We had the good fortune of connecting with Marisa Arohi and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Marisa, any advice for those thinking about whether to keep going or to give up?
Everyone has to have their “why” that’s bigger than any one thing in their life, that can contextualize the importance of what they do. Otherwise, we’re all just going through the motions. Existing, rather than living.

For me, in absence of any overarching philosophy, I always tell the story of my first week in LA. I was working as an assistant at a small company in Beverly Hills, weeks after graduation, completely out of my depth. I hadn’t gotten a car yet, so I used to Uber pool to and from work – skipping meals to make up the difference on minimum wage.

Drivers in this city are pretty friendly (I wasn’t used to that in my New England college town) and I’ll admit, some of those rides turned into pretty cheap therapy. I also didn’t fully realize it at the time, but those drivers were also usually the only other faces of color I’d see all day. We’d ease into conversations about family and food and culture. It warmed the sharp edges of industry buzzwords and made sterile marble cubicles feel a bit more comfortable.

I found surrogate aunts and uncles, sisters and mentors in those conversations. All unexpectedly enthusiastic for my new job. Even when I was careful to lay out the stark reality, their pride was consistent. My days were spent fetching coffee and answering the phone. Booking travel, scheduling meetings. I was grateful to be employed, but I wasn’t doing anything glamorous. Their enthusiasm seemed misguided.

It really didn’t click until someone spelled it out.

A quiet man, a proud new grandfather who instantly told me I reminded him of his daughter, said it. “In the three years I’ve driven for Uber, I only take rides to and from Beverly Hills – the money’s usually better. And this is the first time, in three years of daily trips, that I’ve seen someone that looks like us walk through the front door. You know how often it is that we get to go into those buildings without buckets and mops? That we get our own badge, our own desk? That we’re put on a track to rise, to make partner, to buy property in this city? To be someone who holds power? So you hold your head high.”

I’m ashamed to say, for all my liberal arts notions of privilege and diversity, I still found what he said jarring. I knew I was existing in a “white space”, having grown up in them my whole life, but I never realized the full extent of my luck. Yes, I fetched coffee. While others, just as deserving, emptied trash bins. I answered phones, while others cleaned toilets. I am in this town to be a writer and actress, two incredibly impractical jobs even by the most charitable of standards, and only by the grace of a strong creative education.

In some ways, I felt isolated and exposed walking those hallways when I first moved here. Frustrated that I was in a job I felt over-qualified to do, that I had to pay my dues in true sweat equity. I still do sometimes; even with a new job I consistently feel lucky to have, with a boss interested in promoting diversity and mentoring the next generation. But it’s in those moments I pull that story out of the air and wrap it around me.

I’m not alone at all.

I stand on the shoulders of giants, the echos of all the invisible people who had to walk through the back door quietly so I could fight for my seat at the table. And so long as they walk this journey with me, who am I to give up?

Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I think of myself as a writer primarily, who would love to act in her own material one day. I’m already so deeply embedded in these fictional characters’ psyches having developed them myself; it just seems like the natural next step progression.

My writing style follows the parts of myself I highlight naturally. I typically write drama, non-genre, but with a deeply cynical, irreverent humor. It’s probably a defense mechanism I picked up somewhere, but I find it useful in examining large institutions and poking holes in what we take for granted. I used to write character studies, usually from my lived experiences, but I’d argue this is just the natural next step progression. It’s still writing from the voice of the underdog, but now with a step removed. A cooler tone and less emotional investment to add authority; humor to engage others in my point.

For better or worse, biopics seemed to have had a real renaissance the last few years and I definitely wrote my fair share. I really liked examining shadowy pop culture figures; household names who we all recognize, but few examine deeply. I have a couple projects that I’ve developed in this style and have been shopping around. Nowadays I’m also moving on to adapting books and IP, trying to see how existing worlds would look through my lens. It’s a fun challenge, especially when I’m writing in a style I’m not normally comfortable in.

I’m also currently open to staffing opportunities and auditioning for guest or reoccurring roles.

If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I think I’m still so new to my own life out here, my tastes are a little basic. All of my favorites are a little too easy to find splashed across Instagram (tangent: do people even use Instagram anymore? Is it now only TikTok? Is that reference already dated? Am I old?). And let’s be honest: there’s nothing more depressing than trying to eat next to tables of people taking pictures of their meal.

I work in Century City, like most assistants starting out, so the Westfield Century City Mall is an easy choice for drinks or dinner on weekdays. DIN TAI FUNG or EATALY are staples, JAVIER’S if someone brought their corporate card and is treating. LA COLOMBE for a coffee, PRESSED for a juice. Obviously AMC is a pretty broad chain, but the one in this mall holds a particular lore. It’s such a hub for the agencies and management companies nearby; if only the walls could talk.

I recently relocated downtown, so I’m still trying to find my feet here. I’ve seen a lot of $16 cocktails masquerading as dive bars, but I’m still desperately searching for a quiet room with no frills. Happy hour at the NORMANDIE CLUB has worked in the meantime. It’s a little Brooklyn-avocado-toast-hipster, but the bartenders are all genuinely so nice and you can actually hear yourself have a conversation if you arrive early enough. OPENAIRE at the LINE HOTEL is fun if you want to blow some money on brunch (or wake up and decide you really do want to photograph your pancakes) and THE ALCHEMIST COFFEE PROJECT is cute, without being “cute”.

As for activities, I’d usually rather drive down to the beach or check out a record store with friends. The MELROSE TRADING POST is fun for shopping, especially if you’re willing to spend a little more for better-quality vintage. At night, BREAK ROOM 86 was a reliable good time pre-COVID, especially if you didn’t want to go all the way out to West Hollywood, but I haven’t been out much recently.

The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
Oh, so many people!

This town is a “town” for a reason. It’s just one big extended network, filled with so many people who have helped me get my next job or find a representative or talk to someone without a second thought. Even the networking conversations that have only been that – a conversation – are ones I’m grateful for. There are so many truly fascinating, deeply philosophical people to connect with.

But I think special acknowledgement should be made of the groups that function more like little families; giving creatives space to easily write and grow. A special thanks to the AAPI community at my company, my acting classes at the Ivana Chubbuck Studio, and my writer’s groups. It is the scariest thing to make art that is personal to you – to feel as if you are giving up a piece of yourself for public consumption – and I could never write or perform as authentically as I do without feeling supported by these communities.

Instagram: www.instagram.com/marisaarohi

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