I don’t go to conventions for the costumes. I don’t go to conventions for the swag. I go to conventions for the guests. Granite State Comicon has always been able to produce some pretty amazing guests, and this year was no exception.
Seeing guests like Jason Ciarmella, writer of Joe Hill’s The Cape, and Godzilla, and Mark McKenna of Invincible Ironman and The Punisher fame, was exactly the kind of guest list I was hoping for. Then I saw another familiar face. Amy Okuda, star of the award winning web series The Guild. In only a matter of minutes, I composed and sent an email to her manager requesting an interview. Being very proud of myself (as I am prone to be), I got on twitter and told everyone about my intention to interview “Tinkerballa” at the convention. The reply I soon received was not the overwhelming excitement I had hoped for.
It actually went something like this…
FRAK!!!! I should have checked that out, before I got all email and twitter crazy! It felt like I was crit by an 85 Mage. But hey, the guest lists are always subject to change. That’s just the nature of the business. How could I be disappointed hearing Amy was filming?
Fast forward two days and I hear Professor Farnsworth exclaim, “Good News Everyone!”(That’s the email alert on my phone, btw.) Amy’s manager had replied to my email with an apology for Amy’s inability to make it to Granite State ComiCon, and asked if I would be able to do a phone interview. So, alas, here it is.
TJ: Hi, Amy.
Amy: How are you?
TJ: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me today!
Amy: Oh, of course.
Amy: I was supposed to meet you in New Hampshire, right?
Amy: I’m sorry about that.
TJ: No, that’s perfectly okay, you have a job you have to keep up with, so that’s understandable.
Amy: Yeah, thankfully I have a job. It’s good to have work.
TJ: Yeah, they don’t just give those away in L.A.
Amy: Yeah, you take what you can get.
TJ: So before you started acting, you were a young basketball player?
Amy: (Haha) I was. Yeah, a lot of basketball.
TJ: Then from basketball you went into dancing.
Amy: Yeah. I injured myself playing basketball. I think I was 12 or 13, and playing against girls who were already six feet tall. I got injured and my chiropractor told me to go and take dance classes to stretch out my body, and I kind of fell in love with it. So, I dropped basketball and went in to dance.
TJ: Was the transition from dancing to actress a natural one?
Amy: Yeah, kind of. I met my manager that I’m still with when I was dancing. I probably met her when I was 14, and she started managing me when I was about 16. I was doing a lot of commercials and print jobs as a dancer, kids’ kind of stuff, and she told me, “You need to get into acting so you can get more work.” I liked it more, mostly because the dance world was a little much for me. I think if I were to go into it now, it probably wouldn’t be as overwhelming. I was 16, and you had to get out and party with the right people. The dance world is very small, even smaller than Hollywood, and I don’t think I was ready for the social aspect of it when I was 16.
TJ: I bet dancing was super competitive, too.
Amy: It’s really competitive. Yeah. I mean, when I was actually doing it I was still working in kids’ jobs, so it wasn’t as bad. I think when you’re getting older and you’re auditioning for the real stuff, like touring with Britney Spears, it probably is very competitive, because not very many people get to that. But, you know, acting is really competitive too, so it’s not like it’s getting easier.
TJ: I can imagine that the realm of acting is probably as cutthroat as dancing is.
Amy: Yeah, yeah, it really is.
TJ: So, you had a role in Californication.
Amy: (Haha) Yeah.
TJ: Which was pretty early on in your career, which I think is a big get for someone that was your age.
Amy: Yeah, It got me my SAG card so that was good (Haha.)
TJ: …and now Chastity Bites is in postproduction.
Amy: It was my first movie. I was really excited. I had a lot of fun. It was an indie, so it was pretty similar to filming something like The Guild, just because it was still pretty low-budget. The scheduling and everything was pretty similar also, because we shot everything…umm…I think it was about six weeks that we were in production. It was really, really fun. I got to work with a lot of really cool young actors on it. I got to work with Allison Scagliotti from Warehouse 13, and that was really cool. It’s a horror-comedy. I think it’s in the same sci-fi geek genre, so my fans would like it. It’s not like some romantic comedy or anything, so I think it was a good first film for me.
TJ: Awesome. I’m excited. Do you know when the release date is?
