Patti Yasutake and Jonathan Frakes go way back or should we say far into the future? This week the two former colleagues reunited when Patti guest starred on Impact, the latest episode of NCIS Los Angeles, which was also directed by Frakes. Yasutake and Frakes once worked together on the long running series, Star Trek the Next Generation where she played Nurse Alyssa Ogawa. This time Frakes was behind the camera and we had a chance to talk to Patti about her experience on the NCISLA set and working again with Frakes. Patti has had a long career in television and film which includes her work on The Closer, Bones, Grey’s Anatomy T.J. Hooker and Star Trek. Patti has recently come full circle upon returning to the stage after a long hiatus. Let’s find out more about her career and the time she spent on set. Welcome Patti Yasutake to the NCISLAfamilia!
You have been quite busy throughout your career working in both film and television. What pulled you towards the performing arts and how did you get started in the business?
I have always felt profoundly connected to the performing arts, because they can reveal, illuminate and most uniquely share our humanity like nothing else can. As both a woman and person of color, I felt limitations, so the need to express was all the greater. I was a bit of a ‘jack-of-all-trades’ and didn’t seem to have a passion for one particular thing. But I found the performing arts invited using everything you could possibly bring to the creative process, and so that process became the passion. I had graduated UCLA Theater Arts with honors, but didn’t see a professional future. I ended up working on the business side of entertainment for major managers and producers. I missed theater, so I returned to it at night with East West Players, the premiere Asian American theater and now longest running professional theater of color. I quit my day job and for 6 years worked with them, doing everything from acting in over a dozen shows to doing staff, crew and Board work. All the opportunities they provided to gain experience and network helped me obtain my professional footing. I earned my union cards through them, which led to working for top regional theaters, and in film and television.
You are best known for your role on Star Trek TNG as Nurse Ogawa. (Always a reassuring presence in sickbay!) What are some of your memories working on that series?
Feeling humbled by spandex! Not so much the padded bras, but definitely the spandex. When they realized I was coming back often enough to warrant a personal uniform – zipper in the back, not in front anymore – I got such a custom fit, I almost passed out the first day I worked in it. I also remember it became my own curiosity to see how many other places besides sick bay my character would appear. I never got transported, but maybe I would’ve ended up the one who didn’t come back, so perhaps just as well. I’ll always remember my first day working on that show – when I entered the soundstage, even though I first saw all the sets from behind, it was still wondrous and exciting to walk around to the front of them and realize I was on the Enterprise.
Can you tell us a little bit about your character on NCISLA? Which members of the cast do you work with on screen?
I play Chief Howard of the NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board), who’s in charge of the crash investigation. My main scene was with Callen, who’s conducting their investigation. Chris O’Donnell was so nice, and I appreciated how he looks to enhance each moment creatively.
What was your experience like on the NCISLA set? Can you share any fun stories about your time on set?
It was fun, and I enjoyed it. Everyone from cast to crew was warm and supportive. On such a pleasant set, it was easier to ignore things like how hot it was. It was amusing that some of the crew were surprised to see me cast in the role, because their expectation of “Chief Howard” was a tall, older Caucasian male. I love when casting sees and reflects how diverse people really are, especially when they inspire and challenge what is possible.
What was it like reuniting with Jonathan Frakes as director? What is his directing style like?
I LOVE working with Jonathan Frakes! Pretty full circle, since the first scene I shot for Star Trek TNG I was acting with him, and the last TNG scene I shot was directed by him. It had been years since I saw him, but at the audition he gave me a big wonderful bear hug! He epitomizes the everlasting TNG family feeling. I always enjoy seeing something he’s directed because in his storytelling he mines the personal connections between characters, especially with humor. And there always seems to be an energetic rhythm in his work, which seems to reflect his calm efficiency and focus coupled with his playful enthusiasm and creativity, which is wonderfully infectious.
What’s up next for Patti Yasutake? Tell us about your next project?
After many years, I returned to the stage. I’m in the last 2 weeks of an Asian American version of “Steel Magnolias” at East West Players in Downtown Los Angeles. I’m playing “M’Lynn”, whom Sally Field portrayed in the film. The play has a very different feeling than the film, because it all takes place in the beauty shop. The audience is like a fly on the wall to the sanctuary of the shop, where the women can be their most raucous and personal selves. In fact, our most vocal responses have been from the men enjoying being privy to that world. What most people don’t know is that there are a great many Asian Americans living in the South, so this version is grounded in the truths of that experience. It’s another full circle event for me, given that I started my career at East West Players. The company’s big goal back then was to have a professional union house, and now I’m playing it. It’s been a joy to be back in the theater exercising the full range of comedy to drama, which this play wonderfully provides. It brings me back to what I love about the performing arts – sharing our most heart-felt humanity
Many thanks go out to Patti for taking the time to drop by NCISLA Magazine and answering a few of our questions. You can find out more about Patti by going to her IMDB page.