LIANE HURVITZ. THREE-PIECE SUIT: SANDRO; EARRINGS: ALLEGRA ALLURE.
Arden Cho is more than happy to compare her on-screen persona to Elle Woods. After all, when it comes to portraying Partner Track's Ingrid Yun, a whip-smart female lawyer striving to balance success, morals, and a love life in a male-dominated East Coast law office, Legally Blonde's leading lady may very well be the blueprint. Couple the premise of Netflix's newest law drama (out Aug. 25) with Cho's own background — most notably, starring as the only person of color in MTV's Teen Wolf as Kira Yukimura for three seasons only to be unexpectedly written off the show in 2016 and reportedly offered less than half the salary of her white cast mates to join the reboot earlier this year — and you can safely assume she knows more about facing and defying adversity than any TV or movie character could ever portray.
While Cho admits that both she and the character she plays in her first major Hollywood move since her Teen Wolf departure may share a similar tooth-and-nail grit, thirst to confront societal norms, and affinity for a killer pink Oscar De La Renta jacket as the iconic bubblegum-clad Woods who came before, she's confident that Ingrid Yun's story has so much more to tell.
"I love Elle Woods, so it's a wonderful comparison, very, very flattering, but Ingrid's very different and it's special," Cho says. "I feel like with Ingrid, we're able to portray a woman who can look great in pink, but not be ditzy. Not be your stereotypical, pretty female lawyer that we might be used to."
Liane Hurvitz. Dress: Rick Owens from Marais; Earrings: By Georgia.
Cho is right, Ingrid Yun couldn't be further from ditzy. Within the first episode of the 10-part series — based off Helen Wan's novel of the same name — it's clear that Cho's quick-witted character is the kind of woman that would make IRL purveyors of workplace misogyny cower in fear; a day-to-day battle within the show that Cho says felt a lot like "fighting off crime." Although Cho claims tapping into Yun's confidence while striving to make partner in the "boys' club" of New York City's fictional Parsons Valentine & Hunt law firm on-screen was a rather easy feat (with the help of a few key accessories, that is), the actress says finding that same confidence throughout her own career has been much more difficult.
"Arden in real life is definitely not as smart or sassy as Ingrid, but when I put on the suit and I put on her Louboutins, I'm just like, 'OK, alright, let's go close some deals,'" Cho laughs. "I feel like most of my life, I always felt like I had to be very polite and couldn't be too opinionated. I feel like a lot of that might have been influenced culturally, as well, to not rock the boat, not cause a lot of waves. I think that definitely made me feel a bit restrained. Voiceless."
Cho adds that leading up to Partner Track, she's seen changes in herself and understands what that means for fans that may see her as the blueprint.
"In the last decade, I've definitely grown to be more confident in who I am and not be afraid to show who I am, to speak out for myself and talk about things that matter to me, as well as sharing personal experiences in hopes that the things that I went through," she explains. "If I do talk about them, I could help someone else."
Liane Hurvitz. Dress: Rick Owens from Marais; Top: Baere Park; Earrings: Givenchy.
After years of fostering this confidence, mostly outside of the spotlight, Cho says she "learned the power of saying no" and stresses how good it felt to preserve her energy and protect herself from burnout while waiting for the right project to come along — which is exactly where Partner Track entered the picture.
"As actors, it's tough. We don't always get to pick and choose," she explains of the years spent waiting for a role she felt passionately about. "A lot of the journey is really us auditioning, auditioning. It's doing that grind and hoping that the right project comes your way and that you're ready when it does. It's a bit of opportunity meets preparation. You can't just get the right role and not be ready for it."
And ready she was. After falling in love with the pilot and immediately reading the book to further acclimate herself with the source material, Cho felt confident this project wouldn't just mean something to her, but to viewers everywhere. While Partner Track's 10-hour runtime may be packed with enough law drama and designer fashion — with a steamy love triangle, to boot — to cement its spot as Netflix's next utterly bingeable hit, the story magnifies the racism and sexism that often run rampant in traditionally white, testosterone-packed spaces to make for a story that's as eye-opening as it is entertaining.
"I truly hope people watch this show to see what it feels like in someone like Ingrid's shoes," Cho says. "A lot of those microaggressions, you can't even describe those moments. You just feel it ... Like in moments where her boss, Marty Adler [Matthew Rauch] calls on her to take care of certain clients that are also Asian or Asian American, it's the obvious pick that Ingrid would be the one that's called on. I feel like those are moments that only Asian Americans see and know. Like, 'Well, of course you'd just assume that we would get each other because we're both Asian. Even though we're different kinds of Asian, we must be the same.'"
LIANE HURVITZ. THREE-PIECE SUIT: SANDRO; EARRINGS: ALLEGRA ALLURE.
Cho, who is no stranger to facing both sexism and racism as an Asian American woman in entertainment whose favorite hobby happens to be poker — "Poker has taught me to really learn to be tough and fight the battles and not be scared just because I'm a smaller girl, like size really doesn't matter," she says — adds that the pride she felt from portraying those too-close-for-comfort scenarios throughout the filming process only doubled upon receiving feedback from female colleagues.
"Even people on my team that are women who have been watching the show are like, 'Oh, I'm having trouble watching this. It's quite triggering,'" she recalls. "But in a good way. I'm glad that they're relating, but they're like, 'This is almost too real.'"
But while some scenes may have felt uncomfortable to film, and even more uncomfortable to watch, Cho maintains that sharing stories like Ingrid's in mainstream media is the only way to break the cycle from continuing into the next generation — both on-screen and off.
"I can't think of how many times in life I've experienced racism and not said anything because I didn't want to get anyone in trouble, or I didn't want to make a big deal out of it," Cho admits. "And I think that now the world is changing in a better way, because people are saying something. And even in the industry, I know I have a lot of female friends who are like, 'Oh wow, we've all experienced sexual harassment or racism or these microaggressions on a daily basis. But we don't always talk about it because we don't want to make it a thing,'" she explains. "But then you realize we have to talk about it, otherwise it just keeps happening. It's like generational trauma."
As Cho prepares for the show's premiere, she's excited to see how viewers will find themselves in the good, the bad, and the ugly of Ingrid's journey and hopes the project empowers women to realize that there's truly room at the table for everyone.
"One of the best lines in the show is, 'If we would just support one another like the guys do, it would be so much easier,'" Cho says. "And I love that moment and that line, because it's so true. I always say it's a shame that everyone's so competitive. I wish that people would see that there's room for all of us. And just because someone else is successful or winning, it doesn't take away from your success. There's definitely room for everyone."
Photographer: Liane Hurvitz. Stylist: Meggy Smith. Hair and Makeup: Shella Martin.