Amy: They’re still in postproduction. It’s a horror and everything, so there’s a lot of special effects and all that stuff happening. They’re aiming for September I believe, or that’s what I’ve been told, so they can start submitting it to film festivals. They can get into that circuit for next year, probably. I’m excited. I want to go to a film festival. I’ve never been to one. Well, I’ve been to a couple of very small ones, but hoping to get into some other really cool ones.
TJ: Maybe when the time comes we can do a Chastity Bites interview.
Amy: I know! Yeah, for sure, I would love to.
TJ: Now you just mentioned The Guild, which I think is probably your most obvious work. It has an amazing cult following.
Amy: Yeah. It’s crazy. It’s really crazy, because when I auditioned for it we were just making a random YouTube video, you know? We weren’t getting paid. It was just Felicia [Day] writing the script and she thought it was funny, and we all thought it was funny too, so we were all just making it, and now it’s a real job.
TJ: The writing is spectacular. It’s top-notch comedy, and it’s a great commentary on not only gaming, but about the social life of gamers. I think gamers often have an anti-social stigma.
Amy: Yeah, I think it’s really cool because The Guild‘s cast is so diverse, you know? We have Jeff Lewis, who is a 40-year-old guy. Then we have Vince, who is a 15-year-old. Then there’s me and Robin. Everyone is so diverse. It goes to show that gaming can be social because these people would never be friends if it wasn’t for the game. I think [Felicia] really portrays that well.
TJ: Now speaking of social, you seem like a really happy and upbeat person, but your character, Tinkerballa…well, Tinkerballa, not so much.
Amy: (Haha) Yeah, I think we all have the bitchy side to us, and I just kind of channel that. It’s really fun to play her. Tink is kind of what everyone else wants to be but can’t, because of the social protocols we have to follow.
TJ: Yeah. There’s not much of a filter with Tink.
Amy: I know and I love that, you know? I have my moments where I’m very much like her. I just blurt out what I think and I don’t really care, you know? If I don’t like you, I don’t like you. I’m not going to be fake about it, and that’s how Tink is.
TJ: I have noticed though, through the progression of the seasons, especially season five, there’s a lot more humanity in Tink. I think she’s a lot more tolerable of other people.
Amy: Yeah. This season was really exciting to play just because I didn’t even know much about Tink playing her for the last four seasons. So, when Felicia let me read the script for season five, I felt like I finally understood her. In a sense, it was like, “Oh, hello, nice to meet you character I’ve been playing for four years.” (Haha)
TJ: There was a major character development for Tink in season five.
Amy: *SEASON FIVE SPOILER ALERT* Yeah. It was really, really cool. I felt like I really related to her a lot this season because I didn’t really tell people that I was acting when I first started The Guild. Literally, the last one or two years is when my friends found out about The Guild because it has gotten so big that people would find me on Netflix. The girls in my sorority would be like, “Oh my God, Amy’s in this show and it’s on Netflix.” Even though they don’t really understand it, they just know that I’m in this thing and it’s on Netflix, and [they think] if it’s on Netflix it’s a really huge deal. So, people found out about it like that. You know personally, I felt better when people knew. I think it was the same way with Tink when she came out to her parents about her major. So I totally had that connection.
TJ: There was also social commentary telling people to follow their dreams as well. Who knew Tink could be an inspiring character?
Amy: (Haha) Yeah, who knew?
TJ: Now, it has been announced that you’re going to be unable to make it to the Granite State ComiCon.
Amy: Yeah. I mean, I’ve never really had to cancel going to a convention before, so I told my manager, I asked what I should do. I still want to send them head shots or autographs to give away at another event or something. I feel bad because I’ve seen other people cancel at conventions that I’ve been to, and I see how disappointed people can get. You think you’re going to get to meet somebody at this event and if they don’t show up it’s like, “Well, what the heck?” But, I think people understand.
TJ: It seems like people have been very supportive and understanding.
Amy: Our fans are so great. They’re so loyal and happy and they understand that we’re real people. I think that’s what’s great about being on a web series, is that no one really puts you on a pedestal. You’re just human, and people are just happy when you get work and you are doing a good job. It’s very encouraging.
TJ: What is it that you’re filming? Is it something new, or a secret?
