Nicole Bilderback Said Being Asian Helped Her Land Roles


  • Nicole Bilderback was the ‘friend’ role staple of ’90s teen dramedy.
  • Bilderback appeared in classic ’90s films and TV shows like “Clueless” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”
  • Being Asian didn’t hold her back; it helped her stand out, she says. But she never could book a lead role.

Nicole Bilderback is the ’90s face audiences certainly recognize but almost just as certainly can’t put a name to.

She’s played the “friend” role in a slew of popular teen films and TV shows, like “Clueless,” and “Bring It On,” or “Dawson’s Creek,” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” She was a familiar face at a time where Asian representation on screen was neither practiced or discussed in the media.

In an interview with HuffPost, Bilderback said it would’ve been great if the emergence of young Asian female actresses — like Lana Condor or “Everything Everywhere All At Once” breakout Stephanie Hsu — was happening when she first started out, but she’s also glad she didn’t think about her race much at the time.

I think being raised as an all-American girl from Dallas, Texas, I just saw myself as an all-American girl who just happened to look Asian. So in other words, I didn’t pigeonhole myself as, ‘Oh, well, I’m probably only going to read for Asian roles,‘” she said.

That self-perception was reflected in the roles she was cast in, some of which she said were originally written for white actresses.

“The majority of the roles that I’ve portrayed have been roles that were either intended for Caucasian actresses or the ethnicity wasn’t specified. So for me, I got lucky in the sense of I wasn’t really typecast as just an Asian actress. And I think a lot of that had to do with the timing,” she told HuffPo in 2018.

“My story, I think, is slightly different than probably the majority of the other Asian-American actors that have been out here doing this for a long time,” she said.

Bilderback said she saw her ethnicity as a help to her career when she started out as a teen, because she felt she was able to bring something different to the table.

“I was just so free-flowing and young and fresh. I think because of that, because I didn’t limit myself, the industry saw me with very open eyes as well,” she said, adding that the ’90s felt like a “great time” to enter the industry for her even though there were only “maybe, a handful of Asian-American actresses out here in LA.”

Back then, she said being Asian “worked to my benefit because I stood out. I was something new and something different, rather than the standard blond hair, blue eyed that they’d already seen hundreds of.

Bilderback recalled moving to LA to pursue acting in the fall of 1993, and auditioning for her first movie — “Clueless.”

She said, “I was auditioning for Summer, the character I ended up playing, and I also auditioned for the role of Amber. When I went in for the callback, which was with the director, Amy Heckerling, and all the producers, I remember they actually added another role for me, so I read also for the role of Heather, Josh’s girlfriend in the movie. So I was being considered for all three of those roles.”

As great it was to be cast in big projects, Bilderback said she still struggled to get lead roles, which she feels being Asian played a major part in. “I did read for a lot of bigger parts, but there was usually either already a star name attached, or maybe at the time they weren’t necessarily as open to an ethnic actress as the lead. Not as much as they are now.”

“The industry is funny, and the casting process is funny. A lot of it is very political,” she said.

Since then, Bilderback has continued acting, mostly in television, and also has taken to writing. She had a career realization: “There’s more than one way of becoming a successful actress and reaching the success that I’ve always known I was meant to reach, other than just through auditioning.”


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