Conversations with Atlanta's Movers and Shakers, Actress, Host, and International Model, Isabelle Du
A few weeks ago, we were fortunate to have a conversation with Atlanta-based Actress, Host, International Model, and former Miss Vietnam USA, Isabelle Du! Isabelle’s work includes Tresemme, Logitech, Mossimo, and most recently Poshmark, just to name a few.
Atlanta Film and TV: Can you share with us about who you are, and what you do in the Film and TV industry?
Isabelle Du: “I am an actress, host, and model, and I have been doing on-camera work since 2006. It's been a journey. From Modeling, Commercial work to Hosting and Acting. I have lived in different places. But, where I fell in love with Soap Operas was when I lived in Vietnam. I was the series lead and did 40 episodes on a series called Nữ Vệ Sỹ, which means Female Bodyguard, and I had no training. I was the third recast. They cast two other actresses and decided to recast. We filmed for five months, and then I thought I want to take this more seriously. I fell in love with acting and moved to LA to do my training, and it has been a journey! Last year, my husband and I relocated to Atlanta, and we love it!”
Atlanta Film and TV: Can you take us on your journey from how you started, to where you are now?
Isabelle Du: "I have always been interested in doing on-camera work. But, my parents were not for it. I think it is because they were immigrants coming to the US, and were not familiar with the Entertainment Industry. They risked their lives, leaving a war-torn country. So, for them, they wanted to go to something more stable. I went through the motions of going to school. I attended Chapman University studying Public Relations and Advertising, and did internships within the Entertainment Industry with Comedy Central, E’s! True Hollywood Story, Nickelodeon, and MTV. There was this casting office Perry Reece Casting. Back then, all demo reels were done by VHS tapes. I would organize everyone’s demo reel tapes in alphabetical order and go through everyone’s headshots. It is crazy to think about how much of that landscape of auditioning has changed over the years."
"After college, I wanted to model. I was passionate about modeling and wanted to do it abroad. At the time, a lot was stacked up against me. I am not that tall, and back then ethnicity-wise, we were not a thing. I remember going to an agency in Southern California and looking at their roster. I remember thinking, 'They do not have anyone that looks like me!' They had one other Asian girl, but she was more ethnic-Chinese. She had shorter hair and bangs. Her eyes were different from mine. So, I thought, 'Oh, cool! They don’t have a lot of Asian women on their roster. Surely they would want more?' I remember the agents looking at my portfolio and saying, 'Oh! We love your look and portfolio. But, we already represent a girl that looks like you!' The agents pointed to their wall, and it was to the one Asian girl I remember researching. But, next to her were at least 25 blonde models. That moment stayed with me because I remember saying, ‘you’re going to say no to me because you already filled your quota of an Asian models. But you have all these other blonde models?’ That's when I thought. 'You know what? I want to model in Asia because I heard you could build your Tear Sheets.' And I thought, 'Why not go to a market where everyone looks like me? ' And, I fell in love! My first contract was in Bangkok. From there, I modeled in Manila, Philippines. Singapore. Indonesia. Hong Kong, China, and, in Vietnam. I didn’t make that much money. But, I had the time of my life! I built a lot of experiences and friendships, with people I am still in touch with to this day. It made me understand what it was like to be on-set - even though it wasn’t the same standards as here. You work in a market that doesn’t have a union to protect you, and you’re working with people of different backgrounds and languages you’re not as familiar with, which makes you prepared for anything!"
"From there, I booked the Soap Opera, which was nuts, because I was supposed to work in Macau the next day - with an agency I am still with to this day! When I booked the Soap Opera, they were like, 'We need you to work tomorrow. And we need you to start training in Martial Arts!' They bought out my Macau Poker Tournament contract so I could stay in Vietnam. Initially, filming was three months, but it ended up being a five-month ordeal. At one point, they lost nine days of footage. So, we had to reshoot everything! But, all this was a huge learning experience!"
"My work in Asia did not translate in the US, and I think in the US, it’s like Hollywood, Hollywood! It’s very competitive. Everyone is on their ‘A-game, and everyone has had their training. I had to start all over from ground zero. I remember doing extra work for $64 per hour for eight hours on Grey’s Anatomy, on a non-union set. I remember going in there and looking at all the different cream cheeses! There was strawberry cream cheese, blueberry, and a low-fat one. I remember thinking, this is crazy! Because, back when I was working in Vietnam, I had to find my own lunch, sometimes, and I had to provide my own wardrobe and everything else. So, it was a reverse culture shock! I had to start over and build up again. Nothing happens overnight."
"Last year, I started to understand and gain momentum in the industry. I had to take things seriously, and began keeping track of my auditions, which made a huge difference. I recommend anyone in this industry keep a spreadsheet of all your auditions. All the Casting offices you’ve been to. Even the roles you’re getting called in for. Doing this gave me a better understanding of how I’m perceived. Before this, I was like - ‘oh, let me do the typical things. I have this badass headshot! I have the ‘nerdy’ and the ‘pretty’ headshot.’ But now, I’ve narrowed it down and understood where my consensus is. It is this young professional and a glam industry type. I’m going for more roles like Publicist, a Country Music Label Marketing Executive, and Book Publisher."
"My work in Asia did not translate in the US, and I think the US is like Hollywood! It's very competitive. Everyone is on their 'A-game, and everyone has had their training. I had to start over from ground zero. I remember doing extra work for $64 per hour for eight hours on Grey's Anatomy, on a non-union set."
- Isabelle Du
Atlanta Film and TV: You talked about your parents not understanding the Entertainment Industry. When did they come to the understanding that this was something that you wanted to do?
Isabelle Du: "I don’t think there was ever a true hard set moment, where they said ‘well. I guess she’s really in for this now!’ Because, my dad to this day still says, ‘Why don’t you work for Google? Why don’t you work for Facebook or Apple?’ - 'And do what? ' You’re saying a company name because it sounds prestigious! I was like, ‘what if I worked for them on the commercial side? What if that happens?’ Simu Liu has a Google commercial, and both of his parents are in it. And, it's crazy because, in the commercial, he mentions his parents asking, ‘Why don’t you work for Google?’ And, I’m like. ‘Oh, my Gosh! That is my parents!’"
"I also understand that my parents did not have the privilege and luxury of understanding that art can be its own career and business. Most people in this industry still do not grasp that it is a business and think it is an art thing where you can be passionate. There is a lot of admin, then the auditioning piece. People get emotionally invested, put on blinders, get tunnel vision, and say, but I have been manifesting and wishing for this! It is just wishful thinking if you don't put in the work or the business side, like any other business."
Atlanta Film and TV: Can you share with us about your time modeling abroad?
Isabelle Du: "I loved modeling! Now, I don’t model as much because I don’t care about it as I used to, which is fine. Like anything in life, we grow out of things. And, you start to move up in different places in your career. And that’s how I feel about modeling. Modeling is a tough industry! My contract would say I had certain measurements, and before they would invest and fly me out, they would weigh and measure me every week. If I gained an inch above what was contracted or gained a certain amount of weight above my weight, they would deduct my allowance. You would get a weekly allowance, which was money to get a cab, or motorbike to your castings, or for food. That was the agency's way of saying’ you’ve gained weight? Okay! We’re going to deduct your allowance so that you can either choose food or castings.’ Of course, you're going to choose Castings, because you’ve gotta make money! That was the agency’s investment in you, and you have to have tough self-esteem in modeling. I was with young girls, and I started modeling when I was older. Which was harsh too, because people would say, ‘you’re going to expire soon.’ Which always comes from people who don’t know modeling or the industry, and they always make judgments. I modeled with girls who were 14 and 15 from Lithuania and Romania, and these girls had to group up fast. But, I’d give it to them. They’re smart cookies! People make judgments about models. But, I’ll tell you models are clever people because they have to deal with quite a bit and still put on a good front. Which is what prepared me mentally for acting."
Atlanta Film and TV: You traveled with your then boyfriend, now husband during season 25 of Amazing Race, and known to fans as that dating couple. Can you share with us about that experience?
Isabel Du: "My husband and I met at Chapman, and we were just friends. We didn’t reconnect until later. We were super fans of The Amazing Race, and I auditioned for the show five times, and three of those times were with him. Even though we didn’t win, we did have an amazing experience! Because you’re racing around the world for a million dollars, and you have one out of eleven chances. It brought us closer because you're put into high-stress level situations that you’ll never experience again. Which I think can either make or break you! Only Dennis and I and one other couple are still together to this day from the show. I think us not winning brought us close. What they do is they send you off to a sequestered location, so you don’t get to go home right away. They sent us to Portugal, and we spent almost a month there. Every time a team lost, they would join our little band, and we would have to comfort and make them feel better. Even if you lose, it’s still a great opportunity."
Atlanta Film and TV: Can you share with us about your time as Miss Vietnam USA?
