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THE LIGHTER SIDE OF CECE TSOU

 The Producer interviews the Writer/Creator/Star of "Hold the Rice"
A Television Pilot Project / www.holdtherice.com

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Cece Tsou - Before and After

HOW IT CAME TO BE: After some 15 years of being in the business, mostly as an actor, I decided to take all of my wacky experiences and the occasional random epiphany and put it on paper. Not only that, but I wanted to create roles that I never saw being written for someone like me of Asian descent. This brings us to present day here with HOLD THE RICE. Tess, my character, is spunky, funky, and blonde. Oh, and she happens to be Asian, too!

HOW IT WAS: I’ll never forget the time I had this whole table to myself at the coffeehouse on campus when this earthy crunchy guy in Birkenstocks straddles the chair in front of me with the usual Cece pick-up line: “Chinese, right?” And I’d do the usual: “Oh, wow. You’re good. How did you know?” And then: “My last girlfriend was Chinese. In fact, I went to China for a whole year…” I hated to disappoint him, but I knew I wasn’t that “Chinese girl” he was looking for. This was only the beginning of a long lin of presumptions of what people thought they’d get from me. Everytime I dodged a stereotype, I actually felt like I was letting people down. I was supposed to be a bad driver. I was supposed to have the right answers to a test. I was supposed to be able to know the answer to 342 times 31 without a calculator. My freshman dormmate even asked me if my vagina was horizontal as she had no Asian friends to dispel the myth that her older brother once told her.

Fast forward to 5 years ago when I became a blonde. I knew that my Madonna complex from the 80’s would catch up with me. What can I say? I’ve always wanted to be white. I always thought it would make life so much easier. And anyway, grass is always greener. The interesting thing is that EVERYTHING changed for me. There was no category for me. No one knew what to expect from me, whether I was going to be outrageous or just plain goofy. It bought me enough time (even if it was just an extra 5 seconds) to throw in the Cece part of me. And then it donned on me – this time I was dodging stereotypes, but it was okay because I didn’t LOOK the part anyway. And what an amazing change it had on the roles I was suddenly up for. I didn’t have to do the news reporter/doctor/secretary thing anymore. I could be a prison inmate, a drug addict, a FREAK. I LOVED it! Last year, I was cast in THIRTEEN after my manager insisted that the director see me, an 8 1/2 month pregnant blonde Asian at the time, for the part of the nerdy Hispanic science teacher. Go figure.

HOW IT STILL IS: So I try my luck at the DMV a few years ago. I needed to get my address changed on my driver license so I got a new picture taken. The guy’s looking over my information and asking me if my stats were the same. “Well, I’m blonde now,” I tell him as I’m pointing to my head. Not that it wasn’t already obvious. “Your kind doesn’t have blonde hair,” he says as he hands the papers back to me and points to the next line. It’s nice to know that I can always count on the State of California to put me In my place. Ask to see my ID sometime – it still says I have black hair.


HOW IT WILL BE: Fast forward to now. I am still blonde and still on fire, trailblazing my way to get onto YOUR TV screen. I’ve done a lot of cut and pasting over the years, and I’m still in one happy piece. I got rid of the things I didn’t like and kept the things I had no choice but to keep. Well, okay, I kept things that I personally liked, too. I have a beautiful family now, and all I want now is to keep the promise that I made to my son before he was born – that he would grow up in a house with a backyard and his own room. With YOUR help now, we will make that HAPPEN!

THE CREATIVE PROCESS

THE PLOT
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Upon being willed a Chinese restaurant, Texan Tess Green decides to combine her job as a mechanic with running a restaurant. Not only does she learn more about her Chinese heritage, but she discovers that the art of serving people with their meals is just as important as the art of servicing cars. So while Tess spends a lot of time learning about Chinese food, Chinese people, how to use chopsticks and her mother - Daisy, is still trying to stay as white-washed as she possibly can.

