Voice-over role a real name changer
Dreamworks lived up to their name when they offered Chloe Bennet a dream part, writes Mercedes Maguire
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.