With the release of the live-action Mulan, Awards Daily talks to actor Jun Yu about representation, learning how to cry, and being the same age as the original film (wanna feel old?).
The live-action version of Mulan offers a fresh approach to rebooting the classic Disney animated film. In this case, there are no musical interludes—it’s just straightforward with its story. But that doesn’t affect the quality of the film; in fact, if anything, it enhances it. Director Niki Caro takes great care in developing Mulan and all of the characters. Usually the side characters in Disney films are goofy comic relief, but in 2020 Mulan‘s case, they have their own stories and pressures.
Among the crew that Mulan meets at training camp is Cricket, played by Jun Yu. Cricket stands out for a variety of reasons, including a montage that includes him sobbing at the intensity of training. But as I learned with my conversation with Yu, Cricket has his own backstory that we get through little snippets.
