The Big Screen’s Chameleon Sweetheart
ichelle Krusiec is full of surprises. Start with her name. It's jarring to have it paired with features of a full-blooded Taiwanese. When Michelle was five her natural parents gave her up for adoption to her aunt who is married to an American surnamed Krusiec. The couple brought Michelle to the States. She has called them "mom" and "dad" ever since, the same terms she still uses in referring to her natural parents.
Another surprise for an actor with such an un-Asian name is the number of rank Asian stereotypes she has portrayed.
She's played a white-washed sorority girl in the independent film Pumpkin, a Chinese nanny who bears her employer's illegitimate child on ER, even a topless, massage parlor girl who speaks with a heavy Japanese accent on HBO's now defunct The Mind of the Married Man.
"I actually took a lot of pride in playing those characters because I was told initially I couldn't play them," says Krusiec.
Fortunately, Krusiec is best known for a memorable and very un-stereotypical portrayal of the love-shy lesbian Wil in Alice Wu's 2004 film, Saving Face. She plays a NY surgeon who struggles to find a balance between pleasing her overbearing Ma, played by Joan Chen, and showing her love for hot girlfriend Vivian, played by Lynn Chen.
"In my opinion, it was a perfect script and I knew it was a gem of a project to be a part of," Krusiec says, "when I was being considered for Wil, I think I leapt out of my pants."
Saving Face won the 2005 Golden Horse Audience Choice Award.
With her pretty face and long list of prime-time credits, it's only a matter of time before Krusiec cements her Hollywood-fixture status. Her performance as O'Brien's daughter from the future, on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, endeared her to trekkies. Her performance as the perky Sui Blake on NBC's teen comedy series One World made her a big-sister figure for teeny boppers. And her role as host of the Discovery Channel's show, Travelers, proved that she was more than your typical girly girl. She could rough it with the best of them. In fact, Krusiec's favorite locale was about as hardcore back-to-the-elements as it gets, Ghana.
"Its the first time I experienced voodoo and meeting people who have a culture worshiping voodoo," Krusiec says "I also experienced my very first sacrifice and I was asked to drink from a sacrificial bowl that had goat's blood in it and all kinds of specialties that the local witches had put into this concoction."
Michelle Krusiec was born on October 2, 1974 in Taiwan. She was adopted and brought over to the States at the age of 5, by her aunt and uncle so her mother could better take care of her two brothers. She grew up under the influence of her strict mother.
"[My mom] gave me opportunities my siblings in Taiwan didn't have, so she was a lot stricter with my thinking: You've got to take responsibility for your life and who you are. I started getting gray hair at 12."
Krusiec's big break came while working at a dim sum restaurant at the age of 12. She was talent spotted by one of the customers.
"It sucked," she says, referring to the white homogeneity of her hometown.
Since early childhood Krusiec had known she wanted to be either a vocalist or a dancer. But it wasn't until high school that she began to actively pursue the performance arts. She enrolled in an arts academy, Virginia Governor's Magnet School for the Arts.
"I didn't really start studying theater and acting though, what I call legitimate acting until high school," Krusiec recalls, "that's when I joined an art school. That was what started my career in terms of acting."
Afterwards she attended Virginia Tech and graduated with a Theatre and English Degree. It was at Oxford while studying Shakespeare and woman's literature on scholarship, that Krusiec decided to devote more energy towards performance. She first entered the television spotlight as the host of the Discovery Channel show, Travelers. Out of the more than 50 locations she visited while hosting Travelers.
After hosting Travelers for two seasons, Krusiec went on to play Sui Blake on the teen series, One World. An ex-baseball player, David Blake adopts problem kids from ethnically diverse backgrounds. Krusiec played one of them. The show aired from September 1998 through January 2001. Although not a critical hit, it showcased Krusiec's ability to carry a co-starring role. Since then Krusiec has landed herself a number of recurring roles on shows like FOX's Titus, PBS's Mind on Science, and HBO's now defunct The Mind of the Married Man.
Despite over 30 appearances on prime-time shows and several recurring roles, Krusiec still has to fight for plum parts. Unlike co-star Lynn Chen, Krusiec was not the clear choice for her character. She met with producer Teddy Zee in May 2003. She wasn't offered the role until a few months later.
Krusiec is currently working on turning her one woman show, "Made in Taiwan," into a t.v. pilot. It is based off a mini-script she penned in college.
GS: What was the most challenging aspect of portraying the tomboy lesbian Wil in Saving Face?
AW: The most challenging part of playing Wil was that I had to be billingual in English and Mandarin. I spoke very little Mandarin and what little I knew was really poor, so the task of learning mandarin in a very short amount of time was daunting. Having to perform in Mandarin opposite a talented actress like Joan Chen was pretty intimidating as well so I wanted to be sure that I could have a strong understanding of the language. I studied Mandarin for a couple months for about 5 hours a day.