Interview: Rosalie Chiang Discusses Turning Red, How She Differs From Meilin

After making waves on Disney+, Pixar’s Turning Red is now available digitally and will release on Blu-ray on May 3. Directed by Domee Shi, the film stars Rosalie Chiang, Sandra Oh, Ava Morse, Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, Hyein Park, and Orion Lee.

“The film introduces Mei Lee, a confident, dorky 13-year-old torn between staying her mother’s dutiful daughter and the chaos of adolescence,” reads the synopsis. “Her protective, if not slightly overbearing, her mother, Ming, is never far from her daughter de ella —an unfortunate reality for the teenager. And as if her changes to her interests, relationships, and her body were n’t enough, whenever she gets too excited (which is practically ALWAYS), she ‘poofs’ into a giant red panda! ”

ComingSoon Editor-in-Chief spoke with Turning Red star Rosalie Chiang about Turning Red‘s success, how she’s different from her character, and more.

Tyler Treese: Rosalie, It’s such a pleasure to speak with you. I love the film and I read that your mother used to call you Mei-Mei as a child, and that red pandas are your favorite animal. This role just seemed meant for you, right?

Rosalie Chiang: Yo lo se! And the thing is, before, Mei was n’t her original name of her. It was actually Fay. Some time after I booked the role officially, that’s when I realized, “oh, they changed her name from ella to Mei. And I’m like, oh gosh, my nickname coming back to haunt me.”

So you weren’t even born when the film takes place, which is 2002. So what about that culture, which is kind of weirdly coming back in a lot of ways, what was the strangest to you to see in this film?

I’ll be honest. I don’t think there was anything that really I thought, “Oh, that’s kind of weird. Oh, it’s kind of strange.” I think overall everything sort of made sense. And I don’t think for me, at least the things she goes through and the things she has, hasn’t really changed all that much for me. And the fact that that’s considered now the 2000s and like 20 years ago, it’s kind of weird. But I think that just shows that certain things at that time can stand the test of time.

What has really stood the test of time is the Tamagotchi toys. Have you ever played with one of those?

I haven’t, but I do have a friend that had one. So when she saw that Mei has one she totally fangirled.

Mei’s a very inspiring character. What did you connect with the most of her about her of her?

The fact that she was going through this big change as a 13 year old girl, because I think that’s something that every kid, not just girls, but just kid goes through in their life when they’re hitting puberty and coming of age. And it’s such a weird and awkward experience. And you sort of feel like you’re a freak, you feel like it sometimes feels like you’re the only one going through it. But in reality, because it’s such a taboo topic that, like, we don’t want to talk about it at all, but for Pixar to bring this into their movie and to just show that, you know what, this is something that everyone goes through. You’re not a freak. You’re not weird. Don’t worry about it. You’ll make it.

There are a lot of similarities between you and your character, but what differs the most?

Her desire to be the perfect girl for her mom. It’s something that I personally never really had, a desire to be perfect for my mom. It’s more of a “I want to make her proud of her” situation and not necessarily being perfect. In fact, I, in the movie Mei lies to her mom to go to the party, but I talked to my mom about it and I can be sort of a rebel at home. And so if that was the case, I wouldn’t lie about going to the party. I would tell her, “No, mom, I’m going to that party, whether you like it or not. And that’s that.” So that’s the biggest difference between Mei and I.

RELATED: Turning Red Interview: Director Domee Shi Discusses Film’s Depiction of Intergenerational Trauma

I thought it was so neat that you were making scratch recordings for the film as it was animated. So what was it like when you finally found out that they were keeping you on and you had the role?

It was sort of… it was a moment that I was anticipating for a long time, because I guess two years into it, I thought, “you know what? I’m just gonna continue.” And then there’s a period of time where I forgot that I still haven’t officially booked it yet, because I didn’t want to try to prepare myself in the off-chance that I don’t book it and then I’m just going to disappoint myself. So I just told myself, “I’m just going to do scratch. I’m not gonna book it. Don’t worry about it”. Just so that way, if it does happen, then I’ll be super excited. But if it doesn’t happen, I won’t be devastated. But the fact that I booked it, then I was super excited. Ofcourse.

There are so many fun scenes in this film. What was the most fun to record? Was it some of the action scenes? What really stood out?

I’d say, in fact, The action scenes are probably my least favorite scenes to see, just because it … even though on-screen, it looks really cool, it’s pretty boring to film. I’m just going “ah! Oh!” Like different non-verbals and they weren’t the greatest to film, but looking at the movie, “Wow, that’s really cool. I didn’t realize I did that.”

