INTERVIEW

ICYMI Tina Huang Interview

If Tina Huang had to compare her alter ego, Salem’s relentless district attorney,  Melinda Trask, to another character in the big, grand acting world, she’d opt for someone at the top of the strong and ruthless heap. “I’m a theater kid, a theater nerd at heart, so I do think of Lady Macbeth often,” she says. “Because ambition is a big part of Melinda. I know that sounds really snooty. But, I mean, who else? Joe Pesci from Goodfellas?”

Nailing the tough-as-nails antagonist has been incredibly easy for Huang. “It’s scary that it’s so natural to jump into that,” she observes. “You can either be upset that you’re such a mean character or you can just enjoy it and live in it for a while. For me, it’s pretty fun. Maybe I’m exorcising my own demons, because I’m such a people pleaser in real life.”

Huang took over the role of Melinda in February 2020, a few short weeks before the Covid shutdown. “I wouldn’t be telling the truth if I said it wasn’t hard,” admits the actress, who had the rug pulled out from under her just as she was acclimating to things. “But it was a challenge I wanted to rise to. It gave me a little time to process a lot of Melinda’s history with her daughter and what happened there. I got to build that world a bit and think of Melinda as a 3D human being.”

Fortunately, Huang already had experience in the genre. “It’s funny. When you look over my full resumé, I’ve done a lot of daytime,” notes the actress, who has had day player and recurring roles on Y&R and GH, and most recently, back-to-back stints as Steffy and Hope’s ob-gyn, Dr. Campbell, on B&B. “When anyone’s having a baby, I’m over there delivering it,” she says with a laugh, describing the good doctor as “warm” and “the polar opposite of Melinda. [Scheduling] has always worked out. Both shows have really wonderful people, and everybody has been very understanding and flexible.”

Nighttime TV viewers, particularly fans of RIZZOLI & ISLES, will likely remember Huang for her prominent role as senior criminologist Susie Chang on the TNT series. “She was a super-nerd and super-talented, and people sometimes underestimated her,” reflects Huang, who appeared on the show from 2011-16. “I formed really strong relations with the cast, with Angie Harmon and Sasha Alexander [ex-Gretchen, DAWSON’S CREEK]. I loved everybody on that show very much. It was an informative time in my life. At the time, I was also caring for my ailing mother, so it was a big deal, but it was also my escape. Getting to go to work, playing make-believe and doing what I love, was a much-needed respite from being a caregiver.”

When the decision was made to dramatically kill off her character, Huang took the news well. “The producers and writers came to me well before it happened. I understood why it was happening, so it wasn’t like I was upset about it; I was ready to move on, honestly,” insists Huang, remembering her final episode as “a joyous day. There’s a picture of me being zipped into a body bag, smiling, with Jordan Bridges, Angie and Sasha. It was really a weird experience. I try not to dwell on or live in the idea that it was bad. Although I think Melinda should live,” she cracks.

The daughter of Taiwanese immigrants, Huang’s career choice was never an easy sell to her parents. “They just wanted me to be safe and okay and successful — all of those things that immigrant parents want for their kids,” explains Huang. “But I’m a first generation American, born here, and I just really had it in me to be an artist.”

The concept “was just unfathomable” for Huang’s mother and father. “It was hard for them to imagine their kid [as an actor],” Huang continues. “So it was a source of struggle with the family and my parents. They also never saw anyone who looked like me on television, and they were afraid I was going to suffer my whole life. My mom would always say, ‘At least go into broadcast journalism, like Connie Chung.’ They thought that would be a viable path.”

Yet Huang persevered, despite having “to overcome my self-doubt, as well,” she shares, pointing out that there were few Asian-American performers to aspire to. “I had Margaret Cho and Lucy Liu. Yeah, that was about it. Later in life there was Sandra Oh, but that was much later.”

Huang went on to attend LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts in NYC. “I was originally there as a painter, then a Fine Arts major,” Huang recounts. “I just kept eyeballing the theater department. I finally got the guts, didn’t tell anyone, and auditioned for the theater department. By the time I graduated, I was the lead in the final show of the spring drama festival.”

From there, it was on to NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. Upon graduation, Huang and her high school sweetheart, Mickey Pentecost, decided to move across the country. “He’d gotten into grad school at Stanford University, and I’d always dreamed of California,” she says. “I don’t think I had the bravery to move to Los Angeles yet, so we moved to the Bay Area. I did a lot of crazy, amazing and fun theater there. Then I got a movie, which ended up bringing me down to Los Angeles. I also got cast in the ABC Diversity Showcase [L.A.] 2009. So that was a great win that helped me.”

