By MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS
Rafu Entertainment Editor
Asked to compare herself to the wisecracking, foul-mouthed maid she plays in the new comedy “The Campaign,” Karen Maruyama admitted there are at least a couple of similarities.
“Besides being Asian and very pretty in a maid outfit [laughs], she’s very opinionated, and so am I,” she said during a conference call Wednesday.
Maruyama, 54, gives a scene-stealing twist on ethnic stereotypes in the no-holds-barred satire of the American elections process that begins nationwide on Friday. She joins a cast that is headlined by fellow veteran of the famed Groundlings improv company Will Ferrell as well as Zach Galifianakis, Dan Aykroyd, John Lithgow and Dylan McDermott.
Maruyama said landing roles can be very challenging for Asian American actors, so taking on the part of Mrs. Yao – whose cadence recalls the likes of Butterfly McQueen – was a refreshing change of pace.
“This was fun, because it’s not what’s usually expected in an Asian role,” she explained. “They first called me in to read for it and it was funny. I laughed out loud.”
She sought the help of a friend to work on the southern-fried accent. She said he did his best to read the parts as his grandmother may have.
“We bumped it up a little, made it over the top and put a little ‘Gone With the Wind’ in it,” Maruyama explained.
“The Campaign” follows boorish, womanizing North Carolina congressman Cam Brady (Ferrell) as he slithers his way toward what he assumes will be an easy, uncontested reelection. Easy that is, until the Motch brothers (Aykroyd and Lithgow), a pair of wealthy industrialists with an iron grip on local campaign funding, feel a change is needed–for their own benefit.
The brothers (a thinly-vieled stab at the real-life David and Charles Koch) put their considerable influence behind the dowdy, sweater-clad local tour guide Marty, the least-favored son of one of their longtime cronies. Marty’s candidacy seems foolhardy at first, until Cam’s true colors begin to show. From there, the race for Congress is on, and there are no rules.
The film, directed by Emmy winner Jay Roach, not only skewers politicians and their tactics, but its very release in the context of a heated presidential campaign makes a pointed statement in itself.
“There’s a lot of satire about the funding and selling out in politics. It’s a dog fight,” said Maruyama, who otherwise steered clear of taking a political position. “I don’t really know enough to get into a debate with people in the know. I’d rather talk about sports.”
A graduate of Chula Vista High School, Maruyama said she got into acting by “mistake.”
“I had to take an elective. It was theater and much to my family’s dismay, and I liked it.”
She continued with theater arts at UC Santa Barbara and UC San Diego. After college, she grabbed any role she could get, including game shows, and later joined the Groundlings, which has produced dozen of stars who went on to fame in “Saturday Night Live” and other TV shows and movies.
Maruyama has an extensive resume that includes the TV shows “Ghost Whisperer” and “The Simpsons,” as well as the feature films “Pulp Fiction” and “Rush Hour.” She admitted there has been a healthy amount of luck attached to her success, and that there is a lot work behind the scenes that most people don’t see.
“I don’t think I am one of those actors who was ‘born to perform.’ It wasn’t like that at all. It’s just been something I always found fun.”