Main content

Jodi Long

Jodi Long

A Career 40 Years Young Keeps Getting Better

What a year 2021 has been for actor Jodi Long ’76.

In July, she won an Emmy® for her supporting role in the Netflix series Dash & Lily. In August, she was in Hollywood for the premiere of the Marvel superhero blockbuster, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, in which she played Akwafina’s mom. By September, she was elected president of SAG-AFTRA’s Los Angeles local, heading an opposition slate that promised transparency, senior healthcare, and stronger contracts.

Come winter, she’ll be preparing for the upcoming February run of her one-woman show, Surfing DNA, at the Bucks County Playhouse in New Hope, PA.

“It’s amazing to me that most people in my age group are just retiring,” she says. “I feel like I’m just getting started.”

For Long, recognition with an Emmy® for her role of Mrs. Basil E. in the romantic comedy signified the growing presence of Asian-American actors in television and their acceptance by Emmy® voters. She was the first Asian-American to win an Emmy® in a supporting role in daytime or primetime shows.

“I’m grateful that the glass ceiling was finally broken,” she says.

She credits renowned director and actor Joseph Anthony, her Purchase professor and mentor, with teaching her and her fellow students, the members of Acting Company 1, to create characters through their imagination.

“I’m a character actor,” says Long. “Even Mrs. Basil E. came from my imagination as I thought of all the acting divas I’ve met in my life. I know this woman. That’s the fun—when you create the characters out of your imagination. That’s how I enjoy what I do.”

Long, the child of Asian-American vaudevillians, debuted on Broadway at age 7. Her career in stage and screen included five Broadway plays, including the revival of Flower Drum Song, for which she won an Ovation Award for her performances at the Mark Taber Forum in Los Angeles.

Her screen credits include Patty Hearst, The Tale, and The Hot Chick, while her television credits include All American Girl, Café Americain, Sullivan and Son, and Miss Match.

Her resume also includes the screenwriting and production of her own projects. She wrote and co-produced the documentary film Long Story Short, which explored her parents’ stage lives on the “Chop Suey Circuit” (the segregated Asian nightclubs that flourished in the mid-20th century, mainly in San Francisco and New York City).

She wishes they were still living the night she won her Emmy.

“I was crying, thinking about them,” she recalls. “My Mom would have hit the roof, would have been just over the moon. She was always such a staunch supporter of me doing this crazy business.”

She also wrote a one-woman show exploring her own life as she makes her way in the entertainment world. In Surfing DNA, which premiered at the New Jersey Repertory Company in 2019, Long plays 28 characters, including her parents, as she tells their story of their experience on stage in the 1940s and 50s as they persevered in a show business world that then ravaged with racism.

“I was thinking about all the stories of my family, and all the imprints they made on me,” she said. “We are imprinted by our DNA. There are emotional imprints our parents give us. And there are the imprints society places on us. All those imprints create who we are.”

She said expanding her artistic life beyond acting has kept her creative spirit alive. “I have lots of actor friends waiting for the phone to ring,” she said. “But then you have a lot of downtime waiting for the phone to ring.” She has taken on advocacy and leadership roles in the acting community to bridge the gap between jobs.

Long’s election as president of the SAG-AFTRA’s Los Angeles local in September, which represents the majority of the union’s 160,000 members, capped more than a decade of activism. She opposed the practices of IMDB, a subscription-based entertainment hiring database, which posts the ages of actors. Her efforts led to a California state law banning the practice, but the law was ruled unconstitutional by a federal appeals panel in 2020.

Long has emerged as a leader on the issue of unconscious bias in the industry’s casting process. She has led workshops for actors and the Producers Guild of America on the issue. Those trainings have now become the industry standard.

She’s also fighting to maintain the union’s benefits for the next generation, and seniors like herself, on issues such as residuals, pensions, and health care benefits.

“It’s about serving the communities I care about,” says Long. “I’m a big picture gal. Leadership is about rising to the top due to the work attempted, and the work accomplished.”

—David McKay Wilson

Jodi Long Jodi Long