If you follow actress Ally Maki on Instagram, you could see she’s having the time of her life.
The actress has always been open and active with her followers on the app chronicling her journey in television, film, and activism through Asian American Girl Club (AAGC). And, being part of this Disney/Pixar’s Toy Story 4 was no exception. Maki has shared all the details of her time working on the film and throughout the press tour with her fans with so much enthusiasm and energy that you can’t help but be enamored by Maki and her character, Officer Giggle McDimples.
Giggle is best friend and second in command to Bo Peep (Annie Potts). Small enough to perch on Bo’s shoulder, Giggle is described by Toy Story 4 director as “Bo’s Jiminy Cricket.” Giggle may the smallest toy in the beloved franchise, but she has the biggest personality in the film. We chat with Maki about Giggle McDimples, childhood toys, AAGC, and what all of this means to her.
NOC: First off, congrats on everything — the movie, Marvel’s Cloak and Dagger, the success of Asian American Girl Club, and your engagement!
Ally Maki: Ah! Crazy!
So, the Toy Story franchise has been out for 24 years. How does it feel to be part of this iconic franchise?
I honestly still can’t believe it. I feel like it’s been a three year of just trying to process that this is real and is actually happening. My 14 year-old self could never believe that this would have been possible. I mean, not only just as an actress in the film and a woman in the film, but as an Asian American female within this universe. I mean, as of today, they were telling me that you’re the first ever Asian American female within the entire [Toy Story] universe and to me that was so mind blowing and it’s so much to process, but it means so much to be personally. As a fan of the films, someone that is in the film, it’s just a lot.
What I love most about Giggle McDimples is that she is not an Asian character. It wasn’t like “hey, Giggles is an Asian character, we must cast an Asian.” She is a toy with no ethnicity. You were picked because you are great and happen to be Asian. How important is it to be cast in this way?
To me, that’s what it’s all about. That is why I started Asian American Girl Club because I felt like the next phase of this is the normalization of Asian American females within the world, you know. We’re not just this and that or that we’re hired because we’re Asian, but we just are. We’re humans. We’re like everybody else. We have our own identities. Our own multifaceted stories and upbringings and backgrounds. We are all over the world. We’re in Ohio. We’re in Seattle. We’re in New York. We’re all over. So, I think that’s the greatest thing about this. You can add Giggle to that. She’s not just an Asian female. She’s just an awesome female character. So that is what I think is exciting.
I do love the fact that she’s tiny but deadly.
[laughs] Deadly! Yeah!
She holds her own. What is it that you love about this tiny character?
I love — just what you said — that she is so feisty. She is unafraid to use her voice in every single way and every single situation. She is such a passionate person and she will 100% always have your back. She is like that loyal friend you could always count on that will always have your back and understand you. I feel like she understands Bo [Peep] in ways that Bo doesn’t even understand herself and that’s a true best friend where you have that kind of shorthand where you just know each other through and through.
There are a lot of themes to Toy Story 4: Being lost and finding yourself; friendships; and finding your purpose. What did you feel was the theme for you when you read the script or even when you saw the movie?
I think the theme always for these films has been friendship. I think for me that is so important. Growing up, I was so shy and I didn’t have that much community. I was truly very lonely and I was the only girl and youngest [in my family]. So, finding friends has been a long journey for me and it’s only been now and even through creating AAGC that finding other people that resonate with me or that I could relate to has been so important for me finding my own self worth and confidence. We can’t do this alone. You know, we have three things [to survive]. We need food, shelter, and community. And, without community, we have nothing. So, I think for me, growing up and feeling so alone, especially in the entertainment industry, now I’ve realized the only way I could be a stronger version of myself is through uplifting others and through holding the hands of other sisters who look like me and creating allies. That is so important.
You’re one of the only Asian American women in the Toy Story franchise. How do you feel about this impact you just being part of this film has made? Do you ever feel the pressure of being the only one on the series and be seen as representing all Asians?
