Rachel Marsh Leads the Charge for Comedic Asian Roles

The actress shares her experiences on the set of Netflix’s comedy “Unstable” and her hope for funny Asians on TV

Rachel Marsh stars as the lovable, introverted scientist Luna in the Netflix comedy “Unstable.”

Nick Rasmussen

Words by Sam Tanabe

Mixed Asian Media: JoySauce is proud to present something very special—a partnership with the ultra talented team over at Mixed Asian Media. In JoySauce’s mission to cover stories from the Asian American and Pacific Islander diaspora, we’ve always considered it incredibly important to include mixed AA+PI perspectives. Since their team already has that piece on lock, we’re delighted they were willing to join forces to help us share even more fresh, funny, interesting, irreverent stories each week. Take it away, MAM!

Enviable innovation, superb dry wit, kidnapping, betrayal, a grieving genius. The new feel-good Netflix comedy Unstable has it all. The manic antics of biotech CEO Ellis Dragon (Rob Lowe) may set the tone of the show, but viewers enjoy a change of pace in the charming scenes featuring his lab’s shy scientist Luna, played by Rachel Marsh. Luna’s introverted, scientific perspective is endearing to witness as she collaborates with her narcissistic boss, steadfast bestie, and new workplace crush.

Out of character, Marsh exudes the same kindness and excitement as Luna, but with notably more confidence and experience. Her love for comedy is joyous, and it was fulfilling to hear her speak on the promising future ahead for Asian American actors. The actress was generous in sharing her experience working on Unstable, about her upbringing, and why it’s okay to be laughed at.

This interview has been edited for clarity and flow

Sam Tanabe: How have the responses you’ve received to Unstable been?
Rachel Marsh: They’ve been really good! I think the world is looking for something that’s fun, easy to watch, will make you laugh, and put you in a good mood. You have these defined, fun, loving characters, and it’s just like a chill workplace comedy. This is my first big thing, and it’s been really cool to see the whole process of auditioning, shooting, and now people watching it. The good reviews are just kind of like the cherry on top. 

ST: What has made working on Unstable different from sets you’ve been on before?
RM: Just being on set is the best day in the world. I’ve been a guest star on a few different shows, and I was the lead of a whole episode of this anthology series, but this process was so different. They hired me for this character that you’re gonna see in every single episode. It was fun to build the character with the showrunner and creators—and to get direction from our showrunner every episode. Now that I have a taste of how collaborative it was, I’m like, I wanna do this every time. I wanna have some kind of agency in whatever show I’m in, you know?

Rachel Marsh is similar to her “Unstable” character Luna in some ways and different in other ways.

Nick Rasmussen

ST: That sounds so nice. How did you approach the character? Do you find yourself to be very similar to or different from Luna?
RM: When I first read the sides for Luna, I was like, “I think she’s maybe on the autism spectrum.” I say that with love because I have a lot of people in my life who are a part of the autism community. I think Luna is just a little…not very self aware. She probably loves to be alone. She’s probably an introvert. I took all these clues of who she was I found in the script and was like, “I have an idea of what this person looks like, and I’m just gonna try it out.” That’s what I did in my audition and in the chem read. Even down to what she wears and her voice, everything was really thought through on my part. There are a lot of Asian stereotypes that Luna could easily fall into, and I really didn’t want that for her. I appreciated that she was someone who had a strong arc throughout the series, was a love interest, and had all these different things that set her apart.

I think I’m very similar to her in that I have a hard time in social situations, but we’re pretty different in how we see ourselves and see the world. I’m definitely a more confident person than Luna is, but I really love so many parts of her. I love how smart she is, how loyal she is to her friends, and that she eventually learns how to stick up for herself.

ST: To differentiate Rachel from Luna, tell me a little bit about you. Do you mind sharing how you identify, where you grew up and, and how you got into acting?
RM: I am from the suburbs a little north of Seattle. I’m from a small town called Bothell, well it’s not that small, but you’ve probably never heard of it. I’m half Filipino, half white. My dad’s Filipino Hawaiian, so he grew up in Hawaii and then moved to Seattle. He was in the Vietnam War, went to Seattle after the war, and met my mom. I have a brother, sister, and a nephew, and we’re all half Filipino. My mom passed when I was 13, so we kind of grew up with my dad and his traditions, cooking, and all of his Hawaiian influences. I feel like I identify more with Hawaiian culture than Filipino culture sometimes. He didn’t speak Tagalog to us growing up. He kind of spoke a mixture of Tagalog, Pidgin, and something that’s like his own language.

I grew up doing cheerleading in middle school and high school, and that’s kind of how I found my way to perform. As I went into high school, I started doing theater, just for fun. I never really thought it was like a career choice though. I thought in very binary terms at that point in my life, and I wanted to pursue the nonprofit world. I moved to L.A., went to school here, was a business major, and thought I was gonna influence the world in that way. Then I started working in marketing and just really hated it. I saw the people that were happy in L.A. were all in the industry and doing something they were really passionate about. I was like, “I really wanna try that. I wanna try performing again.” So I took some acting and improv classes, pursued it really heavily, and ended up here. I’ve had so many different careers. I worked in nonprofit, I worked in marketing, I co-owned a coffee shop. Oh gosh, I worked in the wedding industry. There are so many things I did before acting.

The half-Filipino, half-white actress grew up in Bothell, Washington, just north of Seattle.

