The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas on April 8, 2001 · Page 66
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The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas · Page 66

Salina, Kansas
Issue Date:
Sunday, April 8, 2001
Page 66
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Television One large order of acting, to go BY JEFFREY ZASLOW A T THE CHINATOWN INN restaurant, in Pittsburgh, you can't pay your bill without facing a photographic shrine to the most famous family member in the 54-year history of the family- owned restaui'ant. There, right by the cash register, are photos of Ming-Na with her castmates from NBC's ER. "A lot of customers watched me grow up in that restaurant," the actress says. Regulars remember her clearing dishes as a kid, and even now, whenever she visits, she has to bus tables. "My mom enshrines me, yet she wants to make sure I stay grounded. When I'm there, she'll say, 'Clean off that table! A customer needs to sit.'" Ming-Na (she di'opped her last name, Wen, in 1995) got her stai-t on the daytime drama As the WmM Tivtiis.. She later starred in the 1993 movie The Joy Litck Club, spent two seasons on the NBC sitcom The Single Guy and voiced the title role in Disney's animated musical Mula7i. On ER, she plays an ambitious resident, reprising a i-ole she introduced in the drama's first season. Mmg-Na built her Hollywood cai'eer, she says, using lessons leai'ned as the daughter of restaurateurs. "Show business is a busmess. I watched my parents run a business. So I imagine myself to be a restaui'ant. My manager, agent, pubhcist — they're hke the waiters and cooks. You have to delegate. By making an association between the restaurant and show business, it's not so mtimidating for me." Ming-Na, 33, has also entered tlie music busmess. She and her husband, Enc Michael Zee, back an Asian boy band. At Last They hope the band will conquer America, but if not, they see huge possibilities in Asia. "I'm using my retirranent money for this. I w^nt people to take note and say; 'Qh, Asia^ jtpen can be sexy and talented.'" ' /l Now the mother of a baby girl, Ming- ' ,x22 'ySAWEEKEND • April 6 8,2001 £/? doctor Ming-N built her career Q lessons learned from working in her family's restaurant. Na admits she has struggled with her Asian heritage. Born in Macau, China, she immigrated to New York at age 5 with her mother and stepfather. They later moved to Pittsburgh, where her step- dad's family ovwied the restaurant. "My mom would go to Chinatown to watch Chinese Ems, but I couldn't relate because I wanted to be so American." In junior high, she changed her name to Maggie, then Doris. "I thought to be American I had to have an English name." Before her husband, she rarely;! dated Asian men. "I didn't find them sexy They remmded*' me of my. ;bro^^^' Acting in 'The''j' Luck Club, base'd. Amy Tan's, nov^t "helped me realize' I'm American aitc^ iGhinese and can embrace both les." She's become an advo- ite for boosting Asian itity in America. When commercials featured a mob of dancers, none • Asian, she helped organize an e-mail campaign to company head• quarters. An executive eventually called her, and Asians r now appear in Gap ads. People often expect Chinese women to be demm'e and passive, says Ming-Na. Her hero is her mom, Lin, a take-charge type who uses the stereotype to her advantage. When Ming-Na was giving birth, her mother, who was a nurse in China, was in the delivery room. "The baby's head wasn't lining up with my cei-vix," says Ming-Na, "so every time the doctors or nurses •left the room, my mother did all this cool stuff to my stomach to manipulate the baby.'' The actress can ^do a perfect impression lofsher.; mother's heavy lese accent. "After Ibabywasbom, my was all smiles to fdpctors. 'Oh, tank f^feBeautiful baby! Tank FACING THE FUTORE»^ Eyes^Eyebrows.The shape of^i'nose.--' Ming-Na's mother^Lin,prartroes-th (r^ Chinese art of reacting faces. "My liose'' has a high bridge for a'cfiinese hose,"' 'Min'g'rNa says. "It extends to the stars? • Because of that, since I was a girl, my mom has l<nown I'd pursue the arts. She always tried to discourage me." in China, actirig wasn 't aresjiected profession, Lindsays sKe told her daughter; "You very smart. Everything straight A. why acting? You can studyf to be a doctor." Counters IVIing-Na: .^Atjieast I playVdorto ^on JTYv, ~' Lip has read^the fate of Ming-Na's daughter, Michaela, and says her ear lobes point to an independent, happy life. Ming-Na also shows her mom photos of her friends. "She says Caucasian faces are harder to read, but still, she can pinpoint what people are like. She'U^say, 'He's a good provider but selfish,' and I'll say, 'Wow. That's truel'" Asked to read President Bush's face, Lin laughs, pauses, then speaks diplomatically. "I don 't want to say much. His fortune is nice already." you so much!' But before that, when they weren't here, she was rolling up hei" sleeves and doing her thing. Without her, I'd have needed a C-section." Ming-Na's half brother, Leong, part of the fomiJi generation to run the restaurant, says their mother keeps Ming- Na centered. "She'll tell my sister what she needs to hear to find courage. She always says, 'Be strong. Don't show weakness.'" In the restaurant, Min^-Na's mother also will tell her to move it. "A lot of customers are proud of her," says her mom. "But it's busy. They're hungry I tell Ming-Na, 'Go, go, go, clean table!'" "Asian mothers are tough," Ming-Na says. "Makes me wonder how I'll be as a mom." Ea JEFFREY ZASLOW is a CWeago Sun-Times advice columnist

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