Interview: Turning Red Voice Actress Rosalie Chiang

At Crunchyroll Expo 2022, Anime Trending had the opportunity to interview Rosalie Chiang, who voices the protagonist Mei in the Disney and Pixar film, Turning Red. In addition to being a voice actress, however, she also happens to be a huge fan of anime. Chiang provided valuable insight into how anime has served as an inspiration throughout both her career and the production of Turning Red.

During your performance as Meilin in Turning Red, were there any anime that you were a fan of at the time that helped inspire your delivery?

Image: Rosalie Chiang

At that time when I started, I wasn’t a big anime person. But maybe around 13, 14, 15, that was when I started getting into anime. It was just because I got a random Netflix recommendation of Maid-Sama!, and I was like, “Alright I’ll give it a shot!” and I watched it and I loved it so much. From there, I watched Death Note, Ouran High School Host Club, and all these other different animes. I also started watching Fruits Basket because that’s one of the anime that Domee Shi [the director] was inspired by when making Turning Red

Since we’re here at Crunchyroll Expo and we’ve seen a lot of anime and anime fans here, do you have other favorite anime?

Yeah, for sure, I have a lot. First off, Cowboy Bebop. I love it so much because of the style and I’ve cried multiple times [while watching it]. Even though it doesn’t seem that relatable, I could find things that I could relate to in the anime. Also, Kaguya-Sama: Love is War! I love the fact that they’re teenagers and they’re using military tactics to try to get the other person to confess… [It’s] super relatable in a way, because I do that all in my head! And also Perfect Blue. It’s super traumatizing to me. My dad showed it to me, [and] I didn’t realize there were certain scenes in it, but I loved it nonetheless! 

Director Domee Shi brought a lot of details from her personal life into Turning Red. As Meilin, what parts of her did you find relatable or resonated with you in this role? Were you able to use that in the performance?

At first, I really [only] related to her with her personality, her ambition, and fighting for what’s right. As time went on, I realized her entire life was basically my life, and that she has an interesting relationship with her mom where she wants to please her, yet at the same time, pursue her own passions. And then [Mei’s] friendships with Miriam, Priya, and Abby, I remember thinking it was that similar. When hanging out with them, I realized, “Oh my gosh, we are the exact same people!” And just overall her trying to balance all the stuff in her life and not wanting to disappoint anyone, but at the same time, wanting to go down her own path. 

As an Asian American, how big of an influence do you think anime has on Asian American culture? Do you feel like modern day Asian culture has been influenced by anime?

I would say, at least, in my life, anime has always been in my life, even when I wasn’t watching it. When I was in kindergarten or first grade, every single boy was into Pokémon. Every single boy of every single race was into it. I was just like, “Huh? Okay, I guess?” I didn’t really think much of it. I was also very influenced by Studio Ghibli movies. So just watching that in my life and other people watching it and loving it as well, I would say the influence that anime has on Western culture is that because anime is such a huge industry and it’s fascinating that it has become its own thing, not just the cartoon industry, but the anime industry specifically. 

To see other people trying to make their own manga and stories because of anime, it’s really interesting to see that style come to Western cartoons. Domee said she was very influenced by anime, and if you look at Turning Red, there’s so many little anime Easter eggs in it. She sort of brought this new animation style to Pixar being anime-influenced because the Western cartoon is more “flowy” and does not have as many sudden movements because [it’s] not very natural, but Turning Red breaks all of those rules. 

So going back to being a voice actor: one of the things that’s interesting about talking about voice actors is that a lot of them started out as [live-action] character actors first, or drama actors, and then transitioned into voice acting. What was your experience getting started with learning voice acting? 

Yeah. So, just like the people you mentioned, I was only into live-action acting because that’s all I really knew. My eight-year-old self was like, “Alright, I see other kids like me on TV acting and playing other characters. I wanted to do that as well.” Actually, [on] my 12th birthday, my mom took me to a voiceover class just to try it out. I [was] like, “Oh, this is pretty fun!” 

Six months later, I got the audition for Turning Red and that sparked this whole passion in understanding what voiceover is from another person’s perspective of cartoons. You’re not really seeing the hard work that goes behind the voices. You don’t realize it, but there is a lot of dedication, and you see a lot of veterans in the voice acting industry really pursue their passion and become really talented and understand all the mechanics behind it. 

That’s the other thing that is so funny to me is that Meilin has to think about how to channel her emotions by using her memories. I’ve always heard that voice actors have like core memories [for some scenes]. Like [for this scene], “I need to feel happy, so I got to think about this,” or also if you have to feel sad for other scenes. Do you have some techniques that you were trying to use behind the booth to channel emotions like that?

Yeah! Actually, before Pixar, I was very good at crying. I would always have this one scenario in my head and it would make me cry. But because I used it so much, I eventually became almost desensitized. So, I was super nervous going into any super emotional scenes in Turning Red. But then just thinking about the scenarios in the scenes and acting it out in my head and how I went through very similar things and [Mei’s] relationship with her mom, it’s a really interesting thing where she loves her, but they don’t agree on everything and it’s very, very similar to my relationship with my mom. Thinking about that and really understanding what’s behind that is what’s able to help me get in touch with my emotions and the scene the best I can.

Image: Rosalie Chiang along with Anime Trending Staff

So as you’ve kind of said, you got into anime from watching Netflix, and you became a huge fan. There are so many people that browse [on various streaming services] and they probably see all sorts of anime, but they’re scared to start or they don’t know where to start. What advice would you give people and what kind of shows would you recommend they start with?

I would say, obviously, people have a lot of different preferences in genres and at that point before I watched Maid-Sama! I was very into K-Dramas. So that rom-com aspect is what I found in Maid Sama! and that’s what transitioned me into anime. I was like, “Alright, maid cafés, okay… I guess maybe? Maybe I shouldn’t be watching it.” I was almost ashamed of watching an anime about maid cafés. 

But then watching it and realizing, “Oh my gosh, it’s super good!” and all my friends who are already into anime are like “Oh have you seen Maid-Sama?” Just knowing that a lot of people are into anime, there’s a reason why people love anime. It’s because of the styles, and because it has so many genres, and I would say to any person who wants to get into anime, just try to find an anime from a genre you like and transition into that. Like, I got into Death Note because it’s a very simple concept that anyone can understand. You write a name in the Death Note and that person dies. I know that’s a big transition anime for a lot of people, so it all depends on the person. 

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