Nick Rasmussen

ST: All those experiences that you have, you can bring to your craft. None of it goes to waste!

I wanna talk about some of the relationships Luna has with the other characters in Unstable. Luna and Ruby have an unconditional friendship, even when it comes to romantic interest in the same person. What sets their friendship apart from others?
RM: Their relationship is my favorite in the whole show. I think the writing is so smart because they knew that there had to be a friendship but that there couldn’t be a competition for a love interest, because no one wants to see that, you know? And it’s just not fun to play. It’s so much richer and more interesting if you have a loyalty between two women. We would hang out 24/7 outside of work. We were shooting this show in the summer, and we were like, this is like our summer camp. I think that really helped play into our chemistry. Every scene with me and Emma [Ferreira], even our fight scenes, I was just like, this is so fun. It was like getting paid to be friends on and off screen.

ST: Totally. What was it like interacting with Rob Lowe, both in your scenes and off camera.
RM: Oh my god, Rob is just, like, stunning. He’s so charismatic and brings so much talent in every scene. He just knows what he’s doing. If someone’s lighting was off or there was a shadow or something was in the background, he would always see it. He’s been doing it for so long that it’s easy for him to pick out little things like, “Oh, we don’t want that in the edit.”

Parks and Rec was, like, my favorite comedy. I feel like I really learned what comedy was through Parks and Rec, The Office, Portlandia—with Fred in it (Fred Armisen, who plays Leslie in Unstable). It was a full circle moment for me to take a step back and be grateful to work with these people that I look up to so much.

Luna and Ruby’s friendship is Rachel Marsh’s favorite relationship in her show, “Unstable.”

Nick Rasmussen

ST: I think a novel aspect of the show is having Rob and John Owen Lowe playing father and son in the show. Is there anything fun to note about their real life father-son dynamic?
RM: I mean, they literally are the same in and out of the show, which I don’t think people understand. Their whole dynamic of making fun of and trolling each other, it’s like a nonstop bit. They brought a natural chemistry, and you can tell though that everything is done through love.

ST: Shifting gears a little bit, we all recently witnessed Everything Everywhere All at Once sweep the Academy Awards. Do you have any particular observations or thoughts on Asian representation in TV and film right now? Are there improvements you like to see? Is mainstream media ready to dive into the nuances of being mixed Asian?
RM: I feel like Issa Rae back at the [2017] Oscars when she was like, “I’m rooting for everybody Black.” I really feel like that with anyone Asian. Michelle Yeoh is so deserving of everything that she’s getting, and I think it’s only gonna get better. The momentum is building.

Even, like, six years ago when I started, I remember trying to get an agent and one saying, “I already have someone half Filipino. I actually can’t take you on as a client.” It was so crazy, you know? And now more people are seeing that there’s money there—people are wanting this on screen. Everything comes down to money, and them [EEAAO] winning so many awards just proves that people do really wanna see us. I’m excited for what’s coming up next.

I love comedies. I love television. So I would just love to see more comedic Asian talent in these roles that have been historically given to white men. A lot of my favorite roles on TV were like the Michael Scotts or the Phil Dunphys of the world. Even when Mindy Kaling was on The Office, her character was so, like, laughed at. That’s what I want. I want to be a character that’s laughed at instead of like laughed with. I know that sounds crazy, but I just think those are the most fun.

I think people and studios are afraid and don’t wanna see characters of color getting punched down on, but I think that we wanna be able to be made fun of too. I would love to see more characters being laughed at and put in those roles that are traditionally given to men.

Rachel March wants to play characters who are laughed at, not laughed with.

Nick Rasmussen

ST: Asians and Asian Americans are often portrayed as the hard worker, very stoic and serious, or a martial artist—so you’re not necessarily laughing at them because of the roles they’ve been pigeonholed into. It would be combatting and breaking some stereotypes to have them play more of the Kelly Kapoor/Mindy Kaling Office characters.
RM: Right. That's what I want for sure.

ST: My final question for you: any dream roles, specific type of character, or genre you’d like to do?
RM: My number one priority is just to get as much experience as possible. It’s like a dream to get paid acting, because so many people don’t get to do that. I love comedies, I wanna work in comedy forever. A career that I really love is Julie Bowen’s. She found a niche of being this really lovable character in an Adam Sandler movie, then found a home at Modern Family, and she’s still working. She found herself so early on in her career, and I really admire that. I also love character actors, like Jodie Comer who’s able to do both. I loved her role in Killing Eve.

I would love to explore something kind of dramatic and nuanced, something that's really different from what I usually do. I feel excited about all these roles that we’re now able to audition for and are being given to us. I’m just trying to trust the process that whatever role that’s out there for me will find me. I’m not super worried. 

ST: Yeah, that sounds good. Thank you so for giving us some insight into Unstable, and I look forward to following your journey and seeing what you get to take on next.

Unstable is available to stream on Netflix now.

Although Rachel Marsh wants to continue doing comedy, she would also like to do more dramatic and nuanced work.

Nick Rasmussen

Published on May 2, 2023

Words by Sam Tanabe

Sam Tanabe is a NYC-based actor and writer. Struggling to find his identity as a mixed race performer led him to help found Mixed Asian Media as the Managing Editor. You can find him around Manhattan with a bubble tea in hand, and online @tanablems.