Karen Huie, Kya Dawn Lau, Elizabeth Ho, Elizabeth Sung on the set of DISJOINTED
I met Elizabeth doing a reading at EAST WEST PLAYERS. I was immediately star-struck. Here was a woman I had seen on film and TV my entire life growing up. I remember her giving those fake pearls in JOY LUCK CLUB. I remember seeing her on THE YOUNG & RESTLESS on my grandmother’s old dirty CRT TV. I remember hearing from other friends about her tireless work for the AAPI community. She was continually at the forefront of our unions: advocating for AAPI visibility, equality in film, TV, and theatre. Basically, I was meeting a legend. But with Elizabeth, it never felt like that.
Elizabeth was one of the kindest, down-to-earth people I have ever met in the business. She knew her shit and she was here to work. We were all equals in the trenches, working together to create art. I remember introducing myself, and both of us laughing that we were named Elizabeth. We decided to call her “Elizabeth” and me “Liz.” It made sense. She was the Queen and I was just a single syllable trying not to fuck it up during rehearsal. I can’t remember why, but for some reason, I drove her home. I remember pulling up to her place, stepping on the breaks, and realizing that someone great had just entered my life. She left me by entering her phone number in my cell and gracefully walking to her front door.
Years would pass and Elizabeth and I would email, call, and see each other at different events. Regardless of any space, Elizabeth would hug me and listen intently to me as I caught her up on my life. Her eyes never wandered, never looked away. It was as though you were the only person in the room, and you felt special, cared for, no matter the time or distance of your last conversation.
Like many of my acting contemporaries, I had the privilege of having Elizabeth play my mother on DISJOINTED. In true Elizabeth fashion, she had already helped me behind the scenes to book the role of JENNY by introducing me to my Chinese tutor. I remember emailing her in a panic for the audition; I didn’t speak mandarin and needed help ASAP. Like the boss she was, she replied immediately. Even though she was helping with a film festival, she took time out of her busy day to look for a tutor and offered to help me with translation work. I was blown away. I can barely remember to text my husband when I’m running late while Elizabeth was right on top of her game, always ready to help if someone needed it.
Thus, it was only fitting that she play my mother. She had always taken care of me when I needed her, and finally we got to portray that relationship on TV. It was an honor watching her work professionally. She set an example for how an actor should behave. She was always early to the studio, in a wardrobe that echoed the character she was playing, and knew all her lines, beats, and intentions. She would call me at night to discuss the scenes we were in, wanting to workshop different ways to deepen our characters’ relationship. She never stopped hustling.
As you probably can guess, she stole ever scene she was in. My favorite moments were her non-verbal gestures: a scathing look, a thoughtful hand gesture. She was an actor’s actor and no matter how big or small the role was, she always killed it. When her arc on DISJOINTED finished, she gave me and the producers small gifts and a thank you note. I was floored; we should be thanking her. Elizabeth wouldn’t hear of it. Her generosity was endless.
The memory of Elizabeth that will always stick with me, however, was a small moment backstage. On the DISJOINTED stage, we had a small green-room for the actors to wait in while we were filming. I remember sitting on the couch along with Elizabeth and newcomer, 9 year old, Kya Dawn Lau. Kya was portraying my character as a child (she was adorable). I remember looking to my left and seeing Elizabeth: the strong woman who paved the way for women like me to have the careers I’ve had. Then I looked to my right and saw Kya, the next generation of AAPI artists who would, hopefully, never have to be just the “ethnic bff,” “dragon lady,” “tiger mom,” etc. Here were three generations of Asian American women in one room, on one show. This shit never happens on “normal” tv and I started tearing up. That room was the product of Elizabeth’s career and life long advocate work. I remember thinking “I get it. I need to be better. I need to be more like Elizabeth.” That’s when the water works started.
I voiced to Kya how special it was, how Elizabeth was a crucial part of changing the landscape for Asian American actresses, and I remember being embarrassed as I tried to tell Elizabeth what I was feeling: the gratefulness, the love, the exhaustion, the work. Elizabeth smiled and said, “I understand.”
All I can say is thank you Elizabeth. Thank you for everything you taught me. Thank you for everything you stood for. Thank you for leading by example. The world lost a Queen and I hope one day to be half as awesome as you were.
If you’d like to learn more about Elizabeth and all the incredible things she accomplished with her life, please check out fellow offender, Anderson’s, beautiful post.
Liz Ho (@TheLizHoShow): Is a fortune cookie: a crispy-Asian-American-treat that will give you useless advice & lotto numbers. She loves STAR TREK, al pacasso, STAR WARS (IV-VI), working on her YouTube Channel, reading, and taking daily pictures of my rescued ewok dogs, Cooper and Coco. She is also an actor.