Interview with Denyce Lawton

HalfKorean.com was able to catch up with Denyce Lawton, a actress/model whom you may recognize from a wide variety of films, videos, print and commercials that she has done over the past few years. She has appeared in numerous feature films including State Property, Go For Broke and TV shows including Half & Half and The Parkers. While pursuing her acting and modeling career, she has also appeared in a few notable Hip Hop/R&B music videos of the last few years; “Peaches & Cream” by 112, “One Mic” by Nas, “Burn” & “Get Away” by Mobb Deep and “Break Ya Neck” by Busta Rhymes (to name a few) and was featured in the May 2002 issue of XXL magazine. Some of her current and upcoming appearances include the films It Ain’t Easy and Soul Plane and the first episode of the “Bacardi & Coke” commercial series. A very talented young woman with many ambitions, she is definitely one to keep an eye now and in the future.

Please note that HalfKorean.com comments/questions are in BOLD.

Background

Where were you born and raised?
I was born in Seoul, Korea and raised in both New Jersey and (mostly) Washington D.C. I have also lived in Germany, Kansas, Korea, Japan, and North Carolina.

Where do you currently live?
North Hollywood, California.

Out of all the places you’ve lived, where can you say you liked living in the most and why?
I like California for the weather and the work and mostly because you can’t smoke in public. (hahah) But I really loved being able to look out my sofa window in my Brooklyn, NY brownstone and seeing NYC and the shops and if I got a craving for food at 3AM, I could jump on the train or in a cab or drive into the city and there would always be a spot. If I went to sleep early (VERY uncommon) and got up at 2AM and felt like dancing, I could just go out. The shopping is incredible and the people are rude but REAL!!!! I’ll always love DC & GO GO but NYC has my heart!

What is your ethnic background?
Mom is Korean, Dad is African American.

When is your birthday?
May 2nd, TAURUS :)

How did your parents meet?
My Mom was a singer in Korea and my Dad was in the army and they met in Seoul when he was stationed out there.

Do you have any brothers and/or sisters?
I have a younger brother of same mix and a older sister who is full Korean.

Do you speak Korean?
Not fluently, but I understand it and can communicate with my Mom mostly.

Have you been to Korea recently? If so, when?
Last time I went was Thanksgiving of 1999 or 2000.

Do you eat Korean food and, if so, what is your favorite?
YES!!! I love Kimchi… all kinds (hate the fish sauce). I love Kalbi, bulgogi and japchae.

Did you grow up around other half/mixed Koreans (or people of mixed heritage)?
Some of my sister’s best friends were Korean and Black as well so I grew up around them. But as far as my peers, I had a mixture of friends and had only one friend who was Japanese and Black. Now I meet girls all over the country from movie or video sets who are also Korean and Black. One of my best friends, Jaz Ming, is Chinese, Black and Puerto Rican. She’s beautiful!

Did you ever experience any racism/prejudice growing up as a person of mixed heritage?
A lot; people didn’t know how to react to a light skinned Black girl with a lot of crazy hair :) and “Chinky” eyes. I still get it a little but not by Black people anymore; more so by some Koreans. Other ethnicities are more so intrigued by the mixture.

Any identity issues while growing up?
NONE!!! I never understood when people said that. I used to wish I had more Asian features sometimes and then wished I had more African American features but never felt confused or lost.

What do you think about (or what’s your take on) this statement: People of mixed descent have the “best of both worlds”?
FA SHO!!! We appreciate other cultures and diversity easier than most people. We are more empathetic and sympathetic to all forms of racism and ethnic abuse. I feel that mixed races have a greater respect for other people.

Career – Past, Present, Future

What is some of your past/current work that we might have caught you in?
I’m currently shooting a Coors Light commercial and a movie called It Ain’t Easy. I did a Pepsi commercial with Beyonce and the 1st episode of the Bacardi and Cola commercial series. I did several music videos (check my website for an in depth bio).

What are your future career plans and where do you want your career to lead to?
I’m currently writing a lot of feature films and shopping them for funding and writing episodics (TV sitcom episodes). I’ve done video treatments and eventually I would like to produce and direct all of my paperwork.

