"I wanna relate to people who are different! I wanna connect!"
Santa Clarita Diet is undoubtedly one of the wittiest television shows on the web today. Starring Drew Barrymore and Timothy Olyphant, the Netflix series redefines the horror-comedy genre through its unique, dark (and somewhat twisted) but hilarious sense of humour.
Whilst Barrymore and Olphant serve as excellent leads, Chinese American actress Ramona Young particularly caught our attention – and not just because of her ethnicity. She may have only been featured in a five-episode arc, but her performance remains truly memorable.
Young’s character, also called ‘Ramona’, is a dead-pan store clerk who suffers from the same cannibalistic tendencies as Barrymore’s character, whilst being the love interest of a lead character. ‘Ramona’ is blunt, unconventional and awkward, but Young’s superb acting somehow makes the otherwise lifeless character incredibly likable. Just like Mary Lynn Rajskub’s portrayal of the socially-awkward but deeply moving Chloe O’Brien on 24, Young’s delivery of an offbeat character is nothing short of exceptional.
After a weekend of binging Santa Clarita Diet, which released its second season at the end of last month, we felt it our duty to shed some light on the star-in-the-making that is Ramona Young.
CC: Tell us a bit about your ethnicity?
RY: My parents are from Hong Kong. So that would make me Chinese. However, Hong Kong is sort of the U.S. equivalent of New York City. So Hong Kong consists of immigrants from all over! I generally tell people I’m Chinese to keep it simple. I’m actually first generation. I speak Mandarin and Cantonese fluently and can understand a few less widely known dialects because of my grandmother.
CC: Did you grow up in the US? How was your experience growing up as an Asian?
RY: My parents really value education and wanted to make sure I took advantage of the cultures I came from. So up until I was eight years old I would go back and forth every other year between Hong Kong and the United States for my education. It’s hard to define what it was like growing up as an Asian between two cultures. It was a mix of standing out and blending in. My life is sort of a series of contradictions like that, and I don’t really have anything else to compare it to. But at the end of the day, my experiences, easy or difficult, made me who I am thus far.
CC: Did you encounter any racism/discrimination?
RY: Yeah, of course. By the time I graduated high school I went to about 40 different schooling facilities. There was definitely some discrimination/racism involved in a few of these experiences. It’s one of the most hurtful experiences to go through. I felt so misunderstood, underestimated, and undervalued. As a child, these experiences made me doubt myself, it affected my confidence, what I thought was beautiful, what I thought was cool. These things weren’t easy to overcome. To be treated with cruelty because someone decides you’re not worth their compassion because of the way you look is pure stupidity. But gee whiz, I love anything different, odd, and unique. And boy, are these people who are discriminantly missing out on incredibly special people and opportunities.
CC: Did your family support you when you wanted to become an actress?
RY: I think deciding to pursue what I do with such persistence is hard to understand not just for Asian parents, or parents in general, but really anyone. You might as well say, “Welp, Mom, Dad — I’m going off to live a life of play pretend and fantasies! Bye!” At least that was how they initially saw it. Understandably so. They were very scared for me, and we were all in conflicting positions for years. There were multiple times where I would ask myself, “Why Ramona, why can’t you just want to be a pharmacist, or an accountant, anything and just make everyone happy.” However, we are now in a place of peace when it comes to my career.
CC: Who were your role models growing up? Were any of them Asian?
RY: I had all sorts of role models growing up. Of course, the first people we look up to are our parents. I think I owe my “quirk” to my mother and my willfulness to my father. With that said, I look up to and connect with all sorts of people with different background and upbringings. The inner quality of people really inspires me, maybe that’s because I didn’t have too many Asian role models in media? However, courage and compassion really inspires me, and that can stem from anyone.
CC: How important is on screen representation to you?
RY: I think screen representation is INCREDIBLY important. Vital. Not only because film and television has such a big influence on our way of life, but also it’s frickin’ interesting! It’s educational! It’s not redundant! And I think these stories need to be told by people from different backgrounds for authenticity! C’mon! I wanna go somewhere different when I watch a movie. I wanna relate to people who are different! I wanna connect! I wanna escape. I wanna feel changed! I wanna be moved… How can we do that when everything looks same same same same same.
CC: On Santa Clarita Diet, your character is also called ‘Ramona’, is there a story behind this or was it just an incredibly happy coincidence?
RY: No, it wasn’t a coincidence, but I should start telling people that! I think, originally, the part of ‘Ramona’ was a single episode thing without a real character name, and when my representation was negotiating, they were like… “C’mon! At least give her a name!” And now, here we are.
CC: Can you relate to your dead-pan character at all?
RY: I can relate to the deadpan-ness every once in a while. I’d say it’s an aspect of me with a few extra doses of exaggeration. But sometimes that channel will pop out if I’m tired or overwhelmed. Generally, I feel pretty animated.
CC: Despite it not having too big a cast, there are a handful of Asian actors on the show (Joy Osmanski, Jee Young Han etc). Was this intentional?
RY: I have no idea, I’m not involved in the casting whatsoever. All I can say is, I commend the people working on production and giving SCD such a beautiful and diverse community to thrive in.
CC: What’s it like to work with such a household name like Drew Barrymore?
RY: I think Drew Barrymore is just a force of love. I don’t know how to describe it. It feels healthy being around her. You know what I mean? And I guess that’s the gift you receive when you are able to work with someone who has risen to the occasion time and time again. Still, I know really nothing about her, she’s an enigma to me.
CC: Have you made any close friends from the cast, if so who?
RY: I think we all get along swell and have so much fun on set. With that said, I definitely live my own life and have only a few people I actually consider close. It took me about two years to even text my now best friend back initially. I am just a tad introverted, you could say.
CC: Are you allowed to say anything about series 3?
RY: You know as much as I do!
CC: Are you watching anything else? Or is there anything you’re particularly looking forward to watching?
RY: So much! I’m going through “Love” on Netflix right now. I can’t begin, nor will I ever be able to watch everything because my life would then consist of me turning into a potato. I like potatoes, but don’t think I wanna turn into one. Yet.
CC: What are you up to now? What’s your next big project? We hope to see you on our screens more!
RY: I’m in Blockers. In theaters now! It’s fun- it’s cool- it’s hip! Extra extra! Hot off the press! Get your tickets! Do any of these idioms even fit? But, speaking of representation, I get to play a character that was a ton of fun and very unique in that film. The whole plot and cast is of course amazing and it’s Kay Cannon’s directorial debut.