“My mother told me that my time will come, and that always stuck with me,” said Ally Maki right before her photo shoot. “In this creative business, everyone goes through a journey. Some achieve success quicker, while for others, it takes them a little longer.” For Maki, her own journey veers toward the latter. As a Japanese-American actress who has pounded the pavement for over a decade—auditioning for parts that eventually went to blonde-haired, blue-eyed girls—she had more hurdles to overcome than most. But she persevered. She has inched her way to stardom in an industry that favors a specific type for lead roles in film and television. Now she has a starring role on Wrecked, the TBS comedy series that is a parody of the drama Lost. Playing Jess, a lovelorn girl stranded on an island with a motley crew, Maki was thrilled to have a part that didn’t succumbed to Asian clichés.
“My role on Wrecked is one of the first things I’ve done that wasn’t meant for anyone in particular,” she said. “This is one of the first roles that had no stereotypes attached to it. It had absolutely nothing to do with my ethnicity.”
Originally from Seattle, Washington, Maki moved to Los Angeles when she was 14 years old to pursue an acting career. But at the time, as she explained, there “wasn’t a ton of representation by Asian Americans in Hollywood.” She looked up to Margaret Cho, who was one of the few well-known personalities of Asian decent, but beyond that, her greatest source of inspiration was her grandmother. “When she was a teenager, she was in the Japanese-American interment camps,” she recounted. “To know someone that overcame that struggle and adversity is really inspiring. And she always had a positive attitude about it.”
With her mother’s advice and grandmother’s story guiding her, Maki took the less-than-stellar parts that came her way in stride. When she first started, all she could get seen for was the role of the best friend, the nerdy girl, and the martial arts experts—basically, Asian stereotypes. “I almost had an identity crisis because I am not the super smart girl with glasses, and I’m don’t do any martial arts cause I’m very uncoordinated,” she said. “So I wondered where I’d fit in is this industry.”
Maki is a self-professed goofball who grew with a set of brothers. She loves to eat at In-N-Out Burger, binges on Netflix, and tries to find enough time in her schedule to travel the world. Sadly, these facets that make up her personality was usually overlooked until the role of Jess came along—evidence that Hollywood is evolving slowly but surely.
“It wasn’t until recently, in the past couple of years, that things have started to change a little bit,” she said. “People are starting to see that there is this pocket of Asian Americans that are fully American. We are just normal girls.”
Indeed, her time has come.
Rising Above The Wreckage
How did your role on Wrecked come about?
I’d worked with the casting director, Julie Ashton, three times. She’s amazing. She really thinks outside of the box. When she was casting this project, she called me in. And actually, I almost didn’t. When I first read the script, I immediately thought that they’re not going to go Asian with this.
That’s so sad that you thought that.
Yes, it is. For the past 10 years, I couldn’t get seen for leads in movies. And if I did, it felt like they were doing it out of pity. Sure, they’d let me audition, but I really wouldn’t be considered for the role. Now, I feel like women with diverse ethnicities need to change their thinking, and believe that they can play and be great at any role they want.
So what happened on your Wrecked audition? Did you hit it out of the park?
I guess! The character was just so me. She’s this fun, feisty girl. I grew up with brothers, so I feel like I have a kick-ass spirit. I connected with her a lot, which I think showed at the audition.
How would you describe the premise of the show?
Wrecked is a fun ensemble comedy about a group of strangers that crash land on this deserted island, and they have to learn to survive and make a community without social media and basic necessities. What I love most about the show is that it has a little bit of everything: it’s this new genre that combines action, adventure and comedy. It feels like you’re watching a mini move every week.
Is it based on the show Lost?
The creators’ of our show, the Shipley brothers, were huge fans of Lost. They had this idea of taking the people in the background, the underdogs—the ones that are not beautiful and capable like Matthew Fox and Evangeline Lily’s characters—and showing their story. They wanted to focus on the people that can’t fend for themselves, the ones who can barely function in the real world.
How would describe your character Jess?
She’s a hopeless romantic that wears her heart on her sleeve. She’s been in a relationship with her boyfriend Todd for seven years, and he’s not really the best partner. Now that she’s on the island, she sees it as a second chance to find herself, figure out what she wants, and hopefully become a strong, independent girl.
Now that show has been renewed for a second season, how do you see your character evolving down the line?
I hope that she continues to find her independence and her inner strength. Being on the island brings out different sides of every character, whether it’s their inner evil or good. What’s cool is seeing how they handle getting a second chance with their lives. As for Jess, I like to think that she’s trying to find her inner Beyoncé.
How would you describe your personal style?
As the only girl in my family, my brothers would dress me up in hockey gear and throw pucks at me. Whenever I dress really girly, I feel weird and out of my element. I don’t think I’m a super tomboy, but I relate more to a guy’s style. I mean, I did grow up with a bunch of boys. I liked to be relaxed a comfortable. If I could wear sweatpants everyday, I would.
Do you have any style icons?
I think Zendaya is slaying it right now. I think she has no fear, and is down to be funky, fresh and fun.
What so you think are the key items that every woman needs in her wardrobe?
For sure, an amazing pair of jeans that fit well. A fitted blazer is always nice. And overalls! I think they’re so fun, and take me back to my middle school days.
How would you define luxury?
Luxury doesn’t have to be the most expensive. It is what you feel most fabulous in— whatever you feel the best in.
By Barry Samaha