Meet Wrecked actress Ally Maki and discover her favorite Valley haunts.
Talk about a curator.
Written bySteven Stiefel
Photographed byRick Bhatia
At the end of World War II, Ally Maki’s grandmother Miyo was released from the Japanese internment camp at Heart Mountain in Wyoming. As with all detainees, the government gave her nothing more than 25 bucks and a bus ticket, making it impossible for her to return to the farming life she had enjoyed before the war. Miyo, facing the challenge of completely recreating her life, was just 19.
She ultimately found work in a restaurant in Billings, Montana and married Bryan Kazuyuki Honkawa. Bryan had served in the 442nd infantry regiment, which consisted of Japanese-American soldiers.
Decades later Miyo welcomed granddaughter, Ally, into the family, and the two formed a special bond. In 2001 Ally moved from Seattle to Los Angeles. By that time her grandmother had relocated to West Hills in the northwestern Valley. Ally loved to go over and spend time with Miyo, now widowed, watching and helping her work in the garden and prune trees. “My grandmother helped instill an inward strength and drive in me,” Ally says. “But it’s taken me a long time to find my voice.”
Now that the 31-year-old, Studio City resident has discovered that voice, she makes no qualms about using it. She’s part of a growing chorus of actors and artists who want to see films and TV shows depict a broad range of characters that represent minority groups. “It’s so great to see the success of movies this year such as Black Panther, Searching, and especially, Crazy Rich Asians,” Ally says.
THE KEY ROLES
Ally’s life is pretty much a juggling act these days. Currently she is a cast regular on Wrecked and a recurring character on Cloak and Dagger. The former, a comedy series that airs on TBS, is currently in its third season—and ratings continue to look promising. In addition “The audience is heading back to watch the seasons they missed,” says Ally.
Ally plays Jess, a character that didn’t have a racial designation when the role was conceived. Based on how Hollywood traditionally works—and her Japanese heritage—Ally didn’t think she had a shot. But her agents convinced her that the Shipley brothers, the series’ creators and producers, were open-minded about ethnicity, and she landed the part. “Jess is a typical young woman who has a lot of quirks and hang-ups, and she’s a bit of a mess,” Ally explains. “I love that about her.”
This season the cast has escaped their initial desert island only to land on a privately owned island, becoming pawns in a rich man’s “most dangerous game.” Ally, who likes a good challenge, had to train with a fighting stick for one storyline.
Cloak and Dagger, a Marvel series aimed at young adults, has been renewed for a second season, and Ally will resume her role as Mina Hess, a brilliant environmental engineer.
FOOT IN THE DOOR
Today Ally rents a comfortable house in a quiet, friendly neighborhood in Studio City, which she shares with her dog, Jessie, a Tibetan terrier/Lhasa Apso mix. Jessie is a rescue from nearby Wags and Walks. “He came into my life right before my grandmother passed, and he really helped me through a difficult time.”
Ally got into showbiz at an early age. While growing up near Seattle, she was scouted by a talent agent, ultimately leaving her family at 14 to move to Southern California. “I lived in a communal home of would-be actors and singers in Santa Clarita.” Then Ally was recruited by Columbia Records to be part of a girl band called “The Valli Girls,” which she seems both proud of and a little embarrassed by. “I played the keytar, and they sent me to DJ school at Freakbeat Records.” Ally pauses for a moment. “So being a DJ is one of my hidden skills.”
In 2009 Ally was cast on the ABC Family series 10 Things I Hate About You, and she has worked steadily since then, with guest starring roles on New Girl, 2 Broke Girls, NCIS and The Big Bang Theory.
ALLY GETS CRAZY RICH
The success of the summer box office hit Crazy Rich Asians, which has a rare all-Asian cast, has been hugely validating for Ally. The actress went to see the film on opening weekend with a large group of other Asian American artists, and many were overwhelmed. “A lot of people in our group were crying without even understanding why,” she says.
Since that night, “I’ve felt an almost instantaneous change in how Asian Americans are being seen and valued in Hollywood,” Ally says. For example, the week after Crazy Rich Asians was released, Ally was emailed a script and asked if she wanted to play the lead role and support the film’s development. “That’s something that had never happened before.” While Ally says she probably won’t take on the role, she sees it as a sign that opportunities are improving for Asian American actors. “We all feel very empowered to get our stories out right now.”
For Ally that also means finishing a YA (young adult) novel she’s writing about her grandparents’ love story and the discrimination they suffered at the hands of the American government. Ally Maki wants to make sure these stories are never forgotten.