MING-NA WEN: A YEAR OF DREAMS
Byline: Teena Hammond
LOS ANGELES — It’s the year of the tiger in the Chinese calendar, and it’s also the year Ming-Na Wen is learning to welcome her Chinese heritage.
She’s doing so in her selection of acting roles as well as in some of her clothing choices.
One of her favorite houses is Shanghai Tang, in part because the beautiful colors and silks “go with the Chinese face,” she said. “This year I’m really embracing my culture.”
Wen, 29, also favors Valentino, Badgley Mischka and Donna Karan.
“BCBG is another one. I love the way their pants fit,” she said. “I usually get turned on by looks with clean lines.”
But when it come to relaxing at home, “I have an old green sweatshirt and pants that every family member hates. I look like the Jolly Green Giant in them.”
That’s hardly likely — Wen is just 5-foot-4-inches tall. To offset her petite size, she wears “a little bit of a heel at all times.” On that particular morning in her publicist’s office in Beverly Hills, she wore a pair of black boots with 4-inch heels, slim fitting black pants and a sporty black top.
“Most of my wardrobe is black and brown, and because I’ve been on the road, and I’ve made it a point to take only blacks and browns with me,” she said.
Wen is traveling so much because of her busy schedule. From January to March, she had only three days at home here to spend with her “very understanding” husband of two years, actor and writer Eric Michael Zee. And those three days were really just a pit stop between starring in the onstage drama “The Golden Child,” for four weeks in Singapore and then in San Francisco, where it had a six-week run. The play opened on Broadway on April 2.
“This is the first straight drama with a predominately Asian cast” ever on Broadway, she said.
“I’m scared to death. I had my panic attack last week. I said, ‘I can’t go to Broadway.’ ” But, she added that she believes in synchronicity, and that everything happens for a reason.
“The Golden Child” will be Wen’s first time on Broadway, and she’s focusing solely on this experience at the moment, and trying not to worry too much about future roles. “It has been my lifelong dream to get to Broadway, and I don’t want to screw it up.
“This is a year my dreams are being fulfilled.”
On June 19, the animated Disney film “Mulan” will premiere with Wen as the voice of the title character, who is a heroine in Chinese folklore. And she’s perusing movie scripts before deciding on her next role. Wen is a familiar face on TV, having spent two seasons as Trudy on “The Single Guy” and one season on “E.R.” Her film credits include “The Joy Luck Club” and “One Night Stand.”
A role as the shy character, June, in “The Joy Luck Club” spurred Wen’s interest in her Chinese heritage.
“That’s when I realized I had a bigger world, when I went back to China and saw I wasn’t a minority.”
Wen emigrated from China to Pittsburgh with her family when she was four. Her parents owned a Chinese restaurant and the place, called the Chinatown Inn, is still in the family.
As she nears her 30th birthday on Nov. 20, she said, “I actually like getting older because before, I used to reject everything about myself. I rejected being Chinese, and I tried to be so American. I rejected my parents, and I didn’t find Asian men attractive.” (That sentiment has apparently changed, as her husband is Asian.)
She can be regarded as a role model for Asians, young and old, because she plays roles not originally intended for Asians, like the roles of Wesley Snipe’s wife in “One Night Stand,” and Trudy on “The Single Guy.”
The transition from playing a character in “The Joy Luck Club” who was uncomfortable in her own skin to playing Snipe’s sexually aggressive wife was one part of her own maturity.
“It was such a transition,” she said. “In ‘One Night Stand,’ I could play a character who could flaunt her body. I’m looking forward to the next phase.”
As far as beauty goes, Wen has a simple daily routine, using a little eyeliner, MAC powder, blush, lip gloss and mascara. It’s a boon that her lips are naturally red, because that saves her the bother of lipstick when she’s in a rush. On stage, she prefers Shiseido foundation because “it’s heavy enough to hold up under hot lights.”
Mascara is a must-have for Wen. “It’s weird, because since I started doing the play, I’m used to seeing myself with all this makeup. Now after I wash my face, I say, ‘Where are my eyes?’ “
Exercise is also important to Wen. She used to kickbox, but it built too many muscles. Now, she practices yoga at home and goes on walks with her dog.
“And I occasionally go to the gym — I underline occasionally.”
Being on stage is also a workout; Wen compared it to four hours of aerobics.
Then, there’s diet. “I fluctuate, depending on my mood. I eat a McDonald’s burger if I feel like it, or a Johnny’s pastrami. I just don’t do it all the time.”