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Actress Imani Hakim is proud of the visibility her role on Apple TV+’s Mythic Quest gives to women working in video games and tech. “I identify as being a pretty nerdy woman,” says Hakim, 27, who stars as video game tester Dana on the dramedy, set inside a company that produces a multiplayer role-playing game of the same name. “I love the role because she’s a woman in this space that we don’t necessarily see often. These types of women need more representation.”
Hakim has been acting professionally since she was 11, when she began playing the part of Tonya Rock, the younger sister on the TV series Everybody Hates Chris, a role she won after convincing her father to journey in their van from the family’s hometown of Cleveland, Ohio, to Los Angeles to pursue her career. She spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about the evolution of Dana’s Mythic Quest character (including a burgeoning relationship onscreen with Rachel, a fellow game tester), what it was like starting out in the business at such a young age and the hobbies she got into during the pandemic.
How did you convince your dad to drive from Ohio to Los Angeles when you were 11 so you could try to break into Hollywood?
I guess my parents would probably say that I’ve always had a creative instinct about me and that I was one of those kids who would choose alone time writing in my room over play dates with my friends. My dad could not get me outside to play with my friends. That became a sign to my dad to take a leap of faith to see if we could do this thing for real. We packed up all of our belongings in our van and drove across the country.
How did the trip go?
Our van would break down every five seconds. We were like “We’re going to make this happen.” We came out here without any experience in the industry at all. We didn’t know anyone out here. We didn’t know what pilot season was. We really came out here blind. I booked Everybody Hates Chris within three months of being out here. I’ve been very blessed and lucky to make this dream happen.
Good thing you didn’t take the van breaking down as a sign to give up.
The van breaking down was the least of our worries. Once we got out here, we were living in our van pursuing this dream and it was a lot to carry as an 11-year-old. I was so passionate about acting and driven, but my dad was like, “Hey, if this is too much I totally understand — we can go back home and be with the family.” And I said no I’m willing to stay out here.
The rest of your family stayed back home in Ohio?
Yes. It was just my dad and myself [in L.A.]. I have two older brothers and three younger brothers. Dad and I were committed.
When did you finally move from living in your van to getting a place in L.A?
[The Everybody Hates Chris] production was like, ‘We can’t have one of our leads staying in a van.’ And so they put us up for the remainder of us shooting the pilot, and once we were picked up to series obviously we were able to get a home and we got a really nice apartment out in Woodland Hills.
What was it like for you to enter Hollywood so young?
When I first came here it was a culture shock for me. It was very different from the land that I knew. Being surrounded by the culture of Hollywood was jarring for me. We tried to make it as normal as possible. I was homeschooled and I was part of this community of other young entertainers who were also homeschooled.
What helped make the experience more normal?
All these young actors, singers and dancers, this community of young entertainers, would get together. We would go to Universal CityWalk and hang out, and we would go to the mall and see movies or go skating. We tried to find ways to stay grounded and create I guess a childhood experience because none of us were in school. It was kind of hard for us to make friends outside of our industry, but I wouldn’t change it. For me, I felt home school really fit my personality. I don’t know if I could handle going to high school with normal kids. Kids — they can be cruel, and I think this was the path for me.
Any advice you have for young people starting out in the entertainment industry?
There is sort of a natural competitive effort in this industry. So my advice is to find your community if you can, whether that be a really nice acting class where there’s some sort of support system. You need to have a safe space where you can be vulnerable and open. But also my advice would be to have friends outside of the industry. One of my favorite things is to have friends out of the industry and they don’t really care about what I’m doing. It’s really humbling, and it just keeps you grounded.
What interests do you have outside of work?
I really enjoy painting. My partner and I will blast some music and buy a really giant canvas and we will paint together. I got into chess, and I’m sure you can guess how I got into chess — The Queen’s Gambit. That’s been really fun. We also have date nights in the park. We’ll bring our chessboard and we’ll play chess in the park. I really like to be outdoors, whether it’s a staycation somewhere or going to the beach or going to the park. It’s really important to me to tap into that playful spirit. I just love to be active. Anything that helps me find that playfulness and that innocence, I really enjoy.
What was it like trying to shoot the series amid the COVID-19 pandemic?
We shot the first season before the pandemic and then were geared up to start shooting season two, and we began shooting season two the week of lockdown. And I think we got through the first week and [Mythic Quest co-creator] Rob [McElhenney] gave a speech. He was like, “We’re going to shut down production for two weeks. Don’t worry, we’re coming back.” Then that two weeks passed and then another two weeks passed and then all of the news was rolling in and we were kind of put on hold, but we were always in constant communication with [the producer] about how we can get production up and running again. At some point there was talk of going to Hawaii to shoot and then talk of going to New Zealand or Australia. Months passed until we were like, “We’re going to shoot in L.A., back home at CBS Radford, and we’re going to make this happen with new COVID protocols.”
What was it like to have that break in production?
It kind of gave us time to back to the drawing board and gave us time to reconfigure the season and flesh out more character development.
So what’s new with your character Dana in season two?
She’s incredibly passionate about being a game tester. Even with that passion, she’s aware that game testers are at the bottom of the totem pole and they don’t get paid a lot and they sit on this couch all day and their backs are aching, but this is the dream for Dana. People think you get to play games all day as a game tester — and you do — but it’s not what it seems. Basically, the role of a game tester is to break the game. It’s to find all the bugs in a game and log all the bugs in a game, so by the time it’s released into the world, it’s released smoothly. In season two, we get to see Dana end up on her own two feet. I mean that figuratively and literally because she’s not on the couch anymore. We get to see that passion we set up in season one go to the next step. She discovered there’s more to the game industry. She wants to level up in the company and see what else is up there. She’s trusting herself.
And she’s also exploring a new relationship.
There is a romantic love story going on with my fellow game tester Rachel, played by Ashly Burch. What’s really nice is we set them up in season one [with this] whole, “Will they? Won’t they?” [situation]. They are sharing these romantic glances and the tension is high. “Oh my God, are they going to kiss?” And in season two, we jump right into it and Dana just goes for it, which I really love. There is no more, “Will they? Won’t they?” We have them sort of unified.
What else has changed with the character?
Her physical appearance has changed too, as far as the way she dresses and her hair. In season one, we see Dana chewing her hair a lot as a physical quirk. In season two, we don’t see that as much. I think it’s because she’s a young woman and she’s evolving as well — taking charge of her career. You get to see that in her body language. You can see she’s just really growing as who she is.
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