Ming-Na Wen on Gremlins: Secrets of the Mogwai, making magic, and embracing Chinese mythology

by W. Andrew Powell
Ming-Na Wen

Gremlins: Secrets of the Mogwai is the animated prequel to the iconic 1984 film that I didn’t even know I needed until I saw it. The animated series is clever and exciting, funny, and even a little scary, and the cast is fantastic.

Featuring Ming-Na Wen, James Hong, BD Wong, and Matthew Rhys, to name a few, the series follows Gizmo in the 1920s and Sam Wing, the shop owner we meet in the Gremlins fim, on a dangerous mission to get the creature home. The adventure will take Sam and Gizmo, along with some friends, across the Chinese countryside, and it’s told beautifully by showrunner Tze Chun.

Ming-Na Wen, who plays Sam’s mother, Fong Wing, sat down with me to talk about the series, playing a mother she can relate to, and she also spoke about what comes next for her.

Gremlins: Secrets of the Mogwai airs Fridays at 8 PM (ET/PT) on Cartoon Network in Canada, and it streams on StackTV. Watch it on Max in the U.S.

I have to start by saying how much I loved Stargate Universe and your role in that series.

Ming-Na Wen: Thank you. Thank you. I had the best time making that series. It’s actually the only series I was willing to leave L.A. for because I was raising two young kids and I didn’t want to leave L.A., but being a being a sci-fi nerd, I couldn’t pass that one up.

For Gremlins, were you a fan from the beginning? What did you remember of it before you started making Secrets of the Mogwai?

Ming-Na Wen: I just remember loving it because it was shocking and it was fun, and the Mogwai was so adorable, you know? [The film] had a bit of the Chinese culture and history in it, but basically it was just, Steven Spielberg and Joe Dante, they did their best in luring families and kids to want to see this cute little stuffed animal creature, called the Mogwai, and then running crazy and wrecking havoc with all the other gremlins.

So I just loved it. I loved everything about it, and now I’m working on it; it’s fantastic.

Gremlins: Secrets of the Mogwai

What drew you to the project? Did something hook you, to get you started?

Ming-Na Wen: I thought it was very clever how they were bringing it back to explore Mr. Wing, because Mr. Wing was a very mysterious character, and some people thought he was kind of very stereotyped. And in many ways, it was, because it wasn’t a fleshed out character, but there was always a dignity to the character.

So I think it’s fantastic to go back in time and explore who this person was as a child, and I get to play his mom. You know, I didn’t need that much more to hook me into that the project, and exploring Shanghai and the culture of China and all the mythology that I grew up with.

What did you think of her when you were getting into the part? Did they talk to you about who she was or did you just jump in with the script?

Ming-Na Wen: No, we definitely talked a lot about her as she’s a typical mom in many ways; very protective of the family and especially of Sam. Being a mom myself, that was easy to tap into, but I think the fact that a woman in the 1920s in China, running her own shop, having a very equal relationship with the husband, those were all very positive aspects of the character that I wanted to really highlight.

And the fact that she’s smart, she’s brave, and she has a great sense of humour, too.

The series feels so authentic, the way that it delves into this point in history, the characters, the people. Did you talk with the team about the vision for the series?

Ming-Na Wen: I wanted to know how the animation was going to be drawn, you know? Because that’s always very important. Just the feel of it, and having seen the episodes [now], I just love that there’s this watercolour style to it, where there’s no sharp lines; there’s a softness to it.

Gremlins: Secrets of the Mogwai

It’s just so beautiful, and the fact that they incorporated a lot of authentic Chinese instruments and music to the compositions; I just I love it. I hope that the fans will love it just as much. It’s a very wonderful series, telling a story about this kid and a bunch of other young characters are involved, too.

I don’t know how much I can give away or not, but I think it’s great family animation.

It looks amazing and it’s funny, it’s so sharp, it’s so quick. It’s wonderful. I can’t wait to watch with my daughter.

There’s so much heart to it, you know? And then it shocks you. Even I got scared… it really made me reminisce about when I first saw the film. Your jaw drops a few times. It’s great.

Well, the jaw dropping scene, that I don’t want to give away, is going to stick with people. It was a great moment in terms of a scary introduction to the villain and his powers, and it’s so well-told. I’m curious, did you get to meet the cast or team at all? Or was it all remote?

Ming-Na Wen: I’ve worked with James Hong and BD Wong on several other projects, so it’s so great to be reunited with the original Mulan cast. We go way back and the other actors, but unfortunately when we were doing it, we were doing it starting at the end of 2019.

So during COVID, we really had to make sure everybody was safe, so we haven’t had that opportunity yet, but some of the other actors announced were Randall Park, Sandra Oh, George Takei, and they’re all my friends.

Gremlins: Secrets of the Mogwai

I love that the series has already been renewed for a second season, so I’m curious what it’s like working on something that you already know will be back again.

Ming-Na Wen: [Everyone is] so happy with it, you know? Whenever you have that magical combination of great writers, producers and an ensemble cast, it’s a joy to be able to constantly explore the character and not let them go. Because for me, each character is like a child. You know, you give birth to it, you’ve created it, you nurture it, and it’s very tough when, poof, the series ends.

It’s really, really wonderful to be able to come back and and play with that particular character, and she’s one of my favourites.

You have done a lot of regular dramas and sci-fi, and everything else, and voice acting. I’m curious what draws you to do the voice acting? Is it just another fun side of acting, or what makes it so appealing?

Ming-Na Wen: It’s great because in its own way it’s very magical because you can take a character into so many different directions, depending on how it’s written. But you get to play a lot with each line and each voice, and it’s very concentrated work because you’re only working on your lines…

So as an actor, it’s fun to get in there and do different inflections, like make a bigger reaction or a smaller reaction. It’s kind of like working your muscles and I don’t have to worry about if I’m having a bad hair day, if I’m feeling a little bloated, if I’m not fitting into the shoes, I don’t have to worry about if it’s raining.

So it’s very freeing. It’s a very freeing art form for an actor.

Otherwise, is there anything else coming up for you that you can talk about or anything you’re looking forward to?

Ming-Na Wen: I will be doing my [Hollywood Walk of Fame] star ceremony sometime soon. I’m very excited about that. It’s crazy that that’s happening, and I’m working on a cookbook right now too.

And I’m producing a show too, that’s about exploring Asian cuisine [The Sweet And The Sour].

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