It’s a lot but, at the same time, it doesn’t feel like a lot. Because, for me, it’s fulfilling such a part of myself that I needed as a kid. So, for me, it’s just so ultimately fulfilling in every single way and I think it takes a lot of the pressure off of me because it fulfills me, in a sense. So, I think the greatest thing about all of this is seeing 10 year-old girls with the doll and this is now a part of their reality from the time that they’re 10 years-old and that is something that I didn’t have. I always look back if I had a character like Giggle McDimples when I was 8 years old — how much quicker would I have been able to find my own self-worth and identity and confidence and that is what I want for the next generation. I want them to be 12 years-old and thinking ‘of course I can be a cop. That’s obvious to me.’ Whereas, I grew up and thought ‘I couldn’t be a cop. That is something for a boy.’ So, for these younger girls to be finding that confidence and that ability to take on anything and say anything is all that is about and why it’s so powerful.
With that, and you’re the only Asian American character in Marvel’s Cloak and Dagger, I’m really glad you don’t feel that pressure of representing all Asians as the only Asian American in media.
Right, that’s why we talk about normalization, I always try to put that first. It’s not just about one story. It’s about all of our stories and every story is unique and different. We come from so many different places. How can we only be one thing? So, I think that’s why our key word for AAGC is undefinable because you can’t define this because we are so many different things.
Going back to Toy Story 4, I’m going to have to have you spill the tea.
Giggle and He-Man. What happened there? I need to know.
Right? I need to know too. We should ask someone!
What do you think happened between Giggle and He-Man?
You know, I don’t think it went well. I think they’re not doing well. [interviewer phone rings] Is that He-Man calling?! He’s probably saying don’t out me!
So, He-Man tho!?
You know what, we all have those ex-boyfriends, right? And, I love that Giggle and Bo had that moment of ‘you know how that turned out!’ She’s like ‘yeah I know.’ You got that girlfriend who just knows everything you’ve been through and there are some bad boyfriends out there. I don’t know. I don’t think it went well for them. I think maybe he couldn’t handle that she was such a strong, powerful woman.
Do you think she would get with one of the G.I. Joes? You can be honest.
[laughs] You know what, there could be. You know who I resonated with and maybe she would too is the one that is always trying to high-five everyone. I think that would be it because that reminds me of my fiance [the musician Travis Atreo]. Travis would be the one that’s like ‘hey guys! [holds hand up for high-five] Okay… alright!’
Watching Toy Story makes you feel like you want to go home and hug your toys. Is there a favorite toy that you thought about?
I had a collection of Polly Pockets growing up. I loved those.
Lost toys is one of the themes for Toy Story 4. Is there a lost toy that you wish that you still had that you either lost or was given away?
Oh my gosh. Yeah. It’s not really a toy but my grandfather handmade this dollhouse from scratch. He cut the wood. When my mom moved cities, she couldn’t [bring it with her]. It was huge. She gave it away and she still racks her brain like ‘how could I have done that?’ It was like an heirloom.
When you were cast as Giggle, how did you decide to play the character? Did you talk to them about or gave it your own personal voice?
The first thing I asked them was ‘what do you guys want or need or are you thinking about anything character driven?’ They were like ‘no, we want you to be 100% yourself.’ So, from Day 1, I always felt like I was free to be myself. She is basically Ally with a lot of adrenaline and a lot of drive and ten times more energy and a police chief. I tried really to bring a lot of myself to it.
One more, because I know they are going to kick me out, AAGC — with the Asian American movement moving forward with more Asians in media, how important is it for me for AAGC to be part of this movement? Also, how has this changed you as an Asian American?
I think, in every way, it has built my confidence. It’s made my self-worth happy. As much as I feel AAGC inspires others, it is the girls who created this movement that inspired me to keep moving forward because without them, I would be voiceless. I wouldn’t have that community that we spoke of and the sisterhood means so much to me. So, to me, we are stronger when we are together. If we united and hold hands, I feel like Asian American females, specifically, we have not done that in the past. I think now it’s our time to say ‘hey, look at us. If we bond together, we’re going to be so much stronger and so much happier. That’s what it means to me.
Toy Story 4 is now open and in theaters everywhere.