PRUNE: Hi Chen! Our readers are excited to get to know you today. Off the bat, what is one thing our audience should know about you?
CHEN: I'm Chinese, and super connected to my culture, but I was also raised here in the deep south (Memphis, Tennessee). So, I'm a Southern boy at heart with the accent to boot!
PRUNE: Fans are excited to see you in Walt Disney Studio's upcoming live-action film, "Mulan". Tell us, how did you get your start in acting?
CHEN: I realized I wanted to be an actor when I was taking a fine arts class in college. I chose acting, since it seemed like they were having the most fun, and I thought it'd be an easy A (ha). I was wrong. Acting is actually harder than it looks. But, I ended up falling in love with it when they asked me to audition for the school's shows. I ended up actually getting a role, and I did a musical. I thought to myself backstage before one of our shows, "People actually get paid for this? Having fun and playing make believe?" It just felt right, and so I literally woke up one day in my dorm room and I decided I wanted to do this for a job. I left that school the semester after, and decided to go elsewhere to study acting. It's not super dramatic of a story, but it was a sure feeling.
PRUNE: From the start of your career, you were able to book some major guest appearances (hello, Grey's Anatomy!). How did working on such widely-viewed and loved projects help shape your early career and skill set?
CHEN: I think it was really cool to be able to start off on great, professional sets. It taught me how to work as a professional, be prepared, and just do the best work I can. Learning as you go can be a little tough, especially when in the beginning you feel like you have no idea what you're doing. But I think I learned to be as prepared as I could, since I felt like even doing the auditions for these kinds of projects demanded that you went in there and do the best work you could.
PRUNE: Here we are today with "Mulan" coming out in just one month. Talk to us about the film as a whole, as well as your character, Yao.
CHEN: This is truly a beautiful, emotionally grounded film. It's stunning and epic like you would not believe. I actually feel like the trailers, as beautiful as they are, don't do it justice. Honestly, no matter how you feel about their live-actions, I have to give it up to Disney, they took an artistic risk with this one. They didn't make it shot-for-shot and play it safe, and instead they really did their best to not only honor the original Chinese legend of Mulan, but also celebrate the beauty of our culture and history. They did that while also giving it that Disney magic, as well as making plenty of call-backs to the cartoon version. In a way it's like a spiritual successor to the cartoon. The way our director Niki Caro wanted to shoot this was to make it as real emotionally as possible in this fantastical, epic world. I mean, this film is full of REAL people in a war after all, and she wanted to keep it grounded in truth. I really hope people enjoy it.
My character Yao is the manly-man of our group (or so he thinks). I pulled in a lot of inspiration from the original cartoon. He's brash, aggressive, tough, overcompensating in many ways, but learns to the value of friendship and loyalty in the end through his friends. Listen, I know I'm not like three feet tall like the character in the cartoon, but I wanted to make it my own LOL. I wanted to make my performance feel like it was honoring the spirit of the Yao of old, but a younger version (before the permanent black eye). I also drew some inspiration from my real-life home province of China. I'm from Guangxi, in the deep south near the Vietnam border, where there's tons of these unique mountains and limestone karst hills. I actually belong to a minority group--we are called the Zhuang people in China--that is indigenous to that area. The thing is, we were known to be quite aggressive, independent, and warlike, especially back in the dynastic days where that area was once part of separate kingdoms. So I thought to myself... well wouldn't that be cool if Yao was from this rugged, mountainous place, where all these minority tribespeople were really fierce and manly-men? It would totally make sense that he's "The King of the Rock" on his mountain back home.
PRUNE: So many, including myself, grew up with the original Mulan as a staple movie of our childhood. What does it mean to you personally to be involved with such a beloved project?
CHEN: No pressure right? Being on this film was one of the great experiences of my life. I grew up in my culture with the fable of Hua Mulan, and for Chinese people this is such a part of the fabric of our culture. To be a part of something that can bring a fresh take on this story to a global audience is a great honor. I'm so proud to be able to have our faces, our cultural history, and our stories be seen by more people.
PRUNE: Later this year, we'll also see you in the Bruce Lee Entertainment and Cinemax series, "Warrior". Talk to us about this project.
CHEN: Our show WARRIOR is all about Chinatown gang wars in 18th century San Francisco, in a pulpy, action-packed style. I've been told a lot of people it feels like PEAKY BLINDERS with Kung Fu! There's a lot of fighting, a lot of action, but also mixed in with really great storytelling about race relations, politics, gang shenanigans, etc. Every character in the ensemble cast has their own story and path that somehow ends up mixing together and colliding. This was my first role as a main cast member on a show, and I played a guy named Hong who is part of this gang who just landed from China. But he's super eccentric, quirky, and "not quite there" in the head. He's a genuinely happy-go-lucky, lives-in-the-moment guy who also happens to be a vicious, deadly killer who can fight with ruthless abandon. This show was so, so much fun to shoot. We shot it in Cape Town, so we were all out there for half a year not only working on set, but also living in and exploring stunning South Africa. It really got us to bond like family, and everyone on board felt like they were working on a labor of love. There was that much passion and love for the show.
PRUNE: With much success to start the new year, we ask, what was the turning point in your career? Was it a slow and steady build, or a fast-paced rise?
CHEN: I feel like I honestly am never done growing as an actor. I want to do this for the rest of my life. I gotta say, it never felt like it was either a slow and steady build or a fast-paced rise. It just felt like the right speed for when it was. I know this sounds super cliche and new-agey, but every day seemed like a new adventure, and every period of my career thus far had it's own unique joys and challenges. It's been great fun. "The journey is the reward," as they say.
PRUNE: Who do you look up to as an actor?
CHEN: Spencer Tracy, Daniel Day-Lewis, and Rami Malek.
PRUNE: If you could get dinner with any public figure, dead or alive, who would it be?
CHEN: Bruce Lee, man. Bruce Lee. I'd thank him for paving the way.
PRUNE: Where can we follow you on socials?
CHEN: @ChenLovesYall on IG.
OUR EDITORIAL TEAM
EIC: Michael St. Michael @michaelstmichael
Senior Entertainment Editor: Dylan Rubinstein @thedylanjader
Talent: Chen Tang @chenlovesyall
Photographer: Ryan West @ryanwestphoto
Fashion Stylist x Groomer: Maxi @superdupermaxi
POWERED BY @plutusmassmedia LLC