Interview with Nicole Bilderback
Nicole Bilderback was born in Seoul, South Korea but is as American as you can get. She grew up ‘living large’ and thinking big in Dallas, Texas. Adopted as a newborn by her loving parents, she is the youngest of three children. At the young age of 3, Nicole started dance training and has excelled in contemporary, jazz, ballet, modern, lyrical and hip hop. Adding to her list of physical talents, she also enjoys kickboxing and mixed martial arts.
After graduating high school, she moved to LA and immediately starting landing commercials and guest starring roles on television shows. Her first “big break” came when she landed a supporting role opposite Alicia Silverstone in the surprise sleeper hit movie “Clueless”.
“My agents have always marketed me as an actress, and not an ethnic actress or “Asian” actress. My ethnicity, if anything, was and IS looked at as beneficial or even a perk.”
Since then, Ms. Bilderback has appeared in numerous films and television shows including Human Target, Castle, Numb3rs, House, Heroes, Cold Case, Hidden Palms, Without a Trace, Boston Legal, Dawson’s Creek, Dark Angel and The Fresh Prince of Bel Air… just to name a few! Her film credits include Can’t Hardly Wait, Legally Blonde 2, Bad Girls from Valley High, Cruel World, Along for the Ride, The Box, Paper Bullets and Sex and Death 101. One of Nicole’s most recognizable roles was being cast as the bitchy cheerleader “Whitney” in the blockbuster hit Bring It On, starring opposite Kirsten Dunst. More recently, Ms. Bilderback was the female lead in the critically acclaimed independent feature film, The New Twenty, for which she won the Best Lead Actress Award at the Los Angeles Out Fest Film Festival. The New Twenty is available on DVD and Netflix.
Acting ability and beauty are not all there is to Ms. Bilderback. Nicole is also well on her way to being an accomplished writer. She is currently writing a half hour/single camera television pilot. In her spare time, she also enjoys writing articles and blogs, sharing her insights of her passion with human behavior and mind conditioning. Nicole writes with an emphasis on connecting the psychology of human behavior with our mind’s conditioning, relating to “programming” based from past experiences and how this all comes together in developing one’s own beliefs. One of Nicole’s articles, “Easy vs. Hard” was published and featured on a popular online site called BestEverYou.com. This inspiring and mind opening article draws from her own personal experiences in her career and relationships, and it received rave reviews!
As an Asian American, Nicole knows that sometimes she will be faced with other people’s limited perspectives regarding opportunities for roles she is offered. However, this is certainly not a setback in her mind. “I am an actress, not an Asian actress. I’m an actress first, who happens to be Asian American. This does not limit my ability, nor should it limit my chances to play any character.” With this quote, Nicole has spoken the same thought that has been in many Asian Americans minds that have gone for auditions and been disappointed at the roles they have been offered.
Nicole, you are proof that Asian American actors can succeed in Hollywood. It is inspiring! Was it a hard path to success?
I’m not sure I would necessarily use the word “hard” to describe my path as a whole. Some years have been much harder than others. It can be a rollercoaster. I’ve definitely experienced plenty of challenges and still continue to but not necessarily because of my ethnicity, but rather because of the politics of this business. I truly believe it all boils down to how you look at it. Whatever challenges I’ve experienced that may have been hard, I also gained so much knowledge and wisdom. However, to answer your question, my path wasn’t really hard so much as it was interesting. If anything, I probably had it a little easier than most in a lot of ways.
When I first started auditioning in Hollywood, I came into this business over 18 yrs ago. I didn’t have quite as much competition (at the time) in terms of other Asian American actors that were running in the same auditioning circles as myself. So, I got to “lay my ground” per se, and establish myself in this town as one of the few diverse actresses who happened to be Asian American. This is what I mean when I say that I probably had it a little easier in the beginning of my career. But boy, has this changed throughout the years! I’ve long since been surrounded by so many talented actors of ethnicity. This growing population has expanded tremendously in the last decade. But another valid aspect is, I’ve always been blessed with great representation, getting me auditions and opportunities that most actors would die for. Having good agents makes all the difference in the world.
