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Amalia Yoo on Starting Conversations

Cover story for TRLBLZRS 20

Amalia Yoo from Netflix's Grand Army on showing imperfect characters.
Photo: Amalia Yoo | Art: Hannah Towle
“Life is not perfect and glossy all the time and showing characters that reflect that is really important.”

Amalia Yoo is an actress. An activist. A New Yorker living in L.A. A student, and through her role, a teacher. Even though her career on screen is just getting started, Amalia has been paving her own path through different forms of art.

The first thing that caught my eye on Amalia's Instagram was her profile pic. This tiny image in the upper left-hand corner is usually a framed selfie, a group photo with friends, or a candid shot from your semester studying abroad. Amalia’s is different. It’s a simple drawing of a little girl smirking back at you. I later learned that the drawing was done by Yoshimoto Nara, one of her favorite Japanese artists. The cartoon of the girl is fiery and wears this look that screams, “watch out world, I’m here.” Amalia’s TV debut role on Netflix's Grand Army embodies this energy to perfection.

“Art has the power to move and change people. I think we’ve needed that for a long time. But I think people are waking up to that now," Amalia said.

Amalia Yoo from Netflix's Grand Army on showing imperfect characters.
Photo: Amalia Yoo | Art: Hannah Towle

Amalia plays Leila Kwan Zimmer in the show, which has been grouped along the likes of Euphoria and Gossip Girl. Without giving too much away, Leila is a freshman at Grand Army Highschool who is just trying to figure herself out. Her character undergoes a constant inner battle trying to find where she fits in at Brooklyn’s largest public high school and in society in general, while attempting to overcome insecurities that feel so real for young people today.

“Showing a character that is struggling is real life. Leila is shown at her ugliest points and I think it’s important to see that because it can provide solace and start conversations.”

Let’s get to know this up and coming star. How was Amalia introduced to acting? She started in elementary school once she attended an after-school theater class with her friend. “I just did it because it was really fun,” she said. Years later, Amalia was cast as Leila when she was only sixteen, before she even had an agent or a following.

When I asked if there was any choice role that got her into acting, Amalia said, “I don’t think there was really one role that made me want to act. I think that’s partially because I never saw people who looked like me in the TV shows or movies that I was watching.”

Amalia Yoo from Netflix's Grand Army on showing imperfect characters.
Photo: Amalia Yoo | Art: Hannah Towle

Amalia recently graduated from LaGuardia High School, one of the most prestigious performing arts schools in New York, from which legends like Al Pacino, Jennifer Aniston, and Timothée Chalamet also graduated. Born and raised in the city, going into performing arts just felt right. We both agreed that there is just something about New York. A certain charm that inspires and influences the artistic side, which you can identify in those who have lived there and walked those blocks. Riding the subway, going on day trips to Manhattan with friends, and just soaking in the atmosphere all helped Amalia submerge in her role as Leila.

“The experiences that I have accumulated from growing up in New York all fed into playing the character.”

To get into character, Amalia would travel back to when she was a high school freshman. She would draw from her own experiences by journaling as if she were Leila, all while listening to Frank Ocean’s Blonde album on repeat.

For Amalia, acting and finding that inner creativity is all about emotion. That individuals create most when they are intense states of emotion.

“I think that’s why so much art is created in such dark times. I am very emotional when it comes to creating and acting,” she said.

When Amalia isn’t starring in a Netflix original, she is using her platform to advocate for social justice. The list goes on when it comes to social movements she is passionate about. From her Instagram posts that encouraged people to vote in the 2020 presidential election, “it’s super fun, super cute, super cool,” to partnering with “World Without Exploitation” where she has participated in performances to end human trafficking.

It's clear that this is just the beginning for the talented New Yorker. As fans wait for news on the second season of Grand Army, Amalia is making the most of this moment. When asked Mud’s signature question about what it means to be young today, she responded insightfully.

“To be young is to be open. It’s a beautiful thing to be so open. We are still like sponges that absorb everything. We aren’t perfect angels, we still make mistakes, but we are open.”

This story appears on the December 20 issue of Mud, "Lisztomania." You can purchase a digital and print copy here.


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