Tina Huang on ‘Rizzoli & Isles’, Auditioning and Being the “New Kid” On Sets
“Sometimes it’s not about getting the job. You go in there and you make a really good impression” – Tina Huang on Auditioning
TNT’s Rizzoli & Isles just started its sixth season and Tina Huang, who plays Senior Criminalist Susie Chang, is loving her role as the “quirky sidekick” to series stars Sasha Alexander (Maura) and Angie Harmon (Jane).
But, if you saw last night’s show, you already know what happens. No spoilers from me!
Beside her over 30 appearances on Rizzoli & Isles, Huang has a long and deep resume; day player and guest-starring work and recurring on General Hospital and was a series regular in Hollywood Heights – at the same time she was filming episodes of Rizzoli & Isles! So, she’s one busy actress.
Take a look at the interview below where we chat about her audition for the show, Tisch School of the Arts and her upcoming show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
Rizzoli and Isles airs on Tuesdays at 9 on TNT
Can you tell me about your character? She seems very fun to play.
Tina Huang: Yeah, Susie is great. Susie is the Senior Criminalist at the M.E’s office and she does all the cool lab tests and is the quirky sidekick to Maura and Jane. So, it’s pretty fun playing her because she’s got a lot of comedy and opinion about things. But she’s extremely loyal. She’s eccentric too. She’s got all these weird interests.
With those interests and lab procedures you have to do, how cool is that to discover you have to learn something new all the time?
Tina Huang: It’s always exciting.. You come and get a script – sometimes I get it a week ahead, it just depends – and it’ll have a new skill that Susie does and I go, “Okay, I better like read up on how to do that, a little bit, so I have some kind of sense.”
It’s exciting though, I love that. I love to have character being slowly revealed to me, you know what I mean? It’s exciting.
When you originally auditioned for the show was it just for one episode?
Tina Huang: It’s funny, when I think back on it I don’t think I ever actually auditioned for Susie. I know that sounds crazy but I had gone into that office, Gary Zuckerbroad’s casting office several times for other roles and I think they just took a shine to me, which I’m very grateful for.
And then I got offer for the role, they said it was possibly going to recur and that it was one episode for now. And it just kept growing which was super cool.
That’s gotta be at testament to what you brought to the role you know?
Tina Huang: I guess so. Is that a humble brag? I don’t know. Yeah, I’m kind of proud of myself for that. [laughs] You can’t be too proud. Right time, right place, right opportunity. I show up, I work hard, you know what I mean? I think that people appreciate that.
And I just have fun on set. I think people like having someone that is just always having fun and takes the work seriously. I love that environment. I love that set so much, everybody’s just so warm and it’s really like a family. From day one everyone welcomed me on, so it’s been great.
I’ve been on a bunch of sets and you can definitely they’re a family. And if you’re doing a day player role, everyone is really nice but it’s kind of hard to…
Tina Huang: Be the new kid.
Tina Huang: Be the new kid. You don’t know where to sit for lunch. You don’t know who to talk to. You don’t know if you should go to your trailer and sit by yourself. It’s kind of like, “Oh, I don’t want to be that person.”
But at the same time it is hard being the new kid. I think being a day player is so difficult. First of all you’re nervous… and it’s funny, getting to be around for a while and getting to be on for so many seasons, you really get comfortable and your work gets better and they write more. So that’s the first hurdle getting over the nerves and being present enough to really show what you can do and that’s difficult. It’s a big challenge.
How far in advance do know that you’re working on a particular episode? What if you want to schedule a vacation or something like that?
Tina Huang: It’s difficult but it’s worked out so far, we just stay in a lot of communication. Sometimes they know the dates a month ahead so I have a month lead time. But I won’t know the exact dates until probably two weeks before, three weeks before. It just all depends.
Have you had any issues booking other work because of that schedule?
Tina Huang: Yeah, when I was doing Hollywood Heights that definitely is something that they had to work out because I was a series regular and we shot like 85 episodes of that show. So that was definitely a challenge to work out but everyone was really generous with me.
You said something interesting about when you went into Gary Zuckerbroad’s office. They were a fan of your work I would guess.
Tina Huang: I’ve gone in for them a couple times before and they’ve seen me do stuff, and I’ve been a guest star in a couple of other things so they were familiar with me.
I tell a lot of young actors, sometimes it’s not about getting the job. You go in there and you make a really good impression. Sometimes you don’t get the job, not because you weren’t good or they don’t like you or whatever. They just didn’t choose you because of all sorts of things that are out of your control. So, always go in there like you already have the job. Leave the best impression because you never know what jobs are going to come up next that they’ll call you for.
