There is a lot savor and appreciate in the tremendous career of Tamlyn Tomita, who began her admirable career by first appearing in THE KARATE KID II and moved on to enchant in the film THE JOY LUCK CLUB and more recently has been seen in Syfy’s EUREKA and MTV’s TEEN WOLF, and currently appears in this season’s smash success THE GOOD DOCTOR. Maybe it is Tamlyn’s natural grace and poise on screen that draws our attention, but it is more likely the profound humanity that radiates from her soul and onto the screen that captivates audiences. When Tamlyn smiles, we smile with her; and when she worries, we worry with her. That ability to engage and entrance the audience is one of the reasons we happily follow her through all her roles. In an exclusive interview, Tamlyn talks about the pure happiness she feels working on ABC’s THE GOOD DOCTOR and shares a few key lessons she has learned that have helped her shine throughout her career.
What was the initial appeal for you about portraying Allegra Aoki and working on ABC’s THE GOOD DOCTOR?
TAMLYN: The initial appeal in portraying Allegra Aoki on THE GOOD DOCTOR was working on a show written by David Shore, coupled with the fact that it would be captained by Daniel Dae Kim and that it would present the story of a young doctor with a challenging set of circumstances. It’s a unique and special show that promotes inclusivity, presents diversity, and provokes conversations.
How would you describe who Allegra is?
TAMLYN: Allegra Aoki was described to me as cool, collected, calm under pressure, cultured, and composed. She doesn’t speak much, but when she does, it’s usually measured and thoughtful as she knows she represents the hospital. In my head, she’s an expert in crosswords and chess.
What do you most admire most about her?
TAMLYN: Allegra cares about the people who work in the hospital. She knows the ins/outs of providing the best health care through accomplishing the difficult task of maintaining funds/money alongside the board of the hospital. She believes that her relationships with the doctors must be kept at a safe distance and even though she thinks highly of the doctors of the hospital, she understands that there’s an expectation in her role to treat and be treated through the same standard of professionalism. Running an institution full of people whose job and passion is caring for people at all costs must be demanding and daunting.
What was it like working alongside the talented ensemble on THE GOOD DOCTOR?
TAMLYN: When one works with talented people, you become better, despite of age and experience. Freddie Highmore is one the best actors I’ve worked with and his quiet leadership, amazing skill set, and thoughtful care in shooting scenes inspires everyone. He is extraordinarily special to witness and watch in action and sadly, I don’t often get to, darn it! He treats the crew with the respect and consideration that they deserve and everyone takes note of his quiet but confident leadership. Richard Schiff? Amaze balls! He’s able to project such vulnerability and strength. Antonia Thomas, is a dazzling actress who shows us the gamut of emotions that a young doctor in a competitive environment experiences. Nicholas Gonzalez — it’s amazing how he is able to incorporate such a level of confidence to his character that often times gets checked but is later on humbled by his peers and is okay with it. Hill Harper is a leader on-and-off set who displays intelligence and compassion for all. Chuku Modu is so exciting to witness as an actor coming into his own — he reminds me of what it feels like to be a young actor that’s grateful for their blessings. Beau Garrett is the other non-doctor character who shows us all what it means to treat everyone equally, who knows her worth and exerts the strength and power of the feminine woman. All are funny as hell and fabulous dancers.
To date, what has been your favorite part about working on THE GOOD DOCTOR?
TAMLYN: The cast and crew…HONESTLY. I know it’s a cliché thing to say but the producers were conscientious enough to assemble talented and kind people who could do the job with excellence, professionalism and kindness. Those 3 qualities are across the board and found in everyone here.
What do you think viewers have connected to that makes THE GOOD DOCTOR such a success?
TAMLYN: We all know what it means and feels to be an ‘outcast.’ Freddie Highmore, as Dr. Shaun Murphy, embodies that through being a doctor despite the specific set of circumstances of being on the autism spectrum and having savant syndrome. I think all of us empathize with what it feels like to be ‘outsider’ in a group and having to constantly prove one-self. There might be a simple explanation as to why we might sometimes feel this way, but I believe the show teaches audiences to embrace the idea of being seen for who you really are, as opposed to anything that is either materialistic or superficial. We all struggle being ‘seen’. I believe that the hearts of everyone involved on our show reaches through the TV screens to our viewers; Whether that is the relationships between our characters — Dr. Murphy’s unabashed questions, Dr. Melendez’s tattoo, Dr. Browne’s principle, Dr. Kalu’s accent or Dr. Glassman’s love of football and pancake! I’m just thrilled it resonates with people!
