Voice-over role a real name changer

Dreamworks lived up to their name when they of­fered Chloe Ben­net a dream part, writes Mercedes Maguire

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - INSIDER -

Grow­ing up in Chicago with six broth­ers, It’s safe to say Chloe Ben­net did not re­late to the princess im­age so of­ten por­trayed in Dis­ney films.

So when the young Asian Amer­i­can got the chance to play a Chi­nese teenager in Dreamworks’ new an­i­mated fea­ture, Abominable, she jumped at the chance.

The char­ac­ter of Yi is an in­de­pen­dent spirit, a dreamer, a tomboy in jeans and a tee — an an­tiprincess role Ben­net says she felt had been writ­ten specif­i­cally for her.

“When you’re a young woman in the in­dus­try, es­pe­cially a young Chi­nese

woman or a mixed race girl in Hol­ly­wood and you are con­stantly every sec­ond of every day chal­lenged to be dif­fer­ent than who you are, it’s very easy to be caught up in a ver­sion of yourself that isn’t true,” Ben­net tells In­sider.

“Yi did some­thing for me that re­ally saved me in a way. Play­ing this char­ac­ter showed me who I was when I showed up to LA alone at the age of 17, the lit­tle girl who wanted big things for her­self. It was a re­ally pro­found re­minder for me of a time that was re­ally dif­fi­cult.” The young star, who’s big­gest role to date was on the tele­vi­sion se­ries Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D, has been out­spo­ken on racism in Hol­ly­wood against mi­nori­ties, par­tic­u­larly Asian Amer­i­cans.

The phe­nom­e­nal suc­cess of Crazy Rich Asians last year went some way to break­ing down those bar­ri­ers, she says. And even an­i­mated movies like Abominable are help­ing, but the in­dus­try has a long way to go. It was only 10 years ago that Ben­net had to change her sur­name from Wang to her fa­ther’s first name, Ben­net, be­cause she couldn’t catch a break in au­di­tions.

“Every au­di­tion had to do with my race, I was ex­hausted by how much I was boxed in,” she says. “I am in­ter­est­ing be­cause of all of the ex­pe­ri­ences in my life and some of that is be­cause I’m Chi­nese, and some of that is be­cause of my broth­ers and my fam­ily and the paths that I have taken and who I am as a per­son.

“I re­ally wanted to be seen as a whole per­son, not just half. It was re­ally in­fu­ri­at­ing and sent me into a de­pres­sive state be­cause I didn’t feel good enough. In Chi­nese cul­ture, your fa­ther’s last name is re­ally tied in with re­spect and honour.

“But the re­al­ity is I never changed my name legally, I just changed the paper I took to an au­di­tion. I’m still Chloe Wang, all that changed is peo­ple’s per­cep­tion of me. I was booked the first au­di­tion I went on af­ter I changed my name.”

Abominable is about a young girl, Yi, grow­ing up in a Chi­nese city with her mother and grand­mother. She dis­cov­ers a yeti liv­ing on the roof of her apart­ment who has es­caped from a sci­ence fa­cil­ity and she em­barks on a quest to make sure he gets home to Ever­est. It’s a beau­ti­ful story about find­ing your sense of be­long­ing and what home means to you.

When the film had its world pre­miere in Toronto re­cently, Ben­net says a sur­prise star of the show was her grand­mother, the same one she spent a year with in Shang­hai when she was 15 to pur­sue a musical ca­reer.

Un­know­ingly, the film’s writ­ers had cre­ated Yi’s grand­mother in the film as the im­age of Ben­net’s real life ‘nai nai’. “She has the ex­act same hair­cut and love for but­ter­fly clips,” Ben­net laughs. “Peo­ple were stop­ping her for pic­tures (at the pre­miere) be­cause they thought she was the char­ac­ter.” ABOMINABLE OPENS IN CIN­E­MAS ON THURS­DAY.

“I re­ally wanted to be seen as a whole per­son, not just half

Chloe Ben­net (right) voices Yi (above) in the new Abominable movie.

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