On the set of the FVM Magazine photo shoot for fashion designer Oliver Tolentino, awaiting the stylist to dress our beautiful model Chuti Tiu, we discuss acting, directing, writing, and the significance of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.
Tiu and her husband, actor/director Oscar Torre, are working on a film project that deals with death and loss. “I love to weave stories that move and inspire people,” she explains. She also tries to tell stories that don’t always get told on the screen, dealing with women and/or Asians and Asian Americans. “In acting and directing, I either look for or conceive myself scripts which relate to the universality of human emotions,” says the multi-talented Tiu.
Indeed, Tiu is a rarity in Hollywood, a working actor: she has just finished filming a movie in which she stars, Who’s There, and an episode of the TV show Rizzoli and Isles. Her film Pretty Rosebud was released theatrically in Hollywood in February through Handle With Care Productions, her own company. With over 20 years experience in the acting field, she is now boldly exploring all aspects and branches of her craft, as her recent efforts attest.
Tiu wrote, produced, and starred in Pretty Rosebud, and her husband directed the movie. “We feel artists need to create their own opportunities, so that’s what we did. Also, we made sure our cast and crew came from diverse, multicultural backgrounds so that each member of our team could offer his or her unique perspective, style, and approach to the production,” she says.
This plan has paid off: the accolades continue to mount for Pretty Rosebud. Already seen at twelve film festivals, including the Festival of Cinema, Reel Film Festival, Tallgrass Film Festival, World Toronto Film Festival, Idyllwild Film Festival, Women’s Independent Festival, Film International Film Festival, and Asian American International Film Festival, the movie has won an unprecedented number of awards in every category: best picture, best performance, best actress, best screenplay, best director, best cinematography for Tarina Reed, and best editing for Donna Matthewson. Most recently, the film was shown at the St. Tropez International Film Festival, where it was nominated for six awards.
Tiu and Torre set up Handle With Care Productions in 2011 with the express purpose of telling stories which celebrate the human spirit; Pretty Rosebud is their first production.
“Of all my roles, Cissy in Pretty Rosebud is my favorite; I just love playing a character I can really sink my teeth into: one that’s complex, has flaws, and experiences the highest of the highs juxtaposed with the lowest of the lows,” Tiu says.
Expounding further, “I prepare for an acting role by making it very real for myself: I literally inhabit the character! Acting is a healing experience for both me and others. I do my best because I feel the character’s story must be told.”
Chuti Tiu has been seen in The Internship, Beautiful, 2 Broke Girls, In Plain Sight, Weeds, Rampart, The Closer, Days of Our Lives, Southland, Exes, Rizzoli and Isles,and Who’s There, to name just a few of her roles. She also appeared in an NBC pilot which didn’t get picked up by the network.
As an Asian American actress in Los Angeles, she remembers when she was cast in a role in which the character’s last name was Ramirez. In the course of filming, her character’s name was changed to sound more Asian, even though many Filipinos have that same last name. This incident indicated to her Hollywood’s lack of understanding of Asian-American culture.
Tiu finds the duplicity of the film and TV industry regarding race and sex both alarming and baffling, given that America is the melting pot of the Western Hemisphere and that women have made significant advances in society and the workplace; indeed, she feels the industry should be much more open to women and Asians. “On the one hand, television and especially film seek to break new ground; on the other hand, each can entrench stereotypes through casting and story decisions, which is often the case,” says Tiu.
This actress/producer/writer is a first generation American, born in Milwaukee to Filipino parents of Chinese and Filipino descent. Though traditional themselves, Tiu’s parents actually kickstarted her career as a performer by introducing her to the piano at an early age. She became an award-winning classical pianist, and she plays the trombone as well. What a diverse skill set this lady possesses!
In high school she was the first non-Caucasian to be named an America’s Junior Miss; this award helped pay for her education at Northwestern, where she studied political science and economics. However, acting beckoned, and the rest, as they say, is history. Chuti Tiu concludes, “I wish an awareness of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month was more pervasive in our culture. So many people don’t know about the internment camps or that Asians built a majority of the Transcontinental Railroad. We as a people simply need to be exposed to different cultures to be well rounded. In that way, we can experience the universal stories we all relate to and love to tell.”