Skip directly to content

Ming-Na Wen: Agent of the S.T.E.E.L. City

on Tue, 10/22/2013 - 00:00

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the fifth television series created by fan favorite Joss Whedon, contains many of the same ingredients that made his previous forays onto the small screen such cult classics. There’s the witty dialogue, for instance, and the amalgamation of different genres rolled into one. More importantly, there are the characters—a core group of irregulars who would never have gotten together if not for the premise of the series but form a self-contained nuclear family nonetheless. First off, there’s Agent Phillip Coulson, the team leader who died at the hands of Thor’s adopted brother Loki in The Avengers; Skye, a former hacker/blogger once associated with a radical fringe group known as Rising Tide; Grant Ward, the black ops specialist trained to act alone; and the science duo of Fitz and Simmons, two British nationals who display a siblings-like banter.

Lastly, there’s Melinda May, initially introduced as a low-level desk jockey recruited by Agent Coulson to drive “the Bus,” the flying cargo plane that serves as headquarters for the group. In actuality, however, Melinda May is the typical female kickass superhero that has dominated the work of Joss Whedon—a legendary “Calvary” for whom no situation is too dire, no enemy undefeatable and no escape is impossible. “She is someone who, if you tell her she has to do something, she is that kind of soldier,” Ming-Na Wen explained to Nerd Repository in regards to the character. “She will, under any situation, do her duty.” And Wen should know, as the Pittsburgh-raised thespian is the actress who brings Melinda May to life in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Ming-Na Wen was originally born in Macau, China. Her family relocated to Hong Kong shortly thereafter, then to New York City and finally to Pittsburgh. Once settled into the Steel City, they opened a restaurant near the City-County Building on Grant Street called the Chinatown Inn, which remains a popular downtown eatery to this day. It is also the last reminder of Pittsburgh’s own Chinatown, which was situated between Grant and Ross Street when Wen’s family arrived in town. “I didn’t speak a stitch of English when I came here, so it was a challenge going through special classes,” Ming-Na Wen told Pittsburgh Magazine. “The cultural differences were also challenging for my whole family, and the move from the diversity of Queens to a much more suburban life in Pittsburgh was another harsh leap.”

It wasn’t long afterwards that the acting bug hit the young Ming-Na Wen. “I played a bunny in my third-grade play,” she explains. “I’ve always been kind of clumsy, and when I made my entrance on stage, I tripped and fell. People laughed, and I wasn’t embarrassed at all. I loved it! I thought it was so cool that I could get that kind of reaction, and I’ve wanted to entertain people ever since.”

After graduating from Carnegie Mellon University, she moved to New York City and scored her first television gig as Lien Hughes on As the World Turns, portraying the character from 1988 to 1991. Two years later, Wen landed a starring role in the film The Joy Luck Club and then joined the cast of E.R. as Dr. Jing-Mei “Deb” Chen in a recurring capacity during the NBC drama’s 1994-1995 season, returning as regular in 1999 and remaining on the show until 2004. Wen also provided the voice for the title character in the Disney animated film Mulan, appeared in a four-episode arc on Two and a Half Men as a Charlie Sheen love interest and acted in a handful of guest-starring roles on such shows as Private Practice and Boston Legal before landing on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

“I feel like I’ve been given the best lotto ticket ever,” Ming-Na Wen told Nerd Repository in regards to both Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and working with creator Joss Whedon. “This is a life altering experience for me. To be the geek girl who loves science-fiction, read stuff like Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven growing up and then to have this moment where I am working with the geek god of all gods. He’s different. He’s loving to his characters as well as his actors and writers. He’s so generous. Yet I think it comes from the security of being really knowledgeable about what he is able to offer to us. And he offers a lot. It’s not just in his writing, it’s in everything. His being. Am I gushing a little bit? Yeah, I’m gushing.”

Fans of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. have been gushing as well, ever since Agent Coulson recruited Ming-Na Wen’s Melinda May to drive “the Bus” on the ABC drama.

Anthony Letizia (October 22, 2013)

Follow Geek Pittsburgh: Facebook - Twitter - RSS Feed