It was like fate when Tania Gunadi won a green card lottery to move from Indonesia to the United States. When she first came to the US, the first thing she noticed was the way the L.A. freeways seemed so clean and magical. New to the language she managed to learn English quickly while working at a pizza place, and as luck would have it, she booked a part in a Disneyland commercial! From then on, her career shot forward swiftly and she is now a main actress on the action-adventure television series “Aaron Stone” on the new Disney XD television channel.It was like fate when Tania Gunadi won a green card lottery to move from Indonesia to the United States. When she first came to the US, the first thing she noticed was the way the L.A. freeways seemed so clean and magical. New to the language she managed to learn English quickly while working at a pizza place, and as luck would have it, she booked a part in a Disneyland commercial! From then on, her career shot forward swiftly and she is now a main actress on the action-adventure television series “Aaron Stone” on the new Disney XD television channel. Her character has duel personalities- Emma the girl-next-door and Dr. Mara, the brainy scientist who works on crazy gadget contraptions for the heroes’ adventures. With a chipper and super-friendly tone, Tania’s magnetic personality shines through. She talks about the things she misses about Indonesia such as the beautiful fruits and flowers and how she hopes to be a director of her own films in the future. She seemed extremely touched when asked about her hopes for the future, but did not hesitate to mention that she is extremely lucky at the moment by living and working in the present. For now she is living her dream! She is truly an inspirational person and does not forget to make time to hang out with her friends at the beach, or take a cooking class here and there. Look out for her on “Aaron Stone”!
ASIANCE: Can you begin by telling us a little bit about yourself as an actress before “Aaron Stone”, a little intro into how you came to act?
Tania: Let’s see. I was born and raised in Indonesia. I won a green card lottery when I was 15 and I moved to the US. Then I learned my English here because when I first got here I did not know English well. And my brother hooked me up to work for Pizza Hut (laughter remembering) and that’s where I learned my English for like two years because I got so many complaints. I didn’t know how to take orders.
In Indonesia we don’t really eat pizza, right? We eat rice and noodles. I remember the first two months I did so badly that I was demoted. But then I learned English and I learned the ingredients and how to cook. Then I got back to being the person who picks up the phone (laughter). And then! A friend of mine said to me, ‘Hey you should audition for a Disneyland commercial!’ I told her I didn’t really speak good English and she said, ‘It’s ok, you just need to scream! It’s on a rollercoaster!’ So I thought, ok I can do that. I didn’t know anything about acting or auditioning. I went to the audition and I got the part.
When we shot the commercial, there were about 15 people and I was not the lead. After riding the rollercoaster 16, 17 times, all the leads got sick! Lots of other people got sick as well. I was the only person left who was very, very cheery. I had never ridden a rollercoaster before in my life and I thought it was the best thing. And they were paying me too! Then the director made me the lead in this commercial, and asked me to do two more commercials for Disneyland. I just got addicted after that because I thought ‘Oh my god, I can do this!’ I get to have fun, and I can make a living and it’s just so exciting for me! I was really lucky. Who knew you could scream and make money!
ASIANCE: And your role on “Aaron Stone”, how exciting! Can you talk about it?
Tania: On “Aaron Stone” my character is Emma, and she leads kind of a double life. During the day she goes to school, just like a normal teenager. She likes to play video games and she plays the drums in Aaron’s band. But when she gets home from school she creates weapons and makes upgrades for gadgets to help Aaron Stone save the world. And then occasionally her boss also asks her to go to the field and fight their enemies as well. Then my character becomes Dr. Mara. I change my outfit and have orange hair. I have a twenty-pound gun and detonators and all these things. It’s kind of a cool role because I get to play two characters!
ASIANCE: Is it rewarding as an actress to work for a company like Disney, with so many young viewers?
Tania: Oh my gosh- yeah! Actually I’ve always wanted to work; well it’s been my dream for five or six years now to work for Disney. I’d worked with them before and they always treated me so well. I love the ‘family’ and was so happy when I got this role for Aaron Stone. I had auditioned like four times and when I got it, truly it was a dream come true for me. They are so kind and I am so thankful.
ASIANCE: On a show like “Aaron Stone” what is the prep for your role, or how do you train before shooting?
