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Color Magazine is the premier multicultural diversity magazine for professionals of color.

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Falling in Love with Charlyne Yi

As good as she was in the movie, nobody ever mistakes Julia Roberts for Erin Brokovich in real life. Everybody knows she was just acting.

Charlyne Yi is having just the opposite problem. In her new movie, "Paper Heart," she plays a young woman on a quest to see if true love - something she has never felt herself - actually exists. The film's documentary style and Yi's engaging performance have inspired audience members at promotional screenings to stay after the movie and take part in the Q&A with the actress. Only their Q's are more of the advice variety than actual questions.

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"There was some man who stood up and said, ‘Don't you think you are going to analyze your relationships until you end up alone?' Ouch," Yi said, laughing at the memory. "He thinks he was just asking a question but he was really passing judgment on my character and on me. It's so strange. I just told him that there's nothing wrong in analyzing what you have and what you don't have in life. And I think it's smart to just not jump into something, whether it's a job or a relationship.

"And besides," she added, as if anticipating the question again, "I'm doing fine."


Truth be told, Yi is more amused than upset by people's reaction to her performance in the film. In fact, she admitted to going through a similar reaction about herself as she and director Nicholas Jasenovec worked their way through more than 300 hours of footage to find the story they were trying to tell. "It's so weird to try and step back and look for a performance in all this video, especially because some of it is me just doing interviews and some of it is me being a character and acting in the scenes we did to go between the interviews," she said. "It's easy to cut out scenes that are too broad or that just stick out because the tone is wrong or they don't work. It's a lot harder to find what you like. I wanted to cut a lot of me out. I was much more interested in the people I was interviewing. I thought people only liked me in the movie because they knew me as a friend and accepted what I was doing."


Judging one's performance is never easy, but it is something Yi said she has learned to do over her career, be it on the stage or in a movie.


"I get a lot of offers to play a wacky Asian character with a ‘funny' accent, and I'm not going to do that. I once auditioned for a part that was originally for a gay man, but the producers said they were open to other things. Before I went in to audition, they told me I should do an accent, I said, 'Like a British accent, or maybe a New York accent?' And I got all excited. But they wanted an Asian accent, so I asked them why? Was it important to the character or just part of the joke? They said it was part of the joke. I just left. There's no problem doing an accent if it's a part of the character, but I just feel uncomfortable when people expect me to be a stereotype."


With a family heritage that spans the globe - her father's family is Mexican, Korean, Irish, French and Native American and her mom's is Filipino and Native American -- Yi admitted that she probably faces more challenges than the average All-American-looking young actress going out for auditions, but while she is glad at the idea that young women of any ethnic background will watch her movie and be inspired to make their own, she insists that she is not a role model.
"I don't believe in role models. I think it would be so dumb to look up to a stranger for what you should do with your life. That's ridiculous. You should know in your heart what's right and what's wrong. And you also shouldn't judge a person you don't know for their mistakes or their good attributes in life. People are foolish to ever look at other people as role models and copy what they wear and what they do. You're not being yourself," she said. "It's one thing to inspire people to explore their own art or to do things they've always wanted to do. That's happened to me. I watched Harpo Marx play the harp and thought, ‘I'd like to do that.' But I'm not going to follow his whole life and start wearing a wig and suddenly stop talking."

 


 

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