Some may not recognize the name Tania Gunadi. However if the role of Emma Lau, on the hit series “Aaron Stone,” is any indication of her career? It won’t be long until she joins the ranks with other veterans in the House of Disney like Selena Gomez or Emily Osment.
The cheerful and down-to-earth actress is just one of several stars on “Aaron Stone,” the first original series for the newly branded channel DisneyXD which began on February.
Surprisingly, Gunadi remains humble even though she’s become more popular since the debut of the show. And despite the bevy of young Hollywood starlets, whose self-entitled attitudes or bad behavior exploits land them tabloid covers, Gunadi doesn’t take herself too seriously when it comes to the fame game. In fact, she has no qualms speaking candidly about her appreciation towards people she’s worked with past or present.
Originally born in Indonesia, Tania Gunadi received her first brush with Lady Luck when she was only about 16 years old. Gunadi had won the lottery “" a green card lottery “" and because of it was able to join her family overseas in southern California.
Blast caught up with the actress, and listened to her tackle subjects about roller coasters, hand to hand combat, bunnies, and boba tea!
BLAST: First of all, thank you for chatting with us! I know you must have a busy schedule.
TANIA GUNADI: Oh, it’s no problem! I have been doing interviews this week. But then I have to prepare to go back to work in a couple of days for the second season of “Aaron Stone” in Toronto.
BLAST: The second season? I noticed the listing for new episodes will air on June 22nd. The most recent episode aired was the future episode about Stan.
TG: Hmm… see, I’m not so sure how the seasons are like broken down. We already shot the first 22 episodes. So for us, when we start shooting soon, it’s like season two.
BLAST: I see, maybe it’s because the channel and the series started during the mid-season. Because most networks begin in the fall shows are more continuous in that way.
TG: Hmmm… You know what? Maybe you’re right.
BLAST: Either way, it sounds exciting!
TG: You know everyone [on the show] is great! We have so much fun.
BLAST: Before we get into more details about your current work on DisneyXD’s “Aaron Stone,” let’s talk more about you. It’s really cool that you can say you won the lottery.
TG: Right? (laughs)
BLAST: You were just around 16 when it happened, so what was the experience like for you, coming here to the States?
TG: When I first arrived to Los Angeles, I was beside myself. I thought, “Oh my gosh, there’s really a place like this!” Like, I couldn’t believe it. I love Indonesia, don’t get me wrong, but it was new for me”¦the people I met here [California], they are so nice, and helpful, and I got to see this thing called, you know, “the freeway”!
But then, you know, I didn’t speak very good English. My brother, who came here before me, he hooked me up with a job, because I brought only $200 in money, I thought that was a lot of money. And then I realized really, really quickly that that was not a lot… and I’m thinking, “What’s going on here?” and he said, “Well, you know, you have to work.”
So, my brother, he hooked me up with a job in Pizza Hut. We couldn’t work in the same place because we’re family, but he recommended me to another one. I worked there for two years. It’s also where I learned my English, and I got complaints from customers like you would never believe, because in Indonesia we don’t really eat pizza like the way they do here. And they’re ordering these things and I’m like, “You… want… what? Meat? Cheese?” (laughs) It was really cute.
Soon, I got from where I was at when they hired me, which was answering phones, and in two weeks, they demoted me to cleaning the bathrooms. I was so sad. But then I made some friends and they helped me out a lot. And I was promoted back up, slowly, I’d say about a month and a half later. I went from being the cook, to the phones again, and finally the cashier.
BLAST: Well you really worked hard to earn your place, and that’s really cool. Now, as far as acting, was it something that always interested you? How did you get involved in it?
TG: For me, I grew up in Indonesia, being able to get here; I won a green card lottery. I didn’t even know or understand acting… I didn’t have a wanting for it because I wasn’t exposed to the art world, you know? Then one day at school, a friend of mine, she said, “You know, you have so much energy, you should audition for this Disneyland commercial.” And I’m like, “Oh I don’t know.” I didn’t understand what the audition would be like; I had never done one before. She said, “it’s really easy, you don’t have to worry about English or stuff. You just have to scream like you’re in a rollercoaster,” and I was like, “Oh… okay.”
So I drove my first Hollywood trip and they loved me and I booked the job. And that day they cast about 12 people. The lead was this couple, but after 17 times being on the rollercoaster they got sick and threw up. Slowly but surely, everyone else got sick except for me. I was so happy because I never rode on a rollercoaster before. I was “Whoa!” and then “Woo!” The director loved it, and wanted me to be the lead in the commercial! And I ended up doing it, and I booked two more jobs after it. It was the first time I earned a substantial amount of money from it! I felt like, “Yes! This is it!”
BLAST: You seem so grounded as a person, where do you feel that comes from? Would you say it’s from family and friends?
