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Wingman Wednesday

Angela Ko

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Photo By: Marc Cartwright

Very few people with aspirations of Hollywood greatness end up booking a starring role on a major television series as their very first credit. Even fewer people do it on a series that is produced and directed by a legend in the business. Angela Ko did just that, serendipitously landing the part of Cheena Lin in John Singleton’s “Rebel” for BET.

We recently sat down with Ko to discuss how the series came into her life, how Singleton fought to cast her in the role, and why Cheena is an extension of Angela.

TrunkSpace: “Rebel” is your first major TV or film gig, which seams like a really big and bold way to jump start your career?
Ko: Absolutely! Yes it is the first thing and it’s a blessing. It’s crazy! (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: Have you seen it directly influence your career in other areas thus far?
Ko: Absolutely. I would say that my whole life changed. Literally last year this time, I had absolutely no idea about “Rebel.” No idea at all. I was still just praying for it, thinking about it, and from here I’ve come across being able to do things like this, interviews, going to events and just meeting different people and talking about collaborating and making my own content with other producers, writers, and directors. So yeah, absolutely… it has completely changed.

TrunkSpace: What was the experience of learning that you had landed the part like and what went through your head when you found out?
Ko: Oh my goodness! First of all, the whole journey of getting it is a completely unique story. I’ll give you the long short version. This Saturday will mark a year of me going to a Natasha Ward casting workshop in which I put up a piece and she mentioned “Rebel” to me and said to put myself on tape. They had already done the casting and callback process but something in her sparked her to say, “Put yourself on tape. You got that energy.” So I put myself on tape, sent it in by that following Monday and didn’t hear anything back. I forwarded it to my mentor for reviewing and the next day I get call from Kim Hardin and my mentor that I was going to chemistry read in front of John Singleton. And I was like, “WHAT?!?!” I had never done anything like that before. I was absolutely blown away, but I knew I was prepared. Flash forward, I did the chemistry read and it went amazing. That was a Thursday. On Saturday I get a call, including from John himself, saying I got the part and my mind was blown. Instantly, within that second, I was in tears.

TrunkSpace: So had you not taken that workshop, the show never would have found its way into your life?
Ko: Absolutely. It gets even funnier. It’s divine timing. It’s about making a choice and moving forward in that choice, even if it doesn’t seem a part of the plan. I tell you, I was moving to New York when I was coming to LA to take the workshop.

TrunkSpace: What’s so awesome is that you can hear the excitement in your voice about being involved in “Rebel.” So often it feels like people are promoting projects just because it’s a part of their contract, but you genuinely seem to love your place in it.
Ko: Yeah. I loved it! I’m blessed. We just had the season finale two days ago and it was bittersweet. We had the viewing at a theater and it literally hit me then because it happened so fast. Everything was new to me. This was my first thing ever. First time shooting a pilot. First time shooting a series. First time being out in LA by myself. It was just a lot of firsts and it happened kind of fast and you have to just kind of pick up and do it. You have to be professional and go to a super higher power version of yourself. Towards the end I started enjoying it a little bit more. During that finale, I had a friend who has been with me since the get go of when I took a turn and started pursuing this and training hard at it, and he was next to me and had been through the process and I was like, “Oh my God, my head is going to be so big on the screen!” (Laughter) I’m funny like that. And then the next sentence was, “Oh my God, this is the first time I’ve ever seen myself on the big screen.” I just started getting flashes in my head of my mom and I going to the movie theater and of just literally, a week ago, going to the movie theaters. It was like, “This is real!” I just got emotional. It’s incredible.

TrunkSpace: You mentioned going through a lot of the firsts on “Rebel,” but as you look back over your time on the series, what was the highlight for you in terms of the acting itself that, if you were putting together a new reel right now, you’d splice in there?
Ko: Oh, man! You know what’s funny, I’ve been thinking about that recently because I’m like, “I’m going to have to add this to my reel.” It’s hard to just kind of be objective.

