Sea Shimooka is living every drama school kid’s dream.
Since graduating NYU three years ago, she’s secured a role on CW’s Arrow as Emiko Queen and began pre-production for a film she wrote, which she hopes to submit to Tribeca Film Festival. It’s no surprise, though: Shimooka has a charm that’s hard to ignore. She moves the energy of a room with presence alone, and easily befriends any who approach her.
Now having made the move from New York to Los Angeles, Shimooka expresses the relief that comes from finally having found a sense of relative stability. She writes me while taking a much needed trip to Palm Springs after working several consecutive weeks in Vancouver filming Arrow. Below, Shimooka opens up about her road to acting, the hustle of living in New York, her moments of intense self doubt, and her lofty aspirations for the future.
You’ve made it pretty far in your acting career since I first met you. What prompted you to go into acting to begin with?
“At first, I enrolled in high school drama class to be with my friends and goof around. I loved it more and more every year, but I played competitive volleyball and my life was consuming. When I realized I was too short (I’m 5’9”) to play professionally, the next best option was fashion because I assumed university drama programs wouldn’t want me without previous theater experience. I wore all J.Crew and devoured Teen Vogue, so I thought, obviously I’m a fashion guru! I applied to every liberal arts or communications program in New York and Los Angeles.
“I remember the moment where everything changed. I was at NYU Orientation Day with my mother and I noticed Tisch Drama had their assembly right next to ours. I turned to her and said, ‘I made a mistake. I want to be in there.’ We had seen a bunch of Broadway shows that week so clearly, I too must be an actress. I walked up to the one of the Tisch administrators and asked how to transfer schools before I even gave mine a chance. I was an impulsive girl. Months later, I did a monologue from an obscure play where my character was the most popular girl in high school and wakes up deformed in a hospital after a horrific car crash. None of her friends came to visit her and her own mother couldn’t bear to look at her. I had no idea how to act but I remember being drawn to it because of how much beauty was valued at my high school; I thought this could actually happen, which is sad and sick. But Tisch accepted me and my life path changed.”
How did New York influence some of your most formative years?
“Attending shows on Broadway influenced me to switch majors, but it was the independent film scene that made me want to pursue my forever career. I bought tickets to the Tribeca Film Festival and NYFF every year. I discovered Greta Gerwig and the Kirke sisters and wanted their careers. I watched film after film and went to the IFC and Angelika (one of my roommates worked there, so free tickets!). My one regret was not taking film classes while I was at NYU.
“I think New York pushes people to find themselves at a much faster pace. Nothing was too weird. It allowed me to let my inner freak flag fly and finally be myself. I hear people say this all the time, but once you’re surrounded by millions of people everyday, nobody cares what you’re doing. You could be wearing the wildest outfit on the 6 train and someone saw something wilder the day before. Once you realize everyone is focused on their own selves, it’s liberating. That self-consciousness we all have as teenagers fades away and you date who you want, be who you want, and pursue what makes you happy.”
Was there any point in your career where you considered other options?
“Pretty much every other day. I auditioned like crazy for a year and a half after fortunately nabbing a spot in the ABC Diversity showcase and signing with a great team. I would get close to parts and lost them to someone more Asian or more experienced than I was. It was frustrating. Even after I booked Arrow, those thoughts crept back in.”
What are the best parts of being in the Arrow family?
“The training! I was trained in various martial arts, stunt work, and weights to gain muscle and strength. The Arrow cast is insanely tough and works hard to assure their believability of the superhuman characters they portray. The training was heavily focused on archery because my character is supposed to rival the best archer in the Arrowverse, the Green Arrow (and my half-brother, Oliver Queen). I had countless sessions with most badass archery teacher, Patricia Gonsalves, in her studio. She was my on-set coach as well, and she guided me through the most demanding moves for which I’m forever grateful. I did a lot of my own stunts, but the best ones were done by my incredible double, Orphée. I learned how to fight with kali sticks, throw knives, and move my body like a fighter. Everyday posed a new challenge which made it exciting.
“I remember my first day on set, there were gymnast rings hanging from the ceiling and one of the members from our stunt department was on them, upside down in a handstand. Eli, our stunt coordinator, was like ‘that’s going to be you up there.’ I broke out into laughter, and he just turned to me and said, ‘I’m not kidding.’ I got rigged up in a harness and we practiced a few times. Somehow I got the hang of things pretty quickly.”
