Many people in the acting community are well known for their roles in humanitarian efforts, such as charities, foundations, hospitals, shelters, and so on. Chuti Tiu, an actress best known for her independent and supporting roles, is no exception.
Chuti Tiu was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The Asian-American actress, who is of Chinese, Filipina and Spanish descent, was crowned the very first non-Caucasian winner of America’s Junior Miss pageant. She studied at the Divine Savior Holy Angels High School in Milwaukee Wisconsin. After high school, she pursued and achieved a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics and Political Science at Northwestern University. Throughout her young adult life, she continued to participate in the pageant circuit. She was selected to be Miss Illinois and won a preliminary talent award at the Miss American pageant for her performance of the classical piano. She is currently married to actor Oscar Torre, best known for his breakout television role in the hit series Cane and his dedication to unique and challenging character roles.
In addition to her work with pageants, she is well-known for her active interest in humanitarian efforts, social work and in bettering her own community. She has given time and resources to many different charitable organizations, including but not limited to the following: Best Friends for Animals, the Avon Breast Cancer Walk, Nourish the Children, Orphanage Outreach, the Thai Community Development Center, as well as her local church and local charities.
Tiu did not pursue a formal acting career in film and television until 1997, when she began a series of small supporting roles, mainly in television and smaller films. Her roles on television include that of Amy Lee in Claude’s Crib, Chante in Sister, Sister, Mia in Beverly Hills 90210, Judy Seng in Port Charles, Captain Vivian Hazelwood in Malcolm and Eddie, Josette Duppree in The Strip, and a supporting nurse role in the hit series Charmed. Tiu has also had several roles in soap operas, including the role of Nurse Cheryl Noble in Days of Our Lives, Audrey in The Bold and the Beautiful, and a reporter in general Hospital. More recently, she was featured as Maria Brown in the hit series Hannah Montana and Nurse Polly Longino in Miami Medical.
Tiu is perhaps best known for her role which harked back to her days as a teenage and young adult pageant star. In 2000, she was cast in the film Beautiful, directed by Sally Field in her directorial debut. The film depicted the journey of a woman, played by Minnie Driver, whose goal to become Miss America turns into a potentially life-altering obsession. Tiu, who played Miss Hawaii, based her character’s motivations on her own experience in the pageant world.
Her most recent work is in the upcoming 2013 film Pretty Rosebuds, where she stars as Cecilia ‘Cissy’ Santos. Tiu actually wrote the film and her husband, Oscar Torre, made his directorial debut for the production.
The Ball was proud to sit down with this rising star to learn even more.
Where did you grow up?
“I grew up in West Allis, which is a city in Milwaukee County, WI. I’m a proud cheesehead.”
What influenced your desire to pursue an acting career?
“To me, life is a challenging, exciting, unpredictable journey, and all of us spiritual beings are here on earth to experience humanness, while growing spiritually. What better way to help one another out than to encourage and enlighten through story? That’s why I’m an actor, a storyteller – to help each of us see that we aren’t alone in the ups and downs of being human.”
Who was your role model in the industry?
“One person who comes to mind is Glenn Close. She’s been quoted as saying, “Acting, to me, is about the incredible adventure of examining the landscape of the human heart and soul. That’s basically what we do.” I couldn’t agree more.”
“Another person is Sally Field, who directed me in “Beautiful.” During one scene, I had to play a challenging classical piano piece by Franz Liszt. Most don’t realize this, but playing a violent, energetic piece is like running a marathon, after which you need to rest and stretch out your muscles. But while shooting, there’s no time for that. It’s “Reset!” “Going again!” So with each subsequent take, I sounded worse as my arm muscles spasmed. Finally, Sally took me aside and asked me what was going on. I explained that I needed a minute to massage out the lactic acid in my arms – Right then and there, Sally dropped everything and became a masseuse. I kept thinking, “Oh my gosh, can someone take a picture? I can’t believe that Oscar Award-winning Sally Field is massaging my forearms!” She’s all about putting ego aside and getting the job done.”
Can you tell me about the Distinguished Young Woman Scholarship Program and what that experience meant to you?
