Tamlyn Tomita made her screen debut as Kumiko in The Karate Kid, Part II and has since appeared in numerous feature films, TV series and theatre productions.
Her dozens of TV credits include recurring roles in popular series such as How to Get Away with Murder, The Good Doctor, and Glee. Her best known film roles include Waverly in Wayne Wang’s The Joy Luck Club; Kana, a Hawaii plantation worker in the early 1900s in Kayo Hatta’s Picture Bride, and Lily in Alan Parker’s Come See the Paradise, a film exploring the lives of a Japanese-American family during the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.
Tomita has stayed busy in a US film industry that has been slow to receive actors from ethnic minorities, yet she is selective in the roles she chooses, steering away from those that perpetuate stereotypes. She’s worked with Asian-American filmmakers and artists on a variety projects such as The Unbidden, Starlight Inn, and The Charles Kim Show.
To commemorate 25 years since the release of The Joy Luck Club, she recently visited UBC as the special guest at a retrospective screening of the film, which since its release has provoked heated debates about race, gender, and representation (podcast below).
Tomita, who is a resident of Los Angeles, is always ready to lend her support to community events and organizations, and keeps her life simple, focusing on love, work and family.
Beloved by audiences around the world, The Joy Luck Club (dir. Wayne Wang) has provoked heated debates about race, gender, and representation. Twenty-five years after its release, and on the heels of the recent success of Crazy Rich Asians, actress Tamlyn Tomita joined UBC Assistant Professor JP Catungal (Social Justice Institute) in conversation.
Describe the place you most like to spend time.
Spending time anywhere with my love. Love is an ongoing adventure!
What was the last thing you read?
The Sympathizer (Viet Thanh Nguyen); Atlas Obscura (various authors); and Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (Susanna Clarke) are all being read.
What or who makes you laugh out loud?
Watching my mom watch cute pet videos.
What’s the most important lesson you ever learned?
We practice love.
What’s your idea of the perfect day?
A day of happy surprises for me as well as others.
What was your nickname at school?
From Tomita, “Tomato.” Which became “Tomato-Juice.” Which became “TJ.”
What is your most prized possession?
My engagement ring.
What would be the title of your biography?
I Didn’t Get Here By Myself
If a genie granted you one wish, what would it be?
Seriously, true healing and peace around the world for ALL. And yes, I know I sound like a pageant contestant.
What item have you owned for the longest time?
My baby pillow.
Whom do you most admire (living or dead) and why?
Michelle Obama. An ordinary woman in extraordinary times, inspiring us all to our own extraordinariness. And her husband’s pretty admirable, too.
What would you like your epitaph to say?
“I Won’t Haunt You, But I’m With You.”
If you could invent something, what would it be?
Fresh Water Maker
In which era would you most like to have lived, and why?
I would live now, because there’s so much to figure out with the young people, who are just so inspiring.
What are you afraid of?
Afraid of nothing; can worry about anything.
What is your latest purchase?
Name the skill or talent you would most like to have.
I would like to be able make up and tell good jokes.
Which three pieces of music would you take to that desert island?
Gymnopedie (Satie); Another Star (Stevie Wonder); I’m Every Woman (Chaka Khan).
Which famous person (living or dead) do you think (or have you been told) you most resemble?
I find it interesting that more than five persons have told me I resemble Nefertiti. ???
What is your pet peeve?
People who are unkind and thoughtless.
What is the secret to a good life?
A good life means always be willing to learn, to laugh, to love, and to let go.
Do you have a personal motto?
Dare to explore!
What’s the most important thing left on your bucket list?
To dye my hair pink.
Follow Tamlyn Tomita on Twitter @thetamlyntomita