EMERGING Filipina American actress Tisha Custodio is getting a shot at her first television role.
Custodio plays Carolyn “Mouse” Smith, a teenage basketball player who comes from a military family in “Big Shot,” a new drama-comedy set to premiere on Disney+ on Friday, April 16.
The series, developed by Dean Lorey (“Arrested Development”) and David E. Kelley (“Big Little Lies”), stars John Stamos as Marvyn Korn, a temperamental college basketball coach who is fired, but gets the chance to lead the team at an elite all-girls private school.
In the 10-episode season, Marvyn realizes that building a team of teenage girls isn’t just about basketball drills and scoring points on the court, but connecting on a more empathetic level. As the series unfolds, the players undergo the experiences that come with high school, while Marvyn starts to develop into the person he’s aspired to be.
“This is definitely a show about growth and redemption. You see throughout the season that these characters have some plot arc where they have to learn and go through something in order to grow as a person,” the 19-year-old talent told the Asian Journal in a recent interview.
Rounding out the cast are Yvette Nicole Brown (“Community”) and Jessalyn Gilsig (“Boston Public”), and up-and-coming actors Richard Robichaux, Sophia Mitri Schloss, Nell Verlaque, Tiana Le, Monique Green, and Cricket Wampler.
Born in Bacolod City, Philippines, Custodio was three years old when her family migrated to Southern California after her mother found work as a nurse.
At an early age, she remembers watching videos of Lea Salonga’s performances and “Miss Saigon” audition.
“I’ve never really seen anyone who looked like me be a part of something so mainstream,” Custodio recounted. “I felt like there was something that flipped the switch in me to start acting or performing.”
Custodio attended the Orange County School of the Performing Arts and spent several summers at Shakespeare Orange County where she performed alongside seasoned actors. She went on to study in the CalArts intensive acting program.
“I went to a performing arts school and they really focused on classical training at first. But then, I started to see that there were different avenues to where my career could go,” she said.
Custodio, whose acting experience included stage productions and shorts, auditioned for “Big Shot” in August 2019. She landed the part of “Mouse” and three months later, filming began in Los Angeles.
Getting into the role felt almost natural for Custodio who was a high school student herself not too long ago.
“Mouse is really just trying to find out who she is through the season. She comes from a military family, so she’s very strict, very orderly and very much a perfectionist,” Custodio said, striking similarities to her on-screen persona. “At first, she’s so young and wants to follow the rules. She doesn’t really understand where she’s supposed to fit in, but you see her gain her confidence.”
Though “Full House” — in which Stamos became a household name as Uncle Jesse — was on air before Custodio was even born, she caught reruns of the show growing up.
To work with a seasoned actor like Stamos has been a transformative opportunity for her budding career.
“He’s just one of the nicest people I’ve ever met and I’m grateful for that. He’s been in this industry for a very long time so he definitely taught us how to conduct ourselves on set and take the script and play around with it a little more if the scene felt like it needed more movement or energy,” she said.
Stamos divulged some acting tricks he’s picked up over years, which were invaluable for Custodio and her other co-stars, many of whom are newcomers in the industry like herself.
“It was very collaborative with what you wanted to do in the scene. We shared ideas and we played around together — it was more of like an open improv play session, rather than, ‘Here are my lines and here is my job.’ It was a fun environment,” Custodio shared.
With the pandemic, the Disney+ series had its own challenges that prolonged filming and included pauses in production last fall and earlier this January due to positive COVID cases on set, according to various reports.
“It was originally going to be a six-month-long process, but because of the pandemic, it obviously went a lot longer than any of us expected,” Custodio said.
Despite the health measures in place, the actress said she and her castmates still found ways to connect and develop friendships.
She and Stamos bonded over classic rock, with the veteran actor surprising her with a FaceTime call with Gerry Beckley, one of the members of the band America.
“In a very twisted way, I’m grateful for the trials and tribulations that we’ve been through together because we’re all so close now as a cast,” she said.
Custodio hasn’t disclosed what’s next for her after “Big Shot,” but she has some lofty goals for her career — one of which is to one day start her own production company.
“Through that, I’d like to highlight immigration stories and topics we don’t really talk about as much,” she said.
The aspirations don’t stop there. Custodio has her eyes set on a music career too. When she’s not acting, she’s songwriting and playing the guitar and banjo with the intent of releasing a debut EP, influenced by her love of American folk music and jazz.
She credits Olivia Rodrigo, a fellow Fil-Am and Disney actress on “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series,” as a contemporary inspiration for finding success in both acting and singing. (The 18-year-old Rodrigo, who released her debut single “drivers license,” has broken records for being the youngest artist to debut No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and broke Spotify’s record for the most streams in a week.)
“I really admire Olivia Rodrigo. She’s doing so well right now and the fact that she’s part of the Asian community got me really excited. There’s so much attention on her and she just embodies the foundation that I would like to have,” Custodio said.
Just as Lea Salonga has been a role model for her to get into acting, Custodio hopes she can do the same for the new generation of Fil-Ams and other Asian Americans by showing what’s possible on-screen.
“I feel really honored because Disney is a giant platform to be on. I also think that there needs to be a lot more diversity in media in general,” she said. “I’m really excited to know that there are girls who have the same background as me, watching and maybe possibly feeling inspired the same way I was with Lea Salonga when I was little.”