I think Cheena had a moment with Rebel in episode four where her and Rebel kind of had a moment where she just said, “Take me seriously.” That’s kind of something, but I also see a different side of her. Cheena is really the comic relief and I definitely want to show aspects of that and I think that was shown quite well in the pilot. There was a moment with Mykelti and I, Rene and Cheena, at the table where it’s kind of that first thing and snapping back. That would be one.

See, it’s hard to choose! (Laughter)

The other one would be the scene with Cheena and TJ (Method Man) where she is kind of protecting Rebel and she’s like, “Back up!” I think it shows a different layer of her that is a little tougher. It’s like, “Whoaaa… Cheena can snap back too!”

I think those would be my top three to choose from.

TrunkSpace: Most actors are also fans of the industry itself, so we’d imagine that being directed by John Singleton, particularly as one of your first jobs, must have been pretty exciting?
Ko: Oh my goodness! It was! He is so supportive and he is all about authenticity and bringing the real voice. Initially Cheena was Chinese but he learned that I was Taiwanese and Philppina and he was like, “Well, Cheena is Taiwanese then!”

I’ve trained. I’ve been in the arts for a long time. I’ve always had a passion for it. But, as far as being on camera, God, I was on stage. Being on camera is a whole different beast. I’ve been told growing up that, “Oh, you’re funny!” and I’m, “I’m not funny. I’m not trying to be funny.” I always took it offensively. And he, kind of throughout the process, just basically told me what I don’t even know about myself. He was like, “You have an innate comedic timing. Really nurture that. You take it offensively when people are laughing, but they’re not laughing at you. You’re funny.”

And what an honor to be getting a phone call or a text from John Singleton that says to watch Woody Allen movies or to watch the Marlon Brando documentary. That process is incredible. And he let us play. We really just… we had fun. We had fun! And a lot of time times, he let us do some improv. Like the scene in the pilot, the dinner scene with Mykelti, Danielle and I… my goodness! Mykelti is just a brilliant actor. But, he (Singleton) would put the camera in front of me and he’d be like, “Just react!” To feel special as an actor… to feel comfortable and to feel like you’re able to play that… it’s the best thing ever.

And away from that, I just have to say… I will forever be grateful to him for giving me a chance because not many people in the industry right now would be willing to give somebody with no credits a chance. We just all feel so incredibly blessed that we had somebody like John Singleton willing to take a chance and not give a crap about status quo.

“Rebel” episode 109 – Angela Ko as Cheena Lin. (Photo: BET)

TrunkSpace: Well, and that’s something he has been doing his entire career, all the way back to “Boyz n the Hood.”
Ko: His whole career! And he’s confident about it. He gives people a chance and he believes in people, especially musicians and artists. At the end of the day, he believes in telling an authentic story from people who came from those kinds of backgrounds who fit the character. That’s it. It’s about telling an authentic story and I respect him for that because trust me, they definitely say, “Oh, we want a name for this!” And he’s like, “No! Danielle is Rebel. Angela Ko is Cheena.”

TrunkSpace: That must give you all of the confidence in the world to go in on your first day and own Cheena.
Ko: You know, yes and no. (Laughter) I’m still an actor and an artist and it was my first thing! So honestly, even throughout when I got the script, I read it and I was like, “Holy crap, this is me!” Your first thought is to overthink it. I thank God that I have a great support system because my friends are like, “Ko, this is so close to home for you. Just be you! Be the best you that you can be!” Do you know how hard that is? You go in to be an actor to be everybody else, so it’s actually a little more difficult, at least for myself, to give as much of me and accept all of me and bring all of MY self all to the table. So yeah, there’s a level of confidence, but there’s so much work to be done to get yourself prepared to relax and to just be you and to show the flavor and to show the sass.

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Wingman Wednesday

Michael Masini

MichaelMasini_Wingman_wednesday
Photographer: James DiPietro

Michael Masini is a dual-threat. When he’s not wearing his artist hat and starring on the small screen in John Singleton’s BET series “Rebel” and the CBS megahit “Blue Bloods” opposite Donnie Wahlberg, he is tapping into his business roots, working with James Franco’s production company, Elysium Bandini Studios, executive producing big budget blockbusters-to-be “Black Dog, Red Dog” and “The Heyday of the Insensitive Bastards.”

