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Sydney Park: On Childhood, Healing, and Being An Artist

By July 22, 2022August 1st, 2022No Comments

Photo: Deaunte Shugart

Sydney Park has been an actress since she was eight years old. Her first role being on the early 2000’s hit TV show, That’s So Raven, starring Raven Symone. She has a very distinctive personality that makes you laugh, and feel at home around her. Despite such high levels of success, she has remained completely true to herself. She is best known for her roles in The Walking Dead, Instant Mom, and Pretty Little Liars: The Perfectionists. After so many years in the entertainment industry, Sydney is moving forward in full throttle.

Happy: Have you always wanted to be an artist?

Sydney: Yes. I was three years old when I was doing mock interviews with my mom, and my dad would be recording. We’d just sit there and have so much fun. I’d pretend to be Alicia Keys, and I would sing, dance and run around in my little Tutu. I was just crazy as a kid. Super hyper and very outspoken. Teachers never knew what to do with me. The kids were entertained and stimulated, but I was just always entertaining. I always wanted to let people know that I have a voice. I was very much an individual in that way.

Happy: And you definitely still are.

Sydney: Thank you. It has not changed. I’ve grown in a lot of ways, but I am very much the same.

Happy: Which is great. I’m very happy about that. So, I, being the early 2000’s fanatic that I am, thought you were so incredible on That’s So Raven, when you were little. What was it like being so young and being on such a famous show?

Sydney: My gosh, thank you. It was really surreal, honestly, because I grew up watching Raven and absolutely adoring her characters and her goofiness and her comedy. I was like, ‘wow, she’s beautiful and brown, she has these awesome, hilarious friends, and I want my life to kind of be like this.’ I just really admired her a lot. So, I got the opportunity to go into Disney, do my stand up and do my own original characters. Then they wrote the part for me. I think it was more like I didn’t really comprehend how my life was going to change from that point on, because in the moment, it was just so freeing. I got an opportunity to be around people who accepted me. To this day, Raven is very much someone in my life that I look up to. We stay in touch. It was such a beautiful experience. She really made it a point to have black people on her set. We had black writers, black crew members, and we had black food. It was just such a beautiful experience. I felt like it was a community, and we had all different kinds of races, too.

Sydney: We had all different kinds of sexual orientations, and that was very beautiful and new to me. It wasn’t foreign because I came from a household where my mother is black and dad’s Korean. It’s a mixing of culture, and it was really dope for me. So I really credit that to being the start of my life in a lot of ways, as a comedian and as an actress. No better experience because she really showed me the ropes. It was great.

Happy: I’m glad you had that experience.

Sydney: Me too. It was really beautiful. I miss it a lot, actually. It’s funny how it was so long ago, like literally 17 years ago, but I remember it like it was yesterday. I remember even just the look of the studio and the smells and just everything. It’s kind of a trip.

Happy: Well, I think that your role in that show was so timeless, and I think that everyone that has seen it kind of remembers it like it was yesterday too. So I think that’s great.

Sydney: Thank you.

Photo: Deaunte Shugart

Happy: You, obviously, have done a lot within your career, within your life, and have had a lot of exposure. I’ve known you forever, and I know that you are one of the most stable and humble people that I’ve ever met. So what do you think is the reason for the fact that you’ve been able to stay so well-rounded in the midst of so much success?

Sydney: I really appreciated that my parents instilled education and discipline early on in my life. They never pulled me out of school. I stayed in real school up until 10th grade, then I got a series regular job on a show, and I switched to online school. But I was going through the motions, as a real kid, kind of living this double life, going away to set for a couple of weeks at a time. But I had a normal experience, and that really humbled me. I dealt with bullies, and sometimes being the bully and going through that sh*t too, and childhood drama, friendships, birthday parties, being the social butterfly, teachers and all that comes with being in school. Especially being privileged in Los Angeles, I think our school systems obviously have their faults, but we’re pretty fortunate here. So I think surrounding myself with humans who just saw me for who I am. They were like, ‘oh, that’s cool that you do that too.’ To be honest, I never really liked talking about my job in school because it just made me uncomfortable. It was a part of my expression and I didn’t really want to mix that into my school life.