But my favorite scenes to record were any scene involving Devon. It’s sort of something that I went through in that when I was younger, … now I’m a big K-pop fan, but before I was a K-pop fan, I was sort of a K-pop hater, where all my friends were obsessed and I’m like, “no, they’re not that good. Oh whatever. Their songs aren’t that good.” But then there was a period of where I was like, I think I was looking at BTS or something. And I had that same moment when she was drawing Devon, and she was like, “they’re not that hot. Ok fine. Maybe their eyes are okay.” Going through that. And I just think those scenes are so well animated. And I think those are my favorites to record for sure.

This is the first Pixar film to have an anime influence with it. How cool was it to be involved with such a stylish film?

I’m a big anime fan myself. So if you pause at certain moments, you can see when Mei, I guess, does like a headshot to her mom, you can see everything all of a sudden turns black and white, but for a split second. And that makes all the difference. And the fact that it is anime-influenced, it just shows how I think different compared to other Pixar movies [it is] and that there are sudden movements, there’s weird turns and sharp movements compared to other Pixar films. And so I think it just shows that Pixar is really open to any style and that just makes people more compelled to watch the movies.

I saw that one of your favorite movies is Perfect Blue by the legendary Satoshi Kon. So what was it about that film that really left an impact on you?

I think how simple the actual story was, but I was so invested to the point where when it ended, I was like, “wait, it ended, I want to watch more!” And the different visuals and the fact that you’re sort of questioning reality throughout the entire film and watching the character go through it. And it’s just such an engaging film that I can watch over and over again.

What other anime do you enjoy watching? As your voice-acting career continues, are there any dubs you would like to do?

I mean, I’m totally open to any sort of… any job out there. And I, my favorite, my favorite anime is Cowboy Bebop. That’s something that… that’s a show I’ve watched many times over and over. And then right now, Kaguya-sama: Love is War. I’m good. I finished it. I finished that show in like, a week. And then right now I’m watching Attack on Titan and I’m sort of really depressed watching it, but at the same time, I’m just watching more and more. I feel like it’s I’m just sort of torturing myself at this point, but it’s such a good show.

yeah. It’s so bingeable. You can’t stop with all the different twists.

This film launched on Disney Plus and just millions are able to just watch it day one. How has it been just seeing all the people relating to your character and enjoying your performance?

It’s assuring for sure, because there’s not many coming-of-age stories. There’s no real mainstream coming of age movie with an Asian lead. Because when I watched coming-of-age stories of people of different races and cultures, I didn’t relate to it at all. And the thing is I was supposed to relate to them because it’s a coming of age story. So because these movies portrayed differently than what I went through. I thought that my journey and my coming of age story was weird and wrong and different, and that I was the only one through it. But to hear Domee and other people relating to it heavily, I’m like, it’s sort of assuring that, oh, so other people went through it. It’s not just me. There’s nothing weird or different or wrong with how my story is because it’s something that everyone went through, that a lot of people went through as well.

Pixar stories stand the test of time. Has it really sunk in yet that like generations will be watching this film for decades to come?

Not really. I think the fact that it’s been what, like a month or two, the fact that this is part of Pixar’s legacy and people are to this day still watching Toy Story and Bug’s Life and all the old Pixar films. And I hope that, because those were my movies, Pixar movies were the movies I grew up with, because I couldn’t watch The Godfather or Perfect Blue. So the fact that kids, my age are going to grow up with this film and watch it over and over again is a true honor

So what made you want to become an actor? Was there one film that like set this off? Was there a performance?

Not particularly. My dad, let me watch a lot of TV when I was younger. So I just watched a bunch of Disney Channel and Nickelodeon and watched though, I’d see the kids do what they do and portraying different characters is something that I really was interested in. And my mom sent me to like theater camp and Shakespeare camp. And I always had so much fun doing that. And so I told my parents that “I want to do it for real and be on TV!” And so that’s when they started sending me to classes and we started to learn all the nooks and crannies of the entertainment business.

It’s awesome seeing the hard work pay-off. I saw that you released some books of poetry in the past. Do you still write? How did this love for poetry come about?

yeah. I released those books when I was around 10 or something and one when I was 14, because the second book I wrote, but we never got the chance to publish it. So, like, many years later, I published it when I was 14. Right now I’m not writing as much poetry because I have so much on my plate with school, with this movie with even more acting opportunities. But what sparked my interest was the fact that my mom always borrowed poetry books from the library for me. So like Shel Silverstein, Jack Prelutsky, those sort of goofy, funky poems is what really inspired me to take that on.

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