For actor Francesca Ling, it would seem destiny meant for her to be in the entertainment business.
Born and raised in Chicago, she is the daughter of famous Chicago news anchor and reporter Linda Yu. Seeing her mother in front of the camera and at events around the city helped Francesca feel at home when it came to being on a stage and in front of people.
Francesca has made appearances in series such as Intelligence and Hawaii Five-O. Currently, she can be seen on the hit CBS series God Friended Me, which is currently in its second season. Francesca plays Parker, a food blogger and best friend to the main character Cara Bloom.
We had the chance to sit down with her and talk about her work on God Friended Me, what it was like growing up with a famous mother and how, if at all, working on this series has changed her view of religion and spirituality.
Pop Culture Principle – You’re the daughter of a famous Chicago news anchor and reporter Linda Yu. Growing up, did she have an influence on you getting into the entertainment industry?
Francesca Ling – Oh, absolutely! People have asked if I wanted to follow in her footsteps and be on television like my mother. I never wanted to be a news anchor, but I knew from a young age that I wanted to be an actor. You have to understand that in Chicago, the celebrities in town are the news people and my mom was one of the most popular news anchors because her show was always at the top of the ratings.
So, everywhere I would go, people would kind of push me out of the way because they wanted a picture with my mother. 😊 My mother would always be asked to be the emcee at different types of events whether it was a fashion show, a gala or a charity. I would go to the events sometimes and I would see her speak in front of hundreds of people, and for me it was totally normal because that’s just what my mom did.
So, when it came to me training in theater, people would always ask me, “are you nervous?” and I would tell them that I wasn’t nervous, but excited to do what I love. It was only when I got older that I realized that public speaking was such a fear for most people, but for me, it was a normal thing. I am very thankful that she normalized the idea of being seen by a lot of people, which is an important barrier you have to let down when you are an actor.
Pop Culture Principle – You decided to travel to England and study acting at Oxford. What made you decide to go overseas to do your training?
Francesca Ling – I went twice actually. I think the British are so fabulous when it comes to theater, film, and television. There is such dignity and integrity and quality in what they do and I knew I wanted that experience. The training in England is different then in America, so I wanted to go see what they were all about. When I graduated high school, I did a program at Oxford University and was there for a summer and fell in love with the approach to actor’s training. I ended up going to USC to be a drama major, and one of the main reasons I chose USC was because they had a program in London with that same school I had done the program abroad. I loved every minute of it over there. I got to do a play there, and it’s just a different culture. The people who come see you truly love the theater and art.
Pop Culture Principle – Can you remember what your very first paid acting job was and how nervous were you?
Francesca Ling – When I got out to LA, one of my first television jobs was an episode on the series Intelligence on CBS. I think I was a bit nervous because one of the things is that I didn’t know the lingo of where you report to set because they don’t teach you the practicalities of what to do when you book a job in school. 😊
Pop Culture Principle – When you received the first script for God Friended Me, what made you decide to become a part of that series?
Francesca Ling – It’s such a refreshing idea. There are so many dramas that are on network television that are the same lawyer, doctor or cop, detective thing. Don’t get me wrong, I want to work on all of them, but it’s the same type of show year after year and then all of a sudden, here comes this show that integrates social media, has a diverse cast and a young cast, and it’s about helping people, and there are no guns involved. It’s new, refreshing and I think that the world needs a show like God Friended Me right now.
Pop Culture Principle – How have you enjoyed playing the character of Parker and is she like you in any way?
Francesca Ling – I love Parker and I love playing Parker because she’s just a breath of fresh air. She’s the type of friend we all want to be or wish we had. She is just totally supportive of her friend no matter what. She’s the kind of girl who marches to the beat of her own drum and she’s definitely living her best life. When I initially booked the job, the producers just said that she was a beauty blogger, but that never really came into play and it wasn’t until episode sixteen of last season that they decided to make Parker a food blogger. Whether or not that is what Parker wants to do forever, it doesn’t matter because she’s so positive and right where she needs to be exactly when she needs to be there, and that is her attitude.
Being a great supportive friend means lifting your friend up and complimenting them and encouraging them, but it’s also giving them tough love when that’s needed, and that is totally who she is. I don’t think it was a huge stretch for me to play Parker because I think that is who I am in my life and the kind of friend I am to a lot of people as well, so it felt very natural to play Parker.
It’s been a bit of a shock as to how much I have recurred throughout the show. Parker was never guaranteed to return. In the original pilot, I had three scenes, but only one scene made it into the pilot because of time constraints. The scene you see in the pilot was super short, but in the original pilot, I had this scene where I am helping Cara out of a bad situation, and it was also the scene where Cara was originally introduced.
The producers liked the work I was doing and brought me back, and having Parker in Cara’s life gives her more of a world. I ended up settling into this groove of being Cara’s sounding board any time she needed to work out her personal relationships, stuff with her mom or her work stuff. Parker is right there to be her sounding board. It’s a joy to play Parker and it’s a really fun job for me.
