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Filipina-Chinese actress Cathy Ang is over the moon with her lead role in new animated film

GMA News Online logo GMA News Online 10/18/2020 JANET SUSAN R. NEPALES
a little girl sitting at a table: Hollywood Insider Over the Moon Cathy Ang thumb Hollywood Insider Over the Moon Cathy Ang thumb

Los Angeles — When actress-singer Cathy Ang met Broadway star Lea Salonga for the first time, she cried unabashedly in front of her idol and was completely speechless.

“Lea probably thought I was weird,” Cathy, 25, recalled when we talked to her virtually. “I just did the KPOP musical in New York and she went backstage to greet the cast members. I couldn’t believe she was there. My parents are from the Philippines so they love Lea Salonga. And I love Mulan and Jasmine. She is one of my inspirations to pursue art. I cried the whole time when I saw her. I could not talk to her. She was so sweet and I was so overwhelmed to see her. Some of the beauty and power that she brings to every character she portrays also plays to Fei Fei as well.”

Cathy, whose parents Robert (from Binondo, Manila) and Grace (from Bagabag, Nueva Vizcaya) are both doctors and graduates of UST, has only been to the Philippines five times but is proud of her heritage and culture.

“I want to go back to the Philippines,” she disclosed. “I want to go island hopping and see more where my parents came from.”

Born Catherine Joyce Ang in Fort Dodge, Iowa, the charming and bubbly actress could not believe that she is working in Glen Keane’s directorial debut, the musical-fantasy animation, “Over the Moon,” that features a star-studded cast of most of Cathy’s idols: Phillipa Soo, Sandra Oh, Ruthie Ann Miles (who portrayed Imelda Marcos in “Here Lies Love”), John Cho, Fil-Am Conrad Ricamora (as Houyi), Ken Jeong and Margaret Cho just to name a few.

Cathy began musical theater in college when she was studying at the New York University, and has always dreamed of working in animation.

“I am fascinated by space, but sadly lacks Fei Fei’s aerospace engineering skills,” she told us. “But I am a huge sci-fi enthusiast!”

She’s also a music nerd, loves being around water, and would cook for her friends everyday if someone washed the dishes for her. She loves having Filipino food such as pancit, sinigang and lechon!

“Over the Moon” is about a young girl Fei Fei (Cathy Ang) who builds and flies a rocket ship to meet the moon goddess, Chang’e (Phillipa Soo).

We talked to Cathy, Phillipa and Glen more about the movie, how they were raised by their parents and why Asian representation is important in films.

Below are excerpts of our conversations with them:

Cathy Ang

 
a woman smiling for the camera: Courtesy: Janet Susan R. Nepales/HFPA © Provided by GMA News Online Courtesy: Janet Susan R. Nepales/HFPA
Courtesy: Janet Susan R. Nepales/HFPA

This is your first feature animation and your first portrayal of an Asian character. Talk about how you can relate to her.

This role is so special to me. I am so lucky to be able to get to share my parents’ heritage, culture and traditions through this role. I am excited to portray an Asian woman because they are under-represented. Finally, we have a story that is heartfelt about these two Asian women lifting each other so I can definitely relate to it.

It was a blast getting into the studio. The thing about animation is that there's absolutely no limit and so as an actress basically the entire creative team just encourages you to play every time that you're in the studio and go bigger and go crazier and do these amazing stunts but just with your voice, you know, and so I really got to stretch and I had so much fun.

I love Fei Fei. She is incredibly smart and determined and her stubbornness and silliness just felt – it just felt like I was being myself the whole time so it was a joy to voice her for sure.

Talk about your special relationship with your parents who are Filipino-Chinese and how you relate to your character’s relationship with her parents.

As a Filipino-Chinese-American, there are some cultural gaps and generational gaps with my parents but I enjoy that they share their heritage and culture with me and I understand more the traditions. I have roots because of them now. Every family has their moments of strife that is why it is important to see the storytelling that you can heal and move forward. Fei Fei’s relationship with her dad is good. But it was nice that they also found new love and they find a new family and new joy. That is a beautiful message.

Can you talk about your parents and how they are raising you?

