If Julee Cerda looks familiar it’s because she’s been on some of the best television out today. From her reoccurring role as Reiko Umon on Homeland to Orange Is the New Black, Blue Bloods and Billions. Hailing from Long Beach, New York, by way of the Dominican Republic and South Korea this self-proclaimed ‘Twoken’ now has her sights on the Great White Way and will be appearing in the Broadway revival of Children of a Lesser God. Julee chatted with ‘LLERO ahead of her upcoming Broadway turn about her role, coming up in the game as an Asian and Latina actress and the stories she’d like to see on the small or big screens.
‘LL: Congrats, Children of a Lesser God is coming back to Broadway, can you tell us a little about your character?
Julee: It’s exciting, it’s a fantastic play, Mark Medoff wrote this play in 1980 it went to Broadway and won the Tony for Best Play, so this is going to be the first revival ever done with the play. If you know the story, it’s about a deaf woman who falls in love with a hearing man. It’s such a provocative love story, considering the era it took place, which was late 70’s, there is still a lot that is relevant and applicable today and what’s going on politically. It’s the right time for the play to come out.
As for my character, I play Edna Klein, who is a civil rights activist lawyer who steps in to defend the rights of the patients at the institution. I’m the only character in the entire play with no prior connection to anyone in the community, she tends to make a lot of naïve assumptions about them and their lives. I think it’s interesting because it takes place in the 70’s and for me to play a minority female lawyer in that period defending another group of minorities during an era where these groups experienced a lot of inequality. What’s even more fascinating is the director cast this in a diverse way. Although the current casting came about organically, it’s a production that has traditionally been portrayed by an all-white cast. I think it gives it another layer and perspective.
‘LL: We recall back in the day, your comedy troupe Tangana! at the Nuyorican Poets Café, which we would consider a form of theatre, but is this your first time on Broadway?
Julee: This will be my first time, I’m also kind of happy I’ve had a chance to run this through and work it out [laughs], but I’m feeling pretty good about going in as the newbie on Broadway. I’m really excited because I think the production deserves it, and the people involved deserve it, it’s exciting to see it come to life this way.
‘LL: While you may be a theatre novice, on Broadway at least, you’re a television veteran. Homeland, House of Cards, OITNB. You often hear actors say theatre is more challenging because you only get one shot, but has that been your experience?
Julee: I don’t know if I’d call it more difficult, just more different. In a way it’s easier, because you have an opportunity in theatre to really work through your character and really bring to life the situation in different ways and test those choices out in front of an audience and tweak it, so I think it’s better in a sense. Where in television or film, you go in, do a scene, but because the productions are so elaborate and scheduled you don’t get that. When I was doing sketch comedy at the Nuyorican we got all that feedback, it was live testing [via an] audience.
‘LL: Speaking of television, on Orange Is the New Black, we saw that you got to deliver a few lines in Spanish, is that the first time you’ve done that?
Julee: Oh yeah, can I tell you, that was the first and onnnly time [laughs]. Thanks to Netflix for the flexibility in casting, it’s funny because that is me. I am half Latina, I speak perfect Spanish, I lived in the D.R., I went to school there. I know it, yet I never get called in for that. It was also nerve wracking in a kind of way because I felt the pressure to have to prove myself. But that was me in my own head. It was fun, great, the cast was great to work with. I remember the day I went to audition I didn’t have a ton of time to prepare, so I just went in and was real. I thought they would say ‘thank you’ and that would be it, but I booked it, and it needs to happen more.
‘LL: Everyone has a story to tell, what are some of the stories, you’d like to see told?
Julee: I like stories that challenge the way we perceive gender and social or ethnic stereotypes. What I see is that television and film tend to be a bit behind on how we portray what we see in different cultures. Its ok for me to speak Spanish and be half Korean, that is my world. My friends have accepted that, so I don’t feel like that story has been told. I like shows that tend to show and push that. Shows like Transparent on Amazon, Orange Is the New Black. Anything that tends to challenge or help change perception. That this is what the real world looks like. I would like to see not just diversity but a true reflection of what my world looks like, which I have never seen.
‘LL: Your world is pretty unique. From South Korea, to Dominican Republic to New York, you refer to yourself as a ‘twoken’, what are your feelings on repping, not just one, but two underrepresented cultures?
Julee: I think it’s great. There was a time growing up, I constantly felt like an outsider, so growing up it was a bit harder. I’ve come to accept it and embrace it. I think that instead of letting it get to me, by embracing it I teach other to accept who we are.
‘LL: The response is ironic, given that recently, a child was reprimanded in school for speaking Spanish to her friends. The video went viral and caused a protest. The parents defended their child stating they teach their daughter to speak both Spanish and English.
Julee: When I was a little girl, I was sent home from school with a note, the teachers had said to stop speaking Korean because I was confusing all the children. My mother being an immigrant was so afraid she stopped teaching me, but it’s so sad. The story you just told resonates with me. But kudos to the parents for stepping up.
‘LL: Coming up who were your influences.
Julee: I am a huge fan of the Christian Bale, Michael Fassbender or Daniel Day-Lewis, because they are true chameleons. The work that goes into it is inspiring.
‘LL: What advice would you give to those young actors or actresses who see you and whom you are influencing?
Julee: Embrace every barrier that comes your way, every failure, because I’ve learned so much from those moments. Also, just be you. Even if that is currently not being accepted, because one day it will become accepted. Continue to be honest to yourself.
Sage advice indeed!
For a look at Julee’s television work, including those Spanish acting skills check out the video below. You can also catch Julee in Children of a Lesser God which opens on Broadway at STUDIO 54, 254 W 54th St (between Broadway and 8th Ave), New York, NY. Previews begin March 22, 2018.