What has surprised you about working on THE GOOD DOCTOR?
TAMLYN: That we’re #1! I mean, I knew the show was good but to be #1 is out of this world… we’re all humbled by it.
What are you most proud of about working on THE GOOD DOCTOR?
TAMLYN: That we have a show that teaches people about taking care of one another, learning how to communicate more efficiently with one’s peers and ultimately, that it showcases a diverse cast that reflects America and the world.
As an actor, what has been the one thing you have taken away from the experience of working on THE GOOD DOCTOR?
TAMLYN: The one thing that I’ll take away is the passion and care that goes in the process of telling our stories as best as we can. The writers, producers and fellow cast mates really care about these stories and allow for collaboration by being open to suggestions on set. Everyone maintains a sense of care here.
You also worked on MTV’s TEEN WOLF. What did you enjoy about working on that show?
TAMLYN: TEEN WOLF was like working in a special frat house — Tyler Posey and Dylan O’Brien are high-energy actors who have joy, privilege and talent that practically spreads among everyone. I enjoyed bringing more adult sensibility, ‘weightiness’ and feminine-mystery alongside my beloved and brilliant Arden Cho. The delightfully funny papa, Tom Choi, was awesome and we all just simply got along so well with the boys of TEEN WOLF. The boys were not in any way unprofessional or reckless. In my experience working with them, they were “on” as the cameras started rolling. They maintained a “boys just want to have fun” attitude when they weren’t actively working, or preparing their lines, and made the set fun for everyone.
Any favorite scenes that you can share from working on TEEN WOLF?
TAMLYN: Working on TEEN WOLF meant that ‘my daughter’ AND [my character] possessed unique and individual supernatural abilities. My imagination ran amok on that show which had me asking a lot questions about my character and of the writing of the show. (I might have done it a little bit too much.) The scenes that were based on true events in American history concerning Japanese-American concentration camps, camps that interned American citizens of Japanese descent on American soil, were what I felt most proud of to have worked on. I did the voiceover for the scenes while Arden Cho portrayed the younger ‘me.’ I commend the writers for incorporating the various story elements that were actual events in our history and presenting them to TEEN WOLF’s massive audience. They all might have learned something of U.S. history that they probably didn’t know about.
What did you take away from that acting experience on TEEN WOLF?
TAMLYN: We all feed off each other’s energy and we all give each other energy. Working with the young actors on that show made me feel like a young, dorky kid again. Even though I played a 900-year old kitsune/fox, there were times that I often felt like a 16-year old around all that energy.
What has surprised you most about your career so far?
TAMLYN: That I’ve lasted this long. I’ve been unbelievably lucky. “Lucky AF”. Sooooooo lucky. Did I mention how lucky I feel?
At this stage of your career, what do you think you have learned from the roles and projects you have worked on?
TAMLYN: That nothing is permanent or guaranteed. I’ve learned to appreciate everything in the moment because I don’t, I can’t, and I won’t expect that I’ll have it tomorrow. That the goal is to show everyone that appreciation and thankfulness matters, and to always be kind. We’re just telling stories, but those stories also have the ability to touch people, to make people feel better, to make people understand one another, to encourage everyone to know one another as best as possible and doing so without guilt or shame. Stories matter and it’s my job to tell them as honestly as possible.
What is your proudest achievement from your career so far?
TAMLYN: Proudest achievement? Ha! To achieve, you have to have ambition. I got into this business/industry/craft/art by chance and luck. I had no ambition. I’m just continually trying to do this form of storytelling with as much truth and authenticity as I can.
Then what are the perks of where you are in your career right now?
TAMLYN: The perks are that after so many years working in this industry, I’m finally seeing wider and larger sets of stories with all kinds of actors of all calibers. It’s the joy of working with people and experiencing that joy together — when all of us feel it, that is when the scene truly rocks. That still gets me off and I think that’s what the audience also feels. A scene works when the actors and audiences are in the moment together and it really translates to the screen.
If there were one previous role you would like to revisit, which would it be and why?
TAMLYN: Ah, you’re going to limit me to just one? It would be every role! You’ve probably have heard before about how every actor on their drive home from set in the car and just thinking, “Darn it! I should have done that for the scene!” Although I imagine I could have done every role better; it’s not worth revisiting, but rather learning from every experience.
Do any of your characters and the situations they find themselves in ever leave a lasting impression on you?
