One to Watch: Ying Ying Li, star of The Knick

Clive Owen and Ying Ying Li get into more than a little trouble together in HBO’s latest smash hit, The Knick, where he plays Dr. John Thackery, the genius drug addict and antihero at New York City’s Knickerbocker hospital, and her character Lin-Lin is the most beautiful kind of enabler. From the wild state of medicine at the turn of the century, to the gorgeous Victorian-inspired clothes, we’re kind of obsessed. We fell for Ying Ying Li in the very first episode so we had to find out more about her. Turns out she’s Canadian, totally funny, not afraid to rock a mohawk, and has collected some amazing stories since starting her acting career a few short years ago. We talked to Ying Ying about acting with Clive Owen, her “life is a buffet” motto and her favorite places in New York’s East Village.

HOW DID YOU GET YOUR START IN ACTING? There were a lot of dips and forays along the way, but in my mind my real “jumping in with both feet” moment was when I went to my first audition. After I finished theatre school, I kept making excuses why I wasn’t ready to audition – no agent, no credits, not even a professional headshot. Eventually, I got so sick of making excuses that I finally submitted myself to a bunch of castings, and lo and behold, I was invited to audition for one of them. And I just kept going after that! The thing with a creative career is that there is no automatic treadmill to take you around the bases. So you just have to repeatedly pick yourself up by the scruff of the neck and throw yourself into the gaping maw of the world you want to enter.

ANY TOP MEMORABLE MOMENTS SO FAR? One of my earlier gigs was shooting a commercial with Coco Rocha. I was an office girl with Velma Dinkley glasses, and Coco was supposed to dance on my desk. So basically she did all the work and I would just kind of duck if her limbs swung my way. I was really impressed by how quickly she learned the choreography, but you know what was the craziest thing? Coco was the hardest working person on set, but she never complained or acted like a baby or even joked about being tired. It was awesome. I’d seen diva behavior before, and wondered if that was how actors are supposed to be. But working with Coco showed me that the stronger choice is to hold yourself to a higher standard. I do cringe at how shy I was when I talked to her, though! I was like the mousy nerd girl in high school who’d just been approached by the head cheerleader. I remember hoarsely whispering, “I am from Canada, too,” before collapsing back into total silence.

WE LOVE YOU IN THE KNICK. CAN YOU TELL US WHAT IT’S LIKE WORKING WITH CLIVE OWEN? Thanks! It’s a small role, but I’m honored just to be involved and value the opportunity to work with such a fantastic creative team. I’ve always been a huge fan of Clive’s work, and a part of me still can’t believe that I got to work with him. To be honest, on my first day, I felt like a huge imposter! Like it was just a matter of time before I would be found out and kicked off the set. I had to give myself a pep talk, like, “Ok, so yes, that’s Clive Owen, but you belong here too.” Working with Clive has been an incredible learning experience. He is everything you’d think a leading man should be – professional, kind, down-to-earth, and a quick-study, so smart.

I live by the “life is a buffet” motto and try to work on a variety of projects, including theatre, on-camera work, even once modeling for Imitation of Christ at NYFW despite my non-modelesque proportions. My ultimate goal is to be an actor/writer, so the project I’m most excited about right now is making a short film based on one of my short stories. Coming up, I have a feature film coming out in early 2015 that I am pretty psyched about!

YOU’VE BEEN LIVING IN NEW YORK CITY FOR YEARS. WHAT NEIGHBORHOOD ARE YOU IN NOW? TELL US ABOUT YOUR FAVORITE PLACES. Right now I live in the East Village, close to Noho and NYU, and I LOVE IT! My favorite neighborhood places are Colombe for coffee, Mighty Quinn’s BBQ for wings and ribs, Veselka for pancakes and borscht, Soba-ya for healthy but delicious lunches, Angel’s Share on a weeknight for quiet cocktails with friends, and Grassroots for a spacious, unassuming dive bar right on St. Marks. Oh, and if you like the idea of impeccable sushi served in a raucous and merry environment, go to Sushi Dojo and ask to be seated at the bar with Chef David, you won’t regret it. Muji is a godsend for household goods and of course I love browsing the boutiques around East 9th Street.

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