Ming-Na Wen on making it in Hollywood: 'You have to create for yourself'

The actress's Hollywood career began almost 30 years ago with a starring role in 'The Joy Luck Club'

Ming-Na Wen's big Hollywood break came in 'The Joy Luck Club' in 1993. Reuters

When Ming-Na Wen starred in 1993’s The Joy Luck Club, an adaptation of Amy Tan’s hit novel about Chinese-American women and their Chinese immigrant mothers, it felt as though the tide could finally be turning for Asian and Asian-American actors in Hollywood.

The film, which was one of the first to feature a predominantly Asian cast, was well received by critics and fans. It was even nominated for a Bafta Award. However, for more than two decades, it was also Hollywood’s last to feature such a cast until Crazy Rich Asians in 2018.

"I always believe things happen when they're supposed to happen. And with The Joy Luck Club, it just happened when it was supposed to happen. It is a gem of a film that has endurance and lives," she says. "I think it's just one of those special projects that won't be replicated."

The cast of 1993's 'The Joy Luck Club'. Photo: Hollywood Pictures

While Wen, 58, appreciates how much The Joy Luck Club changed her life by helping her get her big break in her acting career, she says that she also recognises that in order for such films to be made, there needs to be demand for it.

“I certainly don't take it personally, because if there was a demand for it, it would happen more often,” she says.

However, she also points out there are plenty of other ways to still have influence in television and film besides just acting parts.

“I feel like more and more Asian Americans are getting behind the cameras, becoming producers, writers, directors. And that's making a huge impact,” Wen says. “And also, it's people like you and me, and writers who are going to put forth the material. So those are the important factors, but you can't take it personally if you want to do it. You have to write it, create for yourself.”

These days, that's exactly what she hopes to do. "I've got a few things that I can't announce, and I can't talk about, but I'm very excited to start," she says. "One of my goals is to produce more projects that have a strong Asian American historical storytelling."

Over the years, Wen's career has been filled with a variety of roles. She was the voice of the original animated film Mulan and had a cameo in the 2020 live-action remake. She also had a long stint on the medical drama ER.

However, more recently she’s found success by teaming up again with Disney, appearing in Disney+ shows such as Agents of Shield, The Mandalorian, The Bad Batch and The Book of Boba Fett.

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It's her determination to continue that’s made her a success, with a career spanning almost three decades, along with the belief that there is no limit to what she can do.

“I think if I viewed it, especially Hollywood, with a sense that I can't make it because I'm Asian, or I can't make it because I'm now of a certain age, or I can't make it because ... then I probably wouldn't be in this business,” she says.

“You just have to kind of go into it with the blind faith that you're supposed to do it and it's supposed to happen and not let these things be the excuse.”

Updated: April 22, 2022, 6:02 PM