His mother, a caterer, was born in Virginia’s Appalachian region but grew up in Detroit. Both had an equal influence in their son’s upbringing, incorporating several cultural and regional traditions along the way. This amalgam makes Jeff, essentially, very American (which he points out, by the way, is not a race).
He doesn’t remember a time when he did not want to be an actor, which is a little odd since “not many actors came from where I come from,” he observed. Most people back home end up going to “your typical high school reunion. You went to dinner parties, and the few who graduated bonded.” But he realizes there isn’t the same bond he shared with them.
Not that his life wasn’t exciting at Okemos High School. After all he was President of the Drama Club. In fact, one of his fondest memories is as a senior, when they turned the movie, Clue, into a stage play. Jeff wrote the adaptation and starred in it also. The year before that, they performed Thornton Wilder’s classic, Our Town. High School audiences, it seems, are able to get over the fact that an Asian might be playing a non-Asian role.
After graduating, Jeff was admitted to a four-year intense acting program at Carnegie Mellon School of Drama.
“Getting in was a big deal,” he concludes. “It was a certain kind of validation.” He continues to say that his four years in the school was gratifying. “You had the same classmates and you saw each other develop.” There was some comfort in that, too.
But the actor suggests that, “the real world isn’t like that. There is little comfort or validation in the real world. In school, you may have good people around. In the real world, you get depressed, surrounded by all the other actors going through the same thing.”
Sharing the same fears, worries, challenges and insecurities with his fellow actors, Jeff appreciates that it is easy to be trapped in “a negative feedback loop.” These rejections and frustrations become never ending topics of discussion. So he makes a sincere effort to surround himself with people whose background is much different from his own. “I try to mine the world for stories.”
In 2007, Jeffrey Omura landed a serious role, Balthazar, in one of the world’s most famous stories (well, a play really), Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, in one of the world’s most famous venues, Central Park. Directed by Michael Grief the production also featured Six Feet Under’s Lauren Ambrose and inside Llewyn Davis’s Oscar Isaac, among others.
His first television gig was as Todd Jansen, Nellie Yuki’s (played by Yin Chang) boyfriend in Gossip Girl. Since then he has gone on to appear in several notable series including Damages, The Michael J. Fox Show and Blue Bloods.
Have you ever had a hundred grand between your legs?
To some of his friends, one of his most memorable TV scenes is one in which he acts opposite Matt Bomer in White Collar. “Have you ever had a hundred grand between your legs?” He was talking about a motorcycle of course. Still, it’s a funny line to deliver. (Bomer, incidentally, graduated from Carnegie Mellon, too.)
Apart from television, Jeff has also landed spots in shorts and feature films including Milk Crate and Sex and the City 2. He has also appeared in commercials, most recently in a Liberty Mutual’s television ad campaign (and we all breathe a collective sigh of relief for the first non-annoying ad of the lot).
Surprisingly, Jeff finds going through film and television casting slightly easier to handle than theater. “Networks and studios are under a lot more pressure to cast diversely. Theater practitioners are liberal minded, yet I find there is a complete lack of oversight in inclusive casting,” the thespian opines.
This rather limited approach is pushing the theatrical community to a breaking point. “Either we produce the same kind of products over and over again, do the same things, chugging along as we normally do, and cater to smaller and smaller audiences…or we change everything and allow for greater creative freedom.”