Joan Chen Q&A: ‘Marco Polo’
“When I wanted to work in films in the United States, I wasn’t thinking about inspiring other young actors or leaving a legacy,” admits Joan Chen during our recent webcam chat. She came to fame in the 1987 Best Picture winner "The Last Emperor" and as a series regular on “Twin Peaks” (1990–1991) and recently starred in the Netflix historical epic “Marco Polo.” She reveals having been approached “many, many times” by people who say that she inspired them to act.
“Marco Polo," one of the most expensive TV shows ever made, recreates the 13th century Mongol Empire ruled by Kublai Khan. Chen is “really glad” it uses such an international cast — “actors from China, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Australia, New Zealand, America, Singapore” because “all the Asian actors get a chance to show their talents.”
While Chen plays Kublai Khan’s wife Chabi, this is not the first time that the actress has portrayed a Chinese empress having portrayed Empress Wanrong in “The Last Emperor." Recalling that awards season, she laments, “I don’t remember that I did any publicity in that regard. I think back then, it was not as crazy as it is today.” Reflecting on the fact that the film won all nine of its nominations, she laughs, “I think we won because people loved us.”
As for Asian actresses getting roles in Hollwood, she says, “I think it’s getting a lot better … “but still we got a long way to go.” Although she counts herself as “very lucky," she clarifies, “My personal experience is not so many writers in America know how to write something for me that I could actually sink my teeth into. There is some cultural barrier.”