Interview with Jani Wang
Jani Wang was born in Shanghai and spent her childhood growing up in a quaint, tucked-away town in the Bay Area. Her extraordinarily, ordinary life piqued her interest in the outdoors and traveling, as well as an array of hobbies, including art, badminton and piano. A growing fascination with the arts and a thirst for exploration eventually brought her into the sunny city of Los Angeles, CA to attend UCLA.
Though following a completely unconventional actor’s path, she graduated with a Business Economics major and Accounting minor. Always the shy, soft-spoken individual growing up, she tried acting her last few years at UCLA. She initially began to take acting classes to calm her fear of public speaking, and went to serve as the President of her business organization, Beta Alpha Psi. The new confidence and opportunities that even one class had given her fueled the start of her passion for acting. She continued to take classes at night and work on commercials and short films while balancing a full-time academic load. In 2010, Jani was crowned the Miss Los Angeles Chinatown Queen and spent the year serving the local LA community as well as embarking on a 2 week trip to China as a goodwill ambassador. Her involvement with the community helped her realize that the idea of being able to influence and inspire the younger generation was what truly motivated her. Her fluency with Mandarin allowed her to reach out to the Asian American community, and she was selected to star in one of the pavilion films for the Shanghai World Expo, which was screened to over 3 million individuals.
Her radiating energy and optimism continue to drive her to inspire others to pursue their passions, as well as continuing to chase her own dream. Whatever the project and role, she continues to challenge herself to branch out of her own comfort zone to grow as an actor. Even with her untraditional start into the industry, she knows that it is never too late to discover one’s passion and follow it!
I was actually born in Shanghai, so having the opportunity to go back there and actually view it from a historical tour perspective was really something different.
Jani, I am suprised to hear you are quiet and shy. You seem so confident and self assured while onstage or on camera. Has acting helped you overcome your fears?
Jani: I would definitely say acting pushed me far past my boundaries when I first moved to LA for school. My ‘fondest’ memory was when I was in 6th grade and had just moved to a new city, and was too shy to correct the teacher when she read my name for attendance (My chinese/legal name is Minjie), so for most of 6th and 7th grade, everyone at school just referred to me as Minjie. Imagine their surprise in 8th grade when I finally mustered up the courage to tell them that they had been calling me by the wrong name for 2 years.
I think by the time I hit high school, the whole never speaking up, always being afraid to raise my hand and say the wrong thing was beginning to get tiring to me. I wish I could have developed more of a voice at school, but that is where acting came in and became a bit of a secret escape for me. I know that when I told my parents I wanted to enroll in an outside acting class during my senior year, they were their usual-supportive selves but I could sense the hesitation and curiosity as to why I would want to do such a thing. Thinking back now, maybe it really was just a “I’ll show you!” motive that made me want to try it out, and I had to put up a confident facade that I was certain of what I was doing. My first audition ever was in front of an LA talent manager, and I still remember shaking nervously while performing my monologue, but to my astonishment, he ended up signing me on the spot. Of course, I never told anyone about it while I was in high school, but it definitely gave me those first bits of confidence that maybe I was capable of doing more than I expected of myself and others expected of me.
Now that’s not to say that I don’t get nervous each time I get in front of the camera or on stage! But that’s where the practice makes perfect part come in.
Winning the 2010 Miss Los Angeles Chinatown Pageant is a great accomplishment. You beat out many beautiful and qualified contestants. How did it make you feel?
Jani: It was definitely a shock – I entered the pageant on a bit of a whim my last year at UCLA; my course load was lighter and I wanted to accomplish something meaningful, although I wasn’t even sure what that meant at the time. Like my other ‘extracurricular’ endeavors, my family and a few close friends were the only ones who knew about it. It was definitely a pushing-myself-out-of-my-comfort-zone, self-growth type of experience.
Getting crowned was a bit of a surreal experience; I was just flooded with excitement for the following year and for what I might be able to accomplish.
What was the most difficult part of the pageant for you?
Jani: I would have to say the hardest part was actually the morning rehearsal before the pageant. It’s funny how even the tiniest mistakes that you make during rehearsal can become overdramatized in your mind, and I definitely had to calm myself down quite a few times and tell myself that I knew what I was doing. We were practicing our Chinese fan dance – now I’m not the most coordinated person, but besides slight missteps I was never too far off from all the other contestants. I just remember while we were practicing a turn and ran across the stage, I somehow managed to step down weirdly, get my foot tangled in the fan’s silk train, and while everyone else jumped up, I went down and face-planted so hard on the stage that the entire stage shook, and I just saw people’s confused expressions as they ran by me. I hate making a scene, so I got straight up and ran to my next position, but I did get some bruised knees and a major bout of nervousness from it. Fortunately for me and my knees, that did not happen again during the actual pageant.
Most of pageant night becomes a blur once it begins, to be honest – your body just goes on autopilot, and you just have to tell yourself that you’ve done everything you can up to this point, and to just let whatever is meant to happen, happen.
As part of your role as Miss LA Chinatown you have taken upon yourself “to develop an understanding of and connect with other cultures.” How do you think you can accomplish this?
Jani: One of the things that I discovered that I love to do during the whole pageant experience and my time at UCLA is working with kids. Whether it be mentoring or promoting education, I think it’s so important to be able to influence the younger generation in a positive manner. That’s why opening up their minds to diversity and connecting with other cultures at a younger age is so important, and during 2010, my court and I were able to attend events with different youth organizations, one of which I had participated in at UCLA – China Care Bruins. In terms of whether or not I accomplished that entire goal, I would say that there is always much more that I want to get involved with, but I am pleased that my court and I were able to do more than just simply wearing a crown and sash.
After the pageant you visited China. Where did you go and what did you do there?
Jani: I am not at all exaggerating when I say it was one of most culturally enriching experiences of my life. 3 of the court members and I were taken around to Beijing, Deng Feng, Luo Yang, Shanghai, Shantou and Hong Kong all in the span of 2 weeks. I was actually born in Shanghai, so having the opportunity to go back there and actually view it from a historical tour perspective was really something different. It was also my first time to all the other cities (besides Beijing) and definitely made me appreciate how far China has come in the past few years. Really, the expansion of that country is so phenomenal – I think the most memorable part of the trip was visiting the Shaolin Temple and learning kung fu from the monks there over the course of a few days. I came back with some great new moves (well, just one set of moves) – kung fu is not an easy sport to learn, that’s for sure!
I have to ask you, since I am a big fan of Michelle Wie, how was working with her in the commercial you did for McDonalds?
Jani: She’s the sweetest girl! I remember we were all wondering why these golf balls were flying into all our scenes before the shoot day, until we realized that she was heading off the McDonald’s Asia campaign. I am definitely in awe of all she has accomplished at such a young age, while attending Stanford.
Any advice to those who may want to move into an acting career?
Jani: I read this tidbit of advice from another article awhile back, something along the lines of “You should only pursue acting if there is nothing else you can imagine yourself doing,” and I have to say that I completely agree. And if you realize that it is your passion, just make sure that you have a worthwhile reason behind why you want to act to back it up, since it is definitely not the glitzy and glamorous life that it may seem to be. Most of all, stay optimistic, and I feel blessed to have such a strong support group out here and at home that keep me going, even during my bouts of doubt.
I also know you are in an I-Phone commercial currently airing in China. How did you land the role in it?
Jani: It’s funny, because many of my friends think I got to fly out to China to shoot it..which is (unfortunately) not true. But really, it was the same as any other audition process – where you attend the audition, the callback, and then the next day my agent had called me to inform me that I booked it! Needless to say, I danced around my room for a bit, called my parents, and headed off to wardrobe.
See the iPhone commercial
You have been extremely busy with auditions, acting classes and have taken roles in commercials and hosting a web series too. How do you manage your time?
Jani: Although it seems like quite a bit, I’d have to say that I am that person who does like to keep constantly busy and stay on track with what I do. Although relaxation is good at times, I do keep myself more disciplined with the reminder that I didn’t quit my job to sit at home and clean my room (which is my go-to chore). It really is all about focus. Back before I had quit my job, I was attempting to do all that, WITH a 40-hour work week, if you can even imagine (I don’t know how I managed to still get sleep!). While it was exhausting, it also made me realize that if you’re doing something you love, there is really no need to keep track of how much time you’re spending on it, because you will always find enjoyment.
I have read one of your favorite restaurants is “The Stinking Rose” which, for those who have not heard of it serves food cooked in copious amount of garlic. What is your favorite dish there?
Jani: Haha! The Stinking Rose is probably not the best place to take a hot date to, but the food there is just cooked so mouthwateringly well, and it has a type of European grandeur interior. I’ve never had garlic boiled to such a buttery softness. Salmon is always my go-to dish, so I would have to say the Salmon entrée is definitely my favorite. I love going there for friends’ birthdays – the staff brings out this oversized garlic clove hat that envelopes a good portion of the birthday person’s head. Definitely a good photo op.
Any interesting projects coming up in the future?
Jani: I’ve been working on an internet hosting series on the side, a Youtube channel called IdeateTV, that I want to use to interview other public figures on what their dreams and passions are, to share with the younger generation. I feel like social media provides such great opportunities to reach out to a larger base of people nowadays, so I want to take advantage of it.
It’s interesting to hear from those people who are fortunate enough to love what they do, and share that with others who may be interested in similar career paths. I’m just hoping, at the very least, it can encourage people in some way to be proactive in discovering what their passions are.
I’d say that I got started relatively early, but of course, I still wish that I had figured out earlier on what it is I love. Other than that, I’m just focusing on improving my acting by taking classes and performing in theater shows here and there, while going out on auditions – the usual grind, but oh-so-rewarding.
To learn more about Jani Wang visit her website at: