Jodi Long stars in USA’s new supernatural drama ” Falling Water,” but she’s been making a name for herself on screen for years in some of TV’s best shows. More than just her work on screen, Long is also a talented filmmaker creating an award-winning documentary “Long Story Short,” her personal family story which tells the tale of her Chinese-Aussie tap dancer father and Japanese-American showgirl mother. I caught up with her to talk her new USA hit and more.
What drew you to a life of performing initially?
My parents were vaudevillians playing The Ed Sullivan Show and The Palace in NYC (which in those days was the place to perform onstage). When vaudeville morphed into the nightclub circuit, I played backstage during their club dates. It was a part of my life and my wanting to be on stage was just a natural extension of the life we lived.
You spent time on the stage, even sharing a familial connection with Flower Drum Song in that your father was in the original production. How did acting on the stage feed you as an artist?
Yes, I saw my father onstage in the original Broadway production of Rodger and Hammerstein’s Flower Drum Song, later toured with him in the show on the road as a kid and ultimately as an adult, co-starred in the revival Broadway production of Flower Drum Song which was our family story come full circle.
Theater is an actor’s medium. Television is a writer’s medium, and film is a director’s medium. In the theater, once a show/play opens and the writer and director go home, it’s just the actor and their relation/communication with the audience. This is where magic is created. That’s why I always like to go back to the theater to keep my instincts honed. An audience doesn’t lie and to be a really good actor, you can’t lie to them.
Speaking of your father, what was the impetus for your documentary, “Long Story Short?”
Flower Drum Song had elements of the nightclub circuit my parents played in the 1950’s. I was in rehearsals for the revival of Flower Drum Song and wanted to find the clip of my parents on The Ed Sullivan Show, not only to show the cast as research, but to show my parents. You have to understand that, in 1950 when they performed on the show, The Ed Sullivan Show was aired live, and there was no DVR or video recorders. My parents had never seen themselves perform, and part of the impetus of the documentary, besides telling the story of our “family business,” was to document the quest to find that clip and their reaction fifty years later to that performance.
What did you learn, besides insights on your family, that you’ve been able to take with you as an artist?
Well I learned how to produce and write a film. I was the “gal Friday” to the director and editor, researching archival footage, to figuring out rights, festivals, and marketing. Being “just an actress” at that point, it was quite a learning curve for me. This film and most films are a real labor of love. It takes a long time from inception to distribution that you better love the story you are setting forth, because most of the time you are going to be living with it for a very long time.
How is “Falling Water” your current TV project, challenging you as an actress?
All series in the beginning are challenging because you and the writers are getting a feel for you character and where they are going. I didn’t know much about my character when we started so it’s finding what is interesting to me, bringing that to the table and then seeing how that resonates with the writing team. It’s part of the creative process.
What’s surprised you about the process of putting the show together?
We shot two episodes at a time, sometimes overlapping. And because the show is about dreams and relationships, some in real time, some not, I had to often stop and go back to the whole script to see where we were in the story!
I have a film “The Tale” directed by Jennifer Fox starring Laura Dern. I have a one woman show that I wrote, Surfing DNA (nominated for an Ovation Award in Los Angeles) that I’m working on getting to NYC. Right now I am very active doing service for the different communities I am a part of. I serve as President of the Board of Directors of Visual Communications, the first non-profit organization in the nation dedicated to the honest and accurate portrayals of the Asian Pacific American peoples through media arts who also produces the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival every year.
I also serve my acting family as a National and Local Board member of SAG AFTRA, Chairing the Ethnic Employment Opportunity Committee. At this point, I believe in giving back. So you see, when I’m not working my day job as an actress, I have my hands full.
To check out her documentary, head over to www.longstoryshortdocumentary.com