For Ally Maki, There’s More Than One Life Path

You may know actor Ally Maki from her stint on HBO’s Hacks, or even recognize her voice from Toy Story 4 (as the infectiously energetic Giggles McDimples), but there was a time when her career path might have gone very differently.

“For a long time I really thought that I would become a journalist,” Maki tells Glamour. “And I still kind of think maybe at some point in life I will go down that route—maybe not as a career path, but just, you know, continuing to write. I just love stories; I love psychology and understanding people.”

Maki and I are discussing life paths, a theme central to her Apple TV+ series, The Big Door Prize. In the show, which wraps up its first season this week, residents of a small town are transformed when a mysterious machine arrives, promising to predict everyone’s life potential. As Hana, a newcomer to the town, Maki is all gumption and mystery, with sharp one-liners that mask an underlying vulnerability. The Big Door Prize asks how a person might live if they knew the path they were ostensibly destined for, a question Maki has mused on since her time on the show. Would she want to know what her life’s potential was?

“I think I would say no because even when everyone was downloading that app, The Pattern—that was too far for me,” she says of the astrology app that predicts life cycles. “I worry that if [a prediction] gets so specific, I'll start to conform my life and actions to fit that.”

In any case, it’d be hard to pin down just one life potential for her. In addition to being an actor, she’s also the founder of Asian American Girl Club, a community celebrating Asian American women. With a popular merch line and a book club in the back pocket, Maki reveals that she’s now moving AAGC into an exciting new phase: film and TV production.

For Glamour’s Doing the Work column, Maki opened up about career advice from her mom, dealing with rejection, and the work she’s doing to uplift Asian American women.

Glamour: You’re also a founder in addition to an actor. How would you describe the concept of Asian American Girl Club?

Ally Maki: Asian American Girl Club is just my heart's passion and my life's work all put together in one. It is something that I started because, right after Crazy Rich Asians came out, it was the first time in my life I opened Twitter and saw this explosion of support from outside and within our Asian American community. It was a very glass-shattering moment for me of, like, Wow, this is actually possible. We have this movie, and we have all of this support. So I just instantly thought, Where can I lend support and what can I do? And my thoughts immediately went to Asian American women because, first of all, I've been raised by such powerful, wonderful women like my mother and then my grandmother, who was in the Japanese American incarceration camps when she was a teenager.

I really had no concept of what it was gonna be, but I just knew I wanted it to exist. And five years later, it's just grown into this beautiful, authentic community, and we sell shirts and we have a book club, and we're now moving into developing the production company side.

What kind of stories are you looking to produce?

I have a few that are based upon my own childhood and growing up in the industry, or just my own Japanese American identity, which I'm so excited about. Another one is documenting the lives of my grandparents [while] incarcerated in the camps. The work spans all different decades and time periods, but my goal for it is to create as many jobs for Asian American women in front of and behind the camera as possible.

You mentioned starting Asian American Girl Club after Crazy Rich Asians. In the years since that film, how do you think things have changed or not changed when it comes to Asian representation in Hollywood?

Crazy Rich Asians just opened the door of that understanding that there is more beyond. I think that is the most powerful realization that we had as a community, and that any community can really have, is knowing that it is possible, and there's so much beyond that.

I think that's what's important—now that we've opened the door, how many projects are we gonna be able to get through that door? One movie is not gonna tell everybody's stories, so now is the opportunity for us all, because we're not a monolith.

What is one of your favorite things about running Asian American Girl Club?

One of my favorite things is witnessing the people's lives that have been touched or impacted by it. It makes the work not feel like work. That's exactly why I wanted to create it, was for it to be this community and something that I would've needed when I was 14 years old.

Also, just seeing, like, six-year-old girls wearing the shirts and wearing them so proudly, because that would not have been me. I was the girl who was so shy and just wanted to dye my hair blonde and wanted to work at Hollister. I look back and I'm so sad for that, for my former self who's trying so hard to be somebody else because I felt like I would matter if I was that. I want these girls and our allies to understand that you're powerful as you are, and you're actually even more powerful by just being yourself.

What is something you’ve learned from running this club?

I feel like I've learned so much from being a founder, first of all. Just stepping into a leadership role is scary, because you feel like there's just a lot of eyes on you.

It's been interesting to take on that hat, the founder hat, and to be able to place people in their zone of genius, where they’re going to shine the best. Creativity and leadership, it takes a bit of both. It's taken me a while to understand how to use my voice within that, and not feel afraid to.

Earlier you mentioned wanting to be a journalist. What was your childhood dream job? Did you always want to be an actor as well?

I wanted to be a writer; I would sit around and start all of these stories. My mom would always be like, “You start 10 different stories; maybe you should just finish one.” But now looking back, I'm like, “I think this may be why I could be a good producer,” because now it's sort of like, as we're building this slate, there's so many stories that I wanna tell.

<h1 class="title">The IMDb Portrait Studio At Acura Festival Village On Location At Sundance 2023</h1><cite class="credit">Corey Nickols/Getty Images</cite>

The IMDb Portrait Studio At Acura Festival Village On Location At Sundance 2023

Corey Nickols/Getty Images

What was your actual first job?

My actual first job was when I was probably eight years old. One of my mom's friends reached out and said they were looking for kids to do voiceovers for CD-rom games. Those aren't maybe around anymore, but you know those Leapfrog games where you jump forward or hop forward? I was one of the voices.

I would go in for an hour at a time and they'd have like a hundred pages—at least at the time it looked like this huge stack. I had so much fun doing that. I was a voracious reader, so I think for me it was the merging of all the things. I loved to do voices and do characters.

What made you feel like acting was for you?

Well, my mom put me in all the activities [growing up] because she was like, “Just try everything.” I was in Brownies, Girl Scouts, French club. I was in all of them, and I would quit all these clubs. But she put me in musical theater—I did my first show; it was called The Magical Story Circus in Seattle. I think I was maybe eight or nine years old, and I was an extraordinarily shy person. I would not really speak to anyone. I had a really hard time vocalizing anything. And then you put me onstage, and all of a sudden I was tap dancing, playing these crazy big characters. Acting gave me the ability to express myself in ways that I don't know if I would've been able to [otherwise].

How do you deal with rejection?

I feel like rejection, at least in acting, is really 80% of it. It never gets easier, but weirdly, I think as representation expands, it's become an easier concept for me to grapple with because I think when there were far fewer roles, everything felt so intense. I look back and it's so sad that at that time, maybe we got one or two opportunities and those opportunities felt like the Olympic Games every single time, and if I didn't get [an opportunity], I would absolutely 100% put that on myself.

That's probably true for so many people and people of color. We didn't really get those opportunities to fail, and I think failure is so important and so much a part of the journey. Now that representation is expanding, I'm so excited to see younger people be able to fail all the time and then get back up again. And it doesn't feel bottom-of-the-barrel, because you're getting a new opportunity the next day, and that's really exciting.

What’s the best career advice you ever received?

The best career advice I've ever received is probably from my mom. She would always tell me, “Ally, your time will come.” When I was younger I was always like, “I know, but when, when, when, when, when?” I now carry that with me, every single day and in everything that I do, because it is a marathon; it's not a race. I think it's understanding that your time will come, and we don't need to be in a rush all the time.

Kim Truong is a writer, editor, and brand marketing consultant with work featured at Netflix, New York magazine, InStyle, Refinery29, Real Simple, Vice, and more.

Originally Appeared on Glamour