Welcome to Five Questions, an occasional series at the Alhambra Source, where we ask cool people with cool jobs about how they got to where they are today. Naomi Ko, an actor and storyteller, splits her time between living in Alhambra and Minneapolis. The 26-year-old Korean American is known for her role in the film, “Dear White People,” a 2014 film about racial dynamics on a college campus. Having been recently featured in Mortified, Ko spoke with the Source about her Harry Potter fanfiction that she wrote as a 12-year-old, and how she plans to use her storytelling craft to uplift the narratives of Asian Americans.
What got you into comedic storytelling at open mic spaces?
Storytelling is a more sophisticated version of a campfire story. There’s a story arc, a conflict and a resolution. One of the stories that I’ve done is about why I started ghostwriting romance novels in college, and why I stopped. I started ghostwriting romance novels in college because it was good money, and I was a very awkward girl, and thought this would be my way of learning how to be an appealing partner. For an abrasive sarcastic girl like me, and growing up in a place like Minnesota where the guys are so timid. We are more reserved, not as flirtatious as southern Californians are. The cold makes us reserved. So how do you get guys to like you? And all your friends are kind of weird too. So how are you going to learn? For this genius right here, it was ghostwriting romance novels. But that really wasn't the way.
Maybe I'll write a real romance novel with two Asian Americans falling in love, and having weird sex, as they do in romance novels. So many people are falling in love with outside and within their racial group. I want to see two people fall in love that kind of look the same. That happens [in] the San Gabriel Valley.
Writing romance is fun. It's not trashy… It talks about things that aren't in mainstream literary novels. It's about single women. They aren't owned. It's a great medium to explore and amplify a single woman's freedom. I studied English Lit in college, and I read a lot of books, and I get why romance novels are great, and also why they're not great. But when people trash romance novels, I ask, is it because they are written by and for women?
Tell us about your Harry Potter fanfiction called “Unlikely Love” and how it got featured in Mortified, a live storytelling series where adults read their childhood writings in front of strangers.
“Unlikely Love” is a fanfic about what life was like after the war at Hogwarts for Harry, Draco and Ron. It's a forbidden love story. I wanted to be so famous, because all the famous writers were writing homoerotic fan fic. And I wasn't famous, so I was like, I need to figure out how to be a fanfic writer.
My friend was like, you should do Mortified because we all know that terrible Harry Potter fan fiction. So all I did was submit it, and they wanted to talk to me about this. They read it, and we worked together. Last October was the first time I debuted it. Then in February, I did a few shows in the Bay. Mortified partnered with us for Comedy Comedy Fest. That was the first time I did the Harry Potter piece with actors of color, and with Asian American actors. Danny Pudi played Harry Potter, Jake Choi played Draco Malfoy, and Will Choi played Ron Weasley. I read the stage directions and in between different segments, I would talk about my personal experience with writing the story. It was 20 chapters long. It took me six months. I was busy with school. Seventh grade man.
Do your parents know about it? Do they not Google you?
No. Hell no. You know what’s interesting is that my dad has a Google Alert on me, but there’s another Naomi Ko out there. She comes up more than I do. It's great. My dad says, that’s the better Naomi Ko, the professional golfer. Like, sorry I failed you. And I think about it, she’s from Canada, so yeah, she probably is the better Naomi Ko. How funny is that, because I’m from the Canada of America — Minnesota. I Google all the Naomi Ko’s. There’s one at Harvard, she’s a doctor. I’m like, "You go girl." I'm like the worst Naomi Ko out of all three.
What are some ongoing projects you can share with us?
In Hollywood, projects can drop in an instant. I was in development and it was great, then literally in a chain email, my project was dropped. Until something like the Hollywood Reporter and Deadline announces it… It's really hard to drop a project once you've announced it publically. I don't announce anything I do until I know it's confirmed.
Any words of support to young Asian Americans who want to break into Hollywood?
Do it. Just do it. If you want to be a writer, then write. If you want to be an actor, then act. This a great turning point for us Asian Americans. Our parents are finally chilling out a bit. We have more generations in the United States. In some ways, we are doing pretty well as a community. It's important to just do it. If you want to do, you have to do it. You can go on YouTube and take out your camera, if you'd like. Start watching a lot of movies and TV shows. Start writing, get ideas out there. Go to places like Tuesday Night Café, where they allow you to process through your work, and then there you can find community and support. It's important that you just do it.