Sydney: I’ve gotten better at being more open about it and talking about it. But I remember in middle school, parents would ask me, ‘what are you working on?’ And it wasn’t that I wasn’t proud of it; I just didn’t really like talking about it. Also I think allowing yourself to have fucking bad days, cry and have your mental breakdown. Do what you need to do for yourself and go through it. You can’t go around issues, you have to go through them. So I think that’s important. Holding space for yourself, giving yourself grace, and just working through your stuff… Which I’m still working on.

Photo: Deaunte Shugart

Happy: Out of your whole entire career, what has been your most ‘pinch me’ moment?

Sydney: I honestly think working with Rosario Dawson and Benjamin Bratt on this HBO Max limited series, which is coming out this year. It was a big ‘pinch me’ moment, because they are both people that I really admire (for many reasons) from afar. Seeing who they were on set: their disposition, their attitude, the conversations we were having, the love… It just reminded me of who I aspire to be at that age. I felt like they were truly like my brothers and sisters in that way. Rosario [Dawson] is such a beacon of light. She’s so goofy. She’s so eccentric, eloquent and just everything. She really is everything, and that’s just me [my experience] working with her. I can’t imagine being friends with her for ten plus years or something. I’m sure she’s just… I mean I can only imagine. And Benjamin was also such a beautiful human in a lot of different ways. I think he imparted so much wisdom and knowledge onto me and his peers and treated everybody the same. It was how it should be, but most people aren’t that way. Also, Ava DuVernay was leading this series, and her partner, Roberto Patino, who wrote the series, was also such an amazing man. It really was crazy. But at the same time, we’re humans, and this is how we connect. And if I can connect with other people through art, through telling people’s stories, that’s such a blessing. So to have people who really appreciated that on the same type of level without making it, like, ‘oh we’re in Hollywood making this thing.’ You know? No pretentious sh*t. I just was like, wow, here we are. It was great. Really great.

Photo: Deaunte Shugart

Happy: That’s amazing. It’s definitely so satisfying to meet your icons, and they actually end up being as amazing as you thought they were before you met them.

Sydney: Even more so. Completely exceeded your expectations, because you never know. I learned to not have expectations because we’re let down a lot, and that’s okay. But you want to go in just being open. When I saw Ro [Rosario Dawson], she was just like, AH! [Screams]. Then she came over and hugged me. We were working during Covid, we were all being safe, but it was like, she’s hugging everybody, we’re kissing everybody… It was just wonderful.

Happy: I know that you’re such an easy person to be warm around, too, so I’m sure that helped it out as well.

Sydney: Thank you. Yeah, we all just gelled really nicely. The whole cast is beautiful.

Happy: I love that. So, basically, in 2022, we’re all very obsessed with our phones and social media and posting and liking and everything that comes with. So how do you feel after deleting your Instagram?

Sydney: I feel like a million Bucks. I do. I found Instagram to be really fun. I love posting, and it’s like the inner girly girl in me. I’m like, ‘oh, this is so cute. What is my girlfriend doing? What are my friends up to? Like, oh, my gosh.’ Then you can look at this and you look at that, and it’s really fun. I think I’ve always had a healthy relationship [to social media]. There was no particular reason as to why I deleted my Instagram. I was like, ‘I really got to get rid of this.’ It wasn’t so toxic. But it’s still an energy exchange. And I think when we’re living in a world where we’re constantly, every second, always consuming information. Whether we’re scrolling, whether we’re looking at the TV, texting, or seeing billboards… We’re always consuming information. And I found that it was giving me anxiety. I have a good interaction with people who follow me. Everybody’s (thankfully) been very kind, and that’s really nice. And I love seeing how my friends are doing, but I think I just wanted to be more intentional with my life. Now, I’ve found I’m more intentional with my friends. I think, mostly, the friends that I do communicate with, social media aside… We stay involved. I get some texts here and there, or calls where they’re like, ‘hey, I haven’t seen you in a while.’ And I say, ‘oh, you mean like on Instagram?’ And they respond, ‘how are you doing?’ To which I say, ‘I’m good. I’m great. I’m alive.’

Happy: I’m alive. I love that.

Sydney: It’s definitely a relief. It’s crazy how I don’t think about it anymore.

Happy: Wow. I think that’s really inspiring because that [deleting your Instagram] is a really hard thing for anybody to do, including me.

