9:00am PT by Chris Gardner
A Server at L.A. Sushi Spot Katana Cast 40 Co-Workers in His TV Pilot
Finding a waiter in Los Angeles who can act is like finding a piece of hay in a haystack, so when Chae Talley, a server at Sunset Boulevard sushi haunt Katana, was ready to staff up a television pilot, he opted to keep it all in-house.
After a string of bit parts as an actor, Talley took the advice of a UTA staffer who suggested the best way to forge a career is to create one’s own original content. That he did: Talley wrote, produced and stars in the independently produced and financed medical dramedy Thank You for Your Patients, and in doing so, he cast Katana servers as doctors, nurses and patients.
“I grew up watching Scrubs and House, M.D., doctor shows that have comedic elements mixed in with the drama that helped keep it grounded,” Talley tells THR of his inspirations. “I work alongside so many talented people, and if you were eating at this restaurant you wouldn’t necessarily know that the people who work there are these people who’ve all been on TV. So why not do something that brings everybody up together instead of clawing over one another?"
Talley is quick to dole out credit and praise to his Katana colleagues for their help in getting Patients off the ground, including Cassandra Dailey, actor, co-producer and co-financier (“She’s been a driving factor and helped me get all the boots on the ground”); actor Michael Derek; actor Andy Cohen; actor Samuel Scott; and the 40 extras they cast from various positions at the restaurant to help film a scene on the final day of the three-day shoot.
“I wrote the script with everyone in mind, knowing how talented they are, so all they had to do was show up and have fun. It was a total blast.”
Also fun: Thank You for Your Patients won an award off its first submission, taking home the best TV series prize from the recent L.A. Film Awards. Talley says he’s encouraged by the honor and he hopes it leads to a studio, network or streaming deal, and he and the creative team have the storyline mapped out for the entire first season as well as four additional seasons if it gets picked up.
“Ideally, the end goal is getting picked up so that everybody who is a part of it can stop waiting tables and take one less piece of grind off their plate.”
But not everyone is crossing their fingers. “Everyone is very excited except for [Katana] management,” Talley said. “Because that would mean we may need to replace our service staff very soon."
At Katana, where he’s been for three years, Talley works as a server captain, putting in 35-40 hours per week waiting tables as well as helping to facilitate training of new staffers, and no matter what happens, he continues to be thankful for his restaurant gig. “There’s this dream that you step off the plane after landing in L.A., go to a barbershop and in the chair next to you is a producer and the next thing you know, you’re a movie star. But the reality is, so many people have to work hard and find a way to make it or eventually head home. Waiting tables has been very, very humbling but in the best way possible. It forces you to be present and stay in the moment — you can’t plan three tables later or the service suffers,” he explains. “As a comedian the best stuff comes from human observation. You will never see someone more honest about who they are than when they are communicating with a waiter. It’s a constant reminder to not take anything or anyone as they appear and dig deeper.”
A version of this story first appeared in the Nov. 14 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.