Amy: I don’t really know if it’s a secret, so I’m going to be vague about it in case it is a secret. You’re probably aware that YouTube is launching a bunch of channels for their initiative for original content, so I am going to be on a series on one of those channels. It’s actually an Asian American channel. It’s not all Asian American, but it’s very much promoting Asian American talent and whatnot. It will be a web series. Yeah, it will be exciting to do something different. My character is very different than anything I’ve played before, so it will be fun.
TJ: I think that’ll do. It gives us something to look forward to. So what questions do you usually get asked by fans, or when interviewed?
Amy: Questions like, “How did you get involved in The Guild?” Or, lately it’s been a lot of questions about season five like, “How did you feel about your character storyline?” From fans I get asked, “Are you like your character? Are you a bitch, too?” Or, “Do you actually game?” That’s actually a big one I get asked by everybody.
TJ: Well, I’ll be scratching a couple questions off my list. So, after looking at your website and having talked to you, I’m going to guess that you’re not a gamer.
Amy: No, I am not a gamer. You can tell that just by talking to me?
TJ: By seeing all of the projects you have going and the time that I’ve spent talking to you today, it sounds like you wouldn’t have a lot of time to be a gamer.
Amy: Well, I do like to play some games. It’s more like console games than computer MMOs. I actually tried to play WoW, because we got a free subscription one year. I thought, “Okay, I’ll try this out.” It took two hours to even create a character. You choose your hair color, and your eye color, and your fingernail color. You come up with a name and it’s your name forever, so there’s a lot of pressure.
TJ: It’s pretty involved.
Amy: Yeah, it was little too much. After two hours I was just tired and I was over it. I thought, “If it takes this much effort to even create a character, what will I have to do when I’m actually playing?” So, I actually just gave my subscription away to somebody else and they enjoyed it. Other than that, I went through a phase where I was always playing my Nintendo DS, like Mario Kart. I have a Nintendo Wii that I play a lot, but other than that, not too many games.
TJ: So not completely excluded from the genre?
Amy: Yeah, I feel like when I first started The Guild, I had no idea what the culture even entailed in any sense at all. There were a lot of lines that had WoW lingo and I was like, “What am I even saying?” I’m learning.
TJ: So, you went to San Diego Comic Con. Do you get invited to hundreds of conventions a year?
Amy: Not that many, but I feel like in the past two years I’ve been to a lot and I’ve been able to really cool places, so that’s been fun. I just came back from London a couple weeks ago. I went to a convention and that was awesome because I have never been to Europe before. We went to London and Paris and I thought, “This isn’t even a job anymore.” I just get to meet fans that enjoy what I do, and travel the world. I’ve had a pretty good life.
TJ: I bet there are a lot of people who would love the opportunity to live a day in your shoes.
Amy: I cannot complain. I mean I do catch myself a lot after I’ve been on the set for 12 or 15 hours and I say to myself, “I’m so tired, blah, blah, blah,” but I have no reason to complain. I have a pretty easy job. I mean, I just say words that are written on paper, and have makeup on me, and do my hair, and I get to travel the world. I like what I do and I get paid for it, so I really don’t have much to complain about.
TJ: Do you bring Lola [Amy’s dog] around with you?
Amy: No. Lola has never flown before. Actually, Felicia is always like, “We have to put her in the show,” but we never actually do. It’s really sad. She’s just waiting for her big break, still.
TJ: Obviously everybody has a good dynamic on set, what is the cast dynamic off set?
Amy: We all get along pretty well. I know everyone has to say that because they work in a show together. Honestly, I do enjoy everyone’s company. It has been awesome because we’re able to travel together and go to cons, but unfortunately, the whole cast doesn’t get to go very often. We get to go in groups of two or three and we have a lot of fun. It’s just crazy, because in real life I would’ve never met them if it wasn’t for The Guild, but they’re my best friends. Like Robin, she’s one of my best friends and it’s really cool that I like the people that I work with. Felicia teaches me a lot and so do Jeff and Sandeep, because they’ve been acting for so much longer. It’s pretty cool to be on set and just learn from them. Jeff lectures me a lot on life. Sometimes he yells at me, but it’s all out of love, we all love each other.
TJ: Speaking of traveling together, in season five, The Guild went to a convention. How close are your convention experiences to that which was portrayed on The Guild?
