By Jason Cruz
Northwest Asian Weekly
Jada Morrison, a shy 13-year-old Filipino American from Bellevue, has had to overcome dyslexia in order to star in a movie. Morrison made her film debut in “Dear Lemon Lima,” an independent film recently shown at the Seattle International Film Festival and the Los Angeles Film Festival.
Morrison was named after actor Jada Pinkett Smith, although her parents are not currently permitting her to see any of Pinkett Smith’s work due to the adult content.
Unlike that of her namesake, Morrison’s acting career happened by accident. It was Morrison’s 15-year-old sister, Serenity, who wanted to be an actress. In 2008, Morrison tagged along to an agency audition.
“She’s my role model,” said Morrison of her older sister.
The talent agency liked Morrison, and soon after joining the talent agency, she began modeling for The Limited Too and Nintendo.
Later, Morrison’s agent told her about a possible role in an independent movie. After two auditions, she received a role in “Dear Lemon Lima.”
When she heard the news that she got the part, Morrison remained low key about the situation. “My mom told me, and we went to dinner [to celebrate],” Morrison said. “I didn’t want to brag.” She told a good friend about her first movie role but did not tell anyone else.
Still, the news soon spread.
“Dear Lemon Lima” is an independent family comedy written and directed by Suzi Yoonessi. The film is about a young girl and her friends, a band of misfits, entering their school’s field day competition with the odds stacked against them. Morrison plays Emmaline Chin, one of the star’s best friends.
“Dear Lemon Lima” was filmed in and around Seattle last summer. The film is seeking wider distribution with the hopes of opening in New York and other markets across the country.
The film played twice at the Seattle International Film Festival in June.
“We saw it debut in L.A. a few months ago,” Morrison said. “This screening was way cooler because everyone I know went.”
Morrison plays a nerdy girl with a twin sister. She describes her character as “an Asian nerd.” She said her character “got all As and was a member of the Science Club.” Morrison thought of herself this way when she was younger and applied that experience to her character.
However, Morrison also struggled with learning in school, as she was diagnosed with dyslexia — a learning disability that impairs a person’s ability to read.
Morrison remembers having difficulty reading at an early age because she would read things backwards. She actually had an easier time reading Asian comics because they are read in reverse. Morrison was home-schooled for the first and second grades in order to work on her reading skills.
“I think I’ve overcome it,” she said. “I’ve learned to work really hard, read a lot better. I’ve had no problems in class.” Morrison said she worked hard to memorize her lines while shooting the movie.
New to acting, Morrison found that the most difficult part was developing the character and deciding who the character is and how the character should act. Her role required that she work closely with her character’s twin, played by Taylor Finlon, to mimic the other’s mannerisms.
One of the perks of acting in a movie is meeting the stars. Morrison states that one of her favorite moments during the movie shoot was meeting Megan Martin, the star of Disney’s television show Camp Rock, She was happy that Martin was easy to work with and down to earth. Another perk was signing autographs for the film’s extras, a first for Morrison.
Morrison had a chance to walk the red carpet for the premiere of the movie at the Los Angeles Film Festival. Although she enjoyed the experience, Morrison recalls that it was “nerve wracking and scary.”
Instead of wearing a trendy dress label for the movie opening, Morrison decided to wear a dress from the Philippines. “It was nothing special,” Morrison said. She purchased it from a corner store. “I felt proud [of wearing the dress] because I was wearing something from the Philippines.” Morrison, who is half Filipino and half white, has visited the Philippines and has learned about its history, culture, and customs.
Morrison hopes to act in another movie or model in the future. “I want to try my hardest with acting but also stay focused in school. Education is very important.” As for a career, Morrison sees herself as either a veterinarian or a kindergarten teacher.
Outside of school, Morrison is spending time this summer working as a camp counselor for five to 12-year-old kids at her father’s martial arts gym where a day camp is held for the children. “Basically, I make sure that they don’t hurt themselves,” Morrison said. In her spare time, she enjoys walks, practicing tae kwon do — Morrison is a black belt — and painting.
Morrison is the middle child in her famil, with a younger brother, Roman, and an older sister, Serenity. ♦
For more information on the “Dear Lemon Lima,” visit www.dearlemonlimamovie.com.
Jason Cruz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.