By GWEN MURANAKA, Rafu Senior Editor
Ally Maki definitely has a thing for authority figures. She memorably portrays police officers in “Toy Story 4,” as the bubbly, tiny Officer Giggle McDimples, the first Asian American Toy Story character, and in her newest project portraying Detective Haruka, in the Hulu Marvel series “Hit-Monkey.” She is also featured in the new “Home Alone” reboot, “Home Sweet Home Alone.”
Originally from Seattle, Maki was signed to Columbia Records upon arriving in Los Angeles at the age of 14 and has appeared in numerous roles, including Freeform’s Marvel series “Cloak and Dagger” and the TBS comedy “Wrecked,” and on popular series such as “New Girl,” “2 Broke Girls,” “NCIS,” “The Big Bang Theory,” and “10 Things I Hate About You.”
Maki is also the founder of Asian American Girl Club, an apparel company and social impact community that aims to redefine what it means to be a modern Asian American woman.
Set in Japan, “Hit-Monkey” is a violent, anime-style series that follows a monkey assassin out for revenge against the gang that killed his family. Officer Haruka is a good cop, originally from Hokkaido, trying to get to the truth of a political assassination. The series debuted on Nov. 17 and also features Jason Sudeikis, George Takei, Olivia Munn, Jeanne Sakata and Nobi Nakanishi.
Rafu Shimpo: What was it like working on “Hit-Monkey”? Are there any similarities between Giggles and Detective Haruka?
Ally Maki: They are completely different! “Toy Story” was one of the best experiences of my life. What an incredible story and cast, and then “Hit-Monkey” is a hard R. It’s got violence and gore and all the themes of a true adult animated series. But at the same time, Giggles and Detective Haruka have so much in common. Both being cops and secondly dealing with being underestimated.
Haruka feels very undervalued and she is learning to be a very outspoken woman. They’re both very headstrong and have a lot of heart, which is something I look to bring into characters. I could see them working together someday, hand in hand. They would be great partners!
RS: Have you ever been to Japan?
AM: I’m a fourth-generation Japanese American. I finally got to go five or six years ago and it was one of my dreams to go. I made it to Shibuya crossing in Tokyo and I found myself sobbing and had this instant and emotional connection. I always dreamed of going growing up and it was a life-changing experience.
It made me understand deeply who I was. I understand the American parts of me very well; it helped me know the Japanese parts that I didn’t understand as well, the ways I am who I am. How courteous and generous they are. I loved being there so much.
RS: You are passionate about Asian American representation. Can you talk about how that manifests in both your work on screen and also with Asian American Girl Club?
AM: It’s so important for me to be able to walk into roles not only that feel uniquely new for Asian American women especially and ones that [are] breaking down molds and breaking down stereotypes of how we’ve been portrayed in the past. I have a unique perspective because I grew up in the industry. I was 14 when I was scouted and moved out here. So starting out doing only roles that were the sidekick and you only love math or kung fu, to now doing roles where I’m able to choose ones that show the full breadth of who we are as Asian American girls. I grew up caring about things that any girl would care about, boys, dating, school, college. To be able to see that change from then to now, and how my own personal confidence has awakened.
Finding my self-worth has been incredibly important and that’s why I created Asian American Girl Club. I wanted to be able to unite and connect with other women that look like me and connecting with the up-and-coming generation of women who are finding their voice so beautifully. The connectivity is what I’m searching for.
RS: What is it like receiving feedback from fans?
AM: Feedback is the stuff that keeps you going, truly.
Especially during “Toy Story 4,” I was getting a lot of pictures of little girls in Giggles costumes. It is so exciting that their reality at 6 years old is, “of course there would be an Asian American Pixar character and of course they can be a cop. That level of self-worth and confidence is really what it’s all about for me.
When I see a message that something I did resonated, [it] means everything to me and that is the whole reason why I will continue to fight and use my voice and not be afraid.
RS: What is it like being a role model?
AM: Girls need role models. I was very shy growing up. It was nothing I would have considered myself. The more I’m getting older, the more everything I do is deeply rooted in community and giving back and also my own Japanese American heritage, which is deeply important to me.
My grandmother was interned at Heart Mountain. My grandfather was in the 442nd as a medic tech. Grandfather on father’s side, Roy Matsumura, used to work at Rafu Shimpo.
My own family history is so deeply important to me. To be able to work with George Takei (on “Hit-Monkey) is completely full circle. It’s a dream for me.
RS: Can you talk about “Home Alone”?
AM: “Home Sweet Home Alone” is out now on Disney Plus. Keep pinching myself, all the movies I grew up with as a child, “Toy Story” and “Home Alone,” and now I’m able to be a part of those universes through these projects. It’s such a dream, what is happening.
We had so much fun. It was hot in Montreal. While it is this reimagining of the “Home Alone” movies, it is its own thing. It was written by Mikey Day and Streeter Seidell of SNL. It has some Easter eggs from the originals. We have Buzz (Devin Ratray), who comes through and makes a cameo.
They found a way to bring it to a new generation. A fun and funny way into the story.
RS: What are some of your holiday traditions?
AM: Being around my family. My grandmother set the tradition that we would have this big holiday party with games and she would always make us sing “The 12 Days of Christmas.”
JA people can be so fun and funny and so it’s a ton of laughs. We have a dance party, there is so much food. Somebody always makes Spam musubi. And it’s like the bomb. It’s the only time of year I get to have it. We always fight over it as there’s never enough for 50 people.
And we make mochi for the New Year. That’s always so much fun!