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THE LIGHTER SIDE OF CECE TSOU
interviews the Writer/Creator/Star of "Hold the Rice"
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.
THE CREATIVE PROCESS
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 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.”
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.