“When I have bad days, it just drives me to work harder.”
As the first Asian person I saw in Netflix’s Stranger Things, I remember anticipating to see more of Jackie Dallas in this incredible show. Jackie played Mr. Clarke’s girlfriend Jen in Season 1, Chapter Seven: “The Bathtub”. In this episode, Mr. Clarke’s movie night with Jen is interrupted by the iconic “curiosity door” call from Dustin. There was so much potential in this role… I really wish we could have seen Jen beat the shit out of a Demogorgon.
Jackie was visiting her parents in Florida when her agent asked her to submit a self-tape for the show. “I was away from my home studio, and so had to make do with tacking a bedsheet to the wall and coaching my sister to be my reader. A few days later I was back in California and got a call at 6 am from my agent (it was 9 am on the east coast) congratulating me that I’d been booked for the role and would be filming in Atlanta in a week!”
Stranger Things was Jackie’s first speaking role on a professional production. “I learned so much about working on a set as an actor that day. My scene partner Randy Havens was super nice and seemed so at ease on set, which I wanted to emulate so badly. I actually asked him if he wanted to rehearse the scene while sitting in the makeup trailer together and I laugh now when I think about it, asking such an experienced actor if he’d run 5 lines with me. The directors Matt and Ross Duffer were so nice and engaging and really had a way of communicating what they wanted out of the scene and helped me feel more at ease. Before I knew it, the scene was over and I was a wrap! I thanked them and even to this day have so much gratitude for casting me in the show that literally jump-started my career!”
Six years ago Jackie was pursuing a career in medicine and was in her fourth year as a resident after graduating from medical school. “I was a year away from graduating residency and becoming a board-certified pathologist when I decided that it was time for a change. It was a decision that I thought very long and hard about. I wasn’t scared once I made the decision to move forward, but I definitely had to come to terms with the fact that I was leaving a very respected, financially stable and secure career for one that had no guarantees for any success. The thought of having to start a new life from scratch, in a new city, in a new profession, having no training or experience was an incredibly daunting feeling, but I was also excited to finally get the chance to pursue the dreams and passions I’ve always had.”
Jackie was inspired to act by the limitless worlds created in the films she watched as a child. “I didn’t watch a lot of TV growing up because we didn’t have cable, but I do remember watching movies with my dad and being absolutely transported to the world that cinema created. There isn’t one movie or actor that inspired me, but all of them. I would dream of growing up to be everything that I saw on screen… a space traveler, an archeologist, a fairy tale princess, a sailor… and when I grew up, I was disappointed to realize that I could only be one thing. I had chosen to be a doctor and that was an all-encompassing lifestyle with little time to do anything else. Then, I heard of Ken Jeong, a new actor who had left his profession as an internal medicine doctor to pursue his passion for acting and comedy and made it. It made me realize that acting as a profession was not only possible but pursuable.”
The doors to pursue the limitless worlds she dreamed of as a child are beginning to open. Jackie is noticing a change in the industry that is presenting opportunities to build a body of work that authentically represents her as an Asian American and not just an immigrant. “You can only audition for roles written for your type, and many characters are written and described by their appearance. This usually only left small nondescript roles as open ethnicity casting. Only recently have I noticed a shift in casting breakdowns for larger roles stating “all ethnicities encouraged to submit”. Then there’s the challenge of being an actress, as in a female actor. Once again, the number of opportunities are much more limited than our male counterparts, and while there is a push for female-driven characters now, that wasn’t the case when I started. Many of my earlier auditions were stereotypically character-driven, such as nail salon worker, tiger mom, ninja or a fetishized Asian woman, oftentimes requesting an accent, which I have a hard time doing.”
With successful films like Crazy Rich Asians and Parasite helping to grow interest in Asian talent, Jackie would like to see, “more integrated films and projects, where we see Asian actors in major roles that are not marketed as “Asian movies”. Some of Jackie’s favorite recent films are, “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and Searching because they are just great movies that happen to have an Asian protagonist in the lead role, but their ethnicity has nothing to do with the plot of the story, nor is it the sole trait of their character. I’d love to see this continue with leading and supporting roles as we move forward, giving more Asians the opportunity to become leading actors and household names.”
Despite the challenges of being an actress, Jackie has never wanted to stop acting, “when I have bad days, it just drives me to work harder.” Jackie strongly believes that you shouldn’t succumb to the pressures of other people’s opinions on who you should be; instead- you should focus on what makes you happy. She says, “if you can find happiness in it, then you’ll have found success”. While pursuing a career in the medical field there were a series of experiences that made Jackie question whether medicine was where she was meant to be. “I did try out multiple different specialties in different cities to see if there was a field out there that would give me the satisfaction that I was seeking.” Jackie has continued to pursue acting because, “I’ve finally found something that brings me joy. No matter how frustrating things can get, and sometimes there are large chunks of time where it feels like nothing is happening- when things finally click into place, it is the best feeling in the world.”
Jackie hopes to someday play an empowering, “kick-ass woman” in a superhero universe. You can also watch Jackie on NCIS: New Orleans and The Bold and the Beautiful.