Red Stewart chats with Disjointed star Elizabeth Ho…
Elizabeth Ho is an American actress who has been working in the industry since the mid-2000s. She studied acting at the University of Southern California, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts in theater, all while working numerous blue collar jobs on the side. Her breakthrough came with the Netflix original show Disjointed, which she currently stars in as Jenny. Flickering Myth managed to get an interview with her, and I in turn had the privilege to conduct it.
Ms. Ho, who goes by Liz, has worked on several different sets over the course of her career, from cable network shows to television movies. I began by asking her how different working on a Netflix show is compared to those other venues.
“I think it really hit me when Kathy Bates said the word ‘f*ck’ on set,” she answered with a laugh.
The truth is, without the conventional restrictions imposed by cable censors, there is a lot more freedom for the creators and actors, and not just from a language standpoint. “Netflix is great because they allow shows to breath,” Ho tells me. “A lot of shows are on the air and they get two or three episodes [before] they’re shutdown. And it’s disappointing because we don’t get to see a whole season.”
It is definitely true that, these days, a lot of shows on conventional primetime networks aren’t given the time they need to find an audience. Netflix luckily operates by a different route, allowing aspiring writers to tackle subjects without fear of being covered with taboo censors. That includes Disjointed with its subject matter of marijuana.
Surprisingly, Ho was almost not a part of the show. Actress Jessica Lu was initially cast before dropping out for an undisclosed reason. Ho is unaware of what happened, but remains a strong fan of Lu. “All I was told was I had an audition! But Jessica is an incredible actress….I think unfortunately roles just don’t work. Which is always a bummer as I’ve been on that side too. It’s never fun.”
Nonetheless, Ho remains grateful for the opportunity, as it has allowed her to work with a group of amazing people. Having seen the first half of Disjointed’s debut season, I can personally vouch that, even when the writing falters, the cast manages to make each episode a blast to watch.
Leading this pack is, of course, Oscar winner and veteran actress Kathy Bates, who plays the main character Ruth Feldman. Acting alongside her was initially an intimidating prospect for Ms. Ho: “I was scared. I respect her so much and her work. I just didn’t want to mess up.” After meeting and getting to know her, though, Ho came to realize just how open and friendly Bates was. “She is exactly how you see in interviews, what you see on any of her late night appearances. She is a kind, super down to earth, funny, generous co-worker.”
The relationship the two have developed has made Disjointed very fun and relaxing to film. “I remember a scene that we had to do in one take and we were all messing up. And [Kathy] just said ‘fuck it, you want to do it again?’”
“She treats me as an equal.”
Having a strong cast is one thing, but even the best actors cannot help a show that does not have smart people working behind-the-camera. Thankfully, Disjointed is not one of those. It was created by David Javerbaum and Chuck Lorre, who both have backgrounds in comedy writing. Javerbaum worked on The Daily Show back when Jon Stewart hosted it, while Lorre is the creator of many popular sitcoms ranging from Grace Under Fire to The Big Bang Theory.
Unlike those titles, though, Disjointed came with the added risk of tackling a polarizing subject in the United States today, that being the legalization of marijuana.
Despite the sensitive nature of the topic at hand, Ho remains confident that they have done a good job handling it. “I think it’s the genius of our showrunners….That they were able to take something so controversial and be able to pair it with something so American like apple pie and Kathy Bates. You’re right that Marijuana is a very polarizing topic right now, and it should be discussed. I think [Disjointed] shows both the good and bad aspects of it, but ultimately the benefits.”
Ho was also quick to point out to me the friendly atmosphere the team behind Disjointed has created for the actors, encouraging healthy communication. “I would say our writers, mainly our showrunners, are open. So, say I say something I feel is off-topic or off-color, they have an open door policy. I can’t take credit for any of the ideas that come out. It’s mainly writer driven. But they have been very gracious in terms of what will work for [our] characters.”
Going off this, I have always been interested in the relationship between directors and actors on television sets. With some rare exceptions like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, actors often have to deal with a revolving door of directors every season, and Disjointed is no exception to the rule. At the time of this article’s publication, there have been six different directors for the first ten episodes.
Ho insists though that, while it is an incredible experience to work with a new helmer, it is mainly the first and second assistant directors that keep things intact. “The turnaround is really fast for television. So one of the reasons it’s not the same director again and again is scheduling conflicts. The director has to be able to look at edits the next week, and that becomes more difficult if they’re shooting the previous week. It really speaks to the first and second assistant directors- they really are the captains of the ship. They make sure there’s a common language on set. They’re the go-between [for] the writers and new directors.”
Ho’s humbleness and cognisance about the contributions of the other crew members showcases her genuine empathy, a trait that is matched only by her talent as an actress. I concluded the interview by asking her whether or not Disjointed would have worked better as a drama over a comedy given the real-life problems brought about marijuana.
She tells me that it’s not about fitting a topic into a specific genre, but just getting those ideas told in whatever format works best for the creative minds investing into it. “I think storytelling is very important in this day and age. Especially when we’re combating all these issue about what’re our morals, what’re our ethics. Whether through comedy or drama, we can make it work.”
Could not have said it better myself. Check out Disjointed’s first full season out now on Netflix.
Many Thanks to Elizabeth Ho for taking the time for this interview.