Immediately upon meeting Xana Tang, her effervescence and life force literally come upon you – she is dynamic in every sense, and her seemingly boundless energy easily transcends her diminuative stature.
She’s a bundle of positivity, bristling with an underlying sense of power and you know absolutely where you stand with her. Fear seems to be a word completely outside of her vocabulary. Don’t expect her to sit quietly if there’s something that needs to be said, and it’s refreshing also to find an artist both so much in tune with her own identity, and determined to do all in life in a way she believes is innately true to herself.
Mulan, the latest adaptation in a series of Disney live-action remakes has been only one of the major studio films of 2020 sidelined time and again by the uncertainty of viewing possibilities, but it is definitely one of the most anticipated. Transformed for the big screen by fellow Kiwi Niki Caro (of Whale Rider, North Country etc fame), the wait enforced upon the audience globally by the arrival of this years pandemic is nearly over, and we’ll all get to see the part Xana has been living with for such an extended time, and waiting patiently to introduce us to.
With the continued uncertainty, and the need for the industry to find a new approach to widescreen release, they have decided to launch it via their huge, new Disney+ platform – not as they’d hoped, but we’ll all finally get the chance to see a film that takes us away from our everyday/locked down lives, giving us that much needed transference to a different time and place, and providing a much needed and enjoyable “moment” in relief.
In these unusual times when strength of character is a necessary asset, Xana has plenty of it to draw on, and just as well - after the 2 year audition process felt already so far in the past that anyone with less assuredness would be reeling from the continual extension of the release dates, she is using the time to work on all other aspects of her craft and talent. She will be ready and available to the world and industry as a whole, when one of the expected “wins” from this global disaster should find it brings much more of the industry to Aotearoa, and the safety and security our efforts in elimination can provide.
We asked her to put her own take on the experience, the delivery of her latest role as Xiu in the season’s first blockbuster Mulan, and expand on all things Xana Tang.
Growing up, I loved to play-pretend. I was always more of an ‘under the radar’ kid and didn’t enjoy (or excel in) the school system. It just didn’t serve me well, but I didn’t know how to articulate it then. I remember finding these dance classes at our local community centre and would do them after school. At the time, anything to do with the arts was painted as a ‘hobby’ that I shouldn’t invest much time into, but looking back, those classes were truly my freest moments because I could express myself in a way no other aspect of my life could.
What first attracted you to performing?
The wave of energy you get from the audience. I loved making my family laugh especially my mum, because she worked tirelessly to provide the best for us and seeing her relaxed and laughing was kind of rare. It made me feel like I was worthy and had some kind of purpose on this planet.
What do you believe makes you who you are?
I operate a lot from my heart space and rarely does my head get the final word. I used to believe it was because I wasn’t smart enough, so my heart would win out. But I now know that I just had more compassion for myself and others, than what was returned to me back then. I’ve also learned to place value in my own words, to have integrity. I don’t say things I do not mean, and if I say I will do it, you best believe I am committed to the end!
Who/What inspires you most?
People’s stories of overcoming challenges and struggles within themselves. When I hear these stories, my body literally feels lifted; I sit up straighter from this surge of energy. Like a higher level of vibration has been unlocked. I feel something change in my heart that my mind can’t understand yet, and I find that utterly inspiring.
What would you say are the most important things in your life?
Purpose, truth and love. All three things come from within, so it’s important that I define what they are for myself and myself only. When those values take priority, I feel like everything else starts to align and flow.
What was the audition process like to get Mulan?
The first audition came through on the day of my birthday. I was on holiday on the Gold Coast celebrating with 9 of my friends, and was preparing for the audition between themepark rides!
I had to do a skype callback after the initial audition, and was flown to Los Angeles after that to do an in-person callback with Niki Caro, our producer Jason Reed, and casting directors Deb Zane and Dylan Jury. I’ll sum it up by saying it took almost 2 years from the time I auditioned until the day I got the call to confirm I had been cast. It was a rolllercoaster journey but worth getting on the ride for.
What were the best parts of it for you?
I didn’t have any expectations going in, I was just incredibly grateful and ecstatic to be on the project. My whole focus stayed on creating Xiu. The overall process is a lot of fun, from creating a new accent to mastering weaving. Our crew worked their magic on set, so everything we saw and touched felt super real. I loved getting into my wardrobe for Xiu,- there were so many layers and intricate details that I’d have at least two people dressing me. I think the best part is always when they call ‘Action!’, that’s when it’s time for me to sprinkle my magic on the project.
How were the relationships with other cast members impactful?
I had a very strong bond with Rosalind Chao, who plays my mother. We’d go on our little dinner-dates off set, and on set she would always be whispering something supportive or nice about me that would feed my ego for sure! Our entire cast would have these homey dinners at a castmate, Chums. We’d celebrate birthdays and organise welcoming and farewell gatherings in our own time. We had major love for each other, and when production wrapped and everyone left New Zealand, it felt like my extended family were leaving. That’s what a great film can foster, an excellent cast that feels like your family.
What do you feel this career brings to you as a person?
Acting helped shape my life’s purpose. The amount of empathy and knowledge I have gained has sky rocketed since I committed to acting. There is a sense of community and connection when it comes to acting for both the artist and the audience.
What advice would you give someone who has a similar dream?
Look after yourself, not just on the outside, but all aspects of your wellbeing. You can’t do anything if you’re not in harmony with yourself. Make sure you have loving, supportive voices surrounding you. Don’t value other people’s opinions of your life and work above your own. Remember your purpose and work a little more towards it each day.
What drives you?
The possibility of more joyous moments - my parents didn’t leave their lives in Asia and come all the way to New Zealand for me to live a mediocre life. The least I can do is strive for happiness. The fear of regret also drives me. Most of the time, I do things because I know if I don’t, I will beat myself up for not taking the chance when I had it!
In today’s world what do you see as the way forward for yourself and the industry as a whole?
For the most part I try to look at the positives – because we can’t do anything about a negative Nancy. I have never felt more included in the industry than right now. New Zealand is also becoming a “hot spot” to the film industry. I hope that our own local industry can step up, see our pool of diverse talent as an opportunity to be the pioneer of change, and stop being the sheep for once! We are the safest country to live and work in by far, we have an abundance of extremely skilled crew, and creative, fresh actors. Tokenism is so 20th century, and I can’t wait for the new wave of creatives from all departments to start lighting our own torches – I for one am igniting my own flame, and I am here to encourage my peers to do the same!
I’d like to see more women from minority backgrounds in positions of power that will create change. When I’m asked to play characters that were written by people who only have a generic idea of the Asian female experience, the authenticity of my cultural identity becomes a sliding scale, and ultimately depends on how much someone else outside of this can handle. I hope that we can collaborate with, and listen to people with first hand life experiences to create more interesting, inclusive and diverse storytelling.
And finally, what are the personal aspirations, and hopes you have for the future?
“Man plans, God laughs” - I’ve been in situations where I’ve had a ‘plan’, and it goes out the window because any unexpected circumstance will arise, and I’ll have to readjust. I can only work towards my purpose and hope that my career path will follow that!
Xana Tang will come to your screens in Mulan, via Disney+ on September 4th. It’s a wait we’ve endured with her, and surely just the beginning of an outstanding career in which we’ll get to welcome this Kiwi pocket-rocket into both our future viewing experiences and homes.
Photography, Fashion, Make Up and Hair by David K. Shields