There is a lot to be excited about for self-described Geek, Ming-Na Weh. While she has had some interesting roles in her career, having been a regular on ER and voicing Disney’s Mulan, the last few must have been a real thrill for her to land. She played Camille Wray on Stargate Universe, the comparatively short-lived follow-up to the popular Stargate series’ SG-1 and Atlantis. She then went on to guest star on Eureka as U.S. Senator Michaela Wen. Most recently however, she was positively delighted to be cast as Agent Melinda ”The Cavalry” May on Joss Whedon’s project, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
“I am one of you guys when it comes to this stuff and so when I go to work every day, even when it’s at 3:30 in the morning and I feel like crap, I get so excited because it is an incredible sandbox to be in! I think the reason Marvel is so good at connecting to the people is because we’re telling human stories in a fantastical World. It’s about humanity, about connection & family, and learning whether you can trust and believe in people when they’ve turned on you, and all those elements. And dealing with your own inner demons, which a lot of these characters deal with… Plus explosions and fight scenes and the humour!”
While playing Agent May has certainly been thrilling, Ming admits it has also been one of her most challenging roles. May, she explains, is the antithesis to her own personality. While they share an inner strength, her character “hides her emotions behind this… shield” (pun intended). She hopes to explore more of what’s behind that emotional wall in future seasons. Ming also handles things differently than her character: She has learned to laugh at her troubles. While that meant we were graced by her warm humour, she finds it difficult to keep that humour out of her portrayal of May. In fact, the most common note she gets about her performance is “Less Ming, more May”.
Her roles over the years have mirrored the evolution of Hollywood’s portrayal of Asian characters. Many fans commented on how her example has encouraged and inspired them.
“It’s always been a struggle, as an Asian woman to break into the business in the first place, whether it’s in any medium, and I think I’ve had the great fortune of having people who believe in me, or wanting to hire me and work with me […] The whole idea of getting into this business was because I wanted to be part of the community and be able to entertain people, and if you can entertain and inspire them that’s just a great honour and perk”.
While Ming admitted enjoying the opportunity to inhabit such a great role – Agent May is a strong woman who just happens to be Asian – she refuses to take Hollywood’s change in attitudes personally. A great believer in the power of economics, she explained that the globalization of the industry made it inevitable as: “there are so many Asians in the world!!” It was those economic forces, she said, that have “helped bring more Asians into the limelight”.
Ming’s own life reflects that progression in attitudes. Growing up as the only Asian kid in a white suburban neighbourhood, Ming recalls wishing she could be blonde and look like everyone else. If she could go back in time, she would tell her younger self that she is beautiful, that she can do anything she wants, and to appreciate her youth. She recalled the first time she felt the bite of the acting bug: She played a bunny in an Easter play when she was young, and tripped when she stepped out on stage: “The audience laughed and I loved it!”
While she has been blessed with some amazing roles, Ming’s ultimate dream is still unrealized: “I just want a walk-on in a Star Wars film before I die!”