I met Vivian on one of the first shoots I’d worked on when I moved to LA several years ago. She immediately stood out to me as strikingly beautiful, and as I found out as I got to know her throughout the shoot, an amazingly talented actress and model.
I always love cheering on my friends in the business, because I know that we have to support one another in this incredibly tough industry. I was thrilled to see her as one of the brides in the highly viewed music video, “Sugar,” by Maroon 5, and it’s been wonderful to learn she’s only moving up and working on things that empower herself, and fellow women.
Tell us a little bit about yourself, where you grew up, and how you got into acting?
My beginning starts with my roots: my father was a refugee from Vietnam, who was able to escape with his older sister when he was 14. After two grueling months, he made it to Seattle, WA, where he stays to this day. My mother was born in Maine, but grew up with her father and siblings in Vietnam, until she came to Seattle to be with her mom in her early 20s.
Both sides had many siblings, and the majority of both families were able to come to the U.S., so while I was born and raised in Washington State, I was mostly raised by my grandma, grandpa, and aunt. They didn’t speak a word of English, and were very traditional and proud of our heritage and culture, so I experienced an unconventional childhood and adolescence; instead of cartoons and PBS shows, I was introduced to the world of Asian dramas and period series, and Vietnamese musical programs. These became my world, and the probable cause of my overactive imagination from childhood on. When schooling brought English into my life, I suddenly discovered Disney movies, which further fueled my passion for stories and films.
I remember watching Glenn Close’s performance in “101 Dalmatians” and feeling right then and there that I wanted to act for the rest of my life; it just made complete sense in my little head at the time. My mom’s favorite movies were also “Gone With the Wind” (she named me after Vivian Leigh played Scarlett O’Hara, and Vivian Vance from “I Love Lucy”), and “The English Patient”…so maybe she knew something from early on. I received a book of Shakespeare’s Sonnets not too long after, and was completely fixed on my goal of acting ever since.
What’s something surprising about you that people don’t know?
What are some things you like to do outside of acting?
I have lots of interests that come from many different cultures around the world, so that touches and influences a lot of what I do – from the music I listen to, to the food I cook and eat, to the stories that move me, etc.
I don’t think people expect this from just looking at me or even having a short conversation with me, but I weep watching anything from the Indian dance form Odissi, to Taiko drumming, to celebrating the cultures that are in my ethnicity (Scottish and Cherokee on my mom’s side).
But probably the thing that shocks people the most is that I’m an avid Tarot reader. I do it anonymously as a way to give back, and it’s spread by word of mouth. I really enjoy having a spiritual outlet that gives me a sense of connectivity and bonding with others that I never would have been able to otherwise. There’s a degree of real intimacy during each reading, and I’m blessed to have gained the trust of many people.
(Note: Vivian gave me one of her readings, and being a virgin tarot card read-ee (?), I was highly impressed. I’m not one to necessarily do things like that, but it was super fun, and very insightful. If you’re interested in getting a reading, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org for details!)
An actor’s life sometimes resembles a roller coaster. Can you take us back to one of your worst “down” times, and how you overcame it and what you took from it?
Well, Mercury is always retrograding it seems…kidding!
During the first few years being in Los Angeles, I experienced quite a few moments that made me ask myself what I was willing to sacrifice to pursue my dreams. While they were terrifying and heartbreaking, I realized that I truly had no other option in my heart. Even if I don’t do anything “meaningful” until I’m 95, I’m finally happy and proud because I’m still here. I’m still trying and, mostly, still positive…and determined and STARVING for it.
The hardest moments are always when you have $2.18 to your name and you get to deal with your biggest challenge – “patiently” waiting.
I would try to keep myself inspired with successful stories, and watch my favorite movies to remind myself that the heart rules all, and that’s the type of person I want to be.
Now I continually do that, and I count my blessings with my strong support system. I also find other forms of creative expression other than acting. It really helps to have something on the side that you can visibly see progress in, and have tangibly in front of you.
Acting is rough, because you might constantly improve and evolve, but outside of yourself, you rely on others to validate this; and that can be rough to depend on. So find a way to work on and better yourself in every way, with every opportunity to be thrown outside of your comfort zone, so you can know your actual strength outside of you.
If you could work on your dream project, with no regard to budget, what would it be about, who would you work with, and where would you shoot it?