So for me, that was basically what happened. I could’ve got bummed out that I hadn’t booked those one-off jobs before but then I ended up booking this one and it’s lasted several years. You just never know.
Let’s say you get a phone call after this interview for an audition, how prepared are you to be when you walk into that room? Are you to the sides back and forth?
Tina Huang: Yeah, I try to know them pretty well. I put all the work in it and then just throw it away and trust that I have what it takes. So I know it pretty well but I don’t kill myself over the words. I notice that when I tried to kill myself over the words then the work isn’t as good.
But I always know it well enough that I get it mostly understanding the beats so that the words come easier. Especially if it’s well-written. I’m pretty solidly prepared when I go in, especially within 24 hours.
And then I keep the sides with me so that gives them the feeling that, “Oh, this is just an audition. She can do more.” Even though you’ve memorized it, you still want them to feel like you can give an even deeper performance on the day.
You went to Tisch School of the Arts? We have that listed on our top New York City Schools for actors.
Tina Huang: I loved it. I mean it was expensive but I loved it. It was an incredible experience. A lot of the people that I work with today are Alumni and we got a great network of people here in Los Angeles. Very talented, creative people that always keep you on your toes.
In fact, a bunch of us started a theatre company called Ammunition Theater where basically it’s 14 actors from diverse backgrounds that are activists as well, trying to reflect the America that we see before us. And we partner with a charity every year and this year it’s My Friend’s Place in Los Angeles and they provide services for homeless youth. Each of the company members volunteers there, we run workshops and we’re going to actually do a show in June of next year. The material will all be provided by the youth. It’ll be really, really cool.
So it’s been really exciting having a pool of talented actors that I knew from college. And some of them aren’t from my college. We have a really good team of working actors that are involved and who want to enrich themselves artistically.
I guess I never really thought about that but if you to a college like Tisch, once you leave, you have this big pool of people to maybe collaborate with.
Tina Huang: Yeah, people who have the same language, people who have the same shorthand. That is so important when it comes to collaborating.
But then again I’ve also met some amazing people like my writing partner Blake Cooper Griffin, we wrote the television pilot together. He didn’t go to NYU but we were drawn into the same circle of friends. But it’s all exponential, it all depends on who you’re running with and what your interests are.
You’re going to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival?
Tina Huang: I am, I am. I’m so unbelievably excited.
Our show Fairy Tale Theatre: 18 and Over. We actually have been doing this show for years and it used to be new every single month, new tales and puppets in live-action stuff. It’s really crazy and wild. I remember for like a year it was in development with FX for a pilot. It ended up not going through, Billy Crystal was helping us with it and I don’t know how it happened but somebody from our show, I think it was Patrick Bristow, brought somebody from the Fringe and she loved it and invited us to go. We’re doing a fundraiser at the ground racing on July 28 and then we head out to Scotland.
That’ll be so much fun.
Tina Huang: I know. I’m a little bit worried about 10 people in a three-bedroom apartment but we’re just going to have to tough it out, right? I know I’ll never get to experience this again.
So, I have to ask you were directed by Tom Hanks and Larry Crowne. I can imagine a cooler experience.
Tina Huang: That was really unreal. I was on set for about a week. I don’t think my scene ended up in the film but that’s fine I didn’t care.
He’s just so funny and I really thought like the rumors can’t be true, he can’t possibly be that nice. And you know what? He is. He really is that nice. He knew everybody’s name on set. I mean everybody. Just so kind and giving and will improv with you.
What was the role that got your SAG card?
Tina Huang: I was in a movie called, Pig Hunt, an independent film. I had only worked a bit in San Francisco but Pig Hunt hired me.
What was your worst audition?
Tina Huang: Oh dude, there’s so many. I can’t remember the worst one right now but feel like my worst auditions are when I’m not prepared. When I feel like I didn’t do my best, like I didn’t hit the marks and the beats and the work that I had put in, then I’m usually disappointed in myself all day and I can’t do anything else but maybe go to the pharmacy and by some crummy makeup. You know, retail therapy. Or I’ll go eat something delicious and rich. The worst is when you feel like you’ve disappointed yourself.
That is the worst when you feel like you’ve disappointed yourself.
Tina Huang: Yeah, you put all that work in and you just didn’t do things you wanted to do. That’s also hard to judge to because sometimes I’ve felt like that and I’ve got the job. It’s so tough, it’s arbitrary in a lot of ways.