Ally Maki spotted a unicorn while filming “Shortcomings” on the streets of New York last summer. She was mid-scene with her costar Timothy Simons when Radio Man, a personality known for making cameos in countless productions throughout the years, rode his bike through their shot.
“New Yorkers say that if he appears in your movie, it’s sort of this good luck charm,” Maki says in early July, pre-strike. “It’s like spotting a unicorn.”
Maki stars in Randall Park’s directorial debut with Justin H. Min and Sherry Cola. They shot the film in the middle of last summer, an experience that Maki describes as “trauma bonding.” “There’s a lot of sweating, a lot of humidity,” she says, before adding that getting to film on location in the city is also “every actor’s dream.”
“Our trailers were on the streets of the West Village, you walk outside, and the city does not stop,” she says. “You don’t know what’s going to happen. People are walking through, deliveries are getting dropped off, and you just have to use that in the scene. It makes it feel so alive and in such a unique way,” she adds. “[In one scene] Justin has to run across the intersection and be like, ‘are you sleeping with my girlfriend?’ And I remember everyone in the street stopped and was like, ‘ooooh.’ It was just such a fun moment.”
The cast reunited in the city for the film’s New York premiere in June, held during the Tribeca Film Festival. The film, recently released by Sony Pictures Classics, had its world premiere at Sundance in January.
“Sundance represented so much to me and everyone involved. It’s the culmination of everything you could really dream of for a project,” says Maki; the actress also went to SXSW in March for the premiere of her Apple TV+ series “The Big Door Prize.” “And then to get into Tribeca, it just felt like the dream kept realizing itself. But I think at the end of the day, I took away that when you make things with your friends and people you love, it just makes it all the more worthwhile.”
Maki stars in the drama-comedy as Miko, who leaves her tepid relationship in Berkeley for an internship in New York. Min portrays her movie theater-manager boyfriend, Ben, who explores new relationships — and his attraction to blonde women — in her absence with the support of his gay best friend, played by Cola. “It was the first time in my entire career that I’d read a project that was mainly composed of Japanese American characters,” says Maki.
Maki was sent the script for “Shortcomings” by a friend who was auditioning for a different part in the film, and recognized Maki in one of the female leads. “A very good friend of mine actually called me out of the blue one day and was like, ‘Ally, I need to send you this script I got,’” she says. “I think the Asian American community, we’re really in this place where we’re not living in scarcity anymore of ‘that role is mine.’ I love how supportive it is.”
Maki has seen the finished film several times, and notes that her experience with the story — and her empathy for its various characters — is constantly changing.
“Every time I watch [the film] different emotions come up. And I think that’s the marker of a good piece of art: if it sparks different emotions and maybe makes you feel a little bit uncomfortable,” she says. “What we’re trying to do with Asian American cinema right now is disrupt what that looks and feels like. That we’re not just perfect or evil characters, that we can just be humans — and that means being messy, being complicated, being uncomfortable and all of the above.”
During the pandemic, Maki founded Asian American Girl Club, an apparel brand that celebrates the AAPI community. In early July, the brand cohosted a screening of “Joy Ride,” which stars Cola, at a theater in Los Angeles.
“I’ll be thinking about that night for a long time,” says Maki a few days after the event. “Going back to in-person events with the actual community is so, so uplifting and the energy that night was just so electric.”
Asian American Girl Club recently released a collaboration of T-shirts and hoodies with the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation, which preserves the Heart Mountain World War II Japanese American Confinement Site. All proceeds from the collection are being donated to the foundation. “Every year they have a yearly pilgrimage where descendants of internees can travel out to this tiny town of Cody, Wyoming and go visit the site,” says Maki, adding that she hopes to make the pilgrimage herself soon to honor her own grandmother’s experience.
For now, Maki’s plans for AAGC is to continue hosting community events, expand their reach, and grow the production side of the company. “My ultimate goal is to create as many opportunities for Asian and Asian American women and allies in front of and behind the camera as possible,” she says.