EXCLUSIVE | How 'Candy Cane Candidate' star Jacky Lai breaks stereotypes with her roles
The star also discussed how diversity and representation are two of the most important things in Hollywood
As an actor, it's not every day that you get the chance to break barriers and inspire others to achieve what they want to. In 2020, a Lifetime movie titled 'A Sugar & Spice Holiday' broke all the stereotypes and saw an all-Asian cast enthralling the viewers with their impeccable acting skills. However, if there was one actor who blew away everyone with her performance then it was undoubtedly Jacky Lai.
But if you believe that it was easy for her, then you are completely wrong. She was the first female actor from the Asian community to lead a Lifetime movie and break stereotypes. Not only the movie was successful, but Lai instantly became a superstar. But her journey started way back in 2011 when she was cast in her first acting role in a TV series called 'Really Me'. Since then, she has worked really hard to establish herself in the industry and worked on various projects. Her first major acting role came in 2019 when she played the role of Aline Penhallow on the Netflix series 'Shadowhunters' and went on to portray Kaylee Voo in 'V-Wars'.
With her latest movie 'Candy Cane Candidate', she has once again shown why she is one of the brightest talents of the industry and why she should be given more chances to be the leading lady. MEAWW caught up with Jacky Lai and discussed how representation is important. She also discussed how 'A Sugar & Spice Holiday' changed her life.
Q) You began your acting career in 2011 and since then, you have done a wide range of projects. Your body of work is splendid and it keeps on getting better. So, how's your journey been in the industry?
Jacky: My journey has been absolutely wonderful but that's not to say that it didn't come with a lot of lows and uphill battles. I would never trade the crazy ride for anything safe or predictable because it has been so rewarding & it gives my life purpose, to live passionately and unapologetically.
Q) Acting is a very tough job and when you become part of a really big project like 'Shadowhunters', a lot of challenges come with it. So, what were the challenges you faced during your career, and what was that one role that made you feel a bit nervous?
Jacky: I think overcoming your fear and anxiety is a big thing in this industry because you're constantly dealing with things you've never dealt with before and with my journey, it seems that every project requires something more or different from me. The character I play in 'Eraser' is by far the most challenging role for me. She's very different from me energetically. I can be quite bubbly and optimistic and Rina has a very dark view of the world. So getting into her skin was hard on me emotionally and we were working six days a week with a lot more action than I'm used to. So Eraser was for sure the most demanding and made me the most nervous.
Q) When we talk about Jacky, how can we forget 'A Sugar & Spice Holiday'. You broke the barriers and told the world that an Asian actor can also lead the movie and make it successful. What was your reaction to it? Also, how did it change your career?
Jacky: I felt so privileged to be part of a 'first' project like that and to thank Lifetime for taking that leap. It was the most rewarding when I got to hear how audiences of different ethnicities could relate to the characters and relationships. It proved that love, family, and holidays are universal. 'A Sugar & Spice Holiday' made me believe that I could lead a movie and it proved that representation matters, that audiences welcome and are craving diversity on their screens.
Q) Do you feel that seeing an all-Asian cast would have instilled confidence in those young Asian girls and boys who are trying to get into the entertainment industry?
Jacky: 100%. I think it would have lessened the stories of impossibility; because if you can see it, you can believe it.
Q) 'Candy Cane Candidate' was one of the best Christmas-themed movies of 2021 and received positive reviews from everywhere. And your character, Julia, is a no-nonsense woman who knows how to get the work done. How similar are you to your character in real life?
Jacky: I can really relate to Julia's drive and passion, and her intentions for doing things. We're both passionate & conscious of what we do and how we do it. Julia holds more of a grudge and isn't the best communicator when it comes to her feelings whereas I'm the type who has to say it. I don't like bottling up my emotions because it makes me nauseous, I need to speak it out then let it go.
Q) All these Christmas movies look so much fun and one of the most amazing aspects of these movies is the food that's shown in them. So,
did you get to eat those amazing cakes and pastries on the set?
Jacky: (laughs) I wish - but with the many takes and COVID, it was best to mime eat. Too many hands and too many angles to keep resetting fresh pastries. But we do get spoiled with production snacks and coffee runs so we're never left hungry.
Q) One special moment in your acting career that you will never forget?
Jacky: I recently attended the Unforgettable Gala hosted by Character Media and it was definitely one of the highlights of my career. It was my first time attending an award show and to be sponsored by Lifetime, spending a night celebrating Asian excellence in entertainment was beyond anything I could imagine. It was so inspiring and uplifting to see how far we've come, how well we're doing, and just how resilient our community is.
Q) In recent years, we have seen a lot of representation from the Asian community. How important is it to have diversity in Hollywood? And how does it inspire other people to join Hollywood?
Jacky: I think it is necessary to diversify Hollywood and depict what's really out there in the world. We are living in a multicultural society and Hollywood should represent that better. It will make for more relatable stories and characters. Once the doors are open and people are seen and heard, it will free us up to think that anything is possible.
Q) What kind of advice you would like to give to young girls who want to join the industry and achieve their dreams?
Jacky: Invest in yourself. Invest in learning, give yourself experiences and the time and space to reflect. Ask why so you're aware of intentions and learn to listen.
Q) You will be next seen in 'Eraser: Reborn'. Can you please tell me something about the series and your character?
Jacky: It's a remake of the 1996 film by Arnold Schwarzenegger called 'Eraser'. I play Rina, a survivalist who's been exploited all her life and is now trying to get away from a tough situation.