TaiwaneseAmerican.org is excited to present our latest “New Creatives” interview with Rosalie Chiang, voice actress for the protagonist Mei in Pixar’s blockbuster 2022 animated film, Turning Red. Chiang is a 16 year-old actress, model, and author of two children’s poetry books, including A is for Albatross: Birds A to Z, which received the Skipping Stones Honor Award. Her mother is Taiwanese while her father is Singaporean, born in Taiwan. Chiang hopes to pursue a full-time acting career following her incredible success with Turning Red, which is her first feature film.
Turning Red revolves around Meilin Lee, a 13 year-old Chinese-Canadian girl who is reaching her coming-of-age. After her mother, Ming, inadvertently humiliates her daughter in public by exposing her crush’s identity, Mei wakes up the next morning and fins herself cursed with the ability to turn into a giant red panda when she feels any strong emotions. In order to undo the curse, Mei must undergo a ceremony the night of the next full moon– but as the night draws nearer, Mei begins to think that she might not want it gone after all. Torn between her mother’s expectations and her own identity, she must make a choice: embracing her identity as Ming’s obedient daughter or embracing her own budding identity.
With that, I am pleased to present my interview with Rosalie Chiang, lightly edited for clarity and length.
Alyssa: Hi Rosalie! I’ve been looking forward to meeting you. Thanks so much for making time to interview with me today.
Rosalie: Of course; it’s my pleasure!
A: So I have a few questions I’d like to ask you just to get a feel for your experience in terms of auditioning and acting in Turning Red, your aspirations/goals, and your cultural heritage.
R: Fire away! I’m excited to get started.
A: Prior to being officially cast in Turning Red, you had to go through so many auditions, including for other roles, and then as a “temporary” casting for Turning Red — how do you prepare yourself for all the different ways each casting could go? Who and what encourages you? What is the scariest part of an audition, and what’s the most exhilarating audition experience you’ve had?
R: I just do my best and hope for the best. Each casting audition is looking for a specific person, which is something that is outside of my control. Sometimes the script has a description of the characters– I study that carefully to ensure that my audition is as true to character as possible. Sometimes I base my audition on a TV or movie character who I think is close to the audition character. In the past, I remember working so hard for each audition, as though my life depended on it. Then I would beat myself up when I didn’t book the job, which was nearly always. Now, after each audition, I do my best to move on and focus on the next one. The audition process for “Turning Red” was definitely the most exhilarating– the script was interesting and visiting Pixar for the callback was a treat!
A: That’s a great personal creed to live by. It’s definitely important not to get weighed down by rejection or failure and keep moving forward. In terms of getting into the role, what are some of the things you did to understand Mei? Did you learn anything interesting about her background or the time/environment that she grew up in?
R: Being a fellow tween Asian girl definitely helped in this respect. I found that a lot of the experiences that Mei was going through were relatable to me as someone in a similar stage of adolescence. I could only read the script on the day of each recording session. During each session, Domee Shi (director) and Julia Cho (writer) provided the necessary insight into each scene and guidance on how to intonate each line.
A: You’ve touched briefly on this in your previous answer, but could you elaborate on what was the most relatable part about Mei for you? How would you compare your attitudes towards your parents and their expectations?
R: Many of Mei’s experiences and personality traits are uncannily similar to mine, including her changing relationship with her mom, her close friendships, and social awkwardness in certain situations. Unlike Mei, I have more open-minded parents who are quite supportive of what I want to do, even in terms of the more “disagreeable” choices that I make, such as quitting piano and ballet in favor of pursuing activities such as skateboarding and acting as a career. Above all, my parents emphasize my happiness and well-being more than my obedience and achievements. I’m really thankful for that.
Above all, my parents emphasize my happiness and well-being more than my obedience and achievements. I’m really thankful for that.
A: When Mei is talking with her father Jin right before the red panda ritual, he tells her that “people have all kinds of sides to them. And some sides are messy. The point isn’t to push the bad stuff away. It’s to make room for it, live with it.” In embracing her red panda, Mei learns to come to terms with her shortcomings and imperfections as an integral part of herself. What is your red panda, so to speak, and how have you learned to embrace it?