Your character, Emiko Queen, is quite shrouded in mystery for most of this season. What it was like to play her?
“Playing the first female Big Bad in Arrow history was a daunting task. Some people were upset that the main villain of the season was a woman, or they were upset by my character’s motives. She was a difficult character to play because she was masquerading as a good guy but also didn’t want to work with the heroes. It was hard to pinpoint who she really was because she used some form of manipulation in almost every scene. As the show goes on, though, you see the loss that has shaped her and the unnatural amount of trauma she’s experienced—abandonment, betrayal, death. Her mental state wasn’t discussed at length on the show, but that was a huge factor in me being able to justify her actions. Painful trauma can cause people to live in an alternate reality, and that’s where Emiko lived.
“Shooting the finale was a wonderful, emotional mess for me. I got to see the character I love finally given a chance to redeem the horrible actions she committed under the spell of her pain. All she wanted was to be accepted into a family, and that simple desire never being met was devastating. I loved her, and I hope other people did too.”
Before Arrow, you were doing a lot of short films. What is being in a continuous series like compared to being in one-off shorts?
“With a short, there is no pressure. You’re making art because you want to and money isn’t on the line (or, at least not a lot of money). I felt free and liberated making things on a smaller scale or with friends. But that freedom, I’ve found, comes professionally with time and experience.
“There is an unpredictability factor that comes with doing a continuous series. I knew a basic outline of my storyline, but much of it gets filled in episode-to-episode. With a short or a film, you know the full story and (hopefully!) have figured the character out before you film it.”
What are some of the less glamorous sides to being an actress?
“The insecurity and self-doubt. Arrow is my first real acting job. I went from saying three lines on Bull to being a series regular and working nine, 16-hour days in a row in freezing wet weather. When you walk into a show that’s been running for six years, you miss the opportunity to build solid relationships with your cast because those friendships are already formed. I felt isolated and didn’t reach out for help. I became incredibly depressed, and then felt guilty because I was finally living my dream and wasn’t happy. On top of it, I was wildly insecure about my acting, and there were so many moments where I was like, ‘I’m going to quit and never do this again.’ I remember after a difficult scene I broke down in my trailer and started researching interior design schools in LA on my phone.
“Later on, I got the privilege to work with a very seasoned actor who snapped me out of it and reminded me what I was there to do. From then on, I felt like I could actually do this. Feeling happier in my personal life and more confident professionally definitely translated on-screen.”
Outside of acting, you have an incredibly curated sense of style. How would you describe it?
“I am extremely feminine in real life, and my character on Arrow was really masculine and had zero sex appeal. In the beginning, they gave me MMA fighter braids, and I was the first woman to wear the epitome of male strength Green Arrow costume. As the show went on, I became the villain and wore the coolest costume, which was a Japanese warrior-inspired black and red leather suit. Aside from the super suits, I started buying things from my character’s civilian wardrobe and dressing more like her. I have never been a fan of color or really frilly/flowery things since my days in New York, but I definitely chose edgier or more masculine pieces during the show. I own three pant suits now!
“Overall I would describe my style as ‘put-together with a ’70s or ’90s feminine edge.” I’m usually wearing leather, denim, silk, and my clothes are almost always thrifted. I love Joan Jett and Farah Fawcett. Bella Hadid and Linda Evangelista. I love feeling sexy, but also that I could win in a bar fight.”
Would you say your style is more east or west coast?
“It’s a bit of both. Everyone knows the New York ‘all-black-everything’ is my go-to, but I do love a blue jean Canadian tuxedo moment, which is very west coast. Typically, I tend to dress based on my mood, which is why I hate packing for traveling.”
Looking forward, what is your ultimate goal? Do you have any cool projects you’re excited about?
“I’m finally in LA permanently, so the hustle for the next gig is happening now. I am in pre-production for a short film I wrote and hoping to shoot in Berlin later this year. I made a vision board right before I booked Arrow, and one of my goals is to go to the Tribeca Film Festival with a film I wrote and acted in. Maybe I’ll have beginner’s luck?”