[FILM] Camille Chen - Actor on Studio 60
- It's About to Shine Brighter on Studio 60
By Ada Tseng
Camille Chen went from commercials and guest roles to landing a
coveted re-occuring spot on Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, where she
plays a featured player on the show-within-a-show and gets to share
screentime with such TV veterans as Matthew Perry, Bradley Whitford,
and DL Hughley.
While NBC's Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip may focus more on the
behind-the-scenes production of a sketch comedy show and the politics
of the network-studio struggle, even a fake television show must be
cast with some believably talented stars. In the more prominent
roles, we have Sarah Paulson as Harriet Hayes, the devout and pouty
object of Matt Albie's bitter affection, DL Hughley as Simon Stiles,
the frustrated Yale School of Drama graduate turned comedian, and
Nate Corddry as Tom Jeter, a sweet-faced up-and-comer often found in
inconvenient costumes. To round out the cast, there is also Jeannie
Whatley (Ayda Field), Dylan Killington (Nate Torrence), and Alex
Dwyer (Simon Helberg).
And last but not least, there is Camille Chen's Samantha Li, the cute
Asian girl we've seen in various sketches and rehearsals -- playing a
judgmental customer service operator, acting as one of the girls from
a Bachelor spoof, and being exasperated by Harriet's inability to
tell a simple knock-knock joke -- but who we have yet to get to know
fully on-screen. But we will, assures actress Camille Chen, as Aaron
Sorkin continues to develop more and more stories involving the cast.
About half a year ago, Chen was another LA actress, struggling with
auditions, juggling hostessing jobs, and debating going back to
school for her Masters in Theater because she was bored out of her
mind with the lapses between the jobs. But then she had one of those
lucky days when stars align and the world tells you not to give up
hope because great changes can happen in a short period of time and
send unexpected opportunities snowballing your way.
When the pilot of Studio 60 was shot, Sarah Paulson was the only
female character on the cast for the show-within-a-show. Aaron
Sorkin -- writer/producer/creator of Studio 60, former
writer/producer/creator of The West Wing and Sports Night -- wanted
to add two more female characters. One ended up being Ayda Field's
character, Jeannie. And one was more open and ambiguous.
"When I showed up for the audition, I actually read from Ayda's
script," says Chen, "because Aaron hadn't written anything for the
character. No description, ethnicity, age range, anything."
After Camille got the call from her agent, she showed up to audition
at 10:30am. By 4:30 pm, Chen was called back for a second time. By
the callback, it was clear from the contenders that they had decided
the character was going to be an Asian girl. The casting directors
had asked the actresses to come in prepared with some examples of
sketch characters. One of the characters Chen had created involved
her changing into a little schoolgirl skirt with kneehigh socks in
the middle of her audition and doing her bit: "I love playing up the
Asian stereotypes, cause I think it's hilarious. Some people get
really offended by it, but I think, if you can't make fun of
"They [executive producing team Aaron Sorkin and Tommy Schlamme] were
so welcoming from the beginning," she says. "So dry and sarcastic.
And the banter between us was great because Tommy Schamme went to my
high school, and he also went to UT [where Camille graduated], so we
had a lot to talk about."
So, after some comedy, some bonding, and some playfully daring trash
talk to Syracuse-alum Sorkin's face ("What's your mascot again? The
Orangemen??"), Chen walked away with a recurring role on one of the
most anticipated, high-profile shows of the season. That same day,
she was messengered her first script. Three days later, she had a
photo shoot, and the day after that, she started shooting with the
likes of Matthew Perry and Bradley Whitford.
"It was crazy," says Chen. "This business is so up and down. You get
so excited and then you get really low. It took me a year after I
moved to LA to book a job. And that was just a commercial. Everyone
gets frustrated and quits so quickly. But you can't do that. You
can't give up if this is what you really love to do."
Born in Taipei, Taiwan and raised in Houston, Texas, Chen began
perfoming since she was very young, a love which began with a passion
for singing. In fact, she admits she used to in an Asian girl group
called At Last -- "Destiny's Child-wannabes," she jokes -- prior to
moving out to LA to pursue acting full-time. In college at the
University of Texas at Austin, she enrolled as a Business major but
changed to Theater her sophomore year without telling her mother.
"She was not having me," Chen recalls, mildly amused. "She freaked
out. But then, the money that I was making made her feel a little
more secure when she realized I could get paid for this. My first job
was a featured extra. I was Miss New Hampshire in Miss Congeniality.
And then, I booked an Old Navy holiday commercial. And national
commercials you get paid a lot for. So gradually she became more
"Now, she's like 'Oh, yea. I told her to pursue acting from the
start.'" Chen laughs.
"Or she says: 'Can you tell Aaron Sorkin to make the characters talk
'Yes, Mom, I'll just call him up and tell him.'"
After some mixed reactions and a worrisome audience drop-off rate,
Studio 60 had recently been in danger of cancellation. But NBC
decided to give Sorkin and the cast a chance to grow. "It's so great
that NBC picked up the back 9 episodes," says Chen. "Because I think
if they didn't, it would have not given Aaron the opportunity to
develop my character because he added me so late."
APA talks to Camille Chen about how she landed this gig, what we can
look forward to on the show, and why acting is its own reward.
APA: Were you a fan of Aaron Sorkin before you got the show?
Camille Chen: Yes. I loved The West Wing. Bradley Whitford is
awesome. And now I'm also obsessed with this show Brothers and
Sisters, which I started watched because Rob Lowe was on it. But
Aaron's writing is so good. It's very specific, down to every beat,
every 'and' or 'the.'
APA: Did you watch Saturday Night Live or Mad TV or any other sketch
comedy shows to prepare for the role?