Photo: Deaunte Shugart

Sydney: Yeah, it was hard. A couple of years ago, I was like, ‘okay, I’m going to set the time limits,’ but I would always kind of cheat and go a little extra with the time limit. Then I would log out, and I’d find myself logging back in. So, I was like, what is a good solution? I also just came to this point where I had never deactivated my Instagram, and I just wanted to be private. I just wanted to have this privacy, because it [Instagram] is public. People are looking at you, and that kind of creeps me out sometimes. My friends aside, it’s just a little creepy in a way, and I just kind of wanted to be to myself. And I found that Instagram can kind of breed this narcissistic quality in people; I’m to blame for that as well… Just kind of being vain or oversharing. It’s not that deep. No one actually cares. But, it [deleting Instagram] has been great. I’m not setting a time limit on when I really want to get it back. I’m not thinking about it. I’m just trying to focus on more important things.

Happy: I think that’s great. That’s really great. Also, in my opinion, for you to have the career that you have, and to not have an Instagram is also really inspiring. A lot of people would think, ‘oh, I am in entertainment. I have to constantly be on social media.’ So, for you to have that sense of peace and trust within yourself, where you can refrain from abiding by those guidelines, is really amazing.

Sydney: Thank you. Honestly, it alleviates a lot of pressure because, let’s say I am promoting something, right? Like promoting a show I’m on or music that eventually is going to come out on my end… Obviously, with the music, I would definitely get my social media back and think of some interesting concepts as to how I can promote my stuff without it being so in your face. But even just going to events and they say, ‘oh, send us your Instagram handle.’ It’s like, ‘I’m not on it. Have a good day.’ It just kind of takes away the pressure because who the f*ck can really say you have to be on Instagram, ‘you have to get one. You’ve got to get one.’ I’m kind of thankful for this pandemic because I feel like people are a bit more understanding. They’re a bit more like, ‘I’m not going to push you or pressure you when it comes to the business side of things.’ My agents haven’t mentioned it [not having an Instagram] to me once, and it’s been months now. It’s also kind of a test on my end because I’m like, ‘these are the kinds of people I want to work with! Yes! Yay! Don’t ask me sh*t!’

Happy: I love that you’re working with people that understand what’s important. That’s so vital.

Sydney: Yeah. It is such a blessing.

Happy: So, being that you’ve been in the industry for so long, what are three tips of advice that you could give to young people that want to be in entertainment?

Sydney: One, it’s really hard because it is so much rejection. Especially when it comes to film and TV, there are a lot of moving parts. Sometimes it’s just luck being in the right place at the right time. It’s a non linear type of career. There are no steps, and there are no rules as to what makes you a successful person in the industry. And that’s really weird. So it’s going to be really hard. Number two, be open to experiencing other things aside from just working on your job… Get hobbies, enrich your experience with your relationships to people, your friends, your family, definitely travel… and do these things for yourself. It’s better for your art: for you to relate to stories and to know how to connect with people. Also, you’re not putting all of your eggs in one basket. You’re not focusing on your happiness on one goal, or one thing, like, ‘I’m going to be really happy if I get this.’ I think we all have a habit of doing that in life. These are things I have to remind myself of. And number three, know your business. Do your research, read, study film, study TV. If you’re going into an audition, know who you’re auditioning for, know their work. Maybe you guys will have a common thread or something that you appreciated that that person created… You never know. It’s always good to just know what you’re doing. I think that’s super important because there’s also a business side to it, and that’s another conversation, but it’s having discipline, knowing how to hustle, but then also kind of putting a business hat on as well.

Photo: Deaunte Shugart

Happy: While picking your most recent projects, how much thought did you give to what characters you were willing to play?

Sydney: I think I’m really grateful to be in this place in my life where I can be picky. I think that when you’re a child actress, you’re so focused on people pleasing, trying to impress, trying to be 150% better and more focused than your counterparts and your competition. So now that I’m an adult and I’m learning to be more deliberate and intentional with my life, it’s helped me discern what makes me feel good and what doesn’t. And it’s been hard. I’m still learning how to navigate how to choose for myself and not feel pressure. It really still is a process, but one day at a time. I am grateful for the opportunities that have come my way and the people that I’ve worked with. I’ve learned so much, and I think I’m just at a place in my life where I’m like, okay, do I take a break for a little bit? Do I work on this and then travel and work on music and then see if I can come revisit the industry or whatever that means? I don’t know. There are no rules, and I’m learning that.

Sydney: Also, I think in a society where we’re constantly seeking outside validation, whether it be likes, or views, or numbers in general, it’s really easy to get caught up in that. The scarcity mindset of, ‘okay, well, they might forget about me or what if I don’t get that job? Or what if I never work again?’ It’s asking those questions and if you can sincerely say back to yourself, ‘then I will be okay.’ It kind of takes that pressure off completely.

Happy: I think a big part of growing up is finding out that just doing what makes you happy is enough. So your saying that is so vital to, I think everyone reading this.

Sydney: Yeah. You know, Haps [Happy], you’ve grown up in the industry, too, and you’ve been surrounded by different kinds of artists. We’ve both seen a lot, we both have been exposed to a lot and had to grow up very fast, especially as women. I think it’s really important to do it for ourselves and not for anybody else. When we do it for ourselves, all the things that are meant for us that fill our space in a positive way, come our way. You get what you give out. If you go out there, you have the right intentions and you’re choosing things because, like you said, ‘it makes you happy and knowing that is enough,’ then what could possibly hurt you in that way? Life is going to happen anyway. But we get one life. We get one life. Why be unhappy? We’re too young. We’re too dope, too fly to be unhappy!

Photo: Deaunte Shugart

Photo: Deaunte Shugart

Happy: So the tea is that you are exploring getting into singing! I am so excited about this. What is it that made you want to get into music?

Sydney: I think music was my first love, honestly. I really came out of the womb singing. I was constantly making up my own songs. I’ve always loved poetry. I’ve always loved just creative writing in general. I’m a huge fan of music. I love concerts. I love all musicians. I love classical music. I love the composing aspect and production value and just I’ve always loved it. I kind of dabbled when I was like a teenager and even younger than that. It just wasn’t the right timing and it didn’t feel right with the people I was working with. But I think it all aligned in such a beautiful way because now I’m 24 and I actually have lived a little bit more and I’m more comfortable with where my voice is at. So, singing and songwriting has been very fulfilling for me in ways that acting really never has been, because it is so personal to me and I’m able to really be myself and not please anybody. I think I have such an advantage because I have a platform that I’ve worked all my life to build, so I’m not signed to a label or trying to be over sexualized and put out generic music and make it this or make it that just to make some money. And all due respect, I respect the artists that do that. I’m just grateful that I don’t because I can really be myself, which is what I’ve always wanted. So, my EP will be coming out in the summertime. My single will probably be coming out in the spring. I’m taking piano lessons. I’ve been doing that consistently these past few weeks, so it’s been a blessing. I feel super comfortable in the studio. That is totally my element, and it makes so much sense. So much sense. I love it.

Happy: Is there a name that we should look out for this EP?

Sydney: Working Title. Working title. I don’t know. We’ll see. I might run some things by you, actually some names by you. I might do a little poll with my homies. I should do that because I trust your taste.

Happy: Well I’m honored.

Sydney: [Laughs] I want the title to be authentic and not corny because… Yeah, we’ll see. But it’s going to be a lot of fun.

Happy: That’s amazing. I’m very excited about this. I’m excited for you.

Sydney: Thank you. Me too.

Happy: So what is the most important thing you’ve learned throughout your career?

Sydney: I think the most important thing I’ve learned throughout my career is that all of this is extra and that I’m blessed to be able to have a job that allows me to express myself. And doing it for the right reasons is the greatest reward. No accolade, no paycheck, no exposure… yeah, all of that is extra. When you do it for the right reasons, it really is the most rewarding thing.

Happy: Last question: What is next for you?

Sydney: I have some projects coming out this year. DMZ on HBO Max. Hopefully my film… I did an indie film with Diane Kruger, Hero Fiennes Tiffin and Jeffrey Donovan. I love that story. I love that script. It’s called First Love, that comes out hopefully this year. I’ve seen some stills for some photography, and I loved it. But really, I’m just working on expanding my heart and healing myself. And I cannot wait to go to Europe. I have not been to Europe yet, and I’m just dying to go. Hopefully that happens this year… And that’s what’s next.

Photo: Deaunte Shugart


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