AGE is not kind to any actor. But that’s not the only factor working against 47-year-old US actress Ming-Na.
She is also a minority Asian American in white-dominated Hollywood.
Talk about a double whammy.
Macau-born Ming-Na, who moved to the US when she was four, admits that there are fewer roles “written specifically for us as Asian characters” in Hollywood.
Speaking to The New Paper over the phone from Vancouver, she said: “There will always be limitations. But I’ve never strived to be super famous.
“I just love my work and feel blessed to get a part I like. Careers like (The Golden Girls veteran actress) Betty White’s are few and far between.
“Seventy per cent of my characters have not been written for Asians, like Camile Wray (in US sci-fi TV series Stargate Universe). I’ll just keep acting because it pays the bills and keeps me busy.”
Stargate Universe airs on Syfy Universal (StarHub Ch 526) on Mondays at 11pm.
Wray is the first lesbian character in the series, which is the third TV incarnation of the popular Stargate franchise, though the references are subtle.
A minority actress playing a character in a minority demographic – sounds like it’s just cut out for Ming-Na.
“I didn’t sign on knowing she was going to be gay. Once the producers brought that up as a possibility, I was excited because I’d never played a gay character before. It was a challenge for me as an actress.
“And (playing a lesbian has been) really good for the marriage. My husband joked he doesn’t have to worry about me on set.”
Ming-Na has been married to Eric Michael Zee, who’s also her manager, for 15 years and they have two children.
While Ming-Na’s most prominent role may be Dr Jing-Mei Chen on the medical drama ER, her breakout role for many all over the world remains June in the weepy The Joy Luck Club (1993).
The jovial actress doesn’t mind that people remember her most for that.
“I’m very thankful that a 17-year-old work has touched people. You’ll always have a fanbase who will remember something you did that has touched them and is imprinted in their memory.
“This is what I do as an entertainer. I’d love for my work to affect someone and leave a little bit of an impression. That’s the greatest compliment.”
Ming-Na’s other films include Street Fighter (1994), where she played Chun-Li, and Mulan, where she was the voice of the titular heroine in the 1998 Disney animated film.
Last year, she played a supporting role in action thriller Push, which was panned by critics. Once an up-and-coming Asian-American movie starlet, it seems Ming-Na has been relegated to being a small-screen actress now.
Not that she minds. She prefers the work schedule of a TV actress because “it’s more predictable and good for family life”.
“I never have those thoughts (about the transition from movies to TV shows as a step down in my career). I choose every job I do and (my decisions aren’t) based on desperation or need.
“After ER, I never have to work a day in my life if I don’t want to and I’m grateful for that. I love working as an actress and with creative people.
“I’m so proud of Stargate Universe. It will blow your mind. I think every episode looks better than most movies out there. There are so many crap films now.”
A sci-fi actress and a self-professed geek like Ming-Na would surely not pass up the chance to be at the recent Comic-Con, probably the ultimate geek convention, held annually at San Diego.
She was in heaven, Ming-Na joked.
“It was great fun and amazing this year. Everyone from Harrison Ford to Angelina Jolie was there. It was insane. I feel bad for the authors because they’re getting pushed to the side as large corporations are taking over the convention.”
Although she caught up with old friends like US actors Wesley Snipes and Blair Underwood, she didn’t meet the one person on her wish list – comic book writer extraordinaire Stan Lee.
“I was so disappointed,” she said with a sigh.
This article was first published in The New Paper.