GET INSPIRED BY ‘MARVEL AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.’ SHOWRUNNER MAURISSA TANCHAROEN WHEDON
According to Maurissa Tancharoen Whedon, a life in the “business” was almost inescapable. Growing up in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley, she started dancing nearly as soon as she could walk, and with the complete support of her Thai immigrant parents, she found herself dancing, singing and acting professionally, exposed to the workings of Hollywood at an early age.
In show business, however, there are the inevitable ups and downs. There were the highs of being in the Michael Jackson anthology film Moonwalker and touring with Boyz II Men as a member of the R&B group Pretty in Pink. But the many rejections were always a grind, according to Maurissa. “It’s not an easy life,” she says, “and as an Asian American woman, the experience was frustrating, to say the least.”
But being the creative talent she was, Maurissa discovered screenwriting and producing and was finding success in that field. She worked on shows like Drop Dead Diva and Dollhouse, and she would become the co-creator and co-showrunner of ABC’s Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Yet as she’s facing the vagaries of show business, Maurissa has had to overcome an even more daunting challenge — lupus.
She was diagnosed with the chronic disease that affects the body’s immune system when she was 15. For those with lupus, the immune system cannot differentiate between the viruses, bacteria and other foreign bodies that make you sick from your own healthy tissues. So the body starts attacking itself, causing everything from inflammation and pain to organ damage.
In high school, Maurissa suffered severe, embarrassing rashes on her face (especially traumatizing when you’re a teenager) and had to apply professional makeup to cover it. The attacks would cause such extreme lethargy and arthritis that she quit dancing.
As an adult, it seemed every time she took a step forward in her career, lupus would cause a setback. Like in 2007, when she co-created the MTV show Dancelife with Jennifer Lopez and her director brother Kevin Tancharoen. As it was getting off the ground, another severe lupus attack forced her to move back in with her parents and required chemotherapy.
“It’s tried to take me down a number of times with flares that run the gamut — skin, joints, lungs, brain and kidneys — but I’m still here,” she says.
These days, Maurissa is doing more than just being here; she is helping to alter the landscape of television. “As a writer and producer, I have the opportunity to create characters for [Asian Americans] and shape how we are represented,” she says.
She knew she wanted to be a writer upon graduating from Occidental College and was soon working as a production assistant for Steven Bochco, and later, as an assistant to David Milch, who would become her mentor, reading her plays and offering invaluable feedback. His greatest advice: Keep writing. And so she wrote.
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Originally published at elainesir.com on April 27, 2015.