I'm Chinese-Filipino. There is Chinese blood in my family as well, Filipino blood on both sides. They grew up in the Philippines and immigrated to America in the '80s and so when they got here, I mean, they still wanted to impart a lot of their heritage and traditions on us so there was a little bit of a cultural gap including the – and also a generational gap — but they really did their best to make sure that I felt connected to their roots and know my roots, so I'm really grateful that we would celebrate the different holidays and I was also surrounded by some Asian communities. 

I grew up in California and so I had the privilege of going to see lion dancing and dragon dancing in Chinatown and play with Chinese yoyos and we would always eat a lot of really amazing food for every birthday, for every holiday there was something to stuff ourselves with.  There was lechon, there was pancit, there was sinigang, you know, and there were so many holidays where it was just about gathering around a table and stuffing yourselves until you couldn't help but be happy together (laughs).

You are working with your Asian-American idols here. Can you please talk about that? Because when you do animation, you sometimes do not even see your co-stars.

I was lucky enough to be able to work with Phillipa Soo. We were able to work together and I really learned a lot watching Phillipa while she did her voice scenes. I admire her beauty, strength and poise. She was perfect to be cast as a goddess. Yes, it is amazing that all my Asian American idols are in this film. They really took me in their wings and lifted me up. They really care for a young Asian American artist. It is amazing to learn from them. I really admire their careers and themselves as persons.

You also work in theatre. Have you ever met Lea Salonga?

Oh my gosh. After the show I did which was KPOP musical in New York, I met her because she came to greet the cast. I grew up with Lea Salonga. My parents are from the Philippines and they love Lea Salonga. I love Mulan and Jasmine. She is one of my inspirations to pursue art. I cried the whole time when I saw her. I could not talk to her. She probably thinks I was weird. She was so sweet and I was so overwhelmed to see her. Some of the beauty and power that she brings to every character she portrays also plays to Fei Fei as well.

Have you ever been to the Philippines?

Yes, I have gone there five times. We still have a lot of family there because my parents are from the Philippines. We go to Manila. My dad is from Binondo, Manila and my mom is from Bagabag, Nueva Vizcaya. Bagabag is where she is from so we also go there. We hang out with my grandmother and cousins. I want to go back to the Philippines. I want to go island hopping and see more where my parents came from.

What are your favorite animated films or musicals?

In animated, I mean, the entire Disney cannon which Glen really, really shaped, you know, the storytelling that happened when I was growing up was hugely influenced by his love for these strong female characters too. 

You know, I feel like every one of his movies it's a smart woman. It's someone who is longing for freedom, not afraid to stand up for their family and what they believe is right, you know. 

I think as a child like I looked up to all of those women and I wanted to be like them and it's because he just made them – they're so beautiful.

There's such beauty in feminine characters who are grounded and are ready to fight and I was, you know, a fan going of course whenever I see him and I am just so thankful that he continues to make stories like that that also push the envelope, you know, that continue to also show new ways that women are strong and I mean I don't know.  You sing “Colors of The Wind” all the time but I was always singing “Just Around the River Bend.”  This idea of like looking to the future like what is next.  What can I take hold of next is in all of his characters and I think it's inspiring the sense of adventure is inspiring for everyone.

Have you seen the full feature film of “Over the Moon”?

Yeah.  I have seen both, of course I watched it.  (laughter) It felt so exciting whenever I watched clips before the movie came out, I couldn’t wait, because another thing that’s going on right now in particular in the theater industry, we are kind of mourning the loss of that. And the fact that it was on a streaming platform, giving us access to a touch of the energy that we have all been missing was so, it brought so much joy to my heart as an artist.  And the fact that it also again, really, really allowed so many different voices to be heard and allowed people to realize that there’s so many ways to tell the same story even.  Like we heard a lot of this story but now from a different perspective it ultimately just becomes so much more interesting. And so, I’m so thankful that you and the cast, I mean everyone just gave us such a gift.  And it will encourage a lot of artists to tell their stories, which I hope that “Over the Moon” does the same.

 
a little girl sitting at a table: Courtesy: Netflix © Provided by GMA News Online Courtesy: Netflix
Courtesy: Netflix

You did some small parts in the TV series “Ramy”. Do you hope for more acting parts on TV and movies after “Over the Moon” comes out?

I mean definitely.  (laughs) I think, Phillipa has talked about this too, but all actors want to try new things all the time.  And I think TV and film are storytelling mediums where there’s just so much collaboration to be had in what the product is.  And I just love to learn from people and help people tell stories in new ways.  So, I hope that I get to exercise my creativity in that way a lot more. And we’ll see, I want to always be kind of a multi-faceted artist and participate in every sector of the industry if possible.

What is your favorite song in the film and why?

“Rocket to the Moon” of course is incredibly meaningful to me, but I also just love “Ultra Luminary” because first of all, I love hearing Phillipa, I love hearing Phillipa sing and just be and just completely embody a goddess.  And I think everyone wants to dance when they hear that song, it just lifts you up and makes you feel like a confident woman.  So, I think it’s really empowering too, both of those songs.

And your favorite go-to karaoke song?

I don’t know if I have a go-to song. You know what, actually probably it is “Open Arms,” (sings) “So I come to you, with Open Arms!”  So yeah, and a lot of Journey songs when I was growing up because we are Filipinos too! (laughs)

Phillipa Soo

 

How much fun did you have portraying this Asian character and how much did you relate to her? 

I really enjoyed portraying Chang'e. She's a very well-known mythical character and I felt definitely a lot of pressure in stepping into her shoes but what was so wonderful about this film is that this is a modern take on Chang'e as we know her and it's larger than life. She's fabulous. She was so delicious to play and I felt like so much of my joy in portraying her was in all of the moments where Glen, our director, would just tell us to, you know, go free and let us fly and that was, you know, just the best thing that you could ask for as an artist to be given permission to go bigger and go crazier (laughs).

You are biracial. Can you talk about how your parents raised you?

I'm biracial. I'm half Chinese and half Caucasian. My dad's family is from China. His parents came over to America in the '40s and, you know, he was born here in New Jersey but then made his way to Illinois and yeah. When I saw the film and I saw them all eating around the table and the lazy Susan at the center of the table, it immediately brought me back to all of my family dinners at my nei nei's house and just the idea that like the whole day was about not just eating but about the experience of sharing food and cooking food and sharing the recipes and I thought like, you know, immediately when I saw that part of the film I was brought back to that time and place and it made me so proud to be Chinese and it made me so proud to be part of the family that I have.

 
a group of people sitting posing for the camera: Courtesy: Netflix © Provided by GMA News Online Courtesy: Netflix
Courtesy: Netflix

Glen Keane has been behind movies such as “Beauty and the Beast”, “Aladdin” and “Pocahontas.” Did you share with him your experiences when you saw those films and how did he react?

I feel like from day one I was like, 'Glen, I'm obsessed with how you love stories.'  I mean, this is a person who truly not only, you know, was our director and wanted to guide us in this process but he himself was putting himself in the shoes of the characters that he was creating and animating and, you know, as an actor that's such a gift because you have somebody right there with you going through the experience with you and guiding you in that way so of course like what an amazing mind-blowing moment for me as an actor who grew up watching “Pocahontas,” watching “Mulan,” watching these amazing animated films that really shaped not just my awareness of stories and the world but like my own imagination. I feel like I ran through the forest singing "Colors of the Wind" multiple times and, you know, that was the beginning of my acting career was accessing those stories.

Do you remember your parents sharing stories with you and has that left an impression on you that you want to pass on?

Certainly. I think a story is not just a way to get information across, not just a way to get to know somebody by facts, but a way to get to know somebody because they are actually sharing a part of themselves, like a part of their heart with you when they share a story. 

I think that a lot of stories about my parents, when they told me about when they were growing up, I wanted to know everything. I wanted to know when they were bad and the things that they did that, when they were maybe a little bit misbehaving, I wanted to know who they were as people, because I knew there was my parents, but really, I just was curious about how they came to be who they were. 

And so yeah, I think the more that we can share our stories, not just with our families and our community to share stories with strangers, is a way to literally put your heart out there for the taking.  And it’s really a gift, it’s an offering really.

Were you worried that you had to fill in some big shoes especially to Chinese audiences where the goddess Chang’e is very familiar? Were you worried about what they would say?

