I found the words to express things I was feeling that I couldn’t in any other way.” 

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After that, he says, theater became his passion. “It was my thing. I gave up all the other sports and extracurriculars I was doing in high school and just focused on theater.” But even after attending a fine-arts-focused liberal arts college, Ryan’s path to acting wasn’t straight-forward. He knew he wanted to be an actor, but when he graduated college, it didn’t feel like an option. “This was in 2005, and there weren’t a lot of opportunities for Asian-American actors, specifically Asian-American men. There really just weren’t any jobs.” 

The career market at that point discouraged Takemiya. He put aside acting for ten years after college and became a grant and proposal writer. “It wasn’t until 2013 or 2014 that I looked around again and the whole landscape had changed.” All of a sudden, there were not only more opportunities for actors of color, but, just as importantly, more opportunities to create original content.

“Youtube was huge - everybody was just filming stuff and putting it on Youtube themselves. You didn’t have to get a deal with a major studio, or get an agent, or any of that exclusive and intimidating stuff. You could break out on your own.” He also adds that commercials had been moving towards a more diverse acting base for years. “Corporations get it - you can’t make money off people you’re not representing. I started seeing non-majority people in commercials way before anything else.”

“I realized I had no more excuses,” he says, “It was now or never.” 

Ryan says that the realization was both exciting and mortifying. “I felt like I’d wasted the last ten years. I could have been part of this revolution if I had had the guts - but then when I saw these changes in Hollywood, I knew I had to focus on the future and ride the wave. I couldn’t let it go by anymore.” 

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But like many actors, Ryan has a secondary job, and laughs when he’s asked about it. “Aw man, my side hustle - who doesn’t have a side hustle?” He explains that it’s all a delicate balance. “I’m an event coordinator and stage manager, and it was a really lucky find. It’s extremely flexible - and not only that, but they give me health insurance, which is a huge deal. I couldn’t live without that.” But a side hustle, for someone this dedicated to their craft, is just that - a side hustle. “I have a lot of mixed feelings about side hustling. While I do genuinely love my part time gigs, I feel this conflict, because I really wish I could just spend all of my time acting. When I’m doing my side hustles, I’m still thinking about acting.” 

How does he make it all work? “Sometimes I’m not sure that everything fits together. Finances are a mystery to me. I have a lot of people that I have to answer to. You have to plan ahead, to budget, to schedule and think in advance. You have to know what you are and aren’t capable of - physically, financially, and emotionally. It’s a constant work in progress. But what’s amazing is that I am my own boss - sure, I have those million individuals that I technically report to, but the most important one, the one who has the most of my time and my attention, is me. And I think that’s how it works - I create my own space.” 

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Mariam Helmy