TAMLYN: I have thought that the characters I’ve portrayed have left some mark upon me as they reacted differently to various life situations from how I would have. But then, I think to myself, the characters all have some part of me in them. I take something consciously from the character and, in return, I unconsciously give back a part of me. Over the years, I’ve gained some insight as to the different ways that people think and why they act the way they do. Our job as actors is to get into somebody’s head/heart to justify why they do the things they do and why they say the things they say. It’s why actors are unfairly labeled as “snowflakes,” “Hollywood liberals” and “bleeding hearts.” We seek to understand, identify, and empathize with all kinds of folks, not just sympathize; we try to humanize the characters of a story. So, yes, we’re guilty of ‘having the feels,’ but let anyone try to develop the discipline of ‘giving the feels’ night after night on a stage or take after take for a camera and it might not be as easy as it seems.
Do you find any of your character’s habits manifesting in your own life? Like what?
TAMLYN: Now that is really an interesting question! Hmmmm… I think it is inevitable that on the day, after my scenes are completed, there might be obvious residual effects. Especially in my physical manner as I’m kind of, sort of, dorky; I’m hugely dorky — I’ve just managed to pull off a manner that comes off as having my shit together, which is sooooooo far from the truth. I guess I’ve learned how to manifest adulting. Yeah, I mean, yes.
Has there been any great advice you have gotten about working as an actor?
TAMLYN: That there’s no cure for being nervous — on set, in the audition room, self-taping, being at a premiere/screening — because it means that you care about what you do! It means that, for a scene, you have to prepare as best as you can to make sure you know what happened to your character before you enter the scene because that’s all you should know. You have to know your lines and know your mark (where to stand for the camera) and that end of a scene is unpredictable. It’s the kernels of truth we find in going ‘through’ the scene. We’ve all heard ‘acting is reacting’ — it’s true, but it’s reacting authentically as possible from moment to moment, which is key. Care about finding the truth nuggets.
What advice would you offer to other upcoming and aspiring actors?
TAMLYN: Make sure it’s something that you want to do even if you’re not paid for it. The payoff comes in perpetually and simultaneously while trying to achieve the emotions, thoughts, motives and the needs of a character during a scene and accepting the fact that it will never be perfect. You will never be perfect and you’ve got to be okay with that. Getting through a scene is what is rewarding and fulfilling. Never stop asking questions while building your character. Have/create/get a support system that loves you for who you are, not what you are or what you have or will achieve/become. Your reputation precedes you as well as follows you. Be grateful, be kind, always!
At a time when women’s voices are rising to be heard and respected around the country and world, what do you recommend your fans do to lend support in that endeavor?
TAMLYN: Do not live with fear. Don’t be afraid of change, of what’s different, or learning from others who are not like you. Ask questions if you don’t understand. There are no stupid questions unless they’re stupid questions meant to troll, provoke, poke fun, bully, insult, get a reaction, demean, and not intended for the purpose of learning anything new. Open your heart and your mind. Listen. Say I’m sorry and mean it. Say thank you and mean it. The power of 1/2 the world’s population that used to go unnoticed is rising and we’re all together for it. Two halves make a greater whole; equality for others doesn’t mean less equality for you, it’s not pie. #Resist. #ShePersisted. Let’s all put our thoughts and prayers into action for good that benefits us all. Sorry for all the platitudes here and elsewhere but these are difficult and yet, exciting times and other people have succinctly said some brilliant things that I’m just repeating on this platform. Thank you for giving me the opportunity. They all just came blowing across my mind field.
Do you have any other upcoming projects that you can share that fans should keep an eye out for?
TAMLYN: I’m in Season 3 of THE MAN THE HIGH CASTLE that will soon be streaming on Amazon. I’m also in wonderful shorts directed by 2 amazing young directors: “Real Artists” alongside Tiffany Hines, written and directed by Cameo Wood and based on a short story by Ken Liu, and “The Ningyo” written and directed by Miguel Ortega and Tran Ma. Keep an eye out for these talented filmmakers that I was lucky to work with and fasten your seatbelts for the ride on MITHC!
To see and enjoy Tamlyn’s sublime work as Allegra Aoki, be sure to tune in for all new episodes of THE GOOD DOCTOR on Monday nights at 10:00 p.m. on ABC. Then also to keep up with and to find out more about Tamlyn’s upcoming film and television appearances and endeavors, you can also follow her on Twitter @theTamlynTomita. For special preview clips and behind-the-scenes information, you can also follow THE GOOD DOCTOR on Twitter @GoodDoctorABC and for Amazon’s THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE be sure to follow @HighCastleTV.
“Meet Tamlyn Tomita” video interview: