Lisa Yamada has been in the business for over a decade now, and she’s finally getting the global recognition she deserves. Booking the lead character of Parker in Cruel Summer’s second season was a career-altering moment for the 20-year-old actress, who has previously guest starred on Never Have I Ever, All American, and Little Fires Everywhere. Growing up on the stage — dancing, singing, and playing the guitar along with acting — she booked her first professional role at only 8 years old. Finding an escape and creative outlet in the field, she is still just excited about the industry as ever.
Now working on I Wish You All The Best, an LGBTQ story directed by Tommy Dorfman, she is further solidifying herself as a force to be reckoned with. In every part she takes on, she is able to connect with viewers and bring stories to life. A talent in both television and film, working across genres, Lisa is bound for decades of stardom.
We had the pleasure of talking to Lisa about her “pinch me” moments filming Cruel Summer, the community she finds in television and film, and Asian representation on screen.
Read the interview here…
How are you? What are you up to at the moment?
I’m doing well! Keeping myself busy and preparing for Cruel Summer to release! Waiting for a project to come out is so exciting and nerve-wracking — especially when you dedicate months of your life and move to a different country to film.
When did you start acting and did you always know you wanted to do it professionally?
I started acting at around 6 years old and started doing it professionally at 8 years old. I’ve always been interested in anything regarding the arts. I danced, I sang and played guitar as a kid but acting triumphed all. I remember knowing that acting was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life after being on set for the first time. Although being on set for hours can be tiring, there are no downsides to being an actress in my eyes. I love the hard work and preparation that goes into acting. It’s my creative outlet. I’m the happiest when I’m in the middle of a scene. Getting to be a different person and escape reality is like therapy to me. Not only is the art of acting so fulfilling, but the idea of everyone from all different departments coming together to create a show or a movie is so beautiful as well.
What was your first ever role?
My first ever role was for a documentary on National Geographic. It covered the lives of Yakuzas (Japanese Mobs). It was so much fun! I still remember it to this day. I soaked up everything I could and tried to learn as much as I can. I learned all about what it takes to create a scene and how much time and preparation goes into filmmaking. I remember everyone being so supportive and guiding me through it all. I still keep in touch with some of the cast members from the documentary to this day! I’m also proud to say that my first ever job was about my culture and had an all-Asian cast.
You have worked on both films and series. What is the difference between working on the two? Do you have a preference?
I love working on both TV and film! TV takes much longer to shoot and you have to dedicate a lot of time to creating an arc and storyline for your character. With there being a possibility of a next season while working on TV, you always have to keep a part of your character inside you. Movies finish up much faster than TV and there’s a definitive end to the project. You get to wrap up your character and let go. I think there’s a bigger sense of community while working on TV just because you spend so much time with the same cast and crew. But with that being said, I have friends that I’ve met while working on movies that I still talk to this day. I can’t say that I have a preference because I have such a great time working on both.
What initially connected you to your character of Parker in Cruel Summer, and to the project as a whole?
I watched the first season of Cruel Summer way before I even auditioned for the second season so I’ve always been a fan of the show. I love anything in the true crime and mystery genre so Cruel Summer was right up my alley. Being on a show you would watch as a consumer is so fulfilling as an actor. Although Parker and I have some differences, I feel connected to her because I can relate to a lot of the insecurities that she deals with. She struggles with her self-esteem and wants to be validated by others. As a girl in our current society, I think a lot of us (myself included) can relate to her struggles. Parker does come off as a bit of a mean girl, but I hope the viewers can show empathy toward her and grow to love her the same way I did. Playing Parker was such a dream for me! She’s such a style icon in the show and I got to fully tap into my Y2K fantasy.
What are you most excited for about the season two premiere?
I’m so excited for EVERYTHING. This journey has been life-changing. I’ve been in the game for over a decade and Cruel Summer is my biggest role yet. I’ve had so many “pinch me” moments since booking Cruel Summer and the fact that I got to be a series regular on such a coveted show is still unreal to me. But aside from that, I’m most excited about all of the fan theories. With this show being a murder mystery, viewers are going to be on a whodunit journey throughout the entire season. Even my cast and I were trying to figure out who the killer is while filming! I’m definitely going to be tuning in on Twitter to see what everyone’s theories are and who they’re rooting for after each episode airs.
Do you have a favourite moment from filming?
My favourite moment is definitely any of the days when the entire cast was on set to film a big party scene. There’s a big Christmas party in episode 1 and that was definitely my favourite to film. It was our first overnight shoot and with it being the first episode, all of us were still a little nervous around each other and it definitely forced us to break the ice and get to know one another. It got so cold in the middle of the night that my cast and I huddled around the heater in the green room and it eventually led to us having a big cuddle session to keep each other warm. We wrapped at around 4 am and we all decided to go out and get breakfast together. It was so funny eating breakfast with them just because we were all so loopy and delirious from working all night. Safe to say we became best friends after that.
You have been involved with so many incredible projects — is there anything you’re particularly proud of?
I’m so proud of every single project that I’ve been a part of. Aside from Cruel Summer, I’m currently proud of my upcoming movie I Wish You All The Best directed, written, and produced by the incredible Tommy Dorfman. It’s a movie adaptation of Mason Deaver’s novel. The movie stars Corey Fogelmanis, Miles Gutierrez-Riley, Cole Sprouse, Alexandra Daddario, myself, and Lexi Underwood (Yes! Lexi and I got to work together again right after wrapping Cruel Summer!). The story is centred around a non-binary teen named Benjamin Debacker. Getting to play a character from a novel that’s so wildly loved was such an honour. In this day and age, it’s so important to share LGBTQ stories on the big screen and I think this movie will quite literally save lives. Keep your eyes peeled!
Do you have a career highlight thus far?
This entire past year has been a career highlight for me but getting to play Celebrity Family Feud with Steve Harvey and my castmates was a big one for me. It was so surreal to be on the Family Feud set, wear my name tag, and see Cruel Summer displayed on our side of the podium! My mom actually used to watch Family Feud when she first moved to the US and learned vocab words and slang from watching the show. It was definitely a full circle moment for my mom and she’s so excited to watch me on a show that she used to watch religiously over 20 years ago. You’ll have to wait for our episode to air to see if the Cruel Summer cast and I were able to take home the winning money for charity! I’ve definitely been dealing with imposter syndrome lately but I have to get it into my head that I’m deserving of all of the amazing things happening to me.
What do you hope to see with the future of the industry?
Definitely inclusivity and representation. The industry has gotten better about Asian representation in the past couple of years but I think we still have a long journey ahead of us. Asian actors are often pushed to the side to play supporting characters while white actors get to play leading characters. We Asians are complex, we have struggles to share, we are human just like everyone else, and we are totally capable of carrying a show and being strong leads in TV and film. Although this can be frustrating, I feel like our voices are being heard and I’m excited to see what the future holds for us Asian actors.