We recently sat down with Masini to discuss his acting inspiration, working on “Rebel,” and his road from hockey to Hollywood.

TrunkSpace: You have a really interesting career path from professional hockey player to Wall Street to where you are today acting and producing. How much of that was planned and how much of it was life doing what life does?
Masini: I’d say 90 percent life doing what life does. (Laughter) All I knew was hockey growing up. I just ate, breathed, slept hockey. That’s it. And then when I was 17 I made it to the Junior Olympic training camp up in Lake Placid, NY and then after that you kind of get selected to go to pros or juniors. Juniors is like the best 20 and under players in the country. So I went to the San Jose Sharks training camp. It was like a mini-camp… the rookie camp for San Jose, the Detroit Red Wings, and the Florida Panthers. And out of that I got a hip pointer… kind of like my hip got twisted in the socket the wrong way. I was about 17 or 18 and it never really fully came back. I kept playing on it, but I never was as good as when I was 17. So, your mind just naturally starts to wander. I knew nothing but hockey. I went to prep school and I was groomed to play hockey when I was there. So then my mind just kind of went, “Okay, what else would I like to do?” I always loved movies and I loved telling stories and in the summers to make money I would work for my dad on Wall Street. He was with Salomon Smith Barney and Lehman Brothers. So I worked with him in the summers and then once hockey ended… my hip had enough. I played over in Germany and played in the minor leagues over here, but I couldn’t sustain a season. I could play like three or four games and then the hip would go out. Then it would be months of recovery to try and get back to normal. It wasn’t the life that I wanted at 19 years old. So then I went to college and got my economics degree because my dad was like, “If you’re gonna pursue anything in entertainment, I at least need to know that you have your economics degree so if you wanted to fall back on Wall Street, you have it.”

TrunkSpace: Well, and not even to fall back on… having that knowledge is probably a great thing to have while working inside the entertainment industry.
Masini: Oh yeah, but I didn’t know that. I had no clue. I knew zero people in entertainment. I knew zero people in the acting world or the producing world. I knew no one. I was just going to come out here and start grinding away to figure it out. Honestly, “The Basketball Diaries” is one of my favorite movies and when I saw Leonardo’s performance, that always drew me and I was like, “I want to do that.” So I loved that side, but then I also loved the business side. I wanted to be like a Spielberg. I was like, “How do these movies get made? How does it happen?” It was all just a dream. Then I started to break it down with that business mind I grew up with… with having Wall Street people around me and my brothers are all business owners. With any dream, there are definite steps to take to get there. So then I just started taking the steps to get there. I finished school. I went to Seton Hall and… I went to three different schools because I was also a scratch golfer so a part of me was like, “Can I at at least teach golf or learn how to run country clubs while I’m pursuing all of this stuff?” (Laughter)

I loved it all. Life’s short. Why not do everything? (Laughter)

So, I graduated college and then I got booked on my first movie “Fifty Pills” and it went to Tribeca with Kristen Bell and Michael Pena. I was on set and I’d be talking to the directors and the producers as much as I was talking to the other actors. I loved all sides of it. So then I interned at a sales company to learn how distribution works.

TrunkSpace: That’s another great skill to have because it’s one that a lot of people overlook.
Masini: Yup. And again, my business mind just immediately goes to there. I never would think of starting a company, whether it be as an actor… I think of myself as a company as an actor or a company as a producer… or any company. If you’re going to have a pizzeria or a hot dog stand or something, you need to figure out who your clientele is, where the best place to be is, and how your income is going to come in. You can’t just start it randomly. So my business mind always works backwards. “Okay, this is where I want to be and this is where I want to get to, so what people are in that side of the industry where I can learn from and I can learn backwards.” I know what it takes to get a film distributed. I know the 15 points it takes. When I’m reading a script, there are 15 points… eight that it has to have, but there are 15 that I kind of look for… and then at the end of it, is it going to be too much work to get the script in place and to get these points met so that it’s going to make a return? And I’m talking like a guaranteed return before it even… I mean, you always want to make a great movie, but I’m saying, if it doesn’t turn out to be the best movie, you still want to make a return.