Camille: No, because Aaron wanted us to know that it was more about
the behind-the-scenes aspect. So, not really. I don't have a sketch
background. Simon Helberg -- he does the Nicolas Cage impression --
and Nate Torrance, the Capital One guy, they both did Second City
together. But they didn't make it a requirement to have a sketch
background because they emphasized: This is a one-hour drama. This
isn't a sketch show.
APA: What is the atmosphere like on set?
Camille: It's such a tight knit crew. Everyone is so friendly. The
very first scene I shot was when we were in the white dresses. And we
were in a huddle about to go on to do our musical theater number, and
they called us to set for lighting and camera rehearsal. I walked on
the set and Bradley and Matthew looked at me and said, "Hey new cast
member!" And Matthew was like, "OK we have to make up a secret
handshake." And I was like, "Oh my God, you're Matthew Perry."
But yea, it's great. It's long hours, but the atmosphere is never
tense. No one's a diva. Sarah and Matt and Brad all have tons of
dialogue. Brad has some practice from The West Wing, but Matthew came
from a half-hour sitcom, so he gets frustrated sometimes. [laughs]
But Matthew is a huge ball-buster. Cause for me, sometimes if I only
have one line or one word, I obsess about it in my head. Should I say
it like this? Or like this. And one time, Matthew was just
like, "Camille! You have one line!"
APA: The sketch characters that you play on the show -- do they use
stuff from the characters you brought in for your audition?
Camille. Yes. Well, he will incorporate it.
APA: Has it not aired yet? The one I've seen so far is the one where
you play the telephone operator.
Camille: Oh, Tim Busfield was directing that episode, and he told me
to add something to the character. He said, "Give her a speech
impediment, or give her an accent." And I did the Asian accent, and
they were cracking up. And they said, "Oh that's good." But it sucks
cause Aaron likes the acting so real, so he never wants a sketch to
be overacted. He never wants it to be compared to SNL. Because I
wanted to do so much more with that. And also, I had to downplay it
because that scene was just a lighting rehearsal within the show.
APA: Yea, it's an interesting dynamic of the show. Because you see
these comedy sketches being rehearsed, but when you see the reactions
of the characters to the sketches, instead of laughing at what you
guys do, they're so serious because they're studying it.
Camille: Yes, which is why I think it hasn't appealed to many people
who aren't in the industry or who don't live here, because they don't
understand what's going on. Aaron likes to write paralleling true
life, so a lot of the stuff that has been written in has actually
happened, or they're based off real people that he knows. And in a
script that I just got, he wrote this exchange between DL Hughley and
I on the show, and it was almost exactly a conversation that Aaron
and I had. About the difference between being Chinese and Taiwanese.
And it was awesome. I just thought that was hilarious.
Because a lot of my friends are like, "Wait, are you Chinese?" But a
lot of times when I say I'm Taiwanese, the person could be super
smart, but they'll say, "Oh, Thailand?" Or, "What is that?" Or "Where
is that?" And I'll think, "Really?" So when I'm too lazy to explain
the whole thing -- which, I should never be too lazy -- I just say
APA: Also, sometimes when you say Taiwanese, people take it as a very
politically charged statement.
Camille: Oh, totally. My grandma would totally say Taiwanese. My mom
says Chinese. When I asked my mom when I was younger what I should
say, she said "Just say Chinese." But then again, she also didn't go
through what my grandma went through. But it was funny, so Aaron and
I had a conversation about it. Because, at the audition, he pretty
much said, "I'm developing this character as the show goes along, so
I don't know anything about her yet. I'm pretty much going to base
the character off of you as Camille."
So when he finally decided what to name my character, he asked me if
it was OK to spell my last name L-I. Because that's the mainland
spelling. It's funny, cause he asked, "Would your family be offended?
Because NBC didn't OK it for it to be spelled L-E-E."
APA: Really? Because Lee is the Taiwanese spelling? I wonder who
these studio executives are who had a meeting and said, "We want her
name to be spelled Li, not Lee." Because they have Chinese affiliates?
Camille: Yea, I don't know. So when he asked me that... I mean, I've
played a Korean girl. So I said, "No, she won't be offended, but
thank you for asking." But then we had the talk, which ends up in one
of the episodes that comes up.
APA: Which you can't tell me about... But, it's cool because the
world of sketch comedy has been known as kind of a male arena. Except
for recently on SNL, with Tina Fey and all of them. And in terms of
Asians, we've had Bobby Lee. But Asian women doing sketch comedy?
We've never seen that.
Camille: Right. Ever. I think Lucy Liu was on SNL as a guest host.
APA: Yes. But she was the first Asian woman to host. She said that in
her monologue, and spoofed all the Asian stereotypes. But she's the
only one, because there haven't been any since then.
Camille: Crazy... Well on our show, we did the telephone sketch, and
we've done a couple other sketches, but Aaron hasn't really written
ethnicity into the show yet. It's just the whole political, religious
APA: As an Asian actress in Hollywood, do you have any interesting
Camille: It's so weird. I see all the same girls at all the
auditions. It's gotten to the point where -- there can be up to 10
steps for an audition -- but now it's come to the point where I
always see this girl named Julia Ling [who had a guest role on Studio
60, playing a powerful Macao businessman's daughter for two
episodes], and I always see this girl named Moon Bloodgood, who's
actually on this show, Daybreak with Taye Diggs. The casting
directors know us now.
But actually, I auditioned for Lost recently. And they wanted me to
speak Thai! And, I mean, my last name is Chen! I was like.. all
Asians are not the same!
APA: That's ridiculous. What did you do?
Camille: Nothing. I said I couldn't speak it. I don't know. It's
frustrating. You can complain, but ultimately, what my acting coach
says is -- do you want to work? And it's true. We have to work. My
biggest accomplishment is not having to wait tables anymore.
Official Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip site: