After almost a decade of riding the highs and lows of chasing her American acting dreams, Fear the Walking Dead's Michelle Ang was stunned when she got a call congratulating her for her Emmy nomination.
But behind the professional high is even bigger news: The 32-year-old New Zealander is pregnant and will show of her growing baby bump on the prestigious awards show’s red carpet. And don’t be surprised if she has a stash of chicken nuggets in her purse!
“I’ve been craving sh*tty chicken nuggets, which is weird because I haven’t eaten fast food in years,” Ang says. She is expecting her first child with her musician boyfriend in November. “And in my first trimester all I wanted was kimchi or pickles -- fermented, sour, stinky things!”
With her character, Alex, surviving the web series Fear the Walking Dead: Flight 462, Ang transitioned to the AMC television show earlier this year but had no inkling her webisode work would also lead to an Emmy nomination for Best Actress in a Short Form Comedy or Drama Series.
“I hadn’t realized I was even in the mix to be nominated, so it wasn’t on my radar -- plus I had just come back from visiting my grandmothers in Malaysia, so I definitely hadn’t been keeping up with the entertainment news,” Ang says. “I was so confused as to why we were on a conference call -- I knew I did something either really bad or really good!”
Home alone at the time, Ang told her dog, but it took the rest of the day for the news to fully sink in. “When you’re from a smaller country and trying to be in the entertainment industry, you don’t want to think about how hard it can be and the possibility you might not even get your foot into the door,” she says. “At no point in my daydreams did I expect to be nominated for one of the big awards in America. Maybe in a funny fantasy sense! Standing here now and thinking back to little me when I was getting on a plane and coming here, it’s like, ‘Wow.’ There’s no way that girl would have known that she would be in such amazing company and a nominee at such an amazing awards ceremony.”
The news marked a triumphant moment in the hard road to Hollywood success for Ang, who cut her teeth doing New Zealand shows The Tribe and Outrageous Fortune and Australian soap Neighbours, for which she received an Australian Logie award nomination.
Transitioning from a well-established career Down Under to “starting from the bottom again” was challenging, and the L.A. audition circuit proved to be “10,000 times larger and more competitive” than New Zealand’s. However, Ang, a trained ballet dancer, persevered and landed roles in MTV’s Underemployed, guest-starred on Grey’s Anatomy, and picked up film roles in Fallen Stars and opposite Woody Harrelson in the action thriller Triple 9.
But it’s Fear the Walking Dead that remains a highlight for Ang, who became a fan of the series while she starred in its accompanying webisodes. She also got to work alongside fellow New Zealander Cliff Curtis (Travis Manawa), which led to a “really easy and immediate camaraderie,” compared to many shows where guest stars feel like “the new kid at school.”
While Alex’s future on the show remains up in the air, Ang has enjoyed being part of the series’ diverse cast -- a contrast to her early days in Hollywood, where roles for Asian actresses were limited.
“When I first came over to America my distinct impression was that if you were ethnic you were relegated completely to supporting roles in television,” Ang says. “For lead roles in film, unless it was set in an Asian community or country, you’d be dreaming, which was a contrast to coming from playing series regulars and main characters back in New Zealand. Even though it’s a larger market here, it felt like there was a glass ceiling for ethnic actors.”
“Over the years people have become more vocal and it has led to change, as has the changing population of this country,” she continues. “Now my experience is that you’re actually able to be considered as a series lead on television, and in the past two years I’ve booked indie film projects where I’m the lead who just happens to be Asian -- which is a huge coup.”
Ang adds that the mainstream film world still has “a long way to go correcting the imbalance,” but she is meanwhile relishing the opportunities in indie films, including For Izzy, a project she co-produced led by an all-Asian cast. The film is currently crowdsourcing its post-production costs via Indiegogo.
While the timing of her career reaching a peak at the same time she takes on motherhood presents challenges, she has no plans to slow down and hopes the two will complement each other.
“In acting, if you’re not at A-list-level status, you’re always wondering about when your next job is going to come and you’re treading water to keep your career trajectory on path,” Ang says. “It can be quite daunting as a woman to be like, ‘I actually also want to have a family.’”
“So making the choice to not be scared about that and then finding out we’re heading onto that journey was pretty huge, but it’s been really rewarding and exciting,” she continues. “I don’t anticipate it to be easy, but it’s a really great crescendo in life. As an actor, having vibrancy and a full life lends itself to good work, so I’m sure having a baby and all the new experiences that come with it will feed into my career, and they’ll hopefully help each other!”