Turning Red's Sandra Oh: 'Specificity of setting adds layer to universality of themes' (exclusive)

·Contributor
·4-min read

Watch: Turning Red cast on importance of Asian-Canadian representation

Sandra Oh was 'thrilled' when she saw the script for Pixar animation Turning Red, which serves as a rare example of representation for the Asian-Canadian community.

The 50-year-old Killing Eve star plays Ming, whose teenage daughter Mei (Rosalie Chiang) is struggling with the onset of a family curse which means she transforms into a gargantuan red panda when she becomes emotional.

First-time feature director Domee Shi, who previously helmed Academy Award-winning Pixar short Bao, chose to set the film in the Toronto of the early noughties in order to draw from her own childhood.

Read more: No Disney pushback about puberty themes of Turning Red

"When the film came down and the breakdown of who the character was, what it was about and where it was set, I was thrilled. Being Canadian myself and also having lived in Toronto, I was like 'please, I really want this part so badly'," Oh told Yahoo.

Domee Shi delved into her own childhood, and added an enormous red panda, for the story of 'Turning Red'. (Disney/Pixar)
Domee Shi delved into her own childhood, and added an enormous red panda, for the story of 'Turning Red'. (Disney/Pixar)

The Grey's Anatomy star added: "It was great because it gives a certain specificity. It's set in downtown Toronto and Chinatown, but it grows out into that universality of: everyone has been 13 or hopefully will go through being 13.

"You go through changes in your life — puberty, needing to individuate from your parents. That's ultimately what the film is about and it's just another extra layer that we were able to add it from a specific cultural perspective."

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 21: Rosalie Chiang and Sandra Oh attend the UK Gala screening of
Rosalie Chiang and Sandra Oh attend the UK Gala screening of "Turning Red" (Mike Marsland/WireImage)

The cast recently responded to a controversial review of the film that suggested the appeal of Turning Red would be limited to 'the Asian community of Toronto'.

Its star Rosalie Chiang told CBC: "This is a coming of age film, everyone goes through this change… I think different people of different cultures are going to go through it differently, but at the end of the day, the core messiness and change is something everyone can relate to.”

Read more: How real Italian landscapes inspired Pixar's Luca

The authenticity of the representation also carried over into the casting, with Chiang a rare example of an actor playing a child their own age in an animated movie.

"Since I was between 12 and 16 when I was recording for Mei, I could bring a lot of my own experiences into the character," said Chiang.

'Turning Red' tells the story of a group of friends obsessed with a boyband in 2002. (Disney/Pixar)
'Turning Red' tells the story of a group of friends obsessed with a boyband in 2002. (Disney/Pixar)

She added: "I'm sort of growing with the movie, so I think I could bring another layer of authenticity to a 13-year-old girl."

Oh said that it's impossible to 'lie' in that voice, adding: "[Chiang] has a beautiful and unique voice and to be able to pluck someone at exactly that time from 12 to 16 was really amazing."

Read more: Disney team reveal behind-the-scenes Encanto secrets

Turning Red will follow Luca as another example of a Pixar movie to debut via streaming on Disney+, rather than with a traditional cinema release.

Oh confessed she was 'disappointed' that the movie won't be shown in cinemas first, but said it reflects a changing industry rather than any comment on the film itself.

Pixar's new animated movie 'Turning Red' is heading straight to Disney+. (Disney/Pixar)
Pixar's new animated movie 'Turning Red' is heading straight to Disney+. (Disney/Pixar)

She added: "Really we just want people to see the film and the fact that it's on Disney+ hopefully means more people will have access to it. But if they ever want to screen it, I'll show up."

Chiang said that Pixar projects are 'doing great' on Disney+ and that Turning Red is just the latest example of the new release model.

Read more: Everything coming to Disney+ UK in March 2022

The teenage star added: "With this film, families can watch the movie for their own safety at home. I think it'll reach a bigger crowd and I'm excited for that."

Turning Red will be available to stream for subscribers on Disney+ from 11 March.

Watch: Trailer for Pixar animation Turning Red