TG: I think for me, I just appreciate this [opportunity]. I think a positive trait I have is that I don’t always do what I’m told… there are so many people out there who give you their opinions and advice. They’ll sometimes say you dream too big or maybe you shouldn’t do that… they’re just concerned for you. But sometimes you got to do it. I mean, I love my life. And sure I’ve gotten rejected in auditions many times. I don’t focus on that; I focus on the jobs I got booked.
BLAST: People recognize you for your role on “Aaron Stone” but you’ve done a lot of work before it. There’s a guest role you did on the series, “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” where you shared scenes with Danny Devito. What was it like working with him?
TG: Oh my god, that was awesome. First of all, he’s so amazingly nice and professional! You know there was this one scene where I was singing, and I was about to get sprayed with this giant [amount of] water. His character is supposed to come in and save me. Even when it wasn’t his close up, and the director said they didn’t really need him for my close up. He said, “No. No. I want it.” He gave it 100 percent. I mean, he got sprayed with the water so many times, I felt so bad. I was like, “I hope you don’t get sick!” I love that show, “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.”
You know, for six months before it, I didn’t book a gig. It was the longest time I had been without work. When I auditioned for the part, and was in the room with the other actors reading for it, they were worried because the assignment sheet asked for someone 18 to play 12. At first I thought it was impossible. Then the other side of me thought, no, everything is possible. Let’s think about it! There’s a reason they want 18 to play 12, and I can play 18 to 16. It’s only a couple years difference. And my acting coach is always teaching me that you have to focus on the things that work for you. So your attention has to be on the good stuff, and then only good stuff will happen for you. And it really works.
BLAST: Now that you’ve gotten further along in your career, what captures your attention when it comes to roles you consider? Do you prefer drama or the light-hearted stuff? What makes you most comfortable?
TG: You know, I don’t have a preference. But usually when my friends have been asked that question they generally know what they like and don’t like. For me, usually when I get a script, I read the whole thing. I check with my feelings, and think about how it makes me feel, happy or sad. Does it make me want to be a better person? Or am I learning more about life? I would like to do work where people can see it, and you know, feel inspired by it.
BLAST: And you’ve come a long way.
TG: You know when I first started, my English wasn’t very good. I spoke well, and understood things, but for me it wasn’t enough. My goal was to start out by doing student films from no lines to a lead role. Then once I got the lead, I would look for an agent. It took me 40 student films later until I got a lead, and even better it was in an independent film. I got an agent later that week.
BLAST: Speaking of inspiration, you worked on the film “The Magic of Ordinary Days,” a romantic-drama that includes the topic of internment camps back in the 40s for Japanese Americans.
TG: That is the first role of mine where I have no accent. The casting director loved me at first but because of my accent it didn’t work with the character that is born and raised here. So I took accent reduction classes, and auditioned until I had it like 100 percent. I researched the most for this film, about five to six weeks every day. I signed up with the Japanese Museum in LA, watched all the movies about the internment camp, the outfits worn [at the time], the way they spoke back then, the relationships within the family -“" father, mother, and kids. I even visited with survivors from the internment camps at convalescent homes.
BLAST: It really must have been a changing moment for you, working so dedicatedly. And not to mention, you got to work with Keri Russell, an amazing actress.
TG: I was so nervous working with her at first because I couldn’t believe it. I had seen her work, you know? She is so professional and great! It’s easy working with her because she’s so talented, and wonderful on the set. I hope we can work together again.
BLAST: Right now, you’re listed as being in the upcoming film “Possession” which stars Trent Ford and Autumn Reeser. There’s not too many details about the character you play, and how often you’re in it.
TG: We shot it about, I think, two years ago. I play a receptionist, and I share two scenes with Trent. Originally it was supposed to be a voice-over role. I can’t take the credit for this, but a friend of mine helped me with the audition to make my performance kind of radical. They liked it, and I found out they wrote it so I could be in the film.
BLAST: Your work is so eclectic, but if you had your choice of a dream cast? Who would be on the list? Which actors would you like to do projects with?
TG: Outside of Disney family and in general… gosh. You know, no one has asked me that question before. This is great! My favorite movie is “Notting Hill,” and I love its story. So, okay, I would love to be in a movie with Kate Winslet, Leonardo DiCaprio, Hugh Grant, Julia Roberts and James McAvoy.
BLAST: That’s a movie cast people would line up to see!
TG: Also, I have always wanted to do a period piece like the eighteen hundreds. It would be fun.
BLAST: Alright, so now that weve gotten an idea about your dream cast, let’s talk about “Aaron Stone.”
BLAST: Online gaming is a big part of the show. Did you play games before you landed the role?
TG: I like to play Guitar Hero with my family and friends. And there’s Rock Band where sometimes I’ll sing or play the drums. I can actually — really — play the drums.
BLAST: For those who may know nothing about Emma Lau, how would you describe her?