Isabelle Du: "In addition to acting, I work Auto Shows and have worked for them for eight years. I was at the Cleveland Auto Show when my cousin texted me, ‘there’s this pageant next week, and I think you would have a good chance.’ I was like, ‘next week? Usually you have months to prepare for pageants!’ My cousin then says, ‘no, I know you!’ I told her ‘I do not have gowns or any of that’. She then says ‘you know people, you’ll get that stuff sponsored '- and I was able to!"
"To me, the interview portion of pageants is where you win - that’s the real thing. Yes, you have all the right stuff, like the pretty gowns. But, it is the interview portion of pageants, and I think that is where everyone should shine. It was important for me to answer my interview question on stage bilingually because people don’t think I look Vietnamese, which bothers me to the core! I'll ask. ‘Oh. What do you think Vietnamese people are supposed to look like?’ "
"In comments publicly, people always think I am part white, and I’m like, ‘nope! I am full Asian, and I’m proud of it. I don’t need to credit anyone else for this, just my mom and dad!’ People don’t think I can speak Vietnamese. So, I had to answer my interview question in Vietnamese and English to show I’m proud to be of a bi-cultural identity. I also added Vietnamese to my Instagram account because I want people to understand how proud I am of my heritage. The Miss Vietnam, USA title solidified people’s understanding of how I feel about it. Before, I was pretty ambiguous about it, and did not share my ethnicity. I did that not because I was embarrassed, but I felt like that’s what I had to do to be in this industry. I felt like I should be ambiguous about it so people won’t see what my actual ethnicity is. I would say that I’m Asian-American, so it’s fluid. But, the moment I owned my heritage more roles and castings came to me, because I was being specific. Even now when Vietnamese roles come up, people will always think of me first! I think it’s amazing, and I feel honored even if I don’t book. I feel honored that people would even consider me, and that I’m on top of their mind, when it comes to those roles! I’m always like, 'great!' I celebrate that."
Atlanta Film and TV: Can you talk to us about how you advocate for diversity and inclusion in mainstream media?
Anyone who knows me, and even people from high school where I was the president of the Vietnamese Sisterhood Association, it’s always been my thing to be excited and showcase diverse talent. Particularly for the Asian-American community because it’s something that resonates with me. Growing up, I barely saw anyone on TV that looked like me. But, if I did, I knew all of them! I would get excited if I even saw an Asian background actor. I think nowadays people are likely to be more proactive about it. We’re now more connected, so we’re constantly sharing content about projects. I think what’s important is that communities have got to be excited for each other! None of the scarcity mindset. I have friends who will say I decided not to go with that agency because they already have another Asian girl. You cannot have that mindset. My LA agency’s goal is to represent all Asians. I’m proud to be with this agency because they are the go-to agency when it comes to Asian talent.
It is to the point where I don’t think that I’m competing with others. If you think that and if you feel as if you’re competing with someone within your same agency, you’re going to compete with them also outside your agency. You’re still going to have the same auditions, which makes no sense to me. Don’t worry about that. Worry about yourself. If anything, when you cheer for your fellow members in these diverse communities, you celebrate each other. Whether it is posting or sharing something within their stories on social media. I shared my friend Artemis post, who has a recurring role on Sweet Magnolias on Netflix. I am excited because I met her as a kid back in LA. She’s been in this industry for a long time and now is based in Atlanta. And, it is exciting to see where she is now. So, you gotta cheer each other on because it creates momentum. You want to know each other. Now, Asians being on screen is embraced. Even if you don’t book a specific role, that role is going to have family members that are from the Asian ethnic group. So, let's be excited for each other! The more we’re excited for each other, the more camaraderie we would have in our communities. I also think we have to recognize our own biases and internalized racism. I’d have to admit to some of mine as well. Sometimes, I think I’m pretty aware - no! Sometimes I have to catch myself. For example, this past year there was a Lifetime or Hallmark film. At the time, I and a friend of mine who is also Vietnamese auditioned for the same project. In the breakdown, there were family members of the lead character. With Hallmark and Lifetime films, we are used to white family members. I always assume they’re white, and it’s a built-in assumption. The guy and girl fall in love. One’s a city person and a small-town girl, and they get together. These characters are always white, with their families. You might have ethnic supporting characters, like the sassy best friend, etc. That’s usually the formula. Our agents reached out and say, that this film needed family members. The cousins and brothers need to be Asian! We need our Asian actors to audition for these roles right away. This is for the same project, which took us by surprise. My first thought was, “Oh! Maybe they decided they needed to add more diverse faces. Maybe they have adopted family members that are Asian. Because why else would the brother and cousin be Asian, of a white couple? "
"I also think we have to recognize our own biases and internalized racism. I'd have to admit to some of mine as well. Sometimes, I think I'm pretty aware - no! Sometimes I have to catch myself."