“The Distinguished Young Woman Scholarship Program is the largest and oldest scholarship program opportunity (it started in 1958) for high school senior girls. I was blessed to win the national title and was the first non-Caucasian to do so, first having represented Milwaukee, then Wisconsin. Just to give you a little background, the program emphasizes excellence in academics, public speaking, community service, physical health and fitness, and on-stage talent. Throughout the entire amazing experience, the volunteers were limitless in their goodwill. I had so much fun bonding with bright, talented girls from all around the country. I traveled nationally and internationally, meeting dignitaries, representing American youth, and speaking for the Be Your Best Self empowerment program. My friendships created during my involvement with the program remain to this day.”
What was it like to be Miss Illinois? What did you love about it, what did you not love about it?
“Being Miss Illinois was like having an instant social pedigree; the Miss America Pageant has instant name recognition. One of the things I loved about being Miss Illinois was having a platform, a specific cause to target in the community. My social platform was “Violence in Schools,” and I worked actively to promote conflict resolution education and after-school programs to ensure that kids wouldn’t make choices that led to violence. I chose this platform because I had been a certified mediator in the Chicago court system, and I knew that the techniques I’d learned and used are vital in preventing violence of all forms.
Something I didn’t love about Miss Illinois was how some people felt like it was a throwback to the “old days” when women were seen more like objects. The fact that the national pageant provides over 40 million dollars in cash and tuition scholarship assistance should be evidence that they work to help women, not undermine them.”
What advice would you give someone beginning that pursuit?
“Be yourself. Play up your strengths, and be aware of your weaknesses so you can overcome them. Most importantly, DO NOT COMPARE YOURSELF WITH ANYONE ELSE. You are the only “you” there is, so celebrate that.”
What was your first major role and how did that come about?
“The play, Snow White, in the first grade. I remember wanting that part so badly, but it occurred to me, even at that young age, that I probably wouldn’t get it because I wasn’t white. Really. Whoever heard of an Asian Snow White? When my teacher announced, “Snow White – Chuti Tiu” – I just flipped! That was invaluable to me, because I learned that race/color-blind casting can and does happen.”
What acting experience are you most happy with so far and why?
“Playing Cissy in “Pretty Rosebud.” It’s a film about a successful business woman who struggles between her traditional upbringing and her sexual desires when she cheats on her distant, unemployed husband and has to pay the ultimate price when her marriage unravels. I wrote, produced and starred in the feature, so it’s been profoundly gratifying to create this story on all those fronts.
My husband Oscar Torre directed, and I had no idea what it would be like being directed by him. Thankfully, it was a dream- I just made sure not to challenge him on set as much as I do at home! I trusted him implicitly, knowing that he truly understood the story and its flawed characters and wanted to do them justice. He was very collaborative with me and my acting process; he made it a comfortable set to create and take chances. Since Oscar’s also a very talented actor, he knew how to get amazing performances out of the entire cast, who were also incredible to work with. And we had a very dynamic and dedicated crew, spearheaded by Rebecca Hu, our producer, and Tarina Reed, our Director of Photography. I’m so thankful for the whole experience and the whole “Pretty Rosebud” family!”
What are some projects you are working on now?
“My film “The Internship,” with Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson, comes out June 7 – it’s hands down hysterical; I love their chemistry! We’re submitting Pretty Rosebud to select film festivals, so we’ll be doing that circuit soon. I also have several projects/screenplays that I’m attached to, in various stages of development: Strait Jacket Romance (horror/thriller), Lunarticking (thriller, I co-wrote), and two untitled dramas.”
What other directions would you like to go in the future: produce, direct, etc?
“All of it. If it scares me, so much the better.”
What advice would you give young actors?
“Funny enough, I’d definitely give the same advice that I’d give to someone who wanted to enter pageants, but I think that’s good advice for any endeavor. Specifically for young actors though, I’d caution them and ask why they really want to become actors. And they’d need to be brutally honest with themselves. If it’s for quick and easy fame and money, they’re in for a cold shower. If they truly love the craft and can’t live without acting, be it in a multimillion dollar blockbuster or in community theater… getting paid millions or having to pay someone to do it… then welcome to the club. Also, choose to be inspired by the work of others, by current events, by everything around you. And always, constantly, work on your craft, on your imagination. Because each story deserves you telling it at your one hundred percent best. But that one really goes without saying.”
What would you most like to be remembered for?
“Inspiring others to treat all living beings with compassion. Being a wonderful wife, daughter, sister, aunt, kitty-mommy, and friend. And my awesome homemade vegan chocolate chip cookies.”