From starring as the lead performer in the award-winning Chinglish broadway production in 2011 to appearances on TV-series Law & Order and in hollywood hits such as 27 Dresses, Jennifer Lim has taken what she has learn at CIS all the way to the global stage. Having spent 13 years (!) at CIS all the way through to secondary graduation, Jennifer shares her fond memories of her formative years in drama classes and the CIS dance team. Read on to learn about how Jennifer has followed her passion, beaten the odds in a hyper competitive industry to establish her acting career.
- Name: Jennifer Lim
- Graduating Year: 1997
- Years at CIS: 1984 – 1997
- College & Degree: BA(Hons) in Drama, Bristol University. MFA in Acting, Yale School of Drama
- Current city of residence: New York
- Places lived before: Bristol, UK, New Haven, CT, USA
You’ve had amazing opportunities to star and appear in a wide range of productions from broadway shows, TV series to hollywood movies… can you sum up in a nut shell how your career has evolved since graduating from college to get to where you are today?
Luck, perseverance and being ready and game for anything. Committing to a career as an actor means committing to a life where you just don’t know when or what comes next. It’s been better, easier, since being on Broadway but the auditions, proving yourself over and over again… it never ends. I think that’s true for most actors, no matter how successful one becomes in this field. I will say though that over the years, I’ve made my peace with that. It’s certainly never boring and I know not to take the rejections personally. Not possible to stay and continue in this business otherwise!
What are some of the coolest productions that you have been involved with? Tell us how you were able to win in the auditions to get those parts and some of the highlights of those experiences.
Two come to mind – Songs of The Dragons Flying To Heaven by Young Jean Lee and Caught by Christopher Chen. Both by smart and wholly original Asian-American playwrights; both subversive, absurd, and hysterically funny plays that really challenged an audience’s perception and understanding of truth and reality. Being on stage watching and experiencing audiences react to our performances with surprise, hilarity, discomfort, shock… it’s a high unlike anything else in the world.
As for the auditions, Caught was easy as I was in the developmental workshops from the beginning so was just offered the role when it was finally ready for production. With Songs, I remember that audition lasting almost an hour! It was just Young Jean and me in the room and she had me doing all kinds of crazy stuff: exploring offensive Asian stereotypes; performing my lines in Cantonese, then Mandarin, even though it was all written in English; miming different forms of self-mutilation/suicide; dancing like a crab to Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas”….It was bananas. But I understood what she was going for and knew the only way to pull it off (both the performance and the piece) was to commit and go all out. It was actually quite fun. Liberating even.
Jennifer starring in Chinglish (image from an New York Times article)
What is it like to be a Korean-Chinese female establishing a career in the west? Do you have to actively manage the roles that you take on in order not to be stereotyped into certain kinds of roles?
I think because I speak fluent Mandarin and Cantonese, (plus enough Korean to mostly sound like I know what I’m about), I’ve always had an edge over my Asian-American colleagues who don’t speak a second or third Asian language. Especially when it comes to Asian speaking roles. Stereotypes or not, it’s led to a lot of work for me over the years here, much more so than if I were in the UK or elsewhere in the West. As for exercising choice over what roles I take, I have more say now when it comes to theater gigs but it’s much harder to turn down TV or film auditions/jobs because they pay so well. I am a working actor at the end of the day and, as an actress who I admire immensely said to me once, ….“work begets work!”.
With a busy acting schedule and a young daughter now (congratulations!), how do you manage to balance the demands between work and family?
(Thank you!) So the crazy thing is I actually feel much more balanced in my life/work now than I ever did before the baby. I think having a kid makes you re-prioritize. I know I love my job too much to become a stay-at-home mom. On the other hand, I am so infatuated with my daughter that I don’t want to take on work that isn’t worthy of time away from her. It has to be jobs that feed either my belly or my soul. Honestly, working makes me a better mom to her. And being a mom has made my work profoundly richer and deeper. A win-win in my book.
7. Think back to when you graduated from CIS, what advice would you give to your 18 year-old self?
Let go of things you have no control over. There’s going to be a lot of that. In life, love, and work. Much better use of your time and energy to focus on things you CAN do. Or as one of my favorite teachers at YSD liked to say: “Champions adjust”.
What was your most memorable CIS moment? How did your CIS experience contribute to who you are today?
Year 9 thru 11, during my time as a member of the CIS Dance Team led by the inimitable Mary Griffiths – also head of Secondary Mathematics at the time. She was such a force and instilled in me the deepest love and ardor for dance and performance. Also a strong sense of respect and discipline for the art. Under her tutelage, I came to recognize and appreciate nuances of movement in the human body, in ways that affect my performances to this day.
CIS Dance team back in mid-1990’s!
What was your favorite subject at CIS and was it related to anything you actually ended up doing?
Drama. And Yes.
Please read the following questions and write down the first answer to pop into your mind (3 second limit ):
- What is your favorite movie/production: Sondheim’s “A Little Night Music”, starring Judi Dench, at the National Theatre in London.
- What do you have for dinner on a weekday: Whatever my partner Gary cooks for me. Or Seamless when he’s not around.
- What would be your last meal on death row: Fried mandoo from Arirang.
- If you could have a one hour conversation with anyone – historical or current – who would that be and why: The late Pina Bausch. Hands down my favorite theater-practitioner of all time. My secret dream has always been to be a dancer/performer in her company, the Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch. Her work and how she goes about making her work…. D-I-V-I-N-E.
You can find out more about Jennifer here: https://www.jenniferlimonline.com/