Teresa Huang ’97 was just helping out a friend in 1998 when she auditioned for a play as part of MIT Dramashop’s Playwrights in Performance event, which showcases student writers and directors. She scored the lead and found her calling. Now, Huang lives in Los Angeles building her acting and writing resume in the television industry.
She’s had numerous roles in shows such as ER, The West Wing, and Cold Case and landed her first recurring role on the 2007-08 FX show The Riches, which starred Minnie Driver and Eddie Izzard. Huang played Izzard’s assistant Kimmie in nine episodes. While the show was mostly drama, her scenes often provided some levity, an opportunity she enjoyed. The episodes are available on Hulu.
Developing her character on The Riches provided a welcome break from the auditions and roles (on shows such as Ugly Betty and The Young and the Restless) she often receives as a well-spoken Asian-American—that of reporter or nurse. But any work is fine by Huang, who understands the tenacity required to build a Hollywood career. “If I have to do the nurse role a hundred times before I get a supporting best friend role, I don’t mind,” she says. “I know it’s not very likely I will ever play the romantic lead or villainess, and I’m totally fine with that. I know my personality and my strengths.”
And she credits MIT with helping her develop her self-awareness. At the Institute, she felt comfortable being a Star Trek geek and exploring all aspects of her personality. “MIT really helped me discover who I am,” she says. “I embraced my nerdiness.” It’s this nerdiness that in part helped her land a job as a staff writer on the short-lived Knight Rider series remake. She cowrote a pilot about time travel that caught the right person’s eye, as did her MIT degree, something of a novelty in the entertainment industry. “As a writer, I definitely think it’s become one of my commodities,” she says. “Having that background and interest in engineering and that eye for new gadgets and technology became my persona in the writers’ room.” Indeed, Knight Rider colleagues even nicknamed her “MIT.” And Huang, who graduated with a degree in Science, Technology, and Society, delivered, scouring Technology Review for new gadgets and science to pitch, such as recharging K.I.T.T., the show’s tricked-out car, wirelessly and remotely, shooting a GPS dot onto a moving vehicle, or creating a sonar listening shell’s cone of silence around a character. While the ideas were ultimately unused, they did make it up on the writers’ “gack wall” of inspiration.
Huang ended her work on the series with one on-screen writing credit (normally staff writers are uncredited) and valuable experience shadowing other writers on set thanks to the generosity and mentorship of Executive Producer Gary Scott Thompson. In television, the more senior-level creatives, the producers and executive producers, also see episodes through production and post-production, drafting any necessary rewrites that might be needed or helping with editing.
For now, she continues auditioning, performing, and taking acting classes and is writing more pilots with the hopes of landing another writing job come April, when those positions are typically doled out. “Having that confidence in my identity and who I am and being able to express that is one of the things that makes me unique as a writer and performer,” she says. “In Hollywood, people often conform themselves to who they think others want them to be. I know who I am and that there’s a place for me in the industry.”