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About five years ago, Arden Cho started saying no to scripts. It began when her role as Kira Yukimura, the only woman of color in the main cast of MTV’s hit series Teen Wolf, was abruptly cut from the final season in 2016. She decided to hold out for the right next project — which meant finding characters that, as a Korean American who grew up in Texas, she thought she would never see. “I deserve, at least once in my life, to tell a story that girls can watch and be inspired by,” she tells THR. Her private “no’s” found a public stage this May, when she turned down Teen Wolf‘s film reboot; reports of the salary she was offered (apparently a fee less than half what her white co-stars earn) surfaced, and the story went viral. Cho said she based her decision not only on her career, “but for the next generation, the next Asian American girl, thinking this might be the best you can get.”
Cho was ready to wait decades for another gig, but an ideal role came quickly in the form of Ingrid Yun, a young woman gunning for a top job at a New York law firm on Partner Track, coming to Netflix on Aug. 26. Here, she opens up about the importance of the drama series’ representation both in front of and behind the camera.
How did it feel to work on a series led by an Asian American woman?
It was nice to be able to have conversations [with showrunner Georgia Lee] about Ingrid as a woman of color. Even small things like who’s going to kiss first — it’s really special that it’s the woman choosing in this show. Whether Ingrid’s choices are right or wrong, she’s making them.
Can you describe what is special about your character?
She’s not the typical shy, submissive Asian girl that people might expect. She’s quite bold. I think a lot of women in these cutthroat [corporate] worlds try to hide their feminine sides to earn respect, but if Ingrid wants to wear pink, she’ll wear pink.
In the first episode, someone mistakes Ingrid for a paralegal and she doesn’t hesitate to correct them.
As an Asian woman, I was taught to not rock the boat. Something I’m learning in my 30s is that it’s important to stand up for yourself in some scenarios, even if it’s just a simple “Hey, that wasn’t cool.”
What does being Asian American mean to you?
I was born and raised in Texas, went to high school in Minnesota, and was often the only minority. I’ve been called every slur in the book, and I was ashamed to be Asian American. Then, in college, I met international students. I had boba and pho for the first time. Now I’m the most Asian girl, and I’m so proud of that.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
This story first appeared in the Aug. 17 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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Robert De Niro