Fala Chen, the new star of ‘Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,’ is making her mark on Hollywood following a long and successful TV career in Hong Kong. After an eight-year contract with TVB as a variety show host and later as an actress, Chen was looking for a change of pace and wanted to learn how to truly perform. She enrolled at Juilliard and was the first Chinese American to earn an MFA from the school when she graduated in 2018. Chen sits down with ELLE to discuss putting her career on pause for four years to study at Juilliard, her next chapter as a Marvel superhero, and getting the offer from Marvel while on her honeymoon on a cruise ship to Antarctica.
On auditioning for Shang-Chi less than 24 hours from embarking on her honeymoon – a cruise ship to Antarctica, a continent not known for its exceptional cell service: “[My team] all freaked out, so I gave them the satellite phone number, like, to the captain’s office,” she says. “That was the only means of communication.” On the second day of the trip, she finally seized reliable WiFi and got the good news: Because her team had been trying to reach her for so long, Marvel made an offer without meeting in person. “I’m definitely the first person who’s ever gotten an offer in Antarctica from Marvel,” Chen says.
Shang-Chi director Destin Daniel Cretton on selecting Chen for her upcoming role based purely on her tapes: “[Jiang Li] had to have a playfulness about her that would help to break some stereotypes of otherwise female mystic Asian characters that we have seen in the past. Fala has a magic about her that was really just in line with the character.”
On putting her life on hold to study at Juilliard: “All I ever wanted in my life as an actor was a safe, exploratory environment to just play and act, without being worried about if it’s going to turn out alright on camera, what the box office is going to be, what is the press going to say, what’s the review going to be like. Acting in its purest form.”
On her most challenging course at Juilliard–Clown: “Clown was hard for me. That whole year I cried every day. It’s the quintessential actor’s challenge, because you don’t get to hide with Clown. You have to fully use yourself.” The idea, Chen says, is that the actors must make the audience laugh, but mainly through the farcical slapstick of their own bodies. It’s meant to be degrading, but also invigorating.
On the effect of being in the public eye and having a fresh start in New York: “I didn’t react well toward paparazzi,” she confesses. “I just was really protective of myself and constantly hiding myself. I didn’t know the long-term effect until a couple years later, when it was affecting my relationship…There were a couple years of me just living with my curtains closed at home, and I always had curtains in the car,” she says. “It was just too much.” Chen gestures toward the archetypal New York chaos around us, and says, “Here, I’m starting anew.”
On her time on TVB’s Triumph In The Skies II and reflecting on what type of actor she wanted to be: She loved acting, but she wasn’t entirely sure she knew how to do it. “I always felt like I was kind of faking it,” she says. “I wasn’t sure how to create a character; I wasn’t sure how to carry a 20-episode show.”
[Photo Credit: Tyler Joe for ELLE Magazine]