Jona Xiao has quickly become “one to watch” in the world of entertainment, portraying a range of dynamic characters, including roles in Disney and DC projects. You’ve previously seen Jona in The CW’s The Flash, Gifted and Keeping Up with the Joneses. Jona also lent her vocal talents to the recent Netflix Resident Evil series Infinite Darkness and the Disney+ movie Raya and the Last Dragon. Next up for Jona, she joins the cast of Hightown Season 2 as a new employee at the local strip club Xavier’s.
Show Snob was able to chat with Jona about her Hightown Season 2 character Daisy and how collaborating with so many women on set has helped create more complex and fleshed-out portrayals of sex workers. We also discussed Jona’s work with Career ACTivate, a company founded to help actors get representation and book more work.
Hightown Season 2 interview with actress Jona Xiao
SHOW SNOB: Whenever I see a show that features a strip club or sex workers, I sort of prepare myself for the worst because I don’t think Hollywood has always had the best track record at portraying those characters as real people.
I feel like Hightown, and Rebecca Cutter, have done a great job of breaking that stigma and giving us characters like Renee and Daisy, who feel like genuine individuals that you want to get to know better. With that in mind, what was your first reaction to reading the part of Daisy and knowing what the role would entail in terms of sexuality?
JONA XIAO: It was something that I wanted to see how the character would be handled and what I appreciate is that Rebecca and the writers did such a good job of making the characters three-dimensional. Being a stripper is just one part, it’s something they do, but it is not in any way their whole identity.
For instance, Daisy, as you’ll find out in the show, is actually a mother, and that’s a really big motivator for her. I thought it was really interesting that here’s this woman who, everything that she is doing is for her daughter. I think it was handled really well, and these characters are very three-dimensional, so I hope the audience can see the human side of being a sex worker.
SHOW SNOB: I know you’ve told the story of taking lap dancing lessons for your role this season, how do you shed your inhibitions to do scenes like that? I know a lot of it is very choreographed, and you guys do so much work to do those scenes, but I still feel like I would be so nervous! But maybe that’s just me.
JONA: I definitely did have some nerves, for sure, because I had never done nudity before, ever. It was something I was always open to if it was the right role. And in reading the script and material, I felt this was the right role. There was quite a bit of mental, emotional, physical prep. As someone who rarely wears heels, I’m very much a tomboy/sporty kind of person, so I did a lot of walking around in heels and getting comfortable in that.
And the lap-dancing lessons were helpful to feel a lot more confident in my movements and embodying Daisy when she’s at the club. Then I went to strip clubs, talked to strippers, sat down with them, and those conversations were always really enlightening to understanding what motivates them to get involved in stripping and how it has been for them. Watching lots of video interviews with people working in those types of nightclubs. For me, it was very important that I do Daisy justice, and I think that helped flesh out the character a lot.
SHOW SNOB: When you were on The Flash, you played a meta-human. What’s harder, playing a stripper or playing a meta-human?
JONA: Playing a stripper is way harder than being a meta-human who just has these awesome powers. They’re fun in different ways. Playing a stripper was very challenging, which I appreciate challenges. Being a meta-human, the powers that I had and using them for good as my character was fun and freeing as well.
SHOW SNOB: Something so great about Hightown is that it is a show with so many women behind and in front of the camera. Do you feel like that made a difference in the creation of Daisy’s arc and your portrayal of her?
JONA: I think so. Even our amazing showrunner Rebecca actually called me to ask if I’d be willing to share what my ethnic background is because she wanted the character to be authentically accurate for my background. I think she was very sensitive and careful with Daisy, and I think that’s how she treats every role. Having a female showrunner and portraying a female stripper, I think does allow, inevitably, a role that is through that female gaze as opposed to the male gaze.
SHOW SNOB: I was listening to one of the other interviews that you did, and you mentioned that working with Luis Guzmán, who’s so great, and you guys are so fun to watch together, by the way. You said that he was prone to improvisation, and I’m wondering if you have any fun or specific anecdotes from one of those moments on set?
JONA: I think he improvised at the end of pretty much every take of every scene. For those who watched the premiere of Season 2, his like, “Lucy, I’m home!” when he enters the club for his big entrance, I don’t think that was scripted. I think he just added that in, and everyone loved it and kept it in there. That was an example of a brilliant moment of genius that strikes him, and it strikes him all the time. It’s incredible.
What to expect from Renee and Daisy’s relationship in Hightown Season 2
SHOW SNOB: It’s funny because, in the first four episodes, Daisy is a constant thorn in Renee’s side, although they don’t necessarily have a lot of scenes together. Daisy is involved with Jorge who is causing problems for Renee and Frankie. What can we expect to see from Daisy and Renee’s relationship this season?
JONA: As audiences saw in Episode 1, there is a lot of friction between Jorge and Renee because I end up being Jorge’s girlfriend…amongst some other things. I definitely back my man. [Laughs] I’m very much the Bonnie to his Clyde.
As is sometimes the case with two powerful, opinionated women, you’ll see Renee and I butting heads a little bit and the power dynamic. I technically work for Renee, but I don’t often listen to what she has to say, and that creates some friction, especially since Renee is trying to gain more power and authority within the club, but Jorge and Daisy make it difficult for her, for sure.
SHOW SNOB: Hightown‘s DNA is very New England seeing as it is set in Provincetown. Had you been there before? What was your experience filming the show there?
JONA: Most of what I filmed was in Wilmington, which was my first time there, and then getting to shoot in Cape Cod was amazing. I had been there on a vacation, a business trip/vacation years ago, but getting to film there was a first for me. I loved the culture. It felt like a tight-knit community, we got to watch the seals at the beach, and the food was amazing. I loved filming in both locations.
Hightown Season 2 star Jona Xiao discusses her company Career ACTivate
SHOW SNOB: Outside of acting, you are really involved in helping other actors with your company Career ACTivate, which I think is amazing. What do you think are some of the most common misconceptions people have about breaking into the acting world?
JONA: I think people focus too much on getting an agent. I think getting good representation is an important part of the formula, but it’s not the entire thing. What I mean by that is that I think it’s really important that actors get clear on what their brand is. What separates them from other actors in their category? How do they communicate a cohesive message?
Like when you think of Angelina Jolie, there is an Angelina Jolie-type, right? You pay money to go to the theater and see that. If all of the sudden she’s playing this really meek woman who is super soft-spoken and not strong at all, you’d be like, I want my money back. I paid to see an Angelina Jolie film. So for yourself, every single actor needs to know, what is that for them?
There’s the branding side and then building relationships. It’s so important to have your own relationships in the industry, people you want to collaborate with, people whose work you respect and admire and not just depend on your rep to get you all the opportunities because they make 10% and you make 90%, so you’re doing 90% of the work.
I think the other side that is often missed is the mindset side of things. So often, we are our worst critics and our worst enemies. How do we transition from that to being our biggest advocates so we can give more and offer more in this business and in a way that is healthy? A lot of people get burnt out because it is so exhausting and it can be difficult at times.
SHOW SNOB: One thing that always makes me laugh at is whenever I’m on social media, and so many people assume that whenever someone is on television, they must be a multi-millionaire. And it’s like, no, that’s not really how it works.
JONA: [Laughs] Definitely a misconception! You can’t trust what you Google. I think if you Google “Jona Xiao net worth,” it has some ludicrous number, and I was just like, “Oh, that would be amazing.”
SHOW SNOB: Right? Like, where’s that money?
JONA: Something said my net worth was $4.7 million, and I was like, wow, really? This is news to me!
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.