Keiko Agena is best known for her portrayal of Lane Kim on the WB hit TV show “Gilmore Girls.” As Rory Gilmore’s brainy and somewhat eccentric best friend, Keiko recently garnered the Ammy Award for Best Female Actor in a television production. The Ammy Awards honor Asians and Asian-American achievement in film and television.
Born and raised in Honolulu, Keiko began her acting career at the age of 10, mostly because she wasn’t athletic enough to play sports. She continued at the performing arts school now known as Mid-Pacific Institute School of the Arts. Agena was able to meet President Bush, as one of only four actors nationwide chosen as a Presidential Scholar in the Arts.
She decided to continue as long as it was fun. That was more than a decade ago and Agena still considers acting fun. Before landing her role on “Gilmore Girls”, Agena was no stranger to television. She had appeared in a recurring role on the WB’s “Felicity” and guest-starred on “Beverly Hills 90210,” “ER,” “Sister, Sister” and “Renegade.” Additionally, she appeared in the made-for-TV-movie “Terror in the Shadows” and the independent feature “Hundred Percent.” Other roles include the romantic lead in “Red Thread,” the challenging role of a young woman struggling with anorexia nervosa in Lifetime’s “Strong Medicine,” as well as guest star in Nickelodeon’s “Nightmare Room.”
Keiko has relocated to Los Angeles and has been working steadily in theater, television and film since her arrival.
When not working on her career, Keiko plays drums, renovates her home, does yoga and watches endless sitcom reruns. She also spends a great deal of time eating with friends, addictively playing the card game “pounce” and the computer game “Civilizations” and avoids updating her Web site.
Bankrate: What new projects do you have on the burner?
Keiko Agena: I finished “Red Thread” and “Western Avenue,” two shorts. I’m looking for a project for the hiatus from Gilmore Girls.
Bankrate: How much notice do they usually give you to start a new project?
Keiko Agena: For television, it’s a couple of weeks. For film, it’s usually much more time, at least a month.
Bankrate: You were a presidential scholar. What motivated you to stick with your academic studies, despite being a successful actor?
Keiko Agena: I kept up with my studies as much as it interested me. Luckily, I didn’t seem to need to work at it hard. I knew that I enjoyed acting much more.
Bankrate: As a prominent Asian-American actor, what kind of roles would you like to see open up to you in the future?
Keiko Agena: All variety is good. Unfortunately, there have been Asian-American stereotypes, both male and female. Not that I would want those roles to be discarded or banished, either. I mean, it’s hard to get away from it. There should be an Asian aspect about the role that makes sense.
Bankrate: What kind of expenses do you have as an actor?
Keiko Agena: I do have a radically different clothing budget, it’s really skyrocketed. No more Dickey jeans and black sweatshirts all the time. Well, actually, that’s what I’m wearing now. I do have to dress up more than I’m comfortable with.
Bankrate: What kind of perks have you received, being part of a hit show?
Keiko Agena: A driver to take me places. A nice response from people I meet. Invitations to awards ceremonies, like the American Film Institute’s. I just attended their luncheon. To be in the same room with people like Denzel Washington, it was incredible! It’s really nice.
Bankrate: What are some of the challenges you have had in your career?
Keiko Agena: It’s challenging to put yourself out there when things don’t go as expected. Auditions are more often failures than successes. It happens. You have to learn to manage your emotions.
Bankrate: You work at your boyfriend’s Blacklava clothing shops. Tell me about that.
Keiko Agena: It’s Web-based, at www.blacklava.net. Also, we go to different festivals with a political bent. We were just at the Japanese American Cultural Center. It’s a little weird for us, because I started helping him before “Gilmore Girls.” Now, younger girls recognize me from the show, they come up to the table for autographs.
Bankrate: Are you involved with any charities?
Keiko Agena: I am involved with KPCC, the Southern California radio station that’s an NPR affiliate. Also, I give to World Vision.
Bankrate: Do you manage your own money?
Keiko Agena: Somewhat. I have an accountant, not a business manager. I looked at the numbers, and the 5 percent for a manager seems high now. You have to decide how big you want your team to get, and how fast.
Bankrate: Do you have any investments?
Keiko Agena: I’m in the Vanguard Index Fund. I’m very safe. I figure I’ll have my money in there many, many years, then I’ll check in on it.
Bankrate: What is your idea of a splurge?
Keiko Agena: Furniture and things for my home. I’m very minimalistic when it comes to most things, like my car.
Bankrate: Do you find that when contractors are working on your home, they jack up the estimate when they hear your name?
Keiko Agena: I’m not a tough cookie or the best negotiator. I rely on referrals from people I know and trust.
Bankrate: If you weren’t an actor, what would you be doing for a living?
Keiko Agena: I know it’d be something boring, like an office secretary in charge.
Tamar Alexia Fleishman is an attorney practicing in Baltimore.