After more than a decade navigating the travails of Hollywood, actress Malese Jow has developed her own method for dealing with the madness.
“Being open and ready for anything, that’s my thing. I audition for, like, a million things at a time. It’s like throwing mud at the wall and seeing what sticks,” says Jow. “And when something sticks — when I know I can completely dive into a character — I start making it my own, which is really freeing.”
And yet for one recent audition, it was looking like she wouldn’t have that chance. “I was running super late,” she says. “I could not find the building. I was flustered. I had people calling me, ‘Where are you?!’ I was the last girl that they saw, and I was winded and out of breath and probably sweaty and gross.”
The role in question was for The CW’s The Flash — the network’s shiny counterpart to its more somber and gritty Arrow, about forensic scientist Barry Allen and his transformation into Central City’s fastest human being — and at that moment, Jow could have really used the title character’s super speed. Instead, she had another power at her disposal: her sense of humor.
“All the producers were in there, and after my first read, Andrew [Kreisberg, one of the producers,] said, ‘OK, now, take a deep breath, and let’s do it one more time,’” recounts Jow.
“We ended up laughing about the whole thing. I was just a mess, and he was like, ‘Watch, this is a role that you book.’ I got the call later that day. It’s the one you least expect, that you’re least perfect for, that works out best for you.”
Jow landed the role of Linda Park, a reporter for Central City Picture News, on the adaptation of the DC comic series. But when news of this casting was released, it caused quite a stir in the world of comic fans. Beware, nerdy digression ahead: In this televised version, the Flash’s alter ego is Barry Allen, whose unrequited love is Linda’s friend Iris West. But in the source comic, other persons succeed Barry as the Flash, including one Wally West, who ends up marrying Linda. So the Internet erupted, wondering, will there be more than one love interest for the Flash?
In the ever more ubiquitous — and lucrative — world of comics being translated for TV and film, Jow remains tantalizingly vague about plot lines. “She gets to shake things up in her own right, being the woman that she is,” says Jow. “She definitely shakes things up for Barry. She keeps him on his toes, and she’s not going to let him shimmy his way out of things. She corners him and makes things very interesting. Especially as we get deeper into her arc, it goes into his relationship with Iris, and Iris herself has to see Barry moving on and being in a relationship.”
It’s clear that Jow is enjoying immersing herself in the role of Linda, not only because Linda is someone more mature than Jow is used to playing (“Before, I’ve been playing high school roles, which is great, but it’s good finally being able to play my age,” says the 24-year-old), but also because of the character itself. “She’s a strong, independent woman who knows what she wants. This girl has been around the block a few times. No drama, definitely, and she fulfills that whole female empowerment thing. I love her to death; she’s amazing.”
Jow, who got her start on Barney and Friends, appearing with the lovable purple dinosaur, says she was born to be an entertainer. “It’s in my DNA or something because every time there’s a camera around or I have material in front of me, I come alive. I have a natural” — she pauses to find the appropriate word — “bent for it.”
She moved to the teenaged playground of Nickelodeon in Unfabulous, and would later return to the network for recurring episodes of Big Time Rush and the fantastical The Troop. She then moved on to The CW, portraying a fan-favorite blood-sucker on The Vampire Diaries and the ailing Julia Yeung on Star-Crossed. She’s also made appearances on the big screen in Bratz: The Movie and The Social Network.
“It’s always thrilling for me with all these new characters,” says Jow, enthusiastically. “It’s different [each time], meeting a new group of people, working with new things and at new places. It feeds this desire inside of me. When you know you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing, it just works, you know?”
Linda Park, who is Korean American in the comic book, will be Jow’s second explicit Asian American role. In Big Time Rush, she is introduced as having a Caucasian mother and Asian American father. Other than that, most of her roles never dwelled on her character’s ethnicity beyond her appearance and maybe her character’s last name. When asked about how her ethnicity and identity has played into her experience in Hollywood, Jow, whose father is Chinese American and mother is of mixed Cherokee heritage, takes a beat to think before answering. “I think everyone has their own struggles in acting, in that way, because sometimes when people are casting, they’re very specific with what they want,” she says. “Sometimes you feel like you’re missing out on something because you look a certain way or you’re not old enough or you’re not pretty enough. Everyone will feel that at some point in the acting business. I’m hoping to be part of the movement of breaking stereotypes, because we’re in 2015. We have an African American president, the world is changing, the look of the world is changing. I can’t wait until TV completely reflects that. So I’m excited about [people] like Shonda Rhimes and the shows that she’s doing and helping that movement along. I’m hoping to be a part of that.”
And like Rhimes, the creator of series like Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal, Jow is all about female camaraderie and the importance of support and strong friendships among women within the entertainment industry. Already, she’s bonded with co-star Candice Patton, who plays Iris on The Flash. “I love strong women in the business who stay classy, women like [Meryl Streep] who aren’t afraid to take risks,” says Jow. “Life’s too short to have envy and jealousy, especially between women. We all need to lift each other up.”
Though Linda’s four-episode arc will be it for season one, Jow’s hoping the character will make an appearance in the second season, due out in the fall. Meanwhile, Jow has been singing — her first love — and writing songs. “I’m [doing] local shows in L.A., and it’s really exciting. I’m hoping that grows gracefully; I’m not trying to take over the world overnight,” she says, laughing. “I’ve tried to make music in the past. But I feel that, in my 20s, I know myself better and I’m more confident in who I am, in what I have to offer to people, as well as in my voice. So I’ve been writing a lot more and really trying to find that right sound. And when I do, I’m sure social media will be first to know, so be on the lookout for that.”
The Flash airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on The CW.
STORY BY JASMINE LEE
PHOTOS BY ADAM HENDERSHOTT
This story was originally published in our Spring 2015 issue. Get your copy here.