- Isabelle Du
"The storyline is that these family members are probably adopted because I’ve seen it before. No! I found out it’s because the lead actor was Asian - Christine Ko, who is a fantastic actress. When I found this out, I had to recalibrate. And, I thought, 'oh my god! Of course, she’s going to have Asian family members because she’s Asian! That’s the most logical reason.' I had to debunk my biases from last year, and it shows how many years have compounded what we’ve been fed by this narrative."
Watch our conversation here
Atlanta Film and TV: How have things changed for you since COVID?
Isabelle Du: "I do acknowledge that COVID has been hard for a lot of people. The pandemic has shown me a big pivot. During this time, I didn’t work a lot. I wasn’t on set. And, there were no auto-shows. But, it showed me what life would be like if I didn’t keep my supplemental job. When you’re working at auto-shows, you’re doing a lot of traveling, and scheduling is hard. During the shutdown, I had time to focus and hone in on my acting, and it was all I did! And I saw an immense amount of growth. Last year was my first time booking my network co-star role for General Hospital. The second co-star role I got was for Fox, which will come out later this year. That co-star role turned recurring. So, I saw what would happen if I invested one-hundred percent of my energy into this thing rather than being scattered and dividing my attention. By the way, there’s nothing wrong with that. I believe we wear a lot of hats in this industry. But, I have a hard time concentrating, and it was cool to see what happened if I focused on one thing.
Now I understand when they say how you do one thing is how you do everything. During the pandemic, I made a Youtube video on selling online. By the way, I sell a lot on Poshmark and eBay. I made a fun video where I said, “I made twelve hundred dollars this month during the pandemic, selling random things like home catalogs that I got free in the mail and empty shopping bags. It didn’t go viral, but I passed 400 views. A friend of mine that I met through modeling back in 2007 who now works for the Marketing team at Poshmark saw my video and presented it to the marketing team, and they booked me for the Poshmark commercial."
Atlanta Film and TV: Atlanta Film and TV is big on building relationships and networking? How is it important to you?
Isabelle Du: "Nothing happens overnight. I believe people shouldn’t go into networking thinking, 'I am going to get something out of this right away.' Just do as you do. Gravitate towards people you gravitate to, and find people with who you genuinely have a connection. Which will help a lot. Don’t go into networking having a goal in mind. When I think of networking, I think of it as making friends. The friend who booked me for the Poshmark commercial, I met her in 2007! Which is so many years between that time. The longer you get to know someone, the more you can connect with them on social media or wherever you connect with them. Those who you network with will begin to get familiar with you. They get to learn your energy, and they get to like you more. People want to collaborate with those they like and with who they connect with. People want to help those they like and naturally want to see others win! The people who are most excited for you will come up with you. And, with those people, you will collaborate on future projects. You may not foresee those collaborations but, there will be that.
I use 'We Audition' a lot for my virtual readers. Sometimes it’s hard because I don’t have an in-person reader. I love using We Audition, especially after a long day of work when I need a reader at 1 am. I’ve made friends from everywhere because of this app and even met up with some in person! All the roles I booked recently, including my role on General Hospital were booked using a We Audition reader."
"Nothing happens overnight. I believe people shouldn't go into networking thinking, 'I'am going to get something out of this right away.' Just do as you do. Gravitate towards the people who you gravitate to, and find people who you genuinely have a connection with."
- Isabelle Du
Atlanta Film and TV: Can you share with us a piece of advice for someone wanting to pursue a career in film and tv?
Isabelle Du: Jump right into it, and take classes because you want to be around other actors. To be in this industry, you have to have actor friends and tribe. Those same people will grow with you, and you have to celebrate with them because those are the people who will be your biggest allies and supporters. I encourage people to listen to podcasts. I just started listening to It’s A Slate of Mind, Alison Haseldon, and Audrey Helps Actors, and Clubhouse. There are two rooms I love going to on Clubhouse, the Business Side of Acting and Actors Breakfast Club - which is at 10 am EST. Some of the moderators are working actors. You feel like you are listening to some great conversations. These conversations are live, and there are always no replays. You have to surround yourself with those conversations. Lastly, it’s okay if you’re not getting auditions because some of the work is not an audition. It’s watching shows and understanding which shows you could exist on., Targeting those Casting Directors, and getting the tone of the show.
Atlanta Film and TV: How can people connect with you?
Isabelle Du: I use Instagram the most @isabelledu.