TG: Basically, my character leads a double life. She’s the girl next door and like any other teenager. But when she comes home she designs and creates the weapons that help Aaron Stone save the world. I’m the one in charge of making new gadgets, and upgrades for him. There’s a one called The Party Crasher that allows you to spy on people. When they create the props, they make it so it actually has my voice come up. It’s so cool. I love all the gadgets except for this thing called The Electro-Depletor which kills all electronic devices around you. But that one isn’t real.
BLAST: And of course, what’s it like working with the cast?
TG: You know, I’ll be honest, they are all so awesome. We all get along and work together so well! We know our lines, and goof around while on set. I work mostly in scenes with Kelly [Blatz] who plays Aaron Stone. But I’ve been getting to work more with JP [Stan], since our characters and Aaron Stone work for the same person. JP is fun, and David Lambert [Jason], David is so funny, and nice. I can’t believe he’s only 14.
BLAST: There are a lot action sequences on the show, and you’ve done quite a lot in recent episodes.
TG: You know, Kelly and I we had to train two weeks before we started filming because we do a lot of staged combat. Stage combat is a lot different than regular kickboxing and all because you want to make every move exaggerated, so when you punch, you want to punch all the way to look good on camera. And Kelly, man, you know I just love him because you know you want to trust the person you’re working with when you do fighting scenes.
BLAST: Of course, because knocking someone out would be an odd way to start a friendship.
TG: Yes, exactly. I mean you don’t want to get hit. I love that we train together because we work with one of the best in martial artists, Koichi [Sakamoto]. I mean he basically trains everyone. I believe one of the perks of Aaron Stone. Now, I feel like I’ve gotten better because before I was scared. He would tell me, “Now, Tania, for this week, we want you to be able to jump that table. Then you’ll get hit, and fall onto the floor. Then you’ll run up to the couch. And then you’re going to jump, and fall into this thing, and then somebody is going to hit you.” And I’m like, “Okay, you mean you want me to jump on that particular table?” But it was really fun in the beginning because we learned how to fall properly.
Also, Kelly was there and we helped each other through it. In the beginning, we had bruises and everything. But later on the set, it’s important to have a good relationship with your cast because you have to trust them. For example, in one scene Aaron and Emma are fighting these ninjas and Kelly has to turn me slightly like upside down so I can do a kick. And I have to trust him fully, 100 percent. I mean he’s so dedicated at work, even though in between takes we goof around, talk, you know, make chit-chat. But then once the camera starts rolling everyone is on top of their game.
BLAST: I always enjoy watching scenes between Emma and Charlie. The first scene I caught of them, she invited him to join her for boba tea. Later in the episode he forgets about it. I mean, who ditches the chance to go grab some boba drink?
TG: Right? (laughs) I’m addicted to it. The entire cast and crew, nobody knew about boba before it. I’m like, it’s boba tea, I drink it all the time. There’s one episode where we were shooting the scene when I got stood up by Aaron Stone [Charlie], after asking him out on a date, not a date date but to go get boba? That was about a block away from my apartment in Toronto, and that’s exactly where we got the boba drink [in that scene], where we shot it.
BLAST: So is there anything more we can expect as far as their relationship since the ‘Boba Incident’? Maybe something romantic? I mean their characters are already close, but now they work for the same cause.
TG: Okay, there are two secrets I can say without giving out too much. There are two short kissing scenes, just one or two seconds. One of them is mine. The other is Kelly. BUT it may not be between them. It may be other people!
BLAST: Oh, wow, how scandalous! I’ll have to set my DVR.
TG: Scandalous DisneyXD! I know, when I read the script I was surprised!
BLAST: Well this is going to be a fun season! Alright, so before we let you go, a lot of people may not know you’re an advocate for humane treatment of animals.
TG: Yes, I love all kinds of animals. I have two cats at home [California] named Lucy and Ricky after my favorite TV show, I Love Lucy. It’s always sad for me when I have to leave them and start shooting the show in Canada. Fortunately, there’s a great place in Toronto, Abandoned Cat Rescue, where I foster cats. Cats, they’re so wonderful, they give you unconditional love and when you come home they’re just ready for you.
BLAST: And when you’re in California, what are some of the organizations or groups you support? I understand often shelters and centers sometimes are understaffed. I’m sure people would like know about what they can do or where to go.
TG: Well thank you, there are several places actually. There’s LA Animal Services, where at the humane center I look after the bunnies because they don’t get as much attention from visitors like with the dogs or cats. There’s a Society for Rabbits that I like here in LA, I also, whenever I get a chance, spend time at St. Martin’s Rescue where they save pit bulls and other dogs.
BLAST: So that about wraps it up, and I’m sure people “"- myself included “"- will be excited at the next installment of “Aaron Stone!”
TG: This has been fun! Can’t wait to talk with you guys again!
“Aaron Stone” airs on Monday nights 9/8c with all new episodes scheduled for June 22nd on the cable network DisneyXD.