Q&A with Angela Zhou ‘14, SAG-AFTRA Actor
Actor Angela Zhou ‘14, whose credits include “Promising Young Woman” and “Hell on Wheels,” offers advice for students looking to break into entertainment. On April 7, Zhou will join a panel of fellow Duke Asian American alumni working in Hollywood for a conversation about their career paths and experiences.
Major: Program II: Politics, Economics, & Creative Media / Robertson Scholar
What are 2-3 ways your Duke experience helped prepare you for your current career role and/or previous roles?
Before Duke, I was just a creative girl from an island in the bottom corner of the world, with dreams I didn’t dare articulate. Life in New Zealand was blissful and I couldn’t imagine a better environment for honing ones craft in the arts, but I had no connection to and no idea about a career in film or television. Duke gave me the skills, knowledge, and connections to make a move to Hollywood.
How did you make the transition from Duke to your career? What are a few helpful takeaways from your first years out of Duke?
At Duke I took foundational Arts of the Moving Image classes, learned how equipment worked through a part-time job in the equipment cage, and got hands-on experience with film equipment through groups like Freewater Productions. I learned about the industry via three internships; two of them were during my Duke in New York and Duke in Los Angeles semesters. Upon graduation, I sourced priceless advice from Duke alums.
How did you decide what you wanted to do after Duke? And how did you make transition(s) to different fields?
I had five internships (the first two not in the arts) and on my inevitable down days, I had this nagging feeling that I should be doing something more creative. With every internship I got closer to the creative side of storytelling, and I was finding it easier to get out of bed! I only had one year of a student visa extension and assistants weren’t getting visas, so I had nothing to lose freelancing.
What is your favorite thing about working in your profession? Most challenging?
I love how passionate everyone in the industry is about what we do. I think we all appreciate getting to play a part in the stewardship of culture and highlighting stories that might lead to a better future, or even just helping viewers feel happy in every day life. The most challenging part is the gig work element. There isn’t an obvious career ladder—more like a rollercoaster of hits and flops.
What are 2-3 pieces of advice you would offer to a student interested in your field(s)?
Learn the craft. Learn the business. Be fearless and genuine; you would be surprised to see what doors open or serendipity comes your way. And, of course, it’s crazy how willing to help Duke alums are. I’m always trying to pay it forward.
Anything else to add?
One huge reason the film and TV business is hard to break into is financial. Without the Robertson Scholarship I have no idea how I would have paid for New York and Los Angeles rent during those summers. So don’t forget to find some scholarships and funds to help with getting by while interning.