Talent: Michelle Krusiec @michellekrusiec
Throughout a career that has spanned over 30 years, Krusiec has established herself as a versatile actor, playing numerous roles on film, television, and stage. She is best known for her role as Wilhelmina Pang on Saving Face (2005), which earned her a Golden Horse Best Actress nomination, and as the iconic Anna May Wong on the Netflix miniseries Hollywood. On stage, she produced and starred in her autobiographical original solo show, Made in Taiwan, and played Xi Yan in the International Broadway Tour of Chinglish by David Henry Hwang.
Her most recent role is in the upcoming romantic drama Float, where she plays Rachel Chan, the supportive aunt to the film’s lead, Waverly (Andrea Bang). Waverly impulsively makes a detour to stay with her aunt when her summer plans are unexpectedly changed, and in that small Canadian town, she meets and falls in love with her aunt’s neighbor and local lifeguard Blake.
A storyteller at heart, Krusiec has also pursued directing and writing, appreciating how both allow her to share her voice in different ways. “You know, I got into acting at the age of 11,” she says, “and it started from a longing to see ourselves on screen and not seeing that, and feeling like, ‘Okay, I can create a space for that.’” She goes on to explain that over time, “that longing has become deeper in terms of, ‘I want to bring more either culturally relevant stories or more complexity to female characters.’ It’s grown, and it's evolved, so it's not so much about just being on camera, [but] how can I create stories that help move us forward in terms of our connections with each other?“
As a writer and director, Krusiec has focused on science fiction, horror, and thriller, often incorporating personal narratives with comedic tones and finding ways to keep her stories culturally relevant. Her short film Nian, which incorporates the nian beast in Chinese mythology, was the opener for the third season of Bite Size on Hulu, and she will be writing and directing its feature adaptation.
During an interview with Timid, Krusiec discusses her latest roles, future projects, and how the industry as well as her career have evolved over the years.
Michelle Krusiec: She's kind of the “crazy aunt.” And since I’ve always had a lot of ah yis [aunts] growing up, it's funny to be, as an actor, finally stepping in. Because there's roles that women play, and as you go from prototype to prototype, you know, there is this category of the “aunt.” I kind of thought she was a lot crazier, then eventually Sherren [Lee] ended up directing me, [and] made her actually much more subtle. [...] I think she's actually the voice of reason. She is a reliable mother figure without the pressure of what a mother can represent. And because we are focusing on an Asian relationship, I think we were trying to redefine some of those narratives.
MK: I didn't read the source material, but from what I understand in terms of how the film was financed and came about, by bringing a cultural lens to the character, it deepens this genre, which can sometimes have the meet cute and the expectations [it] brings but sometimes lacks depth. By making her ethnicity Asian, it created a more specific lens, and it lends itself to making the overall narrative a little bit more complex.
MK: It's evolved a great deal. It's really been interesting, because I've been doing this for a very long time. When Saving Face came out, I was personally putting up posters on mall walls trying to promote this film. Now, it doesn't feel like I have to hustle like that. I think that there's still a void of interesting stories that reflect and represent our community in so many different ways that are afforded to other non-marginalized communities, but in terms of the evolution of where we are now versus 20 years ago, I think we have a lot more opportunities.
I think what's changed a great deal is that global cinema and storytelling have really become more available to audiences, especially in the West. Specifically in America, I think that people are more interested in seeing diversity, and they're also given access to it, which has really been a game changer because people get to see the stories that are coming out of Asia. Over there, [they] aren't looking at casts that don't look like [themselves]. [They] always see [themselves] on camera. It's a very different cultural aesthetic, and it lends for different kinds of storytelling sometimes. It's educating the audience, specifically in the US, on what kinds of stories exist, how to see us. And it gives us filmmakers the ability to create perceptions around ourselves from a more internalized place, whereas we're always looking at the external looking back at us.
MK: Oh, absolutely. Theater is directly with the audience—you feel the energy of the audience, they're breathing with you, laughing with you, crying with you, and you're feeding off of that. Movies are all about the directorial and cinematic approach, and I think television is always about the writing and the relationships of the characters. Depending on what medium you're in, you have to think about the lens and who your audience is. You tune into a TV show because you want to see those same people every week, whereas films, there's usually an event that you're interested in.
MK: Overall, what I'm realizing is that I have always wanted to make things that matter. I've always wanted to have a presence in my artistry that feels like I am trying to bring up themes that we don't generally talk about and how we can talk about them. As a writer and director, those are things that I can actively do, whereas sometimes with acting, while I still love it, I'm more in the service of being there for someone else's story.
MK: That story came from an idea of, “What would it be like to just feed your bullies to the monster under your bed?” And then that became, “How can I make it culturally specific to an Asian family?” I thought of the Nian, then that became: create this idea of the myth that we were familiar with and make it sort of like the Boogeyman. That did come from my response to [all the] anti-Asian hate, and that was very painful. And I wanted to take some of the pain out of it by making it irreverent. Because I feel like, sometimes when we storytellers talk about racism, if it's sometimes too earnest, it sometimes will fall on deaf ears. But if you can find a tone to it, whether it's comedy or darkness to it, that we could somehow… not take away the pain, but I just didn't want to be so precious with it. And that's kind of where my short started. And because it's kind of funny to feed your bullies to a monster, right?
The feature is going to be a little bit of a departure from that. It is still playing with the idea that we have monsters within us, and it is a metaphor for race. During the BLM movement in America, I was really watching a lot of activists talking about their blackness, how to embrace their blackness, and how they're always being asked to erase their blackness, which, for me, was very similar to being raised Taiwanese American in the United States, but pretending that I was white. That erasure really forced me into a state of pretending that my culture only existed inside my home. And my film will really talk about what being a monster means. It's a metaphor for how we hide ourselves, but we are afraid to show others.
MK: It's another wonderful family film. We're in a place in America where we're taking traditionally American narratives that have been occupied by non-marginalized folks, and those spaces are now being expanded into including what that experience looks like with other communities.
American Girl: Corinne Tan was the first Asian doll for the American Girl series, and growing up, I could never afford that doll. It's kind of a pretty wealthy brand. To be able to afford a doll like this, it's not so much for immigrant families. So here we are, cut to 2024, and we now are seeing these dolls include different races. To have an Asian American doll within this very American brand is signaling a shift in acknowledging just what defines Americans or Americanism. [...] So I think it's a really powerful moment that I am a part of that new narrative.
MK: It's a lifelong process for everyone. What I'm about to say can apply to anyone, but it really is taking the time to look within and to have a relationship with your interior self, because that conversation is going to sustain you over all of your trials and tribulations. When you are knocked down, when you fail, when you make mistakes, and when you succeed, you're going to constantly be asking yourself, “Why am I doing this? What do I want to do next? How do I keep moving forward?”
I was gonna say, “Pushing yourself,” but I think that suggests that there's a kind of hustle culture. I think that what I'm responding to now, after having been an actor and an artist for 25, 30 years now, is that I'm realizing that for much of my early 20s, I probably could have spent way more time thinking a little bit more complexly about what my long-term trajectory really was going to be. I think I felt like I was always grasping and claiming, and that feeling can feel a little bit desperate. So what my advice would be is to spend genuine time with self-reflection, journaling, really having a relationship with your inner self, and having yourself be the authorial voice and not always externalizing that need.
MK: My favorite genre is science fiction. It's a really great genre to be working in, whether it's as an actor, writer, or director. I think that genre allows you to tussle with themes. It forces you to think about existence, and it can really raise awareness on levels that force you to be a little bit more conscientious, but it's also disguised in a lot of visual drama. And there's cinematic conflict usually with science fiction stories. Arrival is one of my favorite films. That's the one genre that I would love to do more work in.
MK: Right now, I am slated to play the lead in a film called Afterbirth. It's to be directed by Tony Abrams and Adam Broder. [...] It’s a psychological horror thriller about a woman who has a baby, and the birth of the baby is fairly traumatic and signals a big shift in her psychic consciousness, and she thinks the baby's starting to talk to her. [...] As a writer and director, I'm in that seat as more of an emerging talent, so that world for me is exploring episodic directing, something that is unfolding every day. [...]
I also would love to direct in Taiwan. You know, Taiwan just started a very, very good film fund that allows Taiwanese artists some flexibility and also access to funding. I am talking to a few producers about writing and directing something with that fund for either Taiwan globally or creating something that gives a voice to what that film fund is trying to promote.
American Girl: Corinne Tan began streaming on Netflix on January 24, 2024.
Float is slated for release on February 9, 2024 in select theaters and streaming platforms.
Disclaimer: This interview was edited for length and clarity.