How did you get started in modeling/acting?
In modeling, I started in Maryland but I can’t really remember how. I do know that the Kemi Oil hair ad was my first publication. As for acting, I was always in a play at school or part of some theater workshop. Coming to Hollywood just made sense and seemed too natural to not do.

Have you met any other half/mixed Korean artists while working in the modeling/acting industry?
Jimmy Cozier is Asian and Black. Tomika Skanes is Korean and Black. I haven’t met her in person but we have been communicating via email lately. The girl from the Busta Rhymes video with Mariah Carey, Tae, is also Korean and Black. She was nice; met her only once though.

Who is someone you would like to work with in the future (be it acting/commercials/modeling, whatever)?
I’d like to do a life story on Vanessa Williams and I would love to work with Larenz Tate, Angela Bassett, Denzel Washington, Tom Hanks, Bette Midler, Kevin Bacon, Ashley Judd, Terrence Howard, Julia Roberts and a lot of others but mostly Charlize Theron!!!

Do you think your ethic background has helped/harmed you in your career?
Both; I get that I’m either too Asian or not Asian enough or too ethnic or not ethnic enough. I have been told I don’t look like the All-American girl next door but then not being that has gotten me work so… it balances out. But in the long run, I’m gonna make sure it doesn’t even matter anymore.

Have you done any or thought about doing any work (modeling/acting) in Korea (and/or Asia)
I modeled a little in Japan, but I’m an American girl. I loved Korea and Japan and it was fun but I could only visit for a week or so at a time. I couldn’t pursue any of my endeavors overseas, not yet. Actually, to be honest, I don’t like modeling too much. People fussing over my clothes, hair and makeup; I hate that stuff.

What music video did you have the most fun working on?
Jaheim was fun, but the most fun I had was on Busta Rhymes “Break Ya Neck” music video. I was with one of my good friends (Trinidad Mann) and the director (Hype Williams) and crew was like family and Busta is such a sweet guy and we had a ball that whole weekend. We shot that in Atlanta and we just acted like kids the whole time.
I always love working with Diane Martel. She’s the best. She always makes people, women in general, feel beautiful, respected and appreciated. I’ve worked with her on 5 or 6 projects whether behind or in front of the camera and she’s an angel. She’s got this loyal bone that makes working in this industry easier!!!

Which TV/Movie/Commercial set did you have the most fun on?
The Bacardi commercial I did is so far the best set I worked on. I made some really nice friends. Those two guys were hilarious and the girl Eishia was nice and she’s beautiful.

Which actor/actress/artist have you had the most fun working with?
As for actors on a movie set; Kevin Hart , Method Man, and Snoop Dogg from Soul Plane. On a music video; Busta Rhymes and 112.
I did feature work on Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and I have to say that George Clooney is the best. He made sure we were all loved and taken care of. He treated everyone like equals. If anyone knows anything about this business, they know politics suck when you’re trying to be humble and do extra work. He is so generous and humble and no one can ever say anything bad about him to me :)

Personal

Do you have any hobbies or interests that you do to relax?
I still color in coloring books. It’s fun :). I love cooking, sewing, building stuff. I have every power drill attachment and saws :)

Anybody you respect/look up to?
In modeling, I really love Tyra Banks for so many obvious reasons. I met her a few years back on a MAC makeup promo shoot that Hype Williams did and she was so sweet to me and gave me some advice on a few things and told me she thought I was “street fine” and “model fine”. She said “street fine” is when you’re walking down the street and a guy will hit a pole but sometimes the female may not look good on camera. And “model fine” are people who only look good on camera but don’t get the time of day in the mall. I thought that was so beautiful of her and it lifted some of my insecurities I was having then. It’s tough in this business and when a reputable and beautiful woman tells you you’re the ish, you feel like you can do everything! She inspires me. I think every woman should get her book.

In general, do you think that the Korean-American community is accepting of Koreans of mixed heritage (half/mixed Koreans)?
With me, I get discounts sometimes at the beauty supply store or something but sometimes I get nasty looks and they talk like I don’t know what they’re saying. I think it’s a very half and half mixed emotion, but like any mixed ethnicity, Black/White or Black/Asian, etc.; people are always going to have their opinions.