I am a huge fan of epic movies – big historical pieces that grip your core with stunning characters. I’m in the process of putting together several scripts about important female warriors from all over the globe. Some are real, some are fictional, but they’re based on actual groups of women who fought.
Ideally, I would work with both known and unknown talent that are from underrepresented minority groups – women who need opportunities to have their talents seen and heard.
The more traveling is involved, the better, because that’s the dream – to work and play all over, isn’t it?! You said I had endless funds….so let’s bring the world to these characters!
I’m also pretty into a good sci-fi or space movie so that might be a fun project somewhere down the line…
Where do you hope to be in five years, and what steps are you taking to get there?
You’re making me do math? I’m an actress…okay, in five years I expect to be well on my path to a heavier resume.
I expect to have been in a phenomenal series, living the life of an amazing character, amongst an unbelievable array of other characters, and with at least 2 features under my belt.
I expect more of my scripts/stories to be written, pitched, and produced.
I recently signed with a new agency across the board so I’m anticipating the work relationship to be prosperous, and afford me ample opportunity to show my growth.
I started training at Groundlings which is developing my character work, and I’m keeping disciplined with my writing goals.
My boyfriend and I are beginning our vlogging adventures, so hopefully we will get seen far and wide, and more opportunities will appear for us that way as well.
If there isn’t enough content, and I’m finding myself “patiently waiting,” then I will continue to create content myself, to keep fresh and motivated.
You were one of the featured couples “getting married” in the Maroon 5 music video, “Sugar,” which currently has 2.5 BILLION views.
Tell us how you got that gig, and what it was like shooting it.
After the video came out, how did it affect your life and are you ever recognized from it in your daily life?
I self-submitted on LA Casting. For the audition, I did my hair and makeup as bride-like as possible, and wore a $1 wedding dress I bought from my friend (who bought it from Jet Rag).
There were no details about the project; all they told us was that it was for a huge artist and the audition consisted of us partying at our wedding, then being surprised as the “surprise guest” came into the room. I received a callback shortly after with the same guy I auditioned with, and it was the same deal.
I thought it was going to be for Prince, honestly. This was probably because they were playing his music during the auditions. I didn’t find out until the day before we shot that it was for Maroon 5! I was very excited, because, well…Maroon 5.
The day of the shoot, I met my “husband” and we bonded while waiting for hair and make-up.
There was only one other couple there that was also shooting on the same day as us at the hotel.
My experience with makeup and hair was a bit lackluster; the other bride was paid attention to, but the make up artist kind of just quickly threw me together, and was done with it. I found her attitude a little mocking. I only bring this up, because, personally, I experience this frequently on set. I really wish it wasn’t a race thing, but the Asian face, just like the African American face, is not taught as much in schools as it should be. It seems we are workshops that usually are extra credit or extracurricular in some way. It seems progress is inching along, but the more plain and foreign looking we are kept, the safer Hollywood feels. Let us be glam!
However, I’ve been lucky enough to experience a lot of makeup artists who are wonderful people and very talented at what they do, so hopefully this experience with minorities becomes more a thing of the past on sets.
Besides this, everyone on set was a blast! The crew were all so kind and good-natured, the “host” in the video was hilarious, and all the background artists made the atmosphere so great.
The guys from Maroon 5 are such lovely and genuinely warm people. They gave their full effort and performed every take. It was really inspiring, and it doesn’t surprise me as to why they have the huge following and success they do.
There were a bunch of funny scenes that didn’t make it to the video unfortunately, but one of my favorites was where the band, my “husband” and I were standing before our “family’s” table, and of course, as is customary in many Asian cultures, guests MUST EAT. So we spent a good amount of time filming them being dragged down and fed. I got to feed cake to Adam Levine for several takes, much to my loving “husband’s” joking disdain. It was the best cake I’ve ever tasted. Supposedly, the wedding cakes were the most expensive thing on the props list, but they were worth every penny.
It wasn’t a long day, just a beautiful and wonderful memory that I was glad to be a part of.
I’m sorry to whichever couple lost out on this experience, but since marriage isn’t a MUST for me, maybe the universe gave me one to have and to hold.
I definitely do NOT get recognized at all from the video. I’m usually more made up and not wearing a white veil, so that must be what keeps me incognito.
My family and friends are still flaunting it around to whomever they can though, so it’s also one of the things that keep me really motivated to keep hustling, though I’d like to give them more to be proud of besides this music video.
It really is surreal to me though, and gives me butterflies to think of how many views there are with that video…it keeps my heart warm, and hope alive for me. I’ll forever have the utmost gratitude to Maroon 5.
I know you’ve been recently working on a web series that’s about to come out. Can you tell us a little bit about what it’s about and your role in it?
Aha! I booked this role last winter, which resonated in me right away.
It follows a group of Asian American women who go through life with the support of one another. I have the honor of playing one of the women, I love her because she is complex and so relatable as a character, I believe in showing her story and exploring her life.
I usually don’t like talking about upcoming projects unless I have to, because in this industry, things change so fast and get held up so much, so on and so forth, and I don’t like disappointing people with the waiting aspect, or the occasional news of the project getting canned, but for now the project already got pushed from January to Feb-March, for good reason! More funding is coming into play and we’re now under the care of a wonderful casting director. I’m allowing myself happy anticipation for this project, and am excited about the content being produced, as it’s been long overdue. I’m very much looking forward to this next venture.
What is the best advice you’ve heard and how do you apply it to your life?
Probably the age-old “know thyself,” “simplicity is key,” or “always look up.”
They’re all related to each other, and I think are solid for life in general.
Know who you are, because you will mirror the world, and the world will mirror you, so if you want to live truthfully, you have to be truthful with who you are, and be okay with that.
Simplicity helps you to be present. We’re so good at piling on details, and loads of justifications and reasons for everything; analyzing and labeling, and just doing too much all the time, being overstimulated and plain old being extra.
Simplifying everything helps you to be truly present, and being present helps you to be real and in touch with gratitude, which is healthy.
“Always look up.”
This one always hits me all the time, and I feel like such a dork every time it proves itself true to me. Sometimes it’s figurative, and sometimes it’s literal. We are so absorbed with what’s in front of us, and what we put in front of ourselves that we become so tuned out and unaware of what’s happening around and above us.
We think we know what the skies or ceilings look like. But in times of lowness or doubt, there’s been many instances where I just look up randomly, and am stunned by a painted mural above, or a beautifully crafted light fixture, or a certain cloud, or beautiful branch filled with flowers or birds that I was completely unaware of before.
It’s hard to get out of our inner worlds that keep us strangely lost sometimes. However, if you know you do this, try to simplify as much as possible. Look up and outwards, and you’ll see that there’s not actually that much wrong with you deep inside.
What are some tips you would give to those who aspire to do what you’re doing?
Really be sure this is what you want.
It has to be your artistic expression that gives you life, because if you can imagine yourself happier or even just as happy doing something else, then go for that instead.
A true and respectable career in acting is a commitment that requires all that you are, and all that you will be. You have to light your own fire every second of every day. People might not support you, so make sure you’re ready to find your highs and lows by yourself.
I’m a firm believer in if you stick with it, while actively pursuing it, you will get it – so if you are able to fully choose this lifestyle, then HANG IN THERE.
Celebrate your peers’ accomplishments and progress; you know exactly how it feels to pursue this every day, so you should let their work fuel your faith that you too will work, and that there are more than enough stories and characters to be lived.
From my experience, karma really lives and breathes in this industry. Do all the good that you can, think of others, and remember the community spirit. There are lots of people out there making beautiful projects happen, and they’re full of the kindest, most passionate cast and crew waiting for you to join them.
Don’t let the bad experiences knock you down, because they really do just lead you to the perfect “YES.”
Stay true to your worth and values. I’ve had enough experience with “lost opportunities” that turned out to be a great big relief when those jobs didn’t work out. Just find what you’re passionate about, and if there’s not enough of it going around, then do what you can to make it happen yourself.
I’ve also had the joy of being on the other side of the camera, doing casting, styling, etc., and been able to help people get seen, or be given second chances because I’ve seen their work, or know how they are in their outside lives, without them ever knowing. It really does happen. People do remember you, so make sure you’re always living with integrity and being the best version of you that you want to be.
And worry less. Life is meant to be lived in joy and love, and if you’re able to pursue what you love, then you are living, and that is a privilege.
How can others find more about you, or reach out to you?
I’m @darlingvivling on all social media outlets.
My vlog and twitch will be up shortly under the “NoBangsProductions” channel.
A HUGE thanks to Vivian for doing this interview and incredible photo shoot!