In the span of a couple of years, SunHee Seo ’17 went from aspiring acting student to rising Hollywood star.
Known as Ji-young Yoo on the screen and stage, Seo has played roles in major films like Spider-Man: Far from Home and Moxie, Amy Poehler’s Netflix comedy. And she did most of it while managing a full course load at the University of Southern California (USC).
“It was unexpected that it happened this fast,” says Seo, who attended Colorado Academy from Tenth through Twelfth Grades. “There are very few people who can say that they’re an employed actor. I am so thankful.”
She also thanks CA, where she says she got the individualized attention and academic flexibility she needed to pursue professional acting interests while in high school.
“I’m grateful for everything that CA has given me,” she says. “It helped shape me into the person I am today.”
From college classes to non-stop auditioning
At 22 years old, Seo is already acting alongside legends like Nicole Kidman and Cherry Jones. And just a few years ago, she “didn’t know anything about how to get into the film industry.”
“I was a sophomore at USC, just finding my bearings in L.A.,” she says. “I had decided that I would just do student films and worry about professional stuff later.”
Then, she saw a casting call from East West Players—the longest-running professional Asian American theater organization in the United States, which has helped launch actors like George Takei and BD Wong. The call was for the play Man of God, and Seo fit the call, so she auditioned “on a whim”—and got the part.
“That’s what launched it all,” she says. “From that show, I got an agent and started auditioning for commercials, animated shows, TV, and film. I was auditioning pretty non-stop.”
Then she was offered a role in the A24/Apple TV+ film The Sky is Everywhere, which was shooting for eight weeks in the middle of her fall semester. She made the tough choice to withdraw from college for a time to take the opportunity.
“Most people who’ve known me will be surprised that I haven’t finished college yet,” Seo says. “I don’t have my degree, and I have no idea when I’m going to get it. But I’ve learned that life is unpredictable, and your career doesn’t have to be a straight line.”
Seo is currently working on the new Amazon TV series Expats.
Training ground for today’s world
Though she now works on major films, one of her favorite acting experiences is still the CA production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.
“There are some projects that just work really well, and you can’t really point to the reason why, but they do, and that was one of them,” Seo says of the musical directed by Stephen Scherer, Chair of the Theater and Dance Departments. “We had so many talented people in that show, and we had so much fun putting it together. I’m so grateful to Mr. Scherer for everything.”
During high school, she performed in four to five theater productions a year, including CA shows.
“Because of my high school acting experience, by the time I was doing professional auditions, I could go into a room with people whose work I admire and feel confident with what I was about to bring to the table,” she says.
As a CA student, Seo felt challenged to think critically about issues, an ability she believes is essential in today’s world.
“At CA, I grew and became less afraid to communicate my ideas and stand up for what I believe in, as well as to listen to other people—the two don’t have to be mutually exclusive,” Seo says. At CA, she was involved in work in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), including cofounding the PlatFORUM inclusivity conference.
“I’m an Asian American woman, so a lot of DEI issues will surround my career, whether I want them to or not,” she says. “CA was a good training ground for some of the things I’ve experienced and will continue to experience in the film industry.”
Advice for aspiring actors
In addition to hard work, Seo says the choice to go to USC and live in Los Angeles helped propel her acting career.
“You have to put yourself in a place to experience the right opportunities,” she says. “It’s about really going for it. Don’t make a choice out of fear. The worst that’s going to happen is that a casting director will say ‘No,’ and that really doesn’t have to do with you but with what they’re looking for.”
Her other advice to young aspiring actors: Remember, professional acting is different than acting as a hobby.
“With everything that involves your job, there’s a business side to it,” she says. “Think about the logistics of what it means to have a career in acting—busy filming schedules, extended travel, and long workdays. Do the research and think it through. There are tons of people who act, but few people who sustain the type of lifestyle that acting asks of you.”
She believes work/life balance is particularly important for actors.
“Find ways to ground yourself and live a full life,” she says. “It’s hard to act if you haven’t had a life outside of acting.”
And finally, “Take this advice with a grain of salt. I’m 22.”