A STAR IN THE MAKING
By Montgomery Fisher Jr.
Photography By Paul Robison & Peter Solari
Julia Ling has recently co-starred on NBC's blockbuster hit show Studio 60, House M.D., ER and 8 Simple Rules; she produced and starred in her own short film "Cinder"; and has a martial arts motion picture in development with her own company, Silver Rose Entertainment, Inc.
Ms. Ling, at 23, is a remarkable actress. Her parents named her Shel Wei. She was a child artist from the age of three when she picked up a pencil and drew pictures of her parents enjoying tea. She won many art contests for her sketches and paintings. Her art work has been recognized publicly in the Pasadena Star News, several Chinese newspapers and Temple City magazines. At the age of six, she won a "Best Storyteller Award" and learned to play the piano. She became a little star in the Chinese community of the San Gabriel Valley. By age nine, Julia was performing award-winning solo dances for events throughout California, including an exquisite umbrella dance that showed on national television.
Surprisingly, Julia did not want to pursue a career in the arts. She went into academics and science with dreams of becoming a
neurosurgeon. "I wanted to make a difference in the world before my time is over. I've always felt it was my duty to give and help others." She was an avid dancer, tennis player and swimmer in high school, where she maintained a 4.0 GPA. She was president of her school's German Club, National Honor Society, Amnesty Club, Literature Club and the Chinese Club. Ling also won a competition for Chinese brush stroke and calligraphy; and volunteered over 14 hours of community service to her local hospital every week.
Finally, this beautiful, high achieving young woman was selected as a state finalist in the Miss American Pageants Contest at age sixteen.
At UCLA Julia majored in Chemical Engineering and was Vice President of the Engineering Society. During college, she realized her true love for performing and astonished herself by leaving college and pursuing Hollywood as an actress. As much as she loved chemistry and dreamt of being a neurosurgeon; there was only one dream - acting.
"It's like leaping into the dark pit without knowing what was down there, but I just had to do it," says Julia. She studied acting passionately, and trained in Shao-Lin Kung Fu, Animal Styles, and Weapons. Her extreme flexibility from years of dance gave her a very graceful martial arts style.
Within two years, Julia had worked on over sixty films, picking up starring roles in half of them, including Award-Winning short "We All Fall Down" by Jake Kennedy, and a number of feature films. She had her television debut on UPN's Buffy the Vampire Slayer, playing the slayer with the power. She has had guest star appearances on the FOX hit show "House MD", and the long running NBC show ER among many others.
Recently, we had the opportunity to sit down with this extraordinary young woman and speak with her about her career.
What is your real name?
Shel Wei. It means "The little rose flower that rises early in the morning." When I was in 7th grade, I decided that I'd like an American name; so I researched names and fell in love with Elizabeth and Julia. I couldn't decide which name to pick, so I actually flipped a coin. It landed on the Julia side. But I did read back then, the "Life's Little Destruction Booklet" which I thought was so funny, and it said, "Make major life decisions by flipping a coin" I was 12 years old then and I haven't used that technique ever since.
You have been in three television hits on two networks; NBC's Studio 60, FOX's House, and NBC's ER, and over 40 million people have seen you. It looks like you're going to be a star. What do you think about that?
I don't think about being a star. What I think about is being the best actress I can be and working with extremely talented people. Fame and fortune is the icing on the cake, and I'm sure that I'll be a very happy, focused, and centered star if and when it happens.
In Studio 60, they had you speak more than one language. You speak six languages, right?
Actually, I only speak four fluently, and I am working on two more. They actually didn't test me. The character breakdown described a young woman who spoke five languages, and I just thought that was a perfect role for me because I love learning languages and thinking in different languages. I just thought, I have to get this part!
Was it Steven Weber that you did the trilingual acrobatics with?
Actually, I had to do funny things with German. After one take, the cast and crew cracked up in laughter.
Why did they need a translator on that episode?
Because Studio 60 wanted to make a deal with my father, and he doesn't speak English.
Tell me about the character you played?
I played Kim Tao. She's a brilliant viola player. She decided to pursue a career in playing the viola, because her father read an article that predicted the orchestra market would be lacking in viola players. Kim Tao is really smart. I know, how did they ever cast me, right? (laughs) She is almost a nerd. Well, let me take that back...she is a nerd.
How did you get along with the Studio 60 ensemble?
I loved everyone on Studio 60! Aaron Sorkin was most awesome. I've never met anybody of such great caliber (a writer and producer) be more enthusiastic and dedicated to a project. His passion to the show was just awe-inspiring. He was even in the casting room reading with the actors! The first day on set was intimidating for me because I didn't know anybody and there was so much going on. But in the middle of all that's going on, Aaron still took the time to personally welcome me with a hearty handshake and a great sense of humor and helped me feel more at home.
