Chinese-American actress Anna May Wong gets a new life on Netflix’s “Hollywood.” The series from Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan takes a revisionist look at the film industry in the 1940s and gives several of the era’s real life stars the happy endings they never had. One such star was Wong, portrayed in the series by Michelle Krusiec. In our exclusive video interview (watch above), she explains the actress’ complicated life and career. “She really became a global star and a global sensation,” she explains, “but her relationship with Hollywood was quite torrid. She was constantly stereotyped.”
When audiences first see Wong, the actress is drunk and bitter in her apartment after years of rejection and being limited to only certain types of roles. Her fortunes begin to turn when an aspiring director (Darren Criss) tries to lure her out of retirement. The scene was particularly challenging for Krusiec because it happened to be her first shooting day for the series. “Going into it, I did feel a little bit daunted by trying to make sure I could capture what I thought she would look like as a drunk,” she recalls.
The series documents one of Wong’s greatest career disappointments. Wong was originally considered to play the lead role of a put-upon Chinese wife in the 1937 film “The Good Earth.” Racial politics of the era caused Wong to miss out on the role, which was given to German-born actress Luise Rainer, who went on to win a Best Actress Oscar for her performance. Krusiec recalls her astonishment when she watched the film as part of her research. “It was really my first time being exposed to actors in yellow-face,” she says. “But I never really had seen an entire film performed with actors doing it. I was really ashamed. It was really embarrassing for me to see those portrayals. No disrespect to Luise Rainer. I just thought that everyone seemed to be play at what they thought was a Chinese person.”
Wong gets a happy ending in the finale episode of the series when she is given an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. Krusiec sees the show’s optimism as a mechanism for the kind of change that came to late for the real life lady. “It’s been over a hundred years since Anna May Wong has been around, and we’re still up against the same models of systemic racism,” she declares. “It actually feels nice to see people winning– people who don’t usually win — and I think that’s where the show is really successful.”
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