The full-circle moment "almost didn’t happen."
This article contains spoilers for Disney’s live-action Mulan. It was a touching, full-circle moment for audiences who grew up on the 1998 animated classic, but Ming-Na Wen’s Mulan cameo almost didn’t happen. The actor revealed the behind-the-scenes drama that almost kept her from appearing in the film in an Instagram post, sharing some photos from the set. Wen, who voiced Mulan in the animated version of the film, also revealed that her cameo was such a "big secret" that she wasn’t even allowed to post about it online until September 7 — three whole days after the movie first premiered on Disney+.
"This almost didn’t happen. Me, in the most elaborate period costume and makeup, in New Zealand, on the set of @mulan, with my daughter Michaela, about to shoot a very big scene," the actor captioned a photo of herself in full makeup and costume. "How did I get here? Well, it was quite a huge undertaking!" It turns out a great deal of planning and scheduling went into making the cameo a reality, which she reflected in her post by thanking the cast and crew of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. for accommodating her trip to Mulan‘s New Zealand set, as well as Mulan‘s director Niki Caro, producer Jason T. Reed, and the "sweetest, most fun and talented cast & crew."
According to an interview with The New York Times, Wen was originally asked to play Mulan’s potential mother-in-law in the matchmaking scene, but her commitment as a series regular on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. made that impossible. "I’m always very Zen about this stuff. I said, ‘Look, if it was meant to be, it was meant to be. We all tried, and it’s too bad,’" the actor said of her initial reaction. Luckily, Caro and Reed circled back with another potential cameo a while later, and the stars aligned to make it happen.
Of course, after filming the cameo in 2018, Wen then had to keep her silence for 2 years. "The enormous outpouring of joyful surprise, excitement, and even tears from Mulan fans made all the effort worth it," she revealed on Instagram. "I am overwhelmed by your love and emotions. You are all in my heart!" she continued in her message to fans. "I love each and every one of you to the ends of the universe! This one is for you. YOU are my #reflection."
In addition to bringing her time with Disney "#fullcircle," Wen revealed on Instagram that her cameo was made even more special by the fact that her daughter, 20-year-old Michaela Zee, appeared with her onscreen. "I got to share a very special moment with my baby girl," she wrote, alongside a photo of her and Michaela on set, describing it as a "priceless life experience. Thank you to everyone who helped to make this happen."
And as an extra special nod to fans of the original film, Wen told Entertainment Weekly that Caro made it a point to make sure her costume resembled the formal outfit that the animated Mulan wears onscreen. "Niki had this fantastic idea to want to make me look as much as the animated Mulan is possible," Wen recalled in a recent interview. "We thought she was crazy. But then the make-up and hair people worked their magic. They got the red ribbon; they got her lopsided bun on my head. It was great."
Despite the enduring love for the animated film and for Mulan herself, Wen also admitted that she was "nervous" that viewers wouldn’t recognize her — or the significance of the moment — after all these years. "I have so much make-up on and then all that silk, I was like, ‘I don’t know that anybody’s gonna recognize me.’ But the reality is, even if they didn’t recognize me, they would’ve recognized my voice," she revealed. However, when she first watched the move with a live audience at the premiere back in March, fans went wild when they saw her onscreen, back in Mulan once more.
"It was just so heartwarming," Wen told EW. "Because I have been with the Mulan fans for over two decades. I’ve been at conventions where I’ve seen moms bringing their daughters and their sons to meet me, to tell me you know how the movie had inspired them or touch them. There’s no words for the kind of perks that my job offers when it’s that kind of connection with fans."
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