HBO's Watchmen star Jolie Hoang-Rappaport talks about family values and identity
How would you describe your relationship with your parents?
I’m fortunate that I have super supportive parents who make me feel that what I think and want matters; that I have a say in my life, and that I can make a difference in my own life and the world even now as a minor. They taught me that I have a voice and empowered me to fight for what I believe in.
Sometimes as kids, we don’t feel like we have a say in our own lives and our parents make all of the decisions. Not that that’s necessarily wrong, but it’s frustrating. My parents never dismiss my voice or limit me because of my age. For as long as I remember, they listened and honored who I am. They always encourage me to respect myself and, therefore others. That’s not to say that there were no boundaries or disagreements, but they always took the time to talk things through with me.
What does heritage mean to you?
When I think about heritage, I think about my family history, cultures, values, and traditions, and how all these things shape my identity. I think about the stories, rituals, and food my family shares around the dinner table during visits and holidays. I’m blessed that I’m biracial, Vietnamese and Jewish, and that I inherited a legacy of strength and resilience from both sides. My parents taught me to appreciate the richness of our family’s history and cultures.
I’m a descendant of first-generation immigrants on my mother’s side and fourth-generation on my father’s side. Hearing about my family’s survival stories and immigrant journeys helps me recognize my privilege, and it strengthens my drive and work ethic. I feel a sense of responsibility in making the most of the opportunities I have and not to take them for granted. I’m aware of the struggles the previous generations went through so I could have the choices I have now.
What are some of the challenges you faced as a young actor in your family?
In terms of my family, I faced concerns, not challenges, regarding my decision to be an actor. Some of my family may not fully understand why I wanted to act professionally, nor did they think that moving to LA was necessarily healthy for me. However, they have made it clear that they will always be there to support me. My parents and I had a lot of discussions prior to them allowing me to audition and work. The biggest challenge I faced, in general, is juggling work, school, and time with loved ones. I had to reassure my parents that the joy I experience in doing what I love outweighs the rejections, work hours, and sometimes a lack of a social life. Also, my move to Los Angeles afforded me more time to balance my acting and personal life.
What led you to become an actor?
My agent will tell you that I have a fairytale beginning to my career since it happened organically and quickly. In retrospect, my journey to becoming a working actor feels really fated. Growing up, I didn’t say I wanted to be an actor, singer, or performer when I grew up. I just always loved performing in front of people, even when I was as young as two years old. When I was eight, I auditioned for our local holiday musical called A Grinch Who Stole Christmas at the Old Globe Theatre and got a minor role. A few years later, I booked an ensemble part in another professional musical, A Snow White Christmas. Shortly after, my Broadway workshop teacher sent a tape of me singing to Pamela Fisher at Abrams Artists Agency, and she and Domina Holbeck offered me representation. Five auditions in, I booked a recurring role on Amazon Prime’s Just Add Magic, which led to a series regular role the following season. I feel fortunate that I have found work pretty consistently since I started two and a half years ago. It’s a blessing that I quickly fell into what gives me joy at such a young age, and I now have the time to grow as an actor.
What is it like to break into the industry as a Vietnamese American?
The reality is that there is rarely a role written for a young Vietnamese American actor. Watchmen is the exception in my experience. I’m really proud to be part of such a diverse group of talents and that Vietnam is an integrated part of the Watchmen world. I identified with my character, Bian, from the beginning, and I love that she’s a whole person; confident, smart, and vulnerable. As an actor, it’s a joy to play a range of emotions, and getting to work with and learn from seasoned actors like Hong Chau, Regina King, and Jean Smart has been a privilege.
How has the representation of Asian Americans in the entertainment industry changed for you?
I think the representation of Asian Americans has started to shift for the better recently. I’m befitting from the gains made by other Asian American actors that came before me and by the inclusion and representation matters movements. I know that I didn’t see many people who looked like me in key roles on TV and in films when I was younger. Now, I see Sandra Oh winning the Golden Globe, Constance Wu, Gemma Chan, and Awkwafina in the box office hit Crazy Rich Asian, and Ali Wong and Lana Condor in Netflix’s hit movies.
However, the fact that I can count only a handle of successes means we still have a long way to go, and I think the needle will shift more sharply toward inclusion when we have representation not only in front of the camera but behind it at the creative decision-making level.
Who were the most influential people in your life growing up?
The most influential person in my life is my mom. No matter what, she makes choices that are true to her values. That’s something I aspire to do. She has taught me to own my decisions, celebrate my successes, whether big or small, and embrace my mistakes as learning opportunities. Without my mom, I wouldn’t be the person I am, nor would I have the courage and confidence to pursue my dream as an actor.
My work ethic comes from both of my parents. They’re hard-working, grounded, and kind people who live purposeful lives. They show me that it’s important to find meaningful work, but that part of living a purposeful life is to figure out how I can be of service to others.
Are there advantages and disadvantages of learning from two different cultures: Vietnamese and American?
I don’t think there are any disadvantages to having two different cultures to learn from. I have an abundance to pull from to create the best version of myself, which can only make me a better actor. I’m aware that we have debates on how we look at diversity in our country, but my family raised me to see it as a source of strength. I’m exposed to more perspectives, given my mixed heritage and benefit from that richness in defining who I am.