Ming-Na for “Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within”

One of America’s most beautiful Asian stars, Ming-Na (formerly Ming-Na Wen)was recently voted by America’s A-Magazine as “one of the 100 most influential American Asians of the past decade”. High praise indeed for one of the stars of TV’s E.R, who is currently lending her voice to the all computer-generated character of Aki in Final Fantasy – The Spirits Within. Add to that her role of recent mother and producer of a new Asian American boy band, and Ming-Na is clearly more than a pretty face, as Paul Fischer recently discovered when he spoke, one-on-one, with the talented actress.

As successful as Ming-Na is, the actress also concedes that roles for Asian Americans, still remain limited. “Knock on wood I’ve been in the right place at the right time, but I’ve been in Hollywood now since Joy Luck Club, seven years ago, and you see SOME momentum going in one direction and then it stops. It’s really challenging and still a constant struggle”. Yet Ming-Na continues to delve in this uncertain profession “because I love it so much. Maybe I’m masochistic but I just love the challenge of it, just to prove that they’re wrong, to try to change people’s narrow perceptions of what Asian Americans are”.

Originally credited as Ming Na-Wen, she first received critical acclaim for her lead role in the hit movie The Joy Luck Club, based on the best-seller novel by Amy Tan. An honours graduate in Drama from Carnegie-Mellon University, Ming-Na began her career in Pittsburgh before moving to New York. She continued her stage training there and appeared in several plays. But it was when she moved to California that she landed a role on the daytime drama As the World Turns.

After the TV comedy The Single Guy was cancelled, she continued with her film career garnering strong reviews in Mike Figgis’ One Night Stand with Wesley Snipes. Her other credits include Street Fighter and Rain Without Thunder. Ming-Na also supplied the voice of Disney’s Mulan, and loved the idea of returning to animation territory in hyper-realistic Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. Though animated, Ming-Na sees her character, Aki as being “a very complex woman with so many mysterious qualities about her. She’s also really strong”. Not to mention the fact that “she wants to save the world, which is a little bit of an A-personality for me”, she adds laughingly.

Far more surrealistic and philosophical than what one might expect from a video game movie, it is precisely those elements, which are so specifically Asian, that appealed to Ming-Na when she signed on to voice Aki. “The philosophies and influences of the Asians’ ideals are definitely intact in the movie, and that was obviously a great appeal. The whole idea of just how we relate to the earth and to each other are all interesting to me”. Ming-Na also admits to being “a huge sci-fi geek. When I was little, Star Wars and The Force – were a religion to me. I used to pray to Buddha, God — and The Force”. Now this ex-president of her high school science fiction club, has a chance to live out her own fantasies. “What a cool way to make a living”.

When not supplying voices to strong female characters, Ming-Na is busy on television. She initially appeared in the first season of the hit series E.R as Dr Chen, and was enticed back to reprise her character. “It was the right timing and the right place for me to come back. I’ve always loved the people in the show. They called me up out of the blue and asked me if I wanted to come back with the same character. It’s still the number 1 show, still great writing and at that point I felt I wanted to do more television and have a stable life, rather than travel all the time. So it worked out”. Even to the point of including her real-life pregnancy as an E.R plot line “which was very cool and gave me a lot to do with Chen”.

As successful as Ming-Na is, the actress also concedes that roles for Asian Americans, still remain limited. “Knock on wood I’ve been in the right place at the right time, but I’ve been in Hollywood now since Joy Luck Club, seven years ago, and you see SOME momentum going in one direction and then it stops. It’s really challenging and still a constant struggle”. Yet Ming-Na continues to delve in this uncertain profession “because I love it so much. Maybe I’m masochistic but I just love the challenge of it, just to prove that they’re wrong, to try to change people’s narrow perceptions of what Asian Americans are”.

This is why Ming-Na and her husband, Eric Michael Zee, a writer and actor, are going in a different direction. “We’re producing an Asian American boys band. I mean, when they do the last 50 years of rock ‘n’ roll, the only Asian who crops up is Yoko Ono. We realise that music is a good way to touch the masses and change people’s minds”. The band, which is about to record its first album, is called At Last, “which we took from Martin Luther’s famous ‘Free at Last’ speech, because it epitomises the challenges that lay ahead in this country of opportunity”. Opportunity continues to knock for Ming-Na, with her E.R gig, boy band venture and she has just started working on Disney’s Mulan II. “I’m so excited about that. She is off to fight another adventure and it’s going to be great. What a role model!” Much like the actress who has given her a voice