A gig interning at a casting office also helped push Huang’s career forward. “They recognized that I was an actor and had me be their reader, do chemistry reads [with actors] on the studio level,” explains Huang. “I also saw how submissions for roles were coming in. I didn’t have representation at the time, so I started my own management company. I made a letterhead and changed my voicemail to be Fisher Management. I started submitting places under this fake company, and I got my first few appointments. That’s when I actually met [DAYS Casting Director] Marnie [Saitta]. One of my earliest jobs was on DAYS OF OUR LIVES. I played Josie Jordan, a reporter. It’s fun to be full circle.”

In 2005, Huang married Pentecost, a scientist who has since founded his own company, Diadem Biotherapeutics. Now, 16 years later, the couple is living happily in L.A. with their two cats, T-Rex and Nimoy. And despite their polar-opposite career paths, Huang insists that they’re actually pretty alike. “What links us both are our fields, which require so much creativity,” she asserts. “I don’t think we’re that different. We don’t dress alike or anything like that, but we’re both from New York. We both love hip-hop and jazz. We do operate differently. I operate from an emotional core, and he operates from his logical mind. So that is opposite. But as an actor, I’m pretty methodical, too, when I approach a script.”

Huang’s been utilizing that methodical side more frequently ever since her screen time in Salem has picked up. In fact, on the heels of the “missing” Philip investigation -— “That was fun; I got to be pretty sassy,” muses the actress — there’s another story around the corner. “I’m pretty excited to see it air. The transition has been a joyous one. At first, I was only in the detective area. Now it’s different sets and showing up in different parts of the town. I’m also getting to work with other actors. I didn’t realize how big the cast was.”

The only thing missing from Melinda’s world has been a personal life, which Huang would obviously welcome. “I kind of wish she had a partner, someone she wants to build ambition with,” offers Huang. The actress wouldn’t mind exploring what Melinda does when she gets home. “She’s definitely drinking a whiskey,” winks Huang.

Until that happens, Huang is content playing Salem’s pursuer of justice and mixing it up with everyone who crosses her path. “I’ve had fun working with Eric [Martsolf, Brady], Martha [Madison, Belle], Dan [Feuerriegel, EJ] … everybody,” she reports. “I really loved my stuff with Emily [O’Brien, Gwen] and Paul [Telfer, Xander] — the stuff with the money and the briefcase. I loved the idea that Melinda wanted [to take the money] to start a fund to help legal aid for undocumented people. I loved that somebody wrote that in for me. It was nice not to just be deliciously bad or torturing people, but also someone that has a heart. Everybody’s corrupt in this town. Why am I the bad guy? I’m just a little hard on the outside, but I have a soft candy center.”

Friends And Forces

One of Huang’s closest friends is Karla Mosley (ex-Maya, B&B), and the pals have been teaming up to make a difference for years. “Karla’s my girl,” says Huang. “We both went to NYU. We were in a play together. We used to drive to rehearsals together. We made each other laugh and just bonded. We started talking about inclusion and diversity. We’re two actresses hoofing it out there and going to different auditions. We noticed people would say things here and there like, ‘Aren’t you lucky to be ethnic?’ Not realizing how many years we’ve been training, how many years we’ve been working. We were like, ‘Instead of being angry about it or offended by it, let’s do something on our own.’ ”

So the two women co-founded 1:1 Productions. “It’s small still,” notes Huang. “I wrote a short film [Xin] that went to some film festivals and won some awards. Karla was in it, as well. We produced it. Our whole mission statement is women of color in front of and behind the camera. Every single one of our productions has at least 70 percent women and women of color in key roles. We just wrapped up shooting a pilot presentation. We’re in post-production.”

Huang and Mosley are also founding members of the Los Angeles-based Ammunition Theatre (AMMO), which aims to produce work featuring underrepresented stories told in innovative ways. “We used to say our art was our ammunition,” notes Huang of the unique name.

Just The Facts

Birthday: October 28

My Hometown: Although born in Dallas, TX, Huang was raised in New York City.

Wedding Belle: She married scientist Mickey Pentecost on June 18, 2005.

Speaking Up: She is fluent in Mandarin Chinese. “I spoke it at home with my parents growing up.”

Talking TV: “I MAY DESTROY YOU is so good. It’s Michaela Coel and was on HBO for one season, but was just amazing. I just watched THE BEATLES: GET BACK from Peter Jackson on Disney+. It’s like hanging out with The Beatles every night. You think, ‘This is so boring. No, I’m weirdly enthralled.’ ”

An App for That: “I have Insight Timer on my phone. It’s a meditation app. I have trouble sleeping, and there’s this one guy who sounds like Sean Connery. He puts me in a meditative sleep and helps me get the deepest sleep I’ve ever gotten.”

Cutting Room Floor: Huang was in the film Larry Crowne, although her part got cut. “It was still a week on a set, and Tom Hanks was the director. It was so lovely to see that he really is a very nice person. He knew everybody by name.”

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