On August 25, 2016, Variety reported that within the first 35 days of streaming on Netflix, season one of Stranger Things averaged 14.07 million adults ages 18-49. The same article also reported that there were only two shows on the streaming service that did better: Season one of Fuller House, and season four of Orange Is The New Black. No one can argue the popularity of this fascinating show which superbly captures the look, feel, sound, and even storytelling style of the 1980s. Like any cult classic, the ancillary characters have received a tremendous amount of attention as well. I recently had the pleasure of catching up with Jackie Dallas, one of the show’s supporting cast who played Scott Clarke’s girlfriend Jen. I wanted to find out more about her experience, not just of being on the show, but being an Asian American female actor as well.
What is your preferred genre in which to work?
I used to really love comedy, and that’s what I focused on early in my career because I loved to make people laugh. More recently, I recognize that I really love watching dramas and have started enjoying delving into those complex characters a lot more. I guess, the ideal genre would be dramadies… my favorites shows are those that have a heavy subject or deal with sensitive issues, but can deliver their message with well-timed humor. Television is my favorite medium of acting. It’s such a dynamic art form and I love how anything can happen. It’s not like film, where you already know the fate of all the characters, in tv, you only know as much as the writers tell you, so you have to make real decisions and choices and reactions. And depending on fan reaction, your character can really flourish and grow. I really love that.
How did you land your role in Stranger Things?
I got the audition from my agent in December last year and they asked for a self taped audition which I submitted. A week passed and I didn’t hear anything back so I had assumed that I didn’t get selected for anything, but then I got a request for a second tape to read for another character’s scene, which I did. Now I was really excited, but trying to keep cool about it.. a few loooooong days later, I woke up to a call from my agent congratulating me about the booking! I was sooooo ecstatic! It was like the best Christmas present ever!
What was it like being on set for the show?
It was invigorating. I flew out to Atlanta and they put me up in a really nice hotel and the morning of my shooting day, I remember it was really early and really cold and I just sat in my car for a minute pinching myself. Making sure that I was awake and that this was happening. I was introduced to Randy Havens in the Hair and Makeup trailer and he was very nice about everything. We talked for a minute about the scene and determined that our characters were probably long term girlfriend/boyfriend, versus husband/wife or first date. His moustache is so impressive in real life by the way… haha! On set, I met the Duffer brothers who were both friendly and extremely focused about the scenes for the day. They were discussing all the little details that they wanted and the feelings that they wanted to convey. Even the set was so meticulously designed, it was really a flashback into the 80s… most times you step foot on set and it’s just another fake room, but this was filmed in an actual house that was completely redecorated, big box television and everything! It made it so easy to get into the story and the character. We did a quick rehearsal and then shot a couple takes and that was it! It all happened so fast! After the scene, I shook their hands and thanked them for the incredible opportunity, hinting that ‘I think Mr. Clarke and Jen are really hitting it off!’ They laughed and thanked me for coming out. It was a really good feeling being a part of something that everyone believed in. You could feel the energy of the cast and crew and they all knew they were a part of something special. I really didn’t want to leave.
Has being on the show affected you at all?
Absolutely! I am thankful every day for the opportunity to have worked on such an amazing show. I’ve met some wonderful people along the way and they continue to inspire me on a daily basis. The role has opened opportunities for me and I find that I’m more motivated than ever to keep working.
Have you developed a fan base from the show?
It was so unexpected, but yes… I do have a small following and I love them so much for it! Despite being such a minor character, I think people really loved Jen for bringing another dimension to Mr. Clarke and there are fans out there who want to see them stay together, myself included, haha! I really love how social media allows interaction with fans and some of my favorite interactions are on twitter with them! On a side note, I’ve also been recognized in real life a few of times, which has really taught me that I can no longer risk running to the store in sweats and messy hair any more… haha!
Has being on such a successful show altered your perspective of the entertainment industry?
Yes. When you start out as an actor, you watch shows like this and dream of one day being on them… You work hard and study and prepare for those rare opportunities to audition for such a show, sometimes not even realizing what that show is going to grow into because it doesn’t exist yet. It’s easy to get discouraged when you audition for so many things and none of them pan out, but when it happens, it’s sometimes hard to believe it… Aside from being incredibly humbled by being a part of something so fantastic, it has proven that lightning does strike and to keep working hard and believing in yourself!
What has been your experience being an Asian-American woman in the entertainment industry?
It has had its own set of obstacles. Recent social movements have brought to light the disparities of female and ethnic roles in Hollywood, and that had been the accepted reality for so long, that many ethnic females founnd ourselves vying for the same limited roles over and over again. Now, I’m beginning to see firsthand the diversity movement really starting to make a change. I’m seeing more ethnic female roles being written in, and more importantly, more ethnic females being auditioned for roles that are not specified and traditionally given to non-ethnic males. That’s huge. That we are no longer a token of diversity, but being viewed as equal. As an Asian-American female, I remember seeing a lot of stereotypical roles early on in my career, such as fetishized Asian girl, ninja assassin type roles, studious nerdy student roles… and I was always conflicted about auditioning for them and perpetuating the stereotype… it’s nice that I’m now seeing auditions for roles that have nothing to do with my ethnicity.
How do you view the role of diversity in the entertainment industry in your preferred genre to work?
I think that people are aware of the fact that there is a lack of diversity in the entertainment industry, but they also don’t like it to be shoved in their face. I think when you have a show that is meant to mirror reality, you need the cast to reflect that. When you have a completely non-diverse show, it’s not realistic and people know it, cause, well… look around you. There are different faces of color and type everywhere. At the same time, diversifying a cast is tricky cause when you have just one of each, it’s almost like you’re playing a game of “what token are we missing”… and people are savvy to that too. Ultimately, we still have a long way to go in diversifying in the entertainment industry, but ultimately, I think when we can watch a show with multiple characters of all different types, and believe it and accept it, without being distracted by it, then it works.
Are you working on anything right now for which we can keep a look?
I’m currently filming an international TV series called Aarzu e Mann which translates to “Desires of My Heart” and it is a modern day Indian drama set in San Francisco. I play the role of Vera who is dating one of the main characters. The script is cleverly written and the cast is incredibly talented and diverse, touching upon topics such as interracial relationships, racism in the community and the struggle for power with a strong consideration of cultural and social taboos. It will be released in 2017.
What are your career goals or aspirations?
Looking back, it’s already hard to believe how much I’ve accomplished, but I’m the type that will always raise the bar of expectations on myself. It’s what drives me. My ultimate dream goal is to play a tough but sassy character as a series regular in a television show that will have a long and successful run. But really, I just want to keep acting.. TV shows, feature films, short films, internet projects, music videos… If I could wake up and just work as an actor for the rest of my life, I’d be happy.
It’s been a pleasure chatting with you, Jackie. Thanks for your time and I look forward to seeing all the exciting things you’ll do in the future!