Photo courtesy of Samantha Falco. Cast of Tokens from left to right: Ryan Allan, Sedina Fiati, Connie Wang, Fuad Ahmed, and Sarena Parmar.
Tokens is an award-winning web series that debuted on YouTube in 2019. Created by Winnifred Jong, the quirky satire stars Connie Wang as Sammie Pang, an aspiring actress who joins an on-call casting agency that specializes in fulfilling diversity quotas. The second season hits Apple TV on November 29. Ahead of the premiere, Wang chats with Debu about her comedy influences, being part of the ground floor of Tokens, and her interest in health and wellness.
How did you start your career? Was acting something you wanted to do since you were young? Did you have an actor or performance that inspired you to become an actor?
Since I was little, I was always like a pretty big ham. I was always entertaining my parents. I love making them laugh. Even as a little baby, I knew the power of laughter and how you could just shift the room with that kind of energy. I was very aware of that gift of being an entertainer and being a funny girl.
I grew up watching a lot of performances from China because my parents were from Beijing, and they were new immigrants to Canada. I watched a lot of Chinese sitcoms and Chinese performances that happen over Chinese New Year, and I would re-enact their sketch comedy.
After that, I was in that era of Lizzie McGuire, That’s So Raven, and all those things on Family Channel and Nickelodeon. I was too young to watch Mad TV at the time, and I couldn’t stay up that late, but I was really into variety shows, sketch comedy — like The Amanda Show was really great and All That. Those were my earliest influences.
I did my first school play when I was nine or 10, and since then, I was fully hooked. I was like, “This is it. This is what I’m going to do the rest of my life.”
What was the journey like getting your first starring role?
May Flowers and Tokens both happened within a month of each other in terms of production, but Tokens was early on. It happened six or seven years ago that I met Winnie. That was when I realized that I am a leading actress, and so I started believing in myself in that way. I started sharing my dreams and sharing that part of me. I was starting to train more as a leading actress with auditions and doing scene work and performances, telling people, my instructors, “Listen, I’m training to be a lead, so let’s get these scenes going. I need to bring that girl.”
So, all of it was happening, and meeting Winnie was great because I could tell her what I wanted to create. It was almost like we were creating it together. She didn’t have a script; she just had a concept. I was telling her about who I am, and she’s like, “I need a funny Asian girl.” I was like, “It’s me! Winnie, it’s me!” She workshopped it. Then, I did do a few scenes. I auditioned and I did self-tapes. And then, she went, “Okay, you’re my girl.” So, it happened like that, in terms of Tokens.
After that, with May Flowers — which is on CBC Gem — we did it for the 48 Hour Film Challenge, and it just ended up that I was the lead for that. It was like, “Who can do martial arts?” And I was like, “Well, I have Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu training.” And it was like, “Okay, done. Let’s do it.” It seems like it was simple, but I think my job was, and my job still is, just to create the surroundings for opportunities like this to show up with ease and be ready for it.
You mentioned that you were part of the creating process for Tokens. What did you discover about acting, filming or, producing while making the web series?
I discovered a lot! <Laughs> It was nice to be a part of a project right at conception, so I could see how it all unfolds, and what works and what doesn’t work. I learned a lot about production, and that it really is a whole team. Every single project is different because you have different people in different leadership roles and they all work differently, so it’s learning how to manage a team and have the whole team work together.
I think what works with Tokens, season one and season two, is that every single person that was brought on believes in the story. I’ve been on sets where the crew doesn’t even know what we’re making. They’re just like, “I don’t know. I’m just here to work.” But with Tokens specifically, every single person has read the script. They know what’s going on. It was really beautiful, and it creates a really different space when everyone knows what’s going on and everyone’s committed to telling the story because at the end of the day, it is all of our stories.
You have an interest in holistic wellness and plant-based foods as well. Do you have favorite tips for maintaining fitness and diet?
Yeah, I love this stuff. What I’ve learned as an actor is you can’t do your craft if you’re not taking care of yourself. It’s just the basics to live a healthy life. I’m plant-based. I’ve been plant-based since I started Tokens. It’s interesting how this all is coming together now. I’ve been pretty much vegan for over six years. That started happening because I was meditating a lot. That’s a practice that I do every single day, especially when I’m going to work on set, is getting myself grounded energetically to start off my day powerfully. Something I would definitely suggest is meditating in the mornings, at lunch, and in the evenings.
I’m a huge advocate for eating well too, especially when you’re working. I eat a lot of vegetables, but the thing about being plant-based is also noticing when I don’t get enough protein. So, eating a nice, balanced meal. And I think the most important thing is drinking a lot of water. When I’m filming now, I don’t do caffeine because it actually dehydrates me. And during season two of Tokens, on the last few days of set, I got vertigo. It was the worst feeling of my life. They literally had a garbage bin next to me when I was doing a scene at the end because I was just so sick.
I called my doctor and we looked at all the things that I was and wasn’t doing, and he was like, “You need to drink way more water. You need to eat way more food.” So, it was a really good learning experience. Something that I could give to Debu readers is meditate, drink lots of water, and stay away from caffeine, sugar, and heavy carbs. Eat balanced meals.
Rose Ho | Assistant Editor