Tess Paras - Actor, Writer, Producer, Director
Tess Paras is an actor, writer, director, producer based in Los Angeles. Known for her roles on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Grimm, Take My Wife, Tess is now creating her own space and is discussing her personal experiences. Her current project, The Patients, is a film about a Filipino American immigrant family that is learning to heal through trauma in the time of the #MeToo movement. The Patients tackles the subject of a young woman who experienced a “bad fight” and the subsequent repercussions. It shares the story of relationships within the family, coping, seeking help, and supporting each other. An inclusive film, The Patients holds a Fil Am main cast and a diverse supporting cast, with a crew behind the camera that are women, persons identifying as LGBTQIA, and/or AAPI. This is about sharing Asian American and Filipino American experiences that are not always told, validating our community, and being seen. To support, check the link below and read more about Tess and her work.
How did you create your career path?
Interesting phrasing! Come to think of it, I think I do “create” my career path because no there isn’t one laid out for me. I’ve learned that there are certain archetypes of personality that lend themselves to being a successful actor by Hollywood’s more traditional standards, and I don’t think that I fit those; I’m tall-ish for an actress, when people meet me I don’t come off as cute or like a gal that needs saving, I’m pretty straightforward and my type of funny isn’t “adorkable.” A director recently called me “cerebral” and my humor tends to come from being a silly jackass… No one is out there writing for a female Filipino-American who is a cerebral silly jackass at the center of her own story. So, to answer your question, I think I create my career path by stretching my range and playing other roles, while writing and producing my own stuff.
What are some things you are most passionate about (in life, work, friendship)?
In life, I’m super passionate about authenticity. I get so turned off by this idea that we have to be one thing or another, or have an image of what success is, or that one type of life is better than another kind. I really value when people do their own thing, no matter what it is, and respect each other. So, I guess I’m passionate about creating the space for folks to express themselves and live freely.
So much of my work life is about making stuff, showing up, and being prepared for when opportunity arises. I pursue what I believe needs to be pursued - I think we need to laugh, we need to learn, we need to challenge, and we need to include. I use my skill set as a performer, writer, producer, and now director, to do those things!
In friendship, my biggest thing is (and I learned this from my big brother): Do they make you feel safe? My closest friends truly make me feel safe to be myself and, even when I’m challenged or we have a disagreement, I still feel like it’s healthy. To me, friends will never put a shaming or bad thought in my head. Corrective in a positive way, sure, but real friends never make you feel like shit or unseen. Recently, I’ve been saying to myself “Go where the water is warm.” As I grow, I’ve learned that there are plenty of people who will be a friend without making you feel like you have to earn their attention or praise by being a certain way.
How did the idea for The Patients come about? What brought this project into fruition?
The Patients came about because I’m a sexual assault and intimate partner violence survivor. The #MeToo movement - women from all walks of life sharing their experience - gave me courage and showed me that it was important to share my own story, too. It’s important for people to know that a Filipina-American woman like me - upper middle class, college-educated, from a solid family - could have also experienced this situation. So many women, too many women, have been sexually assaulted in their lifetimes. That’s got to change.
This public conversation has helped decrease stigma, but as we learn more, we’ve got to add to it. We’re missing a piece. Not enough folks are talking about what happens afterwards - I sure as hell didn’t know. How do you put the pieces together? How do you share your experience with your family and friends? I still struggle with sharing my healing process and mental health to my family. I’ve had symptoms of PTSD and still struggle with anxiety and depression. It takes a lot of work to heal, but that work needs to be demystified. The Patients itself is a glimpse at those first conversations and the obstacles that may occur.
Have you found a lot of support while working on The Patients?
Ha! Ask me after the crowdfunding is over. Artistically, yes, there’s been moral and production support from my immediate creative peers and film making community. But, we’re artsy types who all love to talk about our feelings and can find humor in the most painful of situations. Does that public like that? Not sure yet! As far as public and financial support goes, I would absolutely love for folks who are curious about the project to check out our crowdfunding campaign and donate to help us finish them film!
What people don’t realize is: that for a creator to be successful, we need sponsors. For representation to happen, we need to support that. For our stories to be told - women, Asian Americans (not just the crazy rich ones!), Filipinos - we need to contribute to our own artists. Right now, I’m that artist and I have to boldly ask for folks to donate. https://www.seedandspark.com/fund/thepatients
Let’s face it: it’s going to be awkward when I hear someone say, “Representation Matters” and then look this person in the eye and think, “Where were you when I needed help to finish the film that features darker-melanined Asians, going through a struggle that one out of four women go through?”
How important is it to spotlight stories of first generation Asian American family, as well as the MeToo movement? Especially in this political climate?
My answer is VERY IMPORTANT. And, absolutely in this political climate. I think recent history has demonstrated that patriarchy is grossly ingrained in American culture and that seeing women as, frankly, human beings who deserve respect and control over their bodies is still a very difficult concept for folks to support. Add being Asian American to that… and Filipino American to that… and, well, we have a lot of work to do. I’m here to take up space. Have emotions. Have opinions. Take control of my own life without being talked over or seen as less than. Shout my history from the rooftops. So, yeah, the more stories we have as Filipino American women living our lives, then we can just be regarded as normal rather than perpetually foreign. Representation normalizes. That’s why it matters.
What would you like the audience to take from watching the film?
I would like it if this film makes it easier to for the families and friends of sexual assault survivors to share their experiences and seek help. Not everyone performs their pain the same way. Sometimes the people we label as “strong” are the ones who need help the most. But, if you listen hard enough, we can be there for each other. We can all be better listeners.
How much of a role are diversity, inclusivity, and representation in your work? And how has it been received social circles?
I’m a Filipino American woman who has chosen a career in entertainment, a field where I am not represented very much at all. No one is holding a door open for me to be here, so I’ve got two choices: bust those doors open or make new ones.
Let’s be real: women aren’t heroes in enough stories yet. Asian American women are not heroes in enough stories yet. Filipino Women are not represented enough yet. The media does not reflect the population. After guest starring in the Aswang episode of NBC’s “Grimm” and being a part of the first Fil-Am family on American network t.v. on the CW’s “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” I am completely aware that I am helping to break new ground. I’m proud of it, and I’m going to keep on going.
What is your biggest driving force?
Hmm… all of the answers above combined, I guess? Pursuing those things seem to have made a full life thus far!
What are some of your favorite projects that you've produced? And what can is coming next?
I love Typecast. I love What If Catcalls Were Cheeseburgers? And I love my Trumping Makeup Tutorial. Of course, many more… but I think those videos really resonated with folks. My favorite thing is to crack open a big, socially relevant or political concept with comedy. Have I mentioned I am doing a film about what happens after sexual assault… with jokes in it? https://www.seedandspark.com/fund/thepatients