On a cold March afternoon at a café in Silver Lake, I had the pleasure of being introduced to Sari Arambulo, an up-and-coming actress currently starring on NBC’s new comedy, A.P. Bio. The LA native shared her sunny disposition, love of early 2000’s hip-hop and what it’s like to go from the TV classroom to the real one at USC — often within the same day.
Christian Ting: What first got you into acting? Who were some of your acting role models growing up?
Sari Arambulo: I’ve always been an outgoing kid. Being super curious, I always loved talking to adults even from the age of three. I got my start taking dance classes, musical theater, hip-hop classes — and from there, it led to acting. I’d say my first experience on set was a turning point for me — I was like, “this is the coolest thing ever,” and I knew I wanted to continue pursuing this. Growing up, I remember watching The Parent Trap with my sister so many times, so I guess teen Lindsay Lohan was up there for me. I also loved watching That’s So Raven a lot growing up so — Raven Simone was big for me.
CT: Do you remember any of your hip-hop routines?
SA: (Laughs) I actually do and it’s really embarrassing and I’ll whip them out sometimes. Like whenever I hear Ke$ha’s “Tik Tok,” I’ll just whip out the moves. And my sister is seven years older than me, so we have a lot of *NSYNC and Backstreet Boys in our memory, too. When I heard “The Call” by Backstreet Boys, I freaked out.
CT: As an LA native, what was your first exposure to the entertainment industry?
SA: Yep, born and raised. I did a lot of musical theater growing up — Grease, Oklahoma — I was the baker’s wife in Into the Woods —and in high school I was Alice in Alice in Wonderland, but the twist was I was a hip-hop dancing Alice.
CT: You currently star on A.P. Bio as Grace while currently attending USC. What’s it like switching between the TV classroom and your real life classes? How do you find balance?
SA: It’s so weird (laughs). It’s definitely difficult at times, but I like when things are busy. It’s a juggling act — I have full transparency with my professors at the beginning of the semester: I tell them I’m an actor and usually they’re really understanding. Actually when I was filming A.P. Bio, I was really trying to balance both of them, but I realized at a certain point I needed to do one or the other. So I took a break from school to film, but now I’m back in school, and it’s really weird because I’m still living on campus, and I’ll go to set — where I’m in high school all over again — and then I would leave and go back to college — just a weird juxtaposition!
(Sari Arambulo on A.P. Bio. Courtesy of NBC)
CT: It sounds like you did a little time traveling.
SA: I know! I look so young, so I always play like 16-year olds — I think the youngest I ever played was when I was 16 or 17 I played a 13-year old — it’s the Asian genes, you know?
CT: Tell us more about your character Grace. What drew you to her?
SA: Grace is super sweet and kind; she’s just a happy-go-lucky girl and loves to be helpful with her friends. Because of her personality, she just gets dragged into all the antics of her classmates and [her AP Bio teacher] Mr. Griffith. She’s really intelligent and book-smart, but her street smarts could use some work: There are a lot of scenes that are so funny because Grace is naïve because she doesn’t get it — in the best way possible.
CT: What’s your favorite thing to do on set?
SA: It was really exciting because on a lot of sets I’ve been on, you can’t really stray from your lines — which is actually really important — but [executive producer] Mike O’Brien gave us time to ad-lib and play with our characters. I remember in one of the last scenes we shot in the classroom we were brainstorming people to get back at on the show and we were saying stuff like, “Voldemort!” “I want revenge on my sister because she didn’t teach me how to use a tampon!” — just random stuff, and we were dying of laughter. It’s scripted, yes, but you’d be surprised how much improv goes into the show.
CT: Did you take A.P. Bio in high school?
SA: I actually didn’t! I did take A.P. Calc, Lit, AP US History English — literally every other A.P. but A.P. Bio. I guess now I have!
CT: In the show, Glenn Howerton plays an off-the-rails teacher more interested in personal vengeance than helping students succeed. Did you ever have any teachers as crazy as Glenn growing up?
SA: I would say yes. I think I had a chemistry teacher who was really zany — he was really passionate about what he taught, but the way he portrayed his emotions was really aggressive. Like if you got something wrong, he would be like “NO!” He was out-there for sure. I’ve had other teachers who were really brutal, and then I had this great teacher at USC who taught Cinematic Arts — he was really passionate and a gatekeeper of the department.
CT: What are some of your favorite high school movies?
SA: I love John Hughes movies. The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller, Rebel Without a Cause — and on the other side of that, I adored High School Musical — it really started everything.
CT: What would you like to do in the future?
SA: Honestly, I love comedy — I feel like it’s my comfort zone. But I’ve also done a bit of drama, so I would love to have a guest star role on How to Get Away with Murder or anything Shonda Rhimes is working on — it’s gold (laughs). I’m also trying to produce my own content, something I think is really important as an actor to grow in your own and find your voice. So I’m doing a little bit of writing, producing, but it’s trial and error, and above all, it’s fun.
(Courtesy of Dom Ellis)