Pop Culture Principle – We haven’t had a lot of backstory for your character Parker. Will that change this season or do you hope that changes and will she become a part of the God Squad?
Francesca Ling – I have no idea and I hope they do. I think that would be so much fun. I think it’s kind of written that way that they can pull from their group to help. As of now, it hasn’t really happened that way yet. The closest we got was in episode 16 last season, where they need Parker’s help to track down what is happening with the girl who wants to start her own restaurant and her father doesn’t know. They are sort of writing it as they go, so I don’t know if they have that plan yet for Parker, but hopefully! If the fans demand it, maybe we’ll get there!
Pop Culture Principle – Have you been surprised by how well-received God Friended Me is with the critics and fans?
Francesca Ling – I think you are always surprised in that you just never know how things are going to go because it may seem like a great idea, but people don’t respond to it. Also, there is so much content out there with network television and streaming platforms that sometimes things get lost in the shuffle. But, when it does work out and people watch the show and its uplifting to them and they tell their friends about it, that is just so great. I want to say that it wasn’t a surprise because I know how wonderful the show makes me feel as a viewer, but that other people across the country and internationally watch the show is great and it’s been getting positive feedback across the board.
Pop Culture Principle – Parker has been a big supporter of Cara and Miles getting together. How much has her support helped Cara move in that direction?
Francesca Ling – I think Cara is a very internal person and she needs to reason things out. She’s not the kind of person that jumps and sees what happens later. What Parker really does for Cara is that she is a mirror. Parker holds a mirror up to Cara so she can see what is going on because she can’t necessarily see it in herself. So, it’s not so much what Parker thinks what she should do, it’s what she thinks is best for Cara. Parker can tell when Cara likes someone just because they’re cute or when she is really feeling something deeper. I think Cara really listens to what Parker has to say.
Pop Culture Principle – Two main themes of God Friended Me are human connection and helping people. Would you agree with that?
Francesca Ling – Definitely! I think it’s so cool how they use social media to connect people, which is such a beautiful thing because I feel like social media can often disconnect people because everyone’s heads are down-facing their phone as opposed to being up and looking at what’s around them and you can kind of get closed in that way. There are people who only put one version of themselves on social media. It’s only the best things or they only take pictures of what they want people to see or present themselves in a way that’s not necessarily truthful. So, to turn that around and use social media to connect people, that is really cool!
Pop Culture Principle – A new character Adam Grey has been introduced in Cara and Parker’s workplace. Something tells us he’s going to be trouble. Would you agree?
Francesca Ling – I can’t tell you what’s going to happen, but there are going to be some twists and turns. We will find out more about him and what he has up his sleeve. So, that will be interesting and that is all I can say. 😊
Pop Culture Principle – Has being on this series and playing the character of Parker changed your view of religion and/or spirituality?
Francesca Ling – Maybe this is spirituality. It depends on how you define it. Actors are all about human behavior and human connection. I don’t think you can be a good actor without being a curious person with a lot of compassion. So, it’s affected that sense of myself in continuing to stay open to people and not judging people right away. I live in LA, but the show shoots in New York. Being in LA, we spend a lot of time in our cars isolated from people. So, being on this show is just a constant reminder to let people in and understand how people can surprise you and what you can learn from them and you can only do that if you say, “yes.”
Pop Culture Principle – While helping others, the team also learns something about themselves. Would you agree with that?
Francesca Ling – I am a fan of the show as a viewer and every episode is so heartwarming. I love it when Miles and Cara help someone else, but also learn something about themselves and relate it to their own lives. Like when Miles is reaching out to somebody and it is so reminiscent of the conflict between him and his own father. It’s all of these universal themes on what we struggle with and who we love and all of it that is so heartwarming.
Pop Culture Principle – Can you talk a bit about working with veteran actor Joe Morton?
Francesca Ling – He directed episode 16 of the first season which I was in of course and I got to work with him. He makes a great director because he knows how to talk to actors. He definitely had the vision for how he wanted the scenes to play out and fit all those technical pieces together. But he also gave us the space to do what we do. There was a lot of trust when working with him. He is so generous and at every table read, he always brings everything to his reading. He always is focused and ready to work. He is such a caring, giving and hard-working guy. He’s sort of the senior guy on set, he’s a great role model and I really look up to him. He’s wonderful.
Pop Culture Principle – Do you think the success of God Friended Me will give networks the drive to possibly make more shows like it?
Francesca Ling – I hope so. If you take an original idea and you put really talented people behind it, then people will feel that and see that and it will come across every week. The networks are also driven by business and numbers, so sometimes it is scary to take a chance, but I think it can only help that our show is doing so well.
A huge thank you to the wonderfully talented Francesca Ling for talking with us. God Friended Me returns from its winter break on Sunday, January 9th at 8/7c.
If you would like to keep up with all of Francesca’s latest news and projects, you can follow her on Twitter by following @HiFrancescaLing or Instagram by following @chekabaer.
**All God Friended Me photos courtesy of CBS**