Rising Star Edelyn Okano: “To encourage diversity, make your voice active and loud”

Yitzi Weiner
Aug 14 · 7 min read

To encourage diversity, make your voice active and loud. Create platforms that tell the stories you feel need to be told. Cast the POC faces that need to be seen, and most importantly, will contribute to making great projects. The more people see great projects, the more the conversation becomes less about the subject of diversity, but more focused on the desire for more of the same content.


had the pleasure to interview actress Edelyn Okano. Classically trained and well-versed, Edelyn has appeared in live theater and recurring roles for daytime, primetime and cable television. From an early age, Edelyn had a love of movies and television and was a classically trained soprano performing in musical theater productions at the age of five. In her childhood hometown in British Columbia, she became a member of the Bel Canto’s Children’s Choir at the age of seven. As a graduate of the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York, she also was recently part of “Mamma Mia” with the East West Players in Los Angeles. EWP was thrilled to include “Mamma Mia!” as part of it’s 53rd anniversary season, “Culture Shock,” which is about disrupting the status quo and taking charge of the “outsider” narrative. The unique production featured a diverse, Asian American led cast — challenging the perception of who is perceived as an American abroad and exploring the culture shock we often feel in our own families generationally. Immediately following “Mamma Mia” Edelyn joined the stellar cast of Hollywood Bowl’s Production of “Into The Woods” during a limited run the last weekend in July. Okano played Cinderella’s stepmother along with the amazing cast including; Sierra Boggess as Cinderella, Sutton Roster as Baker’s wife, Gaten Matarazzo as Jack, and the voice of Whoopi Goldberg as the Giant. The Hollywood Bowl was transformed into an enchanted world of magic beans, towering giants, and handsome princes. Edelyn co-wrote and performed in “Jeremy Lin, The Musical” at the Zephyr Theater in addition to working with the Labyrinth Theater Company (which had former artistic director Philip Seymour Hoffman) at the Public. As a member of SAG/AFTRA/AEA, she has been a recurring guest on many award-winning shows such as “Designated Survivor,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Hand of God,” “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” and “Jane the Virgin,” to name a few. Okano will also be seen in the upcoming, much-anticipated feature film “Torrance” starring Ben Affleck. Edelyn is Filipino and Japanese descent. As an advocate for diverse representation of Asians and Asian-Americans in mainstream media, Edelyn divides her time between Los Angeles and New York and Canada. Edelyn is involved in charities for animals and women. She is involved the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). Additionally, Edelyn is involved with charities that provide initiatives to the rehabilitation of homeless women and helping reintegrate them into the workforce, such as Dress for Success.


Thank you so much for joining us Edelyn! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

grew up in Northern British Columbia and Nanaimo (southern BC) on Vancouver Island, which is a harbor city. My father was an engineer, and a major part of my childhood was spent ocean fishing with him and my grandfather. I’m very proud to be Canadian, and growing up in Nanaimo was quite idyllic. A beautiful combination of city and nature.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

I started out singing in a children’s choir called Bel Canto when I was seven. We performed for Prince Charles and Princess Diana when they were on their Canadian tour and competed in national choir competitions. At the same time, I was also competing in local drama festivals, where I would recite poetry and perform monologues. Both singing and acting felt like second nature to me. It was fun and what child doesn’t want to have fun? Fun fact: my first drama coach was a Catholic nun named Sister Laboure.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I think most actors start out thinking that they can do anything and everything. I may have told myself I was an adept hip-hop dancer at one point. Ha! I’ll just leave it at that.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

Recently, I portrayed Cinderella’s Stepmother in “Into the Woods” at the Hollywood Bowl. The Bowl was the first venue I went to when I moved to Los Angeles. I knew that I wanted to perform there one day. To be able to perform along with a cast of Broadway veterans including Sutton Foster, Tony Crivello, and Patina Miller was a daily lesson in raising the bar of my work. I loved the process and became immersed in the joy of live theater. A bucket list venue and dream come true for sure!

I’m very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?

Young people should be able to see themselves represented, on the screen outside of stereotypical archetypes. We deserve to see the world that we live in represented on screen. Movies and television are the biggest mediums of storytelling, and with such a huge platform, there should be diverse voices telling the stories and portraying the roles. It ties us together and empowers us — the more it happens, the more normal and standard it will become.

From your personal experience, can you recommend three things the community/society/the industry can do help address some of the diversity issues in the entertainment business?

To address the issues of the lack of diversity in the entertainment industry, we need to watch, share, talk about, and support projects starring or created by the people of color that you like and admire and want to see more from.

Diversity and inclusion in Hollywood has to be a collective effort to instill change. Everyone, especially people who are not minorities and are in positions of power, need to take part in this movement.

To encourage diversity, make your voice active and loud. Create platforms that tell the stories you feel need to be told. Cast the POC faces that need to be seen, and most importantly, will contribute to making great projects. The more people see great projects, the more the conversation becomes less about the subject of diversity, but more focused on the desire for more of the same content.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Not every job is meant to be and if it wasn’t, it opened the door to be available for something better
  2. “Prepare for every audition as if it’s your last then play it like you don’t give a f*ck” — Sara Mornell
  3. Do not take a good night’s sleep for granted.
  4. Comparing your successes against others is a dead end road.
  5. Drink tons of water every day. Don’t think. Just do it.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

I often remind myself to not focus solely on work. I take breaks to spend quality time with friends and family, which is how I reset. I understand why people talk about the importance of having balance in your life. It creates an opportunity to see your life in its entirety and to take the focus off of just you. My dog is a huge source of sanity for me too.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

If I could inspire something for the good of the world, it would be a global movement to reverse the effects of climate change. We all need to take responsibility for how our everyday lives affect the planet. Our consumption of natural resources and our collective waste is killing the planet we live on. I feel at times that there is a denial about what damage has already occurred and how quickly it continues to worsen. There have been several scientific studies that have proven the effects of climate change. The push to use solar energy sources instead of coal and oil collectively will not only stop the deterioration of the environment but also reverse it. I could talk about this topic for days.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My parents have always been my biggest supporters. I’m very lucky that they supported my decision to pursue a career in the arts. My parents both had a very professional background; my dad was an engineer, and my mother was a medical lab technician. They wanted me to be successful, but they believed in doing something that you love, which is why they both choose their respected professions.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“If you’re not also in the arena getting your arse kicked, I’m not interested in your feedback” — Brene Brown

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. J

Barack and Michelle Obama and David Suzuki. All three people inspire movement for positive change in the world. I just know there would be a lot to learn.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

@edelynokano on Instagram. I love sharing a great IG story. :)

Thanks!

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

Yitzi Weiner

Written by

A “Positive” Influencer, Founder & Editor of Authority Magazine, CEO of Thought Leader Incubator

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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