Character Conversations: Rosalind Chao and Olivia Cheng Talk Newsworthy Beginnings and Camaraderie Amongst AAPI Actors

In the latest Character Conversations, “Mulan”’s Rosalind Chao and “Warrior”’s Olivia Cheng meet digitally for the first time and find surprising parallels between their career beginnings to their many mutual friends in the industry and share appreciation for the rallying support of the AAPI acting community.

Both actresses started in broadcast journalism before transitioning into acting. Thanks to trailblazers like Connie Chung and Tritia Toyota, there was a market for Asian American faces on the news. “Offers landed on your doorstep,” reflected Chao, adding how it would have been much easier to have pursued broadcasting than acting. Since then, Chao built a long and varied career from “M*A*S*H,” “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine,” to the iconic “Joy Luck Club.” Cheng, who had been working as a broadcast journalist from a young age, recalled that she felt unfulfilled despite the success. “Everything on paper looked good,” reminisced Cheng. “But I felt, is this it for me?” Cheng, tired of chasing badgers for the evening news, called off work to audition for a part in “Broken Trail.” She landed it and has since steadily booked roles on shows like “Supernatural” and “Marco Polo.” 

In the turbulent industry of acting, Cheng says the upside is seeing her peers soar. “I see others rising and getting these amazing opportunities which totally inspire me,” she said, pointing out Chao’s role in the recent live-action adaptation of “Mulan.” She goes on to highlight friends Ron Yuan and Chen Tang, who co-star in the film with Chao, being in a big budget studio film. It suggests a hopeful future for the Asian American acting community for more diverse roles and inclusion. “It’s exciting that there’s a lot of projects Asian Americans are in,” said Chao. “And it’s exciting that we’re promoting each other.” 

“Mulan” was slated for a huge worldwide release when the pandemic halted its plans, pivoting its release from the big screen to Disney+. Chao shared her disappointment for her co-stars, who worked hard to bring the vision and grand action sequences onto the big screen. “Their training was beyond,” Chao said. “They couldn’t even walk.” But to that, Cheng offered some solace. To Chao’s delight, a group of Cheng’s friends organized a private screening in Vancouver for “Mulan” and was able to see the film as intended. Chao reflected on how far the AAPI acting community has come from her years in the industry. “See, now, Asian Americans are much more together and organized and supportive of each other’s work—which is why, I think—we are going to go further, faster now.”

Watch the full conversation above, and catch Chao and Cheng’s highlights below. Then, make sure to catch “Mulan” on Disney+ and “Warrior” on HBO Max!