Jessalyn Wanlim – Perfecting her Game

Date

Spring 2024

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It doesn’t seem that long since the show Workin’ Moms began airing on Canada’s national network, CBC. Nevertheless, the Canadian-American actor Jessalyn Wanlim has been a stellar force to be reckoned with on it.

Portraying the role of Jenny Matthews, one of the two main characters of the show, Jessalyn repeatedly proved herself through hard work, dedication, and commitment, rising above the fold and making a name for herself within an industry that is underrepresented by Asian actors. Her other notable TV appearances include Orphan Black and Scoundrels.

How it All Started

Dancing has long been a passion for Jessalyn; at a very young age, she got accepted at the National Ballet School in Toronto. When she was 12, she moved away from home and wanted to take dance seriously. Instead of auditioning for dance companies, she pursued a degree and was accepted at Juilliard, a private performing arts conservatory in New York. 

When she was in school, she shared the same floor with the drama department; soon afterward, she considered acting as a career change. After all, dancing entailed a lot of injuries and bumps, which she didn’t particularly like because her body kept hurting.

While she was auditioning for acting roles in New York, she was also pursuing a degree in Marketing and Advertising at a local college in the city. Not long afterwards, she got her first acting gig in All My Children, which aired on ABC.

In 2009, her agents told her she needed to relocate to Los Angeles, which was a big move. The move would provide fertile grounds for growth and contribute to the success of her acting career, which was something she was very passionate about.

Before she even knew it, Jessalyn was booked as a guest star on a well-known American TV sitcom after an insane amount of callbacks. But the joy quickly fizzled out when she was sent back to her dressing room and replaced by another blond girl. She describes this as a heart-wrenching moment that made her question if she was cut for Hollywood. 

Reflecting the Asian Heritage

Armed with a successful acting portfolio, Jessalyn admits she doesn’t feel upset when passed over for acting roles. After all, she has contributed a lot to the international acting scene.

In several instances, Jessalyn says that she can’t hide the fact that she doesn’t particularly identify as a specific type of Asian because that can be a hindrance. She ruminates that she was the only person of colour in the mix on many occasions, and producers chose her because she was diverse enough. The literal tug of war in the acting sphere can be demanding, but that hasn’t stopped her from reaching her goals.

A Working Mom

Jessalyn says that the acting life is the starving artist’s life; it is a combination of luck and timing. Every audition requires careful planning and preparation she notes. During the pandemic, the industry has shifted significantly and is more competitive than ever before. Unlike other industries, film is hard to tap into, but Jessalyn admits she is passionate about auditioning for TV. 

On the numerous TV shows she acted in, Jessalyn says that she liked the character she played on the ABC summer series called Scoundrels. Jessalyn played the daughter of an Asian mob leader; playing the role of Patty Hong was fun and exciting for her because she was sassy. 

Jessalyn says she always felt proud to represent people of Asian descent. After all, Canadian TV has several Asian actors who made an indelible impact on the acting scene. From Sandra Oh as the lead in Killing Eve to Sam Liu’s role in Kim’s Convenience, Asian actors are gaining more representation. For Jessalyn that is a source of pride; she still reminisces about how growing up in Canada she never saw people of colour in leading roles. 

Currently, given the multicultural scene of TV in Canada, she is both excited and inspired to see these positive changes in the industry. She recalls how exciting it was to work with Alex Mallari, a Filipino Canadian in Workin’ Moms

Despite life’s ups and downs, Jessalyn says it wasn’t easy to be a working mom during the pandemic. Although she was grateful for the opportunity to stay at home and raise her son and watch him grow up, she missed life on the big screen. 

As a word of advice for those who want to be actors, Jessalyn says that pursuing an acting career isn’t easy. Nevertheless, education plays a key role in the success of any career, she notes. After all, to have longevity in an acting career, you must back it up with talent, she admits. 

Aaron Levinson | Staff Writer

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