Suzy Nakamura remembers when she fell in love with theater — a Chicago experience that was key to her desire to become an actress. “It was all about the very first play I went to by myself. I felt so mature doing that,” the “Dr. Ken” co-star said, calling from Los Angeles the other day. “I was 18 or 19, and the play might have been at the Organic [Theatre] or something in that area. It was ‘Love Letters.’ But what I loved was the simplicity of that play. You had to use your imagination to go on that theatrical journey.”
From there she honed her craft working in Chicago theaters and comedy clubs. “Yet, everything important I really learned, I learned from Second City and the nearly five years I spent there,” added Nakamura. “It wasn’t just the opportunity to work with the greatest people, but the opportunity to be on stage every, single night. You can have a nice run in a show for a couple of months, but then it’s over. At Second City, you’re there every night, and doing it for a different audience every night. That’s a true gift. You’re allowed to fail over and over again, until you get it right. That is such a luxury. You learn a lot in a very short period of time.
“It’s all about paying your dues, so you can have an overnight success — even though it took about 30 years.”
Nakamura has appeared in more than 100 TV episodes on scores of shows, finally finding a successful run as the wife of the title character (Ken Jeong) on “Dr. Ken” (7:30 p.m. Fridays, WLS-Channel 7).
It was that continuous time spent working in front of live audiences that Nakamura says made her more confident as a television or movie actress. “TV and movies are much more literal media. With theater, you often create this reality with very little to provide the audience, in the way of sets or props.
“You take the whole audience with you on a theater journey. They don’t look at a sparely decorated stage and say, ‘Is that really a house? Is that really a car?’ You tell them what to believe and they believe it,” added the Lane Tech grad.
In reminiscing about Second City, Nakamura recalled the huge impact the late improv mecca’s doyenne Joyce Sloane had on both her career and the careers of so many others. “Alumni of Second City say this a lot: ‘Joyce Sloane gave us a ticket to the rest of our lives.’ What a watershed moment it was to start at that theater. Joyce knew it, and so did we. She knew we could use the Second City name for the rest of our lives.”
Her character Allison figures prominently in this week’s “Dr. Ken” episode, a case of miscommunication in which she “thinks Ken wants to renew their wedding vows and that’s not really the case. But let’s just say, anything that adds a bit of a re-spark to any relationship is a good thing! That’s really all I can say about that.”
What Nakamura loves about Allison “is that she’s a professional. She’s a doctor too,” though the actress laughed as she admitted, “unlike Ken, I’m not a physician in real life. He’s the reverse of that old line, ‘I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV.’ In his case he really is a doctor!”
Both her and Jeong’s characters, she said, “don’t know it all. Sure, they are professional, talented people, but when it comes to raising kids, you sort of learn as you go. But that’s where the comedy, the funny bits, come out on the show.
“I love that they are partners in that discovery of how to raise kids.”