R: My red panda is my acting career. Pursuing acting as a career is both unpredictable and risky. It’s definitely a non-traditional choice in terms of profession, especially among Asians; but I can’t help but love it. Many people, including close friends and peers, have advised me to stop chasing after my dream and simply focus on my grades, which has often made me doubt my choice and my identity. However, having made the decision to keep going on this path, I’ve learned to embrace my red panda by continuing to improve on my craft. As a result, my acting career has flourished thus far and I can confidently say that I have no regrets about where I stand today.
A: I’m glad to hear that you’ve come to embrace your personal red panda as well! Moving onto AAPI representation in popular media, you’ve said in past interviews that it’s a “surreal” honor to voice the first Asian lead character in a Pixar movie. How is this meaningful to you personally? How does it make you feel when other Asian creatives can point to you for inspiration and proof that their dreams are possible?
R: It’s really cool to have a coming-of-age story from an Asian girl’s perspective. I feel incredibly honored because Turning Red was my first feature film. To be honest, it was strange at first to see my voice coming from the mouth of this beautifully drawn animated character, but I’m so grateful that so many talented people came together to animate Mei to fit my voice. In terms of others viewing me as a source of inspiration, it’s a bit odd for me to think about this in light of the fact that I was in a similar place just two years ago. For the people out there who do look to me for inspiration, I hope that I can inspire you to work hard to perfect your craft. Never give up on your dreams!
A: Agreed! Speaking of dreams, TaiwaneseAmerican.org has been pleased to follow you since you published two poetry books, the first when you were just 10 years old, and I’ve certainly dreamed of talking with you since then! These books include A is for Albatross: Birds A to Z and A is for Arowana: Freshwater Fish A to Z. Interestingly, both of your books concern wildlife. Can you talk about what draws you to these different mediums, including acting? What are some other stories you’d like to tell?
R: I published my first book at 10 years old and second at 14, but both were actually finished when I was 9 years old! From early on, I was always fascinated by nature and wildlife. My parents nurtured my interest by bringing me to different zoos and natural history museums. I also loved poetry, especially the poetry of Shel Silverstein and Jack Prelutsky. Taking that into account, my parents encouraged me to write my own books combining my interests and eventually publish them. It was the many hours that I spent watching TV as a kid that I fostered my dream to delve deeper into acting. I was and still am intrigued with having a profession where you can step into that world of make-believe and become whatever or whoever you want to be.
A: What are some aspects of your Taiwanese/Asian American identity that manifest most prominently in your life (i.e., holidays, languages spoken at home, etc.)? What are some things you’ve learned about Asian culture while studying for/going through Turning Red? Did anything surprise you?
R: The aspect of Asian culture I appreciate most is the wide variety of delicious foods. Even Turning Red has a sequence that focuses on Chinese cooking and shared meals, which is a core component of many Asian cultures. My family celebrates the Lunar New Year by preparing a big feast at my grandparents’ house. By eating together as a whole group, we show our love for one another and bond through our shared culture. My mom also tries to get me to speak Mandarin at home, which I’ve been slowly picking up. I really like Turning Red because I think it depicts a lot of the most authentic aspects of Chinese culture.
A: Springboarding off of my previous question, what’s your favorite Taiwanese food or your go-to bubble tea drink?
R: There are too many to choose from! Some of my favorites include popcorn chicken (鹽酥雞), stinky tofu (臭豆腐), beef noodle soup (牛肉麵), and beef rolls with pickled vegetables (牛肉捲餅). I don’t really have a go-to bubble tea drink because I always love trying new drinks! I’m definitely the type of person who likes to step outside of her comfort zone.
A: This has been great! Thanks again for chatting with me today, it was amazing to get the opportunity to learn more about your experience as a voice actress for Turning Red. I, for one, am looking forward to seeing where your career will take you from here.
R: I had a blast. Thank you so much!
If you’re interested in learning more about Rosalie, feel free to check out her social media accounts and Pixar interview linked below:
Alyssa Lee served as Johns Hopkins TASA president and is currently leading the TaiwaneseAmerican.org “New Creatives” Initiative. She is currently studying Molecular and Cellular Biology and History of Art.