Despite coming to Fan Expo almost directly from the set of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. the day before, Ming-Na Wen was still every bit the exact opposite of her S.H.I.E.L.D. character, super agent Melinda May: bright, funny, and talkative. For eager fans, they had three main areas of concentration in terms of the questions: S.H.I.E.L.D. (obviously), Disney’s Mulan, and Wen being an example of a successful and accomplished female Asian actress in the field where there’s not much competition to being those three things.
On being the strong silent type on S.H.I.E.L.D., Wen said it just seems to come naturally despite her more bubbly personality. “If you believe life synergies and things [like that], it is a combination of that and luck. A lot of luck,” Wen said. “I think it’s because the casting people see that in me or I give off that energy, but I’m really kind of a wimp.”
There wasn’t a lot of S.H.I.E.L.D. news about the upcoming third season, but there were some tidbits. It wasn’t too long into the Q&A that someone asked if the new season was going to connect to Captain America: Civil War in any way. Wen played it cool. “I’d rather answer a really, really personal question than that one because you might not see Agent May anymore. There are people watching,” she joked. “It’s a great season because who doesn’t love Inhumans.”
Wen also heard from one of the writers on the show recently that “there’s some really great stuff coming up for Agent May.”
She did talk at length about the season that passed though, included the episode titled after her character “Melinda.”
“Her Cavalry name was such a mystery and it kept being a mystery for so long that when our writers said they were going to reveal what had happened to her, I was worried because what if it didn’t live up to expectations,” Wen explained. “But I was so thrilled that we got to explore that part of May, and that there were some real serious issues aside from the fantastic stuff.”
Wen addressed one item that is on some fans wishlist of things to see on S.H.I.E.L.D., a little thing called “Philinda.”
“That’s awesome,” Wen said in admiration, as she was well aware of that particular ‘ship and had done her research on it. “They don’t flirt you know,” she added. “Maybe that’s the thing, but there is such a bond between Coulson and May. They have a lot of history, and sometimes that’s the best kind of love having a shared history, and betraying each other, and lying to each other.”
The real challenge with May, said Wen, is that she has to always play the opposite of how she is naturally, or as the producers put it in their notes: “Less Ming more May.”
“She is one of my most challenging characters,” Wen said. “As you can tell I talk a lot and she doesn’t. I think it’s about her internal strength, and in that we have a lot in common. She also hides her emotions behind this shield,” Wen added with a laugh when she realized the pun. “I’m hoping that in season 3 she’ll break a little bit from that though.”
Aside for S.H.I.E.L.D. it was somewhat surprising that many people at the Q&A wanted to talk about Mulan, a nearly 20-year-old Disney movie in which Wen provided the voice of the title character. One fan asked who would win a fight, May or Mulan? “I think Mulan was Agent May’s ancestor, it’s in her blood,” Wen said before declaring, “Probably Mulan.”
Interestingly, Wen said that she still thinks about the character and still considered it a dream role. “If I was 10 15 years younger, I know they’re doing a live action Mulan,” she said. “Maybe they can do a Mulan: the Later Years.”
There were also questions about Stargate: Universe, the short-lived Stargate spin-off that Wen co-starred in. “It was sad because it was an amazing show,” said Wen of SGU‘s early cancelation. “We had an incredible cast and writers and producers. It didn’t take at first, but hopefully it lends itself to a movie or something to finish it off.”
As for the headier conversations about race, casting, and being one of the few actresses of Asian and Asian-descendent that have enjoyed a multifaceted and successful career in Hollywood, Wen says she’s happy to do her part. “It’s always been a struggle as an Asian woman to break in the business in the first place and I’ve had the great fortune of having people want to hire me and work with me,” she said. “I met a couple of girls today and looking at their faces and making that connection, that feeling that I’ve inspired them and given them a role model is a wonderful perk of my profession.”
Really though, Wen wants fans to know that she’s just like them, and she proudly pointed out that she has characters in two out of the three Disney Infinity realms – Marvel and Disney – and now all she needs is to appear in a Star Wars movie.
“When I go to work everyday, even when its 3:30 in the morning and I feel like crap, I get so excited because it’s a wonderful sandbox to be in,” she said. “It’s about humanity and connection and family and learning if you can trust and believe in people when they turn on you and dealing with your own inner demons. Plus all the explosions and the fight scenes.”