I recently got the chance to talk to Tom Yi about his role as a jewelry store customer in ‘Bridesmaids’. Here, Tom talks about what it was like working with the cast and crew on the film, how he got into acting and what’s coming up for him in 2011…
Hey Tom. Thanks for taking the time out to talk to me. ‘Bridesmaids’ is in UK cinemas right now. What is the general premise behind the film?
‘Bridesmaids’ is the story of Annie (Kristin Wiig), a thirty-something woman whose life seems to be teetering on the edge of destruction when everything from her relationships with her self-centered boyfriend to her best friend – begin to fall apart. When her best friend (Maya Rudolph) announces she’s getting married, Annie begins a downward spiral that adversely affects Annie’s best friendship, her job and her chance at finding true love. Either that, or it’s about a group of women who have a bad meal at a dirty restaurant and try to prevent their intestines from exploding all over their fancy designer clothes.
Tell us a bit about the character you play in the film…
I play a jewelry store customer. Elaine Kao, who plays my wife/fiancée, and I are the first victims of Annie’s jaded attitude when her tightly wound life starts to unravel. To prepare for the role, I did a lot of ring shopping all over my neighborhood. My girlfriend is probably thinking all that shopping was for her, but I now know what the four-C’s stand for when grading diamonds.
How did you get involved in the project in the first place?
I wish I had an interesting story for you about an intense audition process they put me though, but the truth is: I answered the phone. I was unpacking from a vacation with my girlfriend when my agent called to tell me that the ‘Bridesmaids’ people wanted to hire me for a role. I had no recollection of ever auditioning for this project, but casting directors Allison Jones and Ben Harris have been very supportive of me through the years, as was in this case.
How would you say this film is different from other comedies released this year?
It’s unusual in that all the lead characters of this comedy are women and it’s a strong ensemble cast. I can understand why a lot of people have described ‘Bridesmaids’ as a female version of ‘The Hangover’, but I think it’s raunchier and more daring, in many ways, but with heart. Funny is funny – regardless of the gender of the comedy stars in this movie, but this one pulls out a lot of taboos because women are generally not portrayed this way, which is why it stands out and has been such a hit. The feelings that Annie experiences are universal. I mean, we’ve all made decisions and done things that come back to bite us in the rear. Speaking of which, the food poisoning and the subsequent diarrhea scene is also something we’re all familiar with, unfortunately. So hilariously well acted by an ensemble cast of women. I wonder if they are all method actors? There are two versions of blooper reels that I’ve seen which include some of the raunchier and more gross outtakes from the film. I hope they include both in the DVD release. They will give you a better understanding of how talented these women really are.
What was it like working on-set with the cast and crew? I’m hearing a lot of praise at the minute for Kristen Wiig….
Kristin Wiig is fabulous to work with. She was open to improvising, trying new ideas and changing things on the spot if it made the movie funnier or more real, even though she co-wrote the script with Annie Mumolo. I first became a fan of Kristin through her television work on “Saturday Night Live,” but I also love her dramatic work in the movie ‘Whip It’, the roller-derby feature. She is also a very good dramatic actress. Mark my words, one of these days she’ll take a departure from comedy and will wow audiences with a really great dramatic performance. Now, a quick story about Annie Mumolo. She co-wrote the script and is one of the producers of ‘Bridesmaids’, but I first knew Mumolo as a comedic actress long before my working on ‘Bridesmaids’. A couple of years prior to the ‘Bridesmaids’ shoot, I worked on a thirty-minute television comedy pilot that was never picked up by the networks. During that pilot shoot, in between set-ups of the scenes, I would spend time in my small trailer and relax. An actress named Annie was in the trailer next to mine. She was really funny and was shooting her scene before mine, so we had a lot of time to chat. She was telling me about a script she was working on with a friend about a wedding. We shot our scenes and, at the end of the day, we said our good-byes, I wished her luck with the script and, as actors do, I moved on to whatever project might be next on the horizon. Now, fast forward about two years – I’m on the set of ‘Bridesmaids’ and there was that funny actress I met, Annie Mumolo, looking about ten months pregnant, being catered to as a producer of the movie. I had no idea that that wedding project she was telling me about was “The Untitled Kristin Wiig Feature,” which ultimately became ‘Bridesmaids’. Hollywood is a small town, in many ways, and a person’s life can change dramatically in just a few years. Also, director Paul Feig is the nicest, most self-assured, and soft-spoken director that always has his eyes on the big-picture. He created a relaxed environment on the set and was unobtrusive – almost shy – in his directing style. He let us play and allowed the freedom to try things, but guided us to where we ultimately needed to arrive. It was a wonderful experience on all levels. Mr. Feig’s trademark is wearing a smartly fitted suit with shirt and tie on set. Very professional in appearance. I almost thought that the studio accountant came down to the set to watch. He made sure everyone brought their ‘A’ game. Even the craft services had delicious food, and real half and half for the coffee drinkers – not that ultra-pasteurized excuse for a creamer.