Amy: I guess it was pretty accurate. I mean, I guess our production designer, the art department, and our crew made these booths look way better than any convention that we’ve been to, like the steam punk booth. If real conventions looked like that, I would never be at my autograph booth. I’d walk around the whole entire time. So I thought they did a really good job on that. I mean, everything is just a little heightened for comedy and for the show to be entertaining. The whole celebrity aspect of it, I thought, was kind of a little over exaggerated in a sense. I think that’s what Felicia wanted to do with season five was kind of have it be a homage to conventions, because that’s how we grew as a show. By going to conventions, and growing our own show, and having fans talk about it. So the whole part where Bladezz was giving out his head shots and people were throwing them into the trash can, she said she got that from when we went to the comic con for the first time. This was probably maybe season two, or very early on. No one knew about the show, really. We were at comic con at this really tiny booth, and maybe one or two people would come by and be like, “Love the show.” She would go out and give out The Guild bookmarks and say, “Watch my show, watch my show!” No one would take bookmarks from her. People would just ignore her and a lot of that.
TJ: What was the turning point?
Amy: When Dr. Horrible came out it really gave us a big push. I think because Felicia was in it and people were like, “Oh, who is this girl?” I realized this was really cool when the “Date My Avatar” video came out. We premiered it at the San Diego Comic Con. It’s kind of unfortunate, because we were outside when the video was playing. They played the video first at the panel, and we were listening at the door. So, the whole thing was going to be, they would play the video, and then we come out in our avatar outfits and do our panel in our costumes. They loved it so much, and after the video we all came out, and everybody was standing up and cheering. It was the first time I ever saw the physical reaction from people to our show, and I thought that was really cool, because we see comments on YouTube and a lot of them are really mean. They’re just writing, and you don’t actually see the physical applause or craze, I guess, for the work you do, so I was like, “Wow, people actually like this. All these people came out and watch this video.” That was really cool.
TJ: If you could tell someone about yourself who hasn’t met you and only has your body of work to reference, what would you like people to know about Amy Okuda?
Amy: Good question, no one has asked me that before…that I’m not a bitch? I think a lot of people actually think that this is their job, and that they’re famous, and that they’ve made it, but I’m still very much a struggling actress. I think that we all just work really, really hard, and it’s fun, but it’s not always smooth sailing. A lot of people, when they see you on the show, they just think that life is so easy and that everything is taken care of, even though we are a web series. I know that there are a few people that ask, “Oh, well, what’s it like to be famous?” I’m definitely not famous.
TJ: I told a few friends of mine that I was going to be interviewing you today, and they got excited like you are famous, so I wouldn’t sell yourself short.
Amy: I still feel like I have a long way to go.
TJ: And you’re just about to tell me about season six of The Guild?
Amy: Oh, yes, I will tell you every detail. No, I think that we all have good intentions of it happening, so we’re working on it. You don’t always know until you’re on set that it’s actually going to happen, and even when you’re on set they could just cancel production one day, so it’s kind of hard to say. I want to do it, so if they told me to be on set on a certain day I would be there. But look out for it, it could happen.
TJ: Any other upcoming projects?
Amy: I’m also guest starring on another new web series. It’s called, Away We Happened. One of my episodes already came out, but I think I may be in one or two more, so check that out. If you type that in YouTube it will do its little magic and I’m thinking you will be able to find it. It’s also on my tumblr, and I tweet about it all the time @amyokuda. My movie will be out later this year. Not that my fans watch it, but I’ll be on three episodes of Disney’s Shake it Up in August. That’ll be cool to actually see me on TV. Just keep checking my Twitter, I always update it, and my tumblr.
TJ: I will. Actually, a friend of mine looked at your Twitter account yesterday and noted that you really talk back to people who talk to you, and I think that’s awesome.
Amy: Yeah, I try my best. I think what really made me start doing it even more, was when a couple months ago I went to a Kansas City convention. I’ve never had so many people tell me that it’s really cool I talk to my fans, like, ”Oh, we had this conversation on twitter.” I actually remembered some of it, and just the fact that people appreciate me made me want to do it even more.
TJ: Thank you for talking to me today!
Amy: It was my pleasure!