My agents have always marketed me as an actress, and not an ethnic actress or “Asian” actress. My ethnicity, if anything, was and IS looked at as beneficial or even a perk. Nowadays, actors of ethnicity are in high demand. But what I was saying before, my agents don’t place any labels of racial limitations. Nor do I believe that I am limited. Thus, I never carry this energy with me when I audition. It is this natural essence about me that doesn’t leave much space for casting directors and producers to typecast me. They can’t see me as limited or only as an “ethnic actress” because well, let’s face it…..I’m just not. I’m not this, therefore I don’t present myself in this way. I don’t carry limiting energy with me when I audition for any type of role, no matter the ethnic preference. And of course I can’t ignore the obvious….. I am an American. I was raised in Texas my whole life growing up and I come from an all Caucasian family. So being Americanized in such an authentic way definitely plays a huge part in how the outside world sees me too. Here’s a perfect example: My friends always joke with me that I’m such an all-American girl. They sometimes lose sight of me being Asian. I know this sounds funny, or even possibly offensive. But it’s also beautiful too. The point is, is they see ME for who I am as a person. They see my soul, my spirit. Color and race becomes translucent.
Were there many roles that you turned down because you felt they were stereotyping you?
Not really. I don’t really audition for stereotypical Asian roles, or roles with an accent, if you will. It’s hard for me to even be looked at in this way because everyone knows me and simply finds it challenging to picture me in these types of characters. So I’m not always going to get called in to audition for those roles. I mean, occasionally I do if I like the character and the project. There are always exceptions to be made. But I’ve been fortunate to not really struggle with being stereotyped. If anything, I think casting directors have a more difficult time believing me as a stereotypical Asian role. I’m just not viewed this way by everyone in this industry. And to be fair, how can they? Remember, I’ve been out here in LA in the audition circuit for over 18 years. That’s a LONG time. Casting directors, producers and directors all know me. Or at the very least, they’re somewhat familiar with my work.
Like I mentioned above, I am an Asian American. Not just one of these. I am BOTH. I may have exotic features, but the only accent I have is a Texan one. Yes, quote me on that. (Ha!) My point being: the people who know me, it’s hard for them to see me playing a “fresh off- the- boat” Asian girl with a Chinese accent, unless I was doing this in an over the top comedy and with intention. (Hey, it worked for Ken Jeong in The Hangover movies!) But basically, the only Asian roles I audition for, are usually a guest star for a TV show or a role in a feature film. For me, I’ll audition for these roles when they’re written with a relevance to the character being an Asian ethnicity. It’s about the relevance of ethnicity relating to the storyline. For me, it’s about it making sense in telling the story that is being relayed. Then, any concern with typecasting ends up dissolving.
There is a huge amount of talent in the Asian American community but little of it appears in mainstream media. Why do you think this is?
I actually disagree. For me, it seems like I can’t turn on the TV or see a movie without an Asian American talent popping up! I love it! I think it’s expanding more and more, especially in the last 5 years or so. Don’t get me wrong, we’re not quite there yet. But the opportunities for Asian American actors are definitely out there and continue to grow. We’re seeing a lot more Asian Americans cast as series regulars on hit TV shows and in lead and supporting roles in major motion pictures. Maybe not quite enough, but we’re definitely on our way. It’s been slowly happening for a while now. Thankfully!! And continues to grow.
I have to ask you about growing up. How did you feel growing up in a mixed family?
