By Momo Chang for CAAM
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
There’s no question that there are more Asian-American child actors now than ever before on TV. From the cast of ABC’s “Fresh Off the Boat,” which was just renewed for a fourth season, to shows like Disney’s “Bizaardvark,” Asian-American kid actors have taken center stage. “Bizaardvark,” about two girls of color, will premiere its second season this month on the Disney Channel.
The two main characters are best friends named Paige Olvera and Frankie Wong who are video-bloggers making music videos on a YouTube-like channel on Vuuugle. The show focuses on their friendship, navigating the social scene with their Vuuugle studio peers and, in general, celebrates female friendships. Paige is played by Olivia Rodrigo and Frankie is played by Madison Hu. The show was co-created by Kyle Stegina and Josh Lehrman, and also co-stars Dirk Mann, Amelia Duckworth and Bernard Schotz.
Born in Texas, Hu moved to Southern California as a child where she began auditioning for roles. She entered the Disney world when she was cast on “Best Friends Whenever.” Later, she was cast as Frankie on “Paige and Frankie,” a pilot that eventually became “Bizaardvark.” The second season of the tween-focused show takes place when Paige and Frankie start attending a public high school. Hu says she is excited to see her character develop more and for audiences to learn more about her family background.
We chatted with Hu, 16, over the phone just a few weeks before the premiere of Season 2.
How did you begin acting?
Well, my friend—I used to do everything that she would do—swimming, ice-skating, sports, instruments, all that kind of stuff. She had a manager and I eventually got that manager. And I didn’t know at the time that acting was a career path —I was 6 or 7. I didn’t now that the people that were on TV actually existed in real life and made a career out of it. She ended up doing acting, and I ended up doing acting. I ended up getting an agent and I started auditioning and doing jobs, and from there, I fell in love with it and kept going.
Were your parents pretty supportive?
Definitely. All my auditions were always like an hour away, and I would have to leave school early, so my parents were always super supportive. They always told me, whatever I wanted to do, I had to do it 100 percent, and they're always going to be 100 percent behind me. I was lucky to have them be there for me the entire time. They were always just like, whatever you want, we'll always be behind you, which I'm very lucky to have.
So when you started auditioning—because on “Bizaardvark” you play music and sing—was that something you were interested in or already had a talent in?
I never really thought of myself as a singer. Technically speaking, everyone can sing. But before the show, I was never super comfortable singing in front of people and I'd never taken a singing lesson. But I've been playing piano since I was 7 or 8, and I actually took up guitar for the show and ended up really liking it and kept going. This show has grown my love for music, guitar-wise, singing-wise, I've gotten more comfortable performing in front of people.
Are you and Olivia Rodrigo friends in real life along with the other cast members?
Disney has definitely given us a great place to make friends. I feel really fortunate. Our whole cast, we're like a family. It's really great to have friends while you're working.
Is there anything we can look forward to in the new season?
We definitely dive into my character's family life a lot more. We go more into school life-they start high school. In the first season, it was fitting in a new group at Vuuugle, a new social media place, and now they're trying to fit in at a public high school.
Nowadays, we have a few TV shows with Asian American families-a lot of them are actually at Disney and ABC so that's really great to see. How is it for you to be on a show as a lead role on a kids' or tween show? What are your thoughts on that?
I feel super fortunate-I think that's the first word that comes to mind-to be able to kind of be the representative, especially a representation that I did not see as a younger kid. It's really nice to see Hollywood opening up to represent Asian-Americans in a less stereotypical light. I do feel like there's a lot more we can do to prevent whitewashing-that's still something that we need to work on. I still think we're taking steps towards more representation and I feel fortunate to be a part of that.
Is there anything you want to add?
Representation really does matter no matter what kind. Not only for Asian-Americans but for other races, anyone… especially for children. When I was younger, I didn’t see anyone that looked like me on screen, like singers and people on the mainstream media. My immediate thought was that I’ll never be able to do that. If I had kept that mindset, I wouldn’t’ be doing the things that I am right now. Even if you don’t want to be in the arts, just seeing yourself represented is so important. Even though I never had that, I had one character—Brenda Song in “Homecoming Warrior.” And “Ni Hao Kai-Lan,” which I was embarrassed to admit I liked because it’s for little kids. That was the extent. Disney Channel has “Andi Mack,” a biracial Asian-American family, and “Bizaardvark.” I think it’s just important to have good representation without a stereotypical light.
Momo Chang is a writer Content Manager at the Center for Asian American Media, a nonprofit dedicated to presenting stories that convey the richness and diversity of Asian American experiences to the broadest audience possible.
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