You know, it’s funny, it didn’t really dawn upon me until after I made the film. I really wanted to approach it from a place of being true to not only who Chang’e is as we know her in the myth, but who she is as we know her in this particular story. 

I think what’s so cool about this story is that we know everything that happens up until she gets to the moon, and then we are sort of like what happens while she is waiting and how many years has it been and what’s happened in that time?  And particularly this day when Fei Fei comes and builds this rocket ship, her world is turned upside down. 

So not only do I get to portray this modern take on Chang’e, but I also get to have a journey within this short period of time where she shifts from who she is at the beginning to who she is at the end.  And that wouldn’t have happened without the encounter with Fei Fei.  And I think, really, I was just so proud and it was the first time that I get to play a specifically written Chinese character.  And being biracial, being half-Chinese, I felt really, really proud to connect with a part of my heritage that I’m so proud of, and to be a part of this completely Asian cast, I felt like I was just celebrating the entire time.  And I think that that celebration, that joy that I felt, comes through when you see this film.

The film has a lot of beautiful music. What is your favorite song in this film and why?

My favorite song is “Rocket to the Moon,” mostly because of Cathy, because of her beautiful performance of this wonderful song, where we actually see the building of this rocket ship to the moon.  I think that it’s an incredible song, it goes through such a journey, you get to see all of her failures in making this rocket ship as well.  And the payoff is huge.  And so yes, that one is my favorite.

Glen Keane

 

Talk about the casting of Cathy Ang and also of Conrad Ricamora.

Well, for Cathy — the main character is the vehicle that you are going to put the audience into to go on this journey. Cathy is an amazing personality, you talk to her and I just immediately fell in love with the sparkle in her eyes, the joy, the hope. I didn’t know that she was sort of planted in this meeting by my producer who wanted to see if I would connect with her. And after I met her, I had no idea that Gennie Rim was thinking this is Fei Fei. So, then I afterwards I said, Gennie, that girl should be our Fei Fei and she said yeah, I know, I know. So, she allowed me to discover her.

And for Conrad Ricamora, it was such a challenge to find…he was the most difficult voice to find, by far in this movie and the last full voice for us to find. Because he only came in with a very short moment, he had to be very winsome and masculine and natural. He could not be melodramatic; he needed to be sincere and to be able to sing in Chinese with this beautiful sensitive voice. Oh, this is a rare person to be able to deliver that and when we found Conrad it was tremendous to be able to work with a talent that has such control of his voice as he does. All the way through the film I was blessed with amazing voice talent.

Where did your fascination and love for Asian culture come from?

Oh, well, at first it was a culture that was mysterious to me.  I only heard things.  I've been around long enough to know that what you hear probably doesn't mean exactly what you will experience when you go there.  You're going to discover something new.  You need to go so we went. 

We went to Shanghai, we went to this little town of Wuzhen and it was there that everything I felt, I smelled, I touched, I heard these were the things I could not wait to share. It was the light coming through in the morning in Wuzhen through the mist and reflecting on the water. It was the light coming into the moon cake factory, shining on these moon cakes. It was the food, the fascination with food.  When I met the artists there they talked about their favorite noodles.  It was sitting at a dinner table with all of the family though, mother and the father and the grandfather and grandmother and the kids and being surrounded and this passion and this love that was so universal that I was surrounded with, and I knew that this was going to be the bookends for our movie.

To me, it was about being surrounded by an amazing team of Chinese and Asian talent, surrounding me that I felt like I could tell the story. I knew that one of the things I wanted to do in this movie was to animate Chang'e, the scarf animation. So, I went to the history museum there and looked at the drawings, I mean, a thousand-year-old drawings of Chang'e. I practiced the calligraphy. I tried to understand this beautiful rhythm in their line and the way the fabric would flow with Chang'e. It's why I wanted to animate her in pencil, to keep that hand drawn feeling to it. That there's an expression that comes from the soul, I refer to hand drawn line is like a seismograph of your soul. This was a way for me to touch the audience through my drawing in animating that song, showing Chang'e on the scarf. — LA, GMA News

This article Filipina-Chinese actress Cathy Ang is over the moon with her lead role in new animated film was originally published in GMA News Online.

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