Have you any bad experiences from the KA community (and/or Asian community), being half?
Once, I walked into a Korean bodega in Brooklyn NY with my friend Trinidad and my manager at the time and some of the people from the video shoot we were doing, I heard the lady say in Korean to her husband to follow the black kids. I got so mad and I said to her that all black people don’t steal and she said she didn’t say that so I said something in Korean and then she said that I must hate my mother the way my mother must have hated hers for marrying outside of Korean. I wanted to cry at first but then I realized you can’t do anything about people who think like her.

Since you are in the LA area, do you hang out/visit Koreatown much?
At least once a week to get my banchan :)

Since I’m sure you know that Koreans (and half/mixed Koreans) have this notorious drinking image (whether it’s true or false, haha); Do you drink and/or like soju?
I drink socially; like a glass of wine, a daqueri, or a cosmo. But, no, not a soju fan :) Ill, are you? hahahah

Either now or in the past, have you had any preferences in dating and/or general attractions?
It doesn’t matter, but I tend to be attracted to African American men of darker complexion. I had an ex who was Filipino and Black… But he was crazy hahaha

How do you feel about other prominent half/mixed Koreans and have you met any of them?
I met Amerie. I’m glad she’s doing her thing but I wish people would stop saying I look like this person or that just because we have almond eyes and brown skin.

Do you get a lot of “you and Amerie look alike”?
Yeah. It’s funny though. I heard that a director she worked with kept calling her Denyce at first as well and people would ask her if she was the girl from the Jaheim and “Peaches and Cream” video. Then I kept getting, “Yo Amerie, let’s fall in love” or “Hey AT&T girl”!!! It’s cool though. It’s not an insult! She’s pretty.

Do you get on the Internet often?
I’m a GEEK! I stay on the internet about 70% of my free time.

Did you create your website yourself? If so, will there be a “denycelawton.com” soon?
I’ve done my site mostly with the help of a friend and right now denycelawton.com is in the works. I never cared to have a site but within the past month, people keep asking what my site is or if I have my portfolio with me and it’s hard to carry your book with you everywhere you go, so I created one to just showcase my pictures for agencies or casting directors and its been up for only 3 weeks and almost 700 people over the net have logged into it… it’s crazy!!! It’s still under construction but a lot of changes have been made in the past 24 hours so keep looking in.

How did you find out about HalfKorean.com?
A friend typed my name into mamma.com and saw your question posted inquiring whether I was Korean or not so I checked it out and here we are :)

What did you think about HalfKorean.com when you first saw it?
Honestly! I don’t know. I do remember thinking, how neat. I never thought this was a hot issue to have a site about or that many people would be interested in half Korean people. You have to understand; to meet half Korean/Black people these days is still weird for me. Up until 3 years ago, the only ones I knew were on the bases with me and my family, now I turn around in this business and everyone is :)

Any words that you would like to pass on to everybody?
Soar with eagles cause chickens can’t fly. My Emo (not real Aunt) that I buy my beauty products from, she says her nephews and nieces treat their parents like crap because their American friends make fun of them. Love your family and yourself and don’t let what people say affect or effect you. It’s not worth losing yourself and your “Identity” over a “Friend” who probably won’t be around in five years anyways. Embrace and research both of your cultures and educate your friends. All my friends have at least tried kimchi or kalbi. My boyfriend is African-American and he craves Korean BBQ sometimes and I send his mom the seasoned Kim.

What should we be on the lookout for in the future from you (Film/TV/etc.)?
The It Ain’t Easy movie right now. But, in general, just be ready for anything positive and lucrative from me because it’s not going to end here.

Thank you Denyce for taking time out to talk with HalfKorean.com. We wish you continued success in your budding career as well as whatever your future holds for you.

For those of you whom are interested in learning more about Denyce, please check out her website DenyceLawton.com

Interview by: David Lee Sanders

Posted: 2/12/2004

Back to Interviews


Denyce Lawton





112 “Peaches & Cream” music video set

“Bacardi & Coke” commercial set

Jaheim “Anything” music video set

Neptunes (N.E.R.D.) “Rockstar” music video set with actor Randy Quaid

Soul Plane movie set with Kevin Hart & Method Man

XXL Magazine – May 2002 “Eye Candy” Feature
 
(Pictures courtesy of Denyce Lawton)

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