Tania: I have three different acting classes and backgrounds. I take improv classes and then also have scene study with a teacher and another who taught me technical. So for me the role Emma, the girl-next-door, is a little easier for me because I can just put myself back as a teenager, having a boy crush, etc. But for Dr. Mara, I did a lot of research, because she is a weapons-specialist and very strong. Not only do I have to get in the mindset-I watch a lot of James Bond movies and things like the Matrix, you know, tough girl roles- but two weeks before Aaron Stone, I have to train with the guy who plays Aaron Stone. We had to jump up on the table! Then someone would kick us and we’d fall and then jump to the sofa and another enemy throws another weapon towards us and we would block it, and fall! And all these things! While filming, we always have huge choreography so we try to train two weeks before that to make sure we are familiar with each other and be safe!
ASIANCE: When you were growing up in Indonesia who did you admire or what did you love to watch?
Tania: You know, when I was young in Indonesia, honestly there aren’t many American movies that go into Indonesia except for big James Bond type action movies. Growing up as a kid, I watched all Chinese movies like with Chow Yun Fat or Zhang Ziyi and Andy Lau. I love those movies, where they fly and the princess is there or pretends to be a boy, goes on an adventure. Those kinds of movies, I was so addicted to. My mom was so addicted- more than me. I think I watched them over and over all the time. I’m not sure what the English name is but I know an old one, something about a condor, with Andy Lau. [The Return of the Condor] It’s an old series!
ASIANCE: Do you have many friends also in the business? What kinds of things do you do for fun?
Tania: Oh yes I would say most of my friends are actors so I go to my acting classes and I end up having friends from class. There’s a group of five of , where every time we have an audition, one of us will come in and help. We coach each other and help each other. We may take another sister class such as an art class or dancing, and a couple of us take swimming, badminton. My acting teacher always tells me to take other classes that are related to art so sometimes we take voiceover classes or painting. We don’t really go to the mall a lot (laughter). We usually do activity-oriented things. We go to the beach together and one of our favorite things to do is play improv games. It’s so dorky but it’s fun!
ASIANCE: You must miss Indonesia but have definitely made L.A. your home for a while?
Tania: Oh I would say Los Angeles is definitely my home. I’ve never been to other places but when I came from Indonesia, the very first city I moved to was Los Angeles. I will never forget when I first got here I was blown away. I walked in the airport and was like, ‘oh my gosh, it’s like a fantasy land.’ Everything was so clean and the highways are crazy! There are freeways and in Indonesia we don’t really have that. There is no traffic. I know right now lots of people say the traffic is bad but compared to Indonesia, this is beautiful. I don’t want to sound down on the country Indonesia because there are so may beautiful things in Indonesia. But right now this is my home and I have my friends and my pets.
ASIANCE: What is something nice about Indonesia we may not know?
Tania: Of course well the one thing I miss, it breaks my heart because I can’t stay in two places, but Indonesia is so pretty. There are lots of greens and farmers working on the farms. If you drive through during the summer, in the rural areas, you can see an entire world of green and fields. It’s so beautiful. There’s corn, trees and fresh fruit everywhere you want. And of course the number one thing that breaks my heart is my mom and dad are still there. But for now it’s ok.
ASIANCE: What do you want for your career in the future?
Tania: Nobody ever asks me that question! But for me, of course I envision the future. I really enjoy what I have now. I have dreamt about my current career for a while and really enjoy this role of leading a double life. I am just enjoying life right now with all the work that I’m doing. In the future, and this is way, way in the future, I would like to not only be able to do more roles in movies or different types of roles in inspiring movies which would have great effects on people. It would be awesome if I could have my own production company and make my own movies and cast all my friends (laughter).
Tania: Oh you’re so kind.
ASIANCE: Well thank you so much for being an inspiring Asian American actress onscreen!
Tania: Oh definitely and you know when I first started lots of people told me, ‘well, it’s difficult if you’re Asian and you’re going to work doing stereotypes’, but I never believed that. When I first started, I was kind of concerned because I thought, they are looking for the role of exotic beautiful Asian woman and I should have my hair long and make myself look exotic. But I never booked a part. I think it’s not me and I don’t look exotic or beautiful like Zhang Ziyi or all those like Lucy Liu. I’m not like that and admit it. So I changed my attitude and was like, you know what? From now on I’m going to be myself and be the real me, the funky type.
Ever since then, now when I audition, I’m just myself. I put my hair up and just be the funky me. I don’t really get those roles for beautiful types, for example in a pilot for Fox I played a nerd, a dorky girl with braces. I have a lot of questions on my Myspace from Asian fans and I just tell them, “Be yourself.” There’s no need to try to imitate anyone else because then you’re not bringing your best foot forward!
ASIANCE: Thank you so much, it was such a pleasure to talk with you! I really appreciate your time!
Tania: Aw, thank you so much, Shannon! I really appreciate it too and look forward to reading it!
Photos Stewart Marcano Photography