Lily Mariye knows that nice girls can finish first. As a film maker, she named her production company Nice Girl Films because being nice is also about being appreciative and kind to the people you work with. This refreshing philosophy has served Lily well and she is enjoying extraordinary success as a director, writer and actor in the challenging entertainment industry. In 2000, Lily was named Filmmaker of the Year by the National Organization of Women for her award-winning short film The Shangri-la Café. The accolades continue to this day with her first feature film that she directed and wrote called Model Minority. The film was released last year and continues to make the rounds of film festivals around the world collecting various awards as it goes. Lily is best known for portraying Nurse Lily Jarvik on the TV series ER along with putting a together a long resume of acting credits in film and theatre. In Purity (4×20). Lily guest stars as Ashley Hung. She took some time to answer our questions about her career and the time spent with the cast and crew of NCISLA. Let’s welcome Lily to the NCISLAFamilia!
It’s wonderful to see a strong Asian American woman who is involved in all areas of the entertainment business. Besides acting, you have written, directed and produced your own feature films. What made you want to venture into these other creative areas?
Thanks, it’s nice to be called a “strong” woman! My journey into filmmaking started in college. I always considered myself a writer and thought I was going to be an English major, but got sidetracked into the Theatre department at UCLA. I started out as a ballet dancer as a child, added all different kinds of dance to my repertoire, then singing, then acting. When I started getting work as a dancer and an actor (I got my SAG card in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas with Dolly Parton), my writing became something I did on my off-days or during my downtime on film sets. In 1998, I saw one of the actors from ER, Deezer D, headsets on, sitting behind the monitor with one of our directors, Chris Chulack. I asked him what he was doing and he said he was “shadowing,” or observing the job of the director. That looked like lots of fun and a way to pass the very long hours on the set. So I asked our producer, John Wells, if I could “shadow” too. He said yes and introduced me to two of the most talented, prolific directors working, Jonathan Kaplan and Lesli Linka Glatter. They have become inspirations, role models and continue to guide me even now. And John allowed me to observe every single aspect of television production, from meetings with writers to production meetings to casting to location scouting to every aspect of post-production. It was a huge gift for which I am eternally grateful. In 1999, Lesli recommended that I apply to American Film Institute’s prestigious Directing Workshop for Women (where she made her first short and got nominated for an Academy Award) and I got in! I had no idea if I could direct or if I would even like it. I wrote and directed my first short film, “The Shangri-la Café.” And as it turns out, I LOVE filmmaking! As an actor, I get to pretend that I’m another person, but in the big paint box of filmmaking, I’m only one color. When you’re a filmmaker, you get to play with ALL the colors. It’s exhilarating.
Was it hard trying to make it in Hollywood as an Asian American actor? What obstacles, if any, did you face?
I can’t really compare my road to being an actor with anyone else because I’ve only had my experience as an actor. Apparently, it’s a tough road for all of us! I have friends who were blond haired, blue-eyed All-Americans who didn’t get the breaks I did. I think it’s all about perseverance, doing what you love, or even just trying to do what you love. I’ve been very lucky. Certainly, my 15 seasons on ER is an almost unheard-of gig! Of course, I’ve lost roles along the way because the decision was made “to go another way.” And I’ve turned down roles because the parts were offensive or stereotypical. But I can’t compare my career to other actors’ careers. That’s a dangerous path to take! I just keep finding ways to be creative and trust that I’m where I’m supposed to be.
You have a strong television acting background, in comparison, what was it like on the set of NCISLA? Can you tell us a little bit about your character?
The set of NCISLA reminded me a lot of the set of ER—it’s a well-oiled machine, everyone doing their jobs efficiently and joyfully. My old friend from ER, Consulting Producer/Writer Joe Sachs, wrote a part for me and contacted me saying, “Want to work on NCISLA with LL Cool J and Chris O’Donnell?” My answer was a resounding, “WOULD I?!?!” There were quite a few crew members from ER, so it really felt like home. And our director, Eric Laneuville, directed many episodes of ER. I don’t want to spoil anything, so I will just tell you that I play Ashley Hong, the Operations Manager of an electroplating factory that deals with large silver and gold plating, like you’d find on huge machines or aerospace parts. Something really bad happens, so Chris and LL have come to investigate.
Who did you work with on screen in terms of the main characters of the show, and can you share a special memory of your time spent on set?
I worked with LL and Chris. We had a scene where we were going down a freight elevator into the basement of the factory. We shot on the lot at Paramount, under one of the sound stages, in the basement. I didn’t realize how tall LL is, so even though I was wearing 3” heels, he and Chris tower over me as we descend down this elevator with moody lighting coming out behind us. I spent a lot of time alone with the guys in a huge elevator with big wooden gates that lift up. I guess nobody thought about who was going to open the gates until Eric yelled, “Action!” I realized that it’s my factory so I should be the one pulling up this ENORMOUS wooden door. But then Chris leaned over to help! It was very sweet. They are both very funny and very nice. It was fun to watch them interact with each other, much like they do on screen.
Tell us about your latest film, Model Minority and what it was like to write, direct and produce that film?
Model Minority is set in South L.A. and follows teenagers as they survive the treacherous world of peer pressure, drug dealers, juvenile hall and dysfunctional families. Kayla, an underprivileged Japanese American 16 year old, endangers her promising future as an aspiring artist when she becomes involved with a drug dealer. I enjoyed every moment, every aspect of making this film. And I can’t wait to make my next one.
What was it like to be recognized with the best film and director award from the Asians on Film Festival for Model Minority?
It’s humbling and amazing that my first feature and my first feature directing efforts have been recognized and rewarded! Along with those two awards, which were the most recent ones, I’ve also won the Emerging Filmmaker Award from the DC APA Film Festival and the Special Jury Outstanding Director Award from the LA Asian Pacific Film Festival. But the one I’m most proud of is the Audience Choice Award for Best Narrative Feature in New York at the Asian American International Film Festival. Awards from judges are always great, but knowing that your film was loved by an audience is why you’re making films in the first place.
What’s up next?
Heaven knows! I’m still auditioning for acting roles, and writing my next feature, which is tentatively called “What I Did For Love.” This one will feature dancing, taking me back to my roots. It’ll be nice to go full circle, because in my heart, I’ll always be a dancer first.
Lily lives in Los Angeles with her husband Boney James who is a Warner Brothers recording artist and her cats, Sammi and Oscar. A big thank you goes out to Lily and we appreciate her taking the time to talk to NCISLA Magazine! You can find out more about Lily on her websites and watch a trailer for Model Minority:
And follow Lily on Twitter and Facebook: