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ICYMI Kelsey Wang Interview

Kelsey Wang’s journey to Y&R’s Genoa City started in Asia, where she happily spent her formative years, first in Beijing and then in Singapore. “I loved it there as a little girl,” she recalls. Although Wang was an only child, she didn’t lack for companionship. “My grandparents moved with us to take care of me because my mom and dad were working hard at their careers,” she shares. “So I was really raised by my grandparents, and I was extremely close to my grandfather. He was my best friend. He was this super-charismatic, funny guy who was a chemistry professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing, which is like the equivalent of Harvard University here. He taught my dad and they were on the frontier of making LCDs, liquid crystal displays.”

When she was ready for school, Wang scored high on her academic tests and was placed in an honors program. “My life was all about education,” she notes. Because of his line of work, Wang’s father decided the family should move to Texas. “Dallas was an epicenter in the ’90s for chips and LCD technology,” she explains. “Plus, they wanted me to get a solid education and there was a lot of opportunity in America.”

Aside from the culture shock (“The food,  the culture, the schools, were so different”), the family faced financial hardship. “Our apartment was in a not-so-good neighborhood and we had an old, beat-up car,” Wang remembers. “While we were at a playground, the car broke down and we had to hitchhike home. Here was this Asian family that hardly spoke English, but this car stopped and someone asked, ‘Hey, do you guys need a ride?’ I remember thinking right away that American people were so nice.”

What little English Wang knew (“I spoke Mandarin with my parents”) was still lost in translation. “In Singapore, I learned British English, so for ‘color’, I spelled it ‘colour’, and the teachers in Texas were like, ‘That’s not how you spell the word,’ ” she chuckles. “In two years, I was better at English than my mom and dad, so I took over a lot of things, like helping them with bills and calling Verizon to sort things out. It still took me a while to speak English fluently and I had an accent until my early 20s.”

Life for the Wangs began to improve. “By the time I got to middle school, my parents got their bearings and through hard work, bought a small house in a nice neighborhood,” she smiles. “I was feeling settled in and happy with a great group of friends. I also had a big imagination.”

Which came in handy as she looked to further her education. “One day I got this postcard in the mail advertising a school in Indiana that looked like Hogwarts from Harry Potter,” Wang marvels. “Most kids would not give it another thought, but I was really intrigued. I worked on my application for two weeks and sent it in without my parents knowing.”

Wang was thrilled to get accepted to the elite Culver Academies boarding school on a full-ride scholarship. While there, Wang took theater, which fanned an ember of desire for acting. “I watched a lot of TV, as well as a blend of Asian and Western cinema and I loved imagining myself in these worlds,” she says. “But when I dreamed of it happening, my mom would say, ‘Do you see anybody of our race in TV? What makes you think you can do it?’ To my parents, art is a luxury, so they would say, ‘We fought so hard for you to not struggle in your life.’ ”

Wang dutifully kept her grades up but was secretly conspiring. “I literally looked up ‘What is the best acting school in America?’ online and Yale popped up,” she shares. “They had a summer program for high school kids, so I submitted a little audition tape. I got a scholarship and asked my parents if I could go. They asked, ‘You’re still going to go to college, right?’ and when I said yeah, they were okay with me going. I spent eight weeks living at Yale, where all I did was acting, voice, speech and movement for three hours a day. It was so awesome and I loved it.”

Wang honored her parents’ wishes by going to college. Harvard and Columbia Universities were interested, as was Duke, but she was waiting to hear from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. “I noticed something was off with my mom that summer because she seemed very troubled,” Wang recounts. “One day we were chopping vegetables and she started crying. She said, ‘I’m a horrible mother. You got into Tisch a month ago and I hid the [acceptance] letter. I don’t want you to go because we worked so hard for you to get into Duke.’ Tisch wasn’t offering any money and it’s more expensive than Duke, which was giving me a full ride. I ultimately decided Tisch was just a fun dream.”

At Duke, “I majored in economics because it was what my parents wanted but in my sophomore year, I became a part of an acting exchange program with USC and came out to Los Angeles,” Wang notes. “I got a taste of the industry, but L.A. seemed really lonely, so I decided it wasn’t the place for me.”

After graduating from Duke, Wang stepped into investment banking. “I went to work in one of the biggest banks on Wall Street and started with a six-figure salary,” she reports. “To my parents, everything we worked so hard for was paying off. However, I was soon working 100 hours a week and became miserable very quickly. I stayed on for a year and a half but it became very apparent that Wall Street was not what I wanted to do. I quit out of the blue and signed up for a two-year acting course with Rutgers.”

Not surprisingly, Mr. and Mrs. Wang were not happy. “My parents made it clear, ‘We’re not going to help, so if you starve, you starve,’ ” Wang relays. “I’ve always been extremely close to my mom and we didn’t speak for six months because it was just so disheartening. I remember I had an audition  for   MADAM  SECRETARY and taped a scene to submit. When my mom saw it, she was like, ‘Oh, my God, you can’t act!’ She was so discouraging but the best part was I got a callback!”

Wang’s career blossomed with stage work, where she caught the attention of theater casting director Pat McCorkle. “She cast me in my first Equity play, called Chimerica, that won a lot of awards in the UK and was coming to the U.S.,” she relates. “The play was about the Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing. My parents remembered hearing the shooting and it was horrific, so they refused to see me in this play. Yeah, it broke my heart, but they did come to see my next play, which was Off-Broadway [A Dream Of Red Pavilions].”

Next, Wang decided to give L.A. a proper go and moved out to the West Coast. “I came here to work for a film and TV investment fund and I actually loved it,” she enthuses. “I took a two-year break from acting and it was what I needed because I was able to establish some stability in my life in L.A. When I started auditioning again, I got GENERAL HOSPITAL a few months later.”

Although Wang loved working in the daytime arena, playing Daisy was actually impeding her career. “They only used me once a month, so I was auditioning for other stuff,” she recounts. “I was offered the lead of an independent film right after I booked GH, but the shoot dates didn’t work, so I couldn’t do it. And then I booked a guest star on THE RESIDENT and they needed me for a week and a half in Atlanta, but one of those days coincided with GH and the same thing happened with STATION 19. I really wanted to do these other projects, but there were these conflicts, which was very frustrating. And then Covid hit and shut down everything.”

Wang moved back in with her parents, which turned out to be a healing experience. “I spent a lot of time talking about my life and acting,” she notes. “I think they saw how passionate I was and realized, ‘This is actually what she wants to do.’ It took a while for them to get there, but at the end of the day, they just want me to be happy.”

When TV production revved up again, Wang was soon cast as Jack’s never-before-known granddaughter. “I definitely hit the lottery working with Peter Bergman [Jack],” she praises. “I’ve been learning from him, Beth [Maitland, Traci] and Eileen [Davidson, Ashley] all about being an Abbott. For the first couple of weeks, Peter and Michelle Stafford [Phyllis] would tell me that it’s okay to be nervous, ‘So don’t put pressure on yourself.’ I’m so lucky to have these people for mentors. They’ve been so nice and so welcoming. Even the crew has been wonderful and so supportive. Everyone here treats you like you’re part of the family, so it really does feel like home.”

Give Her A Hand

Wang loves to play poker. “I’m actually a pretty good player and a few years ago I won a big MGM amateur tournament,” she boasts. “I think poker is actually really fun because it involves instinct and reading people. It’s very male-dominated and after the first hour of the MGM tournament, I was the only girl competing and I was the chip leader for pretty much the whole game. So, I enjoy a good game of poker.” As for going professional, she says, “I’ve thought about it but these people will lose a million dollars in a week, so you have to be okay with that and I could never do that. It’s a fun hobby and the real poker pros would eat me alive. I’m good enough to play a good amateur game, and that’s it. I could never deal with the extreme ups and downs.”

Just The Facts

Birthday: December 29

Birthplace: Beijing, China

Ill Will: “At 2, I got a 105 fever that really hurt my immune system for the next few years. Whenever someone sneezed in school, I would have a cold the next day and a fever the day after, and then taken to a hospital. I was on the news one day because I had broken some record for going to the hospital the most times [laughs].”

Sweet Dreams: “My all-time favorite dessert is called pandan. It’s a fragrant leaf that only grows in Southeast Asia, and the smell and flavor are extracted. In Singapore, you can get pandan cakes and they are amazing.”

Fare Enough: The first American food that she loved was chicken nuggets served in the school cafeteria.

On The Resumé: “I once worked as a tour guide for the GOSSIP GIRL on-location tours in New York.”

Relationship Status: Her boyfriend of several years is named Max.