TrunkSpace: And that’s your business mind, which is great, but your creative mind was drawn to “The Basketball Diaries,” which wasn’t a huge financial success.
Masini: Yes. (Laughter) That drew me in as an actor. That was like, “Wow!” It just felt so real and that was my turning point movie. Watching that movie is when I started getting more immersed into the craft of being an artist and being an actor. So, the good thing is, I have the best of both sides. I know what it takes to be an artist and that side of it, and then I also know the business sense, so I try to bring them together in projects that I’m associated with. So, that’s what drew me in as an artist, but always those big budget blockbuster projects are what draws me in as a creator and wanting to be a producer.

TrunkSpace: So how do you separate the two worlds for yourself in terms of the business side and the acting side because what we found interesting is that you don’t always appear as an actor in those projects you’re also producing?
Masini: And I kind of like it that way. One, it doesn’t muddy the waters. When I get brought on to produce or executive produce or oversee… I’ll get brought in on projects just to oversee and to make sure everything is running in sync. I just make sure that everything is in alignment for the best possible chance of getting a distribution deal. So I don’t like to muddy the waters. If I’m going to visit a set or I’m making a decision and all of a sudden I’m popping on the other side playing around with a scene, it’s kind of like, “Wait a second, this guy was just over here trying to keep everything streamlined and now he’s jumping in and doing a scene.” Even the ones that I’m in, I think I only give myself one take because I don’t want to be the guy that’s jumping in. I’m about everything running on schedule and making sure we get the most bang for the buck… I don’t want to be in there getting like nine takes. (Laughter) So I go in and get out.

But yeah, it’s mainly because I don’t want to muddy the waters. They’re separate jobs and I treat them as separate jobs. When I act I act and it’s like full force for that. I just booked a great role on “Stitchers” today. It’s like one that I just get to be totally… it’s a lot of fun. And if I was producing it… sometimes when you’re producing you’re thinking about so many other things and you can’t be totally in the scene.

Photographer: James DiPietro

TrunkSpace: You’re currently starring in the BET series “Rebel.” Outside of your early work in soaps, is this the character you have spent the most time with?
Masini: Yes and I’m so grateful for it. Since I’ve booked that, I just keep booking everything. I’m in seven of 10 episodes, but because a couple are flashbacks, I was actually on set for six episodes. It was fun to have the arc. And my first couple of episodes are small and then it’s all about everybody coming after me to bring me down and you’ll see why. It was great because I had to figure out what makes this guy tick. He’s not the most likable character because he’s a racist cop who killed a kid, but I had to find a heart within him to find the reason why he did that. I had to find an underneath part of why. I couldn’t just make him kind of generic. I had to find an underneath. So, you’ll see little kinks in the armor of why I am the way I am.

TrunkSpace: So if an opportunity came along where you landed a series that went on to do five seasons and over a 100 episodes, would you welcome something like that knowing that you’re also producing these big features at the same time?
Masini: Yes, because like being an athlete… being a hockey player… that’s the player in the game. I like to be the player. That’s my first love. Producing feels more like being the owner of the team or being the coach of the team. But being the player, that’s my main love because that’s why I got into this industry, mainly for that side and then my business sense drew me to the other side as well. But the thing is, with a lot of the producing stuff I do, like with James Franco and Vince Jolivette (Elysium Bandini is the company), they brought me on to oversee, so I can do that kind of at my leisure. They know I shoot and again, I don’t muddy the waters by being in these movies. I was in New York shooting “Blue Bloods” and I came out here and I’ll shoot “Stitchers” and I’ve got some commercials that I’m shooting. I go and shoot and then when I have free time I go and I look at all of the materials, I look at dailies, I sit with the editor, and I go over stuff to kind of executive produce and oversee the project as a whole to see what we can do to maximize our chances of getting the best distribution deal. So, I know a lot of the business side of it where I can still do that and not have to be boots on the ground.

 

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