Kulap (Laotian for “Rose”) Vilaysack is a 29 year old actress who performs with the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in Los Angeles (UCB). Her TV credits include: The Office, Reno 911!, Secret Girlfriend and Children’s Hospital. Her Film credits include: I Love You Man, The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard and Peep World. She shares with us her personal experience, showbiz stories and even offers some sage advice.
Tell us about your family and where you are from.
My mother Bouaphet (maiden name, Sanavongsai) is from Savannahket and my dad, Inhpeng Vilaysack is from Thakek. I was born in Washington DC, days after my mom reached stateside after living in a Thai refugee camp. Her uncle, who had escaped Laos with her, had already been set up with a Baptist Sponsor Family in Anoka, Minnesota. Within in a month after my birth, we flew across the country to join him. Our sponsor family, the Danielsons, opened their home to us and helped my parents set up a new life in America. We started off living in Minneapolis, then Bloomington and finally for me, in Eagan – a suburb of St. Paul. My parents and my two younger sisters, Anita (20) and Alyssa (17), currently live in Farmington. Anita is a student at Inver Hills Community College and Alyssa will graduate high school this June. She’s weighing her options, but my not so secret wish is for her to study out of state. Minnesota is a great environment to grow up in, but I think a bird should spread its wings and fly.
What sort of academic and/or professional training did you receive?
Within days of my high school graduation I moved to Los Angeles to attend The Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising. I figured– I like business (talking and arguing!) and I like fashion (shopping, magazines!). I was a Fashion Merchandising major which equates to management, buying, and basically the business behind the industry. However, I quickly realized that this profession wasn’t my hearts desire. But, I had moved out here by myself and I wasn’t going to go back. I did finish the two year program, got my AA and worked in the industry for a number of years.
I felt like I had to have something to show for the student loans I had accrued and would be paying for in the near future (and still paying for now). I was a sales representative, a buyer, and did retail management. Oddly, my last fashion industry job was being one of the first Ed Hardy sales representatives. This was a few years before Christian Audigier bought the rights to don Ed Hardy’s artwork, name and licenses from my former boss — turning it into the massive monster of a company it is now.
As far as my training, I started off at Second City Los Angeles. When I completed their courses I moved onto The Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre. The UCB is my home away from home. I have taken classes there, performed there, worked there and made lifelong friends there. I have taken conventional acting classes as well, but don’t have a formal drama degree from a university.
How did you get started in the business? What sort of initiative did you take?
I got started by taking improv classes at Second City and then got a commercial agent, but I was really young and green and booked nothing. Things really started cooking for me when I started getting involved at The UCB. When I went in to audition for ‘The Office’ role I would later book (shout out to BJ Novak), the casting director greeted me by saying, “Oh, you are a UCB girl.” As far as initiative, this business is all about initiative. You can’t wait to be discovered or for the perfect opportunity to drop in your lap. You have to do the work, you have to get on stage, make internet videos, perform with other people, write, and be agile in every aspect of this business we call show.
Describe your personal style as far as your acting and comedy.
I suppose the description of my style will come out of another’s evaluation that I will probably never fully agree with, because who wants their work to be definitive? I am building my career on comedic roles, but hope to branch into dramatic ones as well. I like to say that I am an actress with a sense of humor… an often inappropriate sense of humor.
What are your five favorite/ most proud moments on screen?
1. The Office: The episode I was in was my first TV role and it was awesome. I love that show. I love everybody on that show. Harold Ramis directed it and for a comedy nerd… well, need I say anything more?
2. The Sarah Silverman Program: The episode I’m in will air March 18th. I love Sarah, I think she is one of funniest comedians ever and is a really wonderful human being. We had so much fun doing our scenes and I am really happy with how it turned out… without giving too much away, we both think the other is a retarded adult.
3. Reno 911!: I have been really fortunate to work with people who I admire and respect. I was in a series of scenes with Cedric Yarbrough, Robert Ben Garant and the Great Patton Oswalt.
4. The New Adventures of Old Christine: Look, it was a very small role. I had a maybe three lines, definitely under five, one scene… but Elaine from Seinfeld put my hand under her boob.
5. I Love You, Man: Again, small role. The only people who recognized me have very keen and quick eyes. BUT, I had a ball shooting this movie. Everybody was amazing and I met a lot of really cool people and got to hang out with friends.
How are some ways that you promote your talent in the industry?
Billboards on Hollywood Boulevard. Not really. (1) Your work gets you more work, that’s basically what a talent reel is – a visual resume. (2) Developing relationships with casting directors by kicking ass during your auditions, maybe you don’t get that role, maybe they’ll think of you for something else. (3) Do live shows. I should take my own advice and do more. I’m not a stand up, but the UCB has lots of other types of shows to perform in like improv, character pieces, storytelling and sketch comedy. I am currently writing a solo storytelling show about growing up in Minnesota with immigrant parents. (4) Write and perform in internet videos for outlets like Funny or Die. In summation, do the work and be seen.
What sort of time commitment is involved in your work? What sort of support do you have?
I am lucky right now that I do not have another job except for being an actor. I accept that that reality may change at any time, that’s a big part of an actor’s life. You work when you do and often times you don’t. But during the down time its important to be working towards the dream and doing everything you can to make it happen (see last answer). I have a lot of support from my husband and my friends. I have a great team of managers and agents. My family supports my life choice, although I don’t think they understand it. But most don’t.
Ideally, where do you see yourself in the near future?
I’d like to be a series regular in a hit and critically acclaimed TV show. I’d like to be working more in film and take on dramatic roles. I’d like to have a baby.
What are some tips you would give to someone trying to get started in this industry?
There cannot be a back up. Don’t ever think that another person’s success takes away from your own, because there is no relation. You aren’t entitled to anything, so earn it. Don’t get caught up in the social aspect of the business, do the work.
Kulap currently lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Scott Aukerman and dog, Rocky. She also minds her own blog entitled “Laotian in Motion”. Clips from her performances are featured at http://vimeo.com/6644332.