Lesli Glatter, our director, was amazing to work with. I worked with her before on ER, and I always knew that I wanted to work with her again. I never thought the opportunity would come so quickly. Lesli is amazing. There were two major units going on, and one of the sets must have had hundreds of extras and Sting was there. I'm sure there were a hundred things going on, but Lesli not only handled all responsibilities great and got everything done, but she still had great energy and humor. She was fun to work with. And, she's so inspirational. The cast was amazing. I love Steven Weber. He's so funny. I really felt an awesome chemistry between all the cast members. And the crew guys were so professional and sweet.
Any chance to use any of your martial arts?
(laughing) On Studio 60? I'm sure they would have fired me if I suddenly bust out my weapons and wushu sword on set.
Would you prefer your Shao Lin Kung fu or Samurai training?
I feel more at home with Shao Lin because it's more about dexterity, stealth and attacking vulnerable points quickly. I grew up training in flexibility and quickness. I role play Dungeons and Dragons sometimes, and one of my favorite characters to play was an elfin princess. Elves have a higher bonus in dexterity and they move very gracefully. I love graceful.
How was it working on House earlier this year? I saw the show and you were great.
(laughs) I had the funniest scene. I played Anne Ling, a teenage girl who tries to get birth control pills by mistranslating for her Chinese mother. Well, lo and behold, Dr. House speaks Mandarin. So he catches my silly little lies.
Did you have to coach him?
No he had the line down. It was fun listening to him rehearse it.
What about your hickey on ER?
Yeah I had a lot of people email me right after episode, asking if it was real. Thanks to makeup for that; but I did have to explain to my parents that it was not a real hickey.
You recently produced and starred in "Cinder", a short film. How did you like being the boss?
I cannot call myself The Boss. I had the most amazing team behind me. Our line producer, Marvin Cheng, on CINDER not only did his job as a line producer extremely well, but also helped find interns and production people. Then Gentle Vandeburgh, our unit production manager also was production coordinating. I was very fortunate to have dedicated assistants who were always punctual, always committed and did everything they were asked to do. Jason Jury our director put in 120%.
Tell me about the character you played in the project.
Her name was Mei Zhang. I decided to give her a middle name, Mei Hua Zhang, because Mei Hua is the name of a beautiful flower. When I was a little girl in Chinese school, we used to sing this song about a beautiful Mei Hua flower. I always admired how beautiful and elegant that flower was. The character is the daughter of a very wealthy, organized crime family. Her father has sent her to America to become his "right hand" to conduct criminal business.
Because she's a loyal Chinese daughter, and we all know how Chinese people always have to respect their elders, regardless if the elders are right or wrong; she followed initially in her father's plans for her. When she got to America, she started to realize how American women and children have their independence, their own voice and freedom. She fell in love with a man named Kyle, and started to feel very confused. Her father wanted her to marry another man. But she loved only Kyle and started to realize that maybe she should follow the voice inside of her and break away from the cultural norms of her Chinese society.
You have such passion and joy when you talk about the characters you play.
I just feel so liberated in front of the camera. I can be happy or sad or angry as I want and I know it's safe to do so, because as soon as the director yells cut, it's all over.
Strange as it sounds, I am very Chinese. My parents taught me the submissive ways of being a woman. When I was a child, I used to love to climb trees and monkey bars at elementary school, but whenever my mother was around, she would scold me if I did anything like a little boy. One time, I was lying on the floor with my legs slightly apart, only about a foot I'd say, but she spanked me and told me to keep my legs together. Sometimes, I'd become the little happy American party girl and I'd yell and scream for fun, but she'd always stop me.
You have a remarkable voice. Did you study?
I started voice training with the infamous Bob Corff and later with my singing coach who won multiple awards in China (placing first all the time), and really learned to create different vocal characters entirely different from my real voice, and that's been a lot of fun.
How do you find the strength to keep your balance in the unpredictable Hollywood world?
If there's a problem, then I ask myself what I'm doing wrong. When I was five, my mother said to review the day every night before I go to bed. If something didn't go as planned, I'd ask myself if there was a way to improve myself. I kept a journal of my good and bad habits and my personality. I always strived to become a better person than I was the day before. I knew I could never stop growing, never stop learning for as long as I lived. I love life. I love learning.
Where will we see you next?
In the upcoming pictures - Silvergun Samurai, Dead Reckoning and Cinder. OR...you can always visit my website www.lingtime.com
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