I’ve got an interview coming up with Elaine Kao – your on-screen wife – so as a fictional married couple, what do you think your first argument would be about?
Our first argument will most likely be her accusing me that I interrupt her and not let her get a word in edgeways. How I do all the talking without conferring with her when making decisions, such as when we left the jewelry store after being insulted. To assuage her I will have to be open and listen to her tell me a bunch of junk about thingies that are important for her … and stuff – I can’t remember. Either that, or she’ll say something negative about my ongoing affair with our housekeeper – which the movie glossed over entirely, by the way. But seriously, Elaine Kao is a doll and one of the nicest people you could ever hope to meet.
Let’s talk a bit about you, Tom. What made you want to get into acting in the first place?
My first experience with acting was in my senior year in high school in a production of ‘Oliver Twist’. I was physically too large, too old and too Asian to play ‘Oliver Twist’, so I got to play multiple roles in the production. There were lots of singing and dancing parts, the usual musical theatre stuff. However, the idea of acting as a career didn’t dawn on me until much later. I turned thirty years old, was dissatisfied with my career, and had an opportunity to steer my life in a direction that I wanted it to go. That, and it seemed like a legitimate excuse to watch lots of movies and TV for purposes of ‘research,’ and write-off all of the expenses on my taxes.
Which movies have influenced you as an actor?
Robert DeNiro in ‘The Deer Hunter’ and the movie ‘Jaws’ influenced me the most when I was growing up. I had a visceral reaction the first time I saw DeNiro in the opening Russian-roulette scene. It was so powerful and so real that I had a knot in my stomach the rest of that day. ‘Jaws’ still has a small portion of my brain dedicated to looking for fins when I near the water, even though I realize the odds are slim that a shark could survive the chlorine in the pool.
You have been on a number of TV series’ as a guest – which has been your favourite to work on and why?
I’ve been very fortunate and have had many really good experiences, but the one that stands out in my mind is a small role I had in 2003 on the television series “The West Wing.” Martin Sheen is extraordinarily kind and genuinely interested in the people he meets and works with. I will never forget the kindness he showed me. As for a favorite role I played, it would have to be Rabbi Chang on the show “Community.” I played the brother to Ken Jeong’s character. The comedy was on the page and the premise was so ridiculously funny that I didn’t have to do much except put on the costume and show up. Ken’s generosity also made for a great experience. I also enjoyed playing a geek on Simon Baker’s “The Mentalist.”
What does a Tom Yi day usually consist of?
I try to stay informed and read about projects that are, or will be, in production and who’s casting them. My agents and manager work hard to find good roles for me, and I watch a lot of television and movies to stay current to what’s being produced. The beauty of being an actor is that every day is potentially different. When things are slow, I can go to the beach or spend time with my family, my niece and nephew and join in their activities. However, when things get busy I have had as many as five auditions in one day. Usually, all of them taking place within a couple of hours of each other in far corners of Los Angeles and the Valley. It can be tiring, but never boring.
What’s coming up for you in 2011?
I’ll be shooting my second Apatow Productions comedy called ‘This Is Forty’ in late July. I’m looking forward to working with the cast and Judd Apatow, who’s directing the film. Also, I recently finished shooting a fun role on a new television series, based on an Australian show, called “Wilfred.” It’s a dark comedy starring a suicidal Elijah Wood and Jason Gann in a dog suit. “Wilfred” premiered June 24th on FX to the highest ratings for any scripted comedy for FX – I am in episode 12, which will air in late summer. I hope it will be the same good news for a MTV pilot called “Zach Stone Is Gonna Be Famous,” in which I have a small role that shoots before the July 4th weekend. More recently, I’ve gotten involved in social media – just started Tweeting. My goal is to have at least 30 followers by the end of 2011. I am currently at 24 followers, so the only people who I tweet to are my family, my girlfriend and myself. If you, or any of your readers would like to help me reach this monumental goal, please look me up and follow @YomTi. And, if you read my IMDb’s biography page -www.imdb.com/name/nm1502541/ – you’ll know why my Twitter name is @YomTi. Thanks for the interview, Matt. I appreciate your interest. If you’ll excuse me now, I have to try to convince my girlfriend to help me research my next role as a parent – then I’m going to take a nap.
Thanks for the interview Tom!