Although she got her big break on MTV’s “The Real World,” creating substantial content was always the end game for Jamie Chung. Through her blog, What the Chung, she’s carved out a space to make her voice heard, and after she showcased her range as Ji-Ah on the critically-acclaimed HBO drama “Lovecraft Country,” we quite frankly can’t wait to see what she does next.
Ahead, Chung fills Create & Cultivate in on how she’s cultivated confidence in herself and her work over the course of her career in front of the camera. Scroll on to find out how she’s making a difference and advocating for more Asian American representation in the film and television industry, what it takes to cultivate the confidence to go after your dreams, and why ditching perfection has led to her success and happiness on and off-screen.
You studied economics at the University of California, Riverside, but you were working in a sports bar when you auditioned for MTV's “The Real World” and got your big break. Take us back to the beginning—what was the lightbulb moment for your career and what inspired you to pursue this path?
I’ve always had a passion for acting and creating and understanding human behavior. I think that’s why I was so drawn to “The Real World.” It was a social experiment. You are taking seven people from completely different cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds and sticking them in a house together for three months. Things are bound to bubble up and come to a boiling point. It just so happened that I was called into work the day “Real World” was having their cattle call audition. I actually really enjoyed my time on the show. It only required three months, so I was easily able to take a quarter off my sophomore year in college to participate. I’m not saying I would ever do it again, but I did learn a lot about myself and others from being on the show.
In a recent interview, you opened up about your role on the hit HBO drama Lovecraft Country and the lack of Asian American nominees at the Emmys. How are you making a difference and pushing your industry forward? What changes would you still like to see in the industry and how can we get there?
It just so happened that my episode aired on the same night as the Emmys. And as I watched people in my industry celebrate the best in our line of work—both behind and in front of the camera—it was a sad realization that there wasn’t a lot of Asian representation in any of the categories. I truly believe it all starts at the top with studio execs seeing value in our stories, and it trickles down from there. I appreciate that the Oscars made it a new requirement that films have to hire at least one POC in either pre-production, production, or post in order to qualify for an Oscar. That’s not asking for a lot, but it is a very small step forward to give POCs an opportunity to possibly shine. You have to make conscious efforts to be more inclusive. After working with showrunner Misha Green on “Lovecraft Country,” it inspired me to pitch my own show which I was able to sell over the summer. I don’t think I would have had the courage to go after something like this had it not been for Misha. If this show goes, I will do my part by telling stories of POCs but also make sure to have a diverse cast and crew.
2020 presented everybody around the globe with new, unprecedented challenges. How did you #FindNewRoads + switch gears towards your new version of success?
I came to the realization that my story matters. And instead of waiting around for the dream job, I pushed my limits to sell my own show. And although there are a lot more challenges ahead to make this show, I will hopefully one day be able to tell a story that I’m so passionate about.
Going after what you deserve in life takes confidence and guts. Does confidence come naturally to you or did you have to learn it? What advice can you share for women on cultivating confidence and going after their dreams?
Confidence is something I, personally, was not born with. It’s something that I learned to have over time. And a lot of that had to do with letting go of the need to be validated and accepted. As long as you are driven to do the work, and stay focused, and as long as your work brings you joy and fulfills you, that will bring a lot of clarity and confidence. Do the work for you and everything seems to fall in line.
When you separate yourself from your job title and the bells and whistles of your business or career, who are you and what do you like to do?
I’m someone just trying to figure it all out. “Adulting” is like putting out little fires every day and problem-solving.
How have you remained true and authentic to who you are and what advice can you share for women who are struggling with that?
I remained true and authentic to who I am because I’ve stopped trying to be perfect, and I’ve stopped trying to fit myself into a mold of what I think is the “perfect” version of myself. It takes a lot of confidence to be able to swallow your pride or ego and own up to the mistakes and allow yourself to grow with them. That’s as authentic as you can be. We are all human. We make mistakes, and we continue to grow. My advice to women struggling with that is: make more mistakes and grow.
It’s easy to celebrate the wins, but how do you handle failure or when something hasn’t worked out for you?
I learned to be kinder to myself. I used to consider a failure in my line of work as not getting the job or promotion. Now, instead of beating myself up, I’ll re-examine the interview or the body of work, and see if I can better myself from that experience. But not in a self-loathing way. In a kind and positive way. I tell myself, “I did my best. It wasn’t the right fit, and that’s okay. What did I learn from it?”
With success comes opportunity, but that also means you have your hands full. What keeps you inspired and motivated to keep going even on your most challenging days?
I know this is terrible, but I manage to work better with a lot on my plate. I thrive off stress. It’s not sustainable or healthy, and I’m working to change that. I make lists. Having lots of to-do lists helps me stay organized. And there is something so satisfying when you get to cross something off your list. It motivates me. I love working, and I think the real challenge for me is to not let my work define me or my happiness. Staying motivated, inspired, and happy when things slow down, that’s the real challenge. A challenge that many of us faced during quarantine when jobs slipped away and the world shut down. Building a strong relationship with my partner by cooking, camping, being with friends, trying new things (and the list goes on) made me happy and kept me inspired.
You’re an actress by day and a lifestyle blogger by night. How do you manage to do both? What's the one productivity tip or work hack that truly changed your life?
Set realistic goals. That way you won’t feel discouraged if you under produce. Sometimes, the pendulum swings in either direction. When I am too busy acting, there is less blogging and vice versa. But that’s okay. As long as I’m creating in some form, I’m pleased. The blog was started to keep me creating while I was in between my acting jobs. So I’m not hard on myself if it’s been months since I posted something.
If you could go back to the beginning of your career journey—with the knowledge you have now—what advice would you give yourself?
Don’t go for low hanging fruit. I used to think that any job was an opportunity to learn and grow. But there were times I took a job just to take a job even though it had no real substance. And quite often, it had no real character names. Instead, they were called “Girl at Bar” or “Library Girl.” I look back at those roles and consider that to be very lazy writing. Just like in reality, every person has a name and a story. Therefore, looking back, I would suggest to not sell yourself short. Ask the writer on set for a damn name.
Fill in the blanks:
When I feel fear, I…
Activate and get fired up.
The three qualities that got me to where I am today are…
Work ethic, perseverance, and joy.
The change I’d like to see in my industry is…
Tearing down the glass ceiling.
My perfect day begins with…
My dog and husband—I mean—my husband and my dog.
The craziest thing I’ve done for work is…
Being 100% emotionally available and vulnerable, and having the courage to make mistakes.