Keiko Agena is in a reflective mood. The actress, whom many will know as Rory Gilmore's best friend, Lane Kim, on Gilmore Girls, confessed that it's a surreal time celebrating the accomplishments of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders this month against a backdrop of uncertainty, tragedy and shifting perceptions of the Asian community due to the coronavirus pandemic.
"This year has been such a roller coaster," Agena told ET recently by phone. "With the lockdown and with the rhetoric that had come out about COVID-19, some of it has been disturbing towards the Asian community. It's been such an upheaval. It's a strange May to be celebrating at home this year in 2020, which I thought was going to be the best year ever."
In the latest spotlight interview for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, the Prodigal Son star opened up with ET about how coronavirus is affecting the Asian American community, a look back on her career-defining Gilmore Girls character, Lane Kim, and why she doesn't have a checklist when it comes to characters that come her way.
ET: What do you make of where things are at this point in time for the Asian American community?
Keiko Agena: This year has been such a roller coaster. The last few years, I feel like there's been so much to celebrate in the Asian American community. It felt like there were ways that we were being seen that we hadn't been seen before in the media, and it felt as if we were part of the mainstream in a legitimate way. It's a weird thing to say it like that, but for most of it, especially being in entertainment, I felt a bit sidelined in our community. And then with the lockdown and with the rhetoric that had come out about COVID-19, some of it has been disturbing towards the Asian community. It's been such an upheaval. It's a strange May to be celebrating at home this year in 2020, which I thought was going to be the best year ever. It started off so great, and then it kind of tanked.
Lane Kim, your character on Gilmore Girls, remains one of a handful of characters whom I remember vividly as an Asian American girl growing up and watching TV. Has that been a common thread in your conversations and encounters with fans?
Yeah, I've heard that for sure. At that time especially, the character of Lane was not something that you saw very often. Especially that [the show] lasted so long -- it went seven years -- and you could see the age development of her character. But the interesting thing about it is that, at that time, it didn't feel that way to me, personally. I think because Gilmore Girls didn't really hit until a lot later. I think for me, it was when it went to Netflix. More people saw it and it became something people talked about. That's where I felt that I was more aware of it being something that was more widespread than a niche community. As far as why there has been a bit of a gap of Asian American representation, I'm hoping that with some of the newer pieces that are out, especially with this month, it's really all changing. Never Have I Ever, which was great. And there's another movie I was meaning to watch it before now, The Half of It, with [director] Alice Wu. Especially the last couple of years where there are younger Asian characters and they're mainstream. Young Asian boys and girls are watching, but also girls and boys of any ethnicity are watching too, which is wild to me.
Lane is such an iconic best friend character, but now we're in a time where Asian actors are getting those lead roles, and not relegated to the token side characters, in a way, serving the narrative of somebody else's story. Is that inspiring to see?