Tess' white sister, Dale, is still trying to recover from being a one-hit country wonder. She seeks solace in several boyfriends at a time and ends up quite happily with Chen, a state-renown Feng Shui specialist. Tess, on the other hand, starts to date Billy, a "Dawson Creek-type," but as she is still fervently struggling with her own identity as an Asian American, she ends up sabotaging a good thing. Billy ends up with Tawny, a Beverly Hills Barbie poster child.

Meanwhile, the restaurant flourishes. Still, it's hard for Tess to feel like she fits in anywhere. The Chinese employees still star at her blond hair whenever she speaks to them. But in the auto shop world, nobody takes her seriously because she's a woman. She realizes that no matter how much she tries to find the fit, it's best to just leave it as it is, in the category of Tess.

 

HOLD THE RICE started from our Friday night dinners at home with talk about shooting a short film showcasing the work of my friends and I. Anne Ford (plays sister, Dale) and I were co-founders of an all-female improv group, THE LEVITATING PAPAYAS, and we had wanted to branch off and write a 2-woman show about childhood sisters that get separated and reconnect later in life.

We wanted to play sisters so we had a great opportunity to build as elaborate a story as we wanted to. And since I’ve always wanted to look like Anne, and Anne has always wanted to look like me, the dynamic of our on-screen relationship as sisters was perfect.

In the meantime, I had just finished my own one-woman show, DIARY OF A BLONDE, an ode to my son that exposes just about everything I stand for as a human being. The struggles I had with my identity as an Asian-American obviously spilled over into my character, Tess, in HOLD THE RICE, especially since the show portrays the lives of a racially-mixed family, a demographic that has grown exponentially in the past decade.

I had also shelved a spec script that I had written years ago, THE CATER KING, a sitcom about a rising attorney that suddenly gets willed her father’s catering business and hasn’t a clue where to begin.

Coupled with my own experience of 6 1/2 years in a Beverly Hills Chinese restaurant, we decided that a short film was not enough to play out the outrageous scenarios that Tess could go through. We decided to start mapping out 3 seasons worth of material and to start the campaign to get HOLD THE RICE on television as its own show!


THE BIGGER PICTURE

 
REVIEWS
 
"Cece is an extraordinary talent, both as a writer and performer. In this homogenized world, Cece is a breath of fresh air. Her voice and point of view speaks to a very large and diverse under-served audience. Smart, tart and full of heart...that's Cece Tsou."
--Teddy Zee, President, Overbrook Entertainment

""HOLD THE RICE... has a great message, but it's something that anyone from any culture can identify with... can't wait to see it on television!"
--Edith M. Sumaquial, Editor, Jade Magazine

The bigger picture for Cece is the message that people would be more tolerant of each other if they saw everything in 3D instead of the usual two dimensions: black and white. We share the world with each other, and no one race is more entitled or better than the other. We all share the same feelings of joy and pain, the same butterflies on a first date, and at the end of the day, the same sigh of relief when our head hits that pillow.

“Yes, I am Chinese,” she says, “but it would never be the first word I would use to describe myself. Yet it would be the first word someone else would use. If I could list 25 adjectives that describe Cece Tsou, being Chinese would be #25.”


As reluctant as we are to admit, the identity struggle resonates in all of us, whatever our backgrounds. Who are we to our employers? Who are we to our families? What role do we play in our friends’ lives? What’s absurd is that we think there’s one blanket statement that will answer all of these questions. We waste so much energy trying to avoid a run-on sentence when we should just focus on accepting that there is no one dimensional answer. We live in 3D.


THE PRODUCER

It has been my pleasure to be part of a team that was so creative, energetic and diverse. Our goal was quite simple. To create something that told the story of a Tess Green, with all the conflict…the same story you have seen over and over…just with Cece’s face. THAT is what I want my son to see when he turns on the television. A world filled with color, with honesty, integrity and most of all with truth.

 

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