Ally Maki on Playing a Messy Character in Randall Park’s Anti-Rom-Com ‘Shortcomings’

SPOILER ALERT: This contains spoilers from “Shortcomings, now in theaters.

When Ally Maki received the script for Randall Park’s “Shortcomings,” she read it in one sitting and knew she had to be a part of it. Whether it was just to audition or land the role, “I’d be happy to just perform that piece, the opening which was a nine-pager,” says the actor, who has appeared in shows including “Wrecked” and “Hacks.”

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Maki ended up landing the role of Miko, who is in a complicated relationship with her boyfriend, Ben (Justin H. Min) which slowly disintegrates when he is caught surfing porn on the internet, and Miko takes a leap, accepting an internship in New York.

Maki spoke with Variety about working with Park, playing a character that resonated with her own heritage and experiences in the film with a predominantly AAPI cast and her apparel company Asian American Girl Club.

What was it about Miko’s character that resonated with you?

It felt like a culmination of everything I’ve done in my career. What’s great about “Shortcomings” is that we’re playing very messy and imperfect characters. To me, it’s being able to play a human and that’s very freeing. A lot of times, it’s been about playing one facet, and you start to feel like an object and that you don’t have a voice.

With Miko, you get to explore the highs and lows and make horrible choices, and that weirdly is the most freeing thing. I’ve struggled with perfectionism my entire life. A lot of that comes from feeling like I have to be that one trait. I have to do it right, I have to do well, and I only get one shot. So, I think it’s important that we have characters that are messing up and making mistakes.

It was so easy for audiences to turn on Miko, and Randall didn’t want people to do that. So, we had a different ending. (Miko and Leon end up together). The film ends with Miko in that collage, but it wasn’t about who she ends up with. It was about her journey and finding her voice and making mistakes whatever that is.

Growing up, we never had these complex characters with an Asian-led cast. How do you feel about how far we’ve come and seeing ourselves as messy, complicated characters in films like this and “Joy Ride,” but also as the founder of Asian American Girl Club?

Representation is everything. I mean that so deeply. One of my favorite things in the entire world is seeing a young person wearing an AAGC shirt and it is a normal thing in my life. That normalcy of who we are and what we can be and what that glass ceiling is so important. Especially for Asian American women. We are hitting this crux where we’re standing at this intersection of feeling like we can’t reach those highest levels and I think a lot of that is because we’re not seeing ourselves as at those levels.

I read in Forbes magazine that Asian American women are least likely to be promoted to high level positions and that all stems back to representation in media and film.

We need to see ourselves as leaders.

I always go back to my 14-year-old self and think about how sad and alone I felt. I had no one to talk to. A lot of that was my fear of reaching out because I didn’t have that confidence and didn’t feel like I had a community. A community can do everything for so many people, so it’s heartwarming to see that we had the “Joy Ride” screening with Gold House and the AAGC American Cinematheque screening. I went home and told my fiancé that I hadn’t felt that good in a while. You can’t deny that feeling of having everyone in a room together wearing their Asian American Girl Club merch, to have Sherry Cola, Adele Lim and Stephanie Hsu on stage. That’s something I could never have even dreamed of.

“Shortcomings” is a different level of importance in my personal life of shooting it and being comfortable telling Randall certain things or speaking up about them. Normally, I’d be on set and think, “Maybe I shouldn’t bring that up.”

This is also a New York movie, what was it like shooting on the streets of the city?

That was a cherry on the ice cream moment. We were shooting the scene where Justin’s character Ben confronts Leon and were on the streets. People were having lunch, and when Ben runs across the street, everyone stopped to look. It was such a moment.

Have you seen a change in the roles that you’re getting and what makes you say yes to roles nowadays?

They’re leaning in this full-fledged direction. I’ve worked so hard to scratch and crawl my way out of these boxes. When I did “Cloak and Dagger,” I thought of myself as someone who could only do comedy. “Shortcomings” proved to me that I could play all those genres and mix them up. What’s so beautiful about that last scene in the film is there are moments where are they laughing? are they crying? Or is it a mix of both? And as someone who uses humor and sarcasm in my own life to cover up insecurities, it’s something we rarely get to do.

What was it like working with Randall as a director?

He is an incredibly kind human. I had a death in the family halfway through the movie and he showed up asking what I needed, what could he give me and I learned so much about grief during that.

What about working with Adrian Tomine’s script?

As a fourth-generation Japanese American, it was freeing to be able to say, “How can I look at this character through my cultural landscape and experiences?” To look at her motivations, emotion or her extreme politeness. I could bring that in through Miko and that is something I will not take for granted to be able to analyze and break down a character from a very specific cultural view.

This interview was conducted before the beginning of the SAG-AFTRA strike.

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