I didn’t know there was a difference. When I was little, all I knew was that this was my family. It’s the only family I have, so I didn’t know it to be any different than any other family. In other words, I didn’t really look at it as growing up in a “mixed family,” per se. Not when I was a kid, anyway. All I knew was that I had my mom, my daddy, and my two big brothers. I didn’t really understand that I looked different until it was “shown” to me when I was old enough to go to school. Children are not born with knowing how to decipher difference in ethnicities or seeing race and color. They are taught it by society. They are brought up in an environment where it is shown to them by everyone in the outside world. Hence: teachers, kids, parents, schools, media, TV shows, pop culture, etc… At some point I started to become aware of the fact that I looked different than anyone in my family. I didn’t really know how to process this as a kid of course, so I didn’t. It was when I got older that I began to address any repressed feelings I had from my childhood. But I also think that it wasn’t so much about me being adopted as it was about me looking different. I was aware that I was Asian, and I also thought I was white which is ironic, because maybe to some degree, even as a little kid, I was honoring both being Asian and being an American. As an adult, I realize how blessed and truly special my family dynamic really was. But not because I was “the special adopted child.” Even though I loved to tease my brothers that I was “the chosen one.”
Ha! My family dynamic was so special because I had two parents who were A) still happily married. And B) who loved their children with endless vulnerable honesty and were actually present and available to us kids. My parents were always there for me and my brothers. My family was special because I had parents who actually gave a damn about their children. They loved their kids enough to discipline us, while never forgetting to say how much they loved us. My parents never missed a soccer game, dance recital, or birthday. Let’s be honest, unfortunately this is far more rare and different than being raised in a mixed family. It all ultimately evolved into one very simple thing: I realized the fact that my parents weren’t trying to raise an Asian daughter, they were just raising their daughter. In the same way as they were raising their sons. I was theirs just as much as my brothers were. If anything, the biggest difference more had to do with the fact that I was the only girl amongst two boys AND I was the baby!
When you were cast in Clueless as Summer, your first role, how did you feel?
“Clueless” wasn’t actually my first role, but it was my first big movie. I remember everything about this process, from auditioning to finding out I got the job. I was so incredibly excited, I almost cried. But it was almost unbelievable at the same time. It was the feeling of “Oh my God…..this IS actually happening. My dreams really can and are coming true.” To this day, I am so deeply grateful to Amy Heckerling for that opportunity. “Clueless” was such an iconic film in a lot of ways. This movie was the re-birth of the teen genre phenomenon in the 90′s. A legend of sorts, that still lives in people’s hearts to this day.
See Nicole as Whitney in “Bring It On”
Your story is an inspiration to them. Any advice to those who may want to get into acting?
Oh wow. This is such a loaded question! Haha! There are so many things I could say about this. But I’ll keep it very raw and simple. If you truly feel this is your path, and you want this with every ounce of your being and your passion for acting fills your heart……Then just go for it and have no regrets. Don’t look back. Always keep aiming forward and onward, no matter how many disappointments you may experience along the way. Remember your love for the craft and be clear as to why you really want to pursue acting as a career. If you can remain excited and feel inspired every day to continue, without allowing the “dark days” to engulf you, then just keep SHOWING UP. But make sure you’re showing up for YOU and no one else and for no other reason. And always remember, only you can define your self-worth. Not this business. Always keep true to your heart that acting is not to be your whole life, but merely a part of your life that fits in to you as a whole. Don’t alter your life for your career. Alter your career to fit in with your life. LIVE FULL in all areas. Acting fills a part of you, but it can’t replace everything else to fill you whole. Remember this.
I was aware that I was Asian, and I also thought I was white which is ironic, because maybe to some degree, even as a little kid, I was honoring both being Asian and being an American.
Can you tell us about your book, “Easy Vs. Hard”?
Actually, it’s not a book. It was an article I wrote last year that was featured on an online site called BestEverYou.com. The link for it has since been redirected elsewhere, in which I’m tracking down how to get to it so that people can read it again for those who missed it last year. Once I find out how people can view it, I’ll let you know! I’m very proud of this article, actually. I spilled my heart and soul into it. It would take a while to try and explain what it’s about, so rather than explain it, here is an idea of what it’s about. This is sort of a bullet point of the message in my article:
Haven’t you noticed that “easy” (job, relationships, etc) never ends up ultimately being enough? You can’t continue to grow and evolve. Easy doesn’t necessarily mean it’s right for you or compatible for your life. BUT when something may feel “hard,” you end up discovering that it’s not actually hard. Or it doesn’t have to be. It challenges you and inspires you to heal and grow beyond where you already are. You’re being MATCHED in ways that you haven’t been matched before. This may feel “harder” but really, it’s not. It’s just different. It results in growing, strengthening and evolving into more of who you are becoming as a whole person. It’s this that holds your interest. It is this that carries you forward in life…..to continue to build from.
It’s ironic that you thought it was a book, because I’m actually contemplating writing a full length book based from this article. Maybe this is a sign that I should?
Yeah! Since you based it on stories from your personal experiences do you think it would be difficult to write?
I think I felt ready to write it. It wasn’t really difficult. I was in a space of having recently healed a lot. So the results of emotional maturity and growth were taking its course. I was ready to open up and let it all go. Writing it was a very vulnerable experience for me, and yet I had never felt more free of what had been holding me back previously. It was one of the most liberating actions I’ve ever done. It’s incredibly powerful!
What do you hope a reader of “Easy vs. Hard” will come away with?
I hope that people will relate to it on some level. I hope to open people’s minds of thinking differently than merely from a place of what they already think they know, merely just based on their past experiences. To become more self aware and accept accountability. Anything can happen in any moment. Absolutely anything is possible. And change begins with you. Take a deeper look into yourSELF and your beliefs and how they have affected certain outcomes in your job and your relationships. I want the readers to feel inspired to create shifts in their careers and relationships by changing the way they look at circumstances in their lives. Life is what you make of it. Either you define it, or life defines you. It’s a choice.
You can read Easy Vs Hard here
I understand you have written two television pilots. Can you tell us what types of shows these are?
Right now I’m only working on one of them. The other one is not active at the moment. But my pilot that I’m currently writing is a half hour/single camera comedy that is inspired by my life and actual real events. I hope that doesn’t sound narcissistic! Ha! It’s really not at all, actually. The pilot is a very raw, non- pc and over the top humorous look at the lead girl’s experiences of being an Asian- all- American actress who is a Texan gal with a Dutch last name, and her journey of discovering herself through both her experiences of being raised in an all white family AND being an actress in this industry. It’s just a really honest look at life, but most importantly herself and what she has been through but in a very humorous and light hearted way. I hope I’m writing it to where the audience can relate to all of her emotions with compassion, and yet laugh outloud.
You are a role model yourself but who are your role models?
Thank you. It’s always bizarre to hear that people look at me as a role model. I’m very appreciative but mostly humbled. First and foremost, my main role models are my parents. Other role models of mine are my late grandfather (who passed away when I was 11), and my dance instructor from Dallas who’s also a mentor of mine, Kitty Carter. I also really admire Leigh Kilton-Smith, who is a brilliant acting coach and philanthropist. Another great role model of mine is Cate Blanchet. She has managed to have a brilliantly, vast acting career that has expanded over time AND a successful marriage while raising a family as well. She floors me!
Any interesting future projects? What can we expect next from you?
Well, I’m working on getting my next acting job! Oh, the life of an actor! Haha! Hopefully, by the time this is released on the website, I’ll have another job lined up. In the last year, I’ve been lucky to have guest starred on some great TV shows and I even make a little cameo in a feature film called The Victim, which is receiving a lot of success and acclaim at all the film festivals right now. It stars my dear friend Jennifer Blanc-Biehn and her husband Michael Biehn. Both are such talented and successful actors/writers. And of course, let’s see what’s to come of my pilot when I complete it! I’ve got people waiting for it and are dying to read it to shop it around to the studios. Fingers crossed! Also, ya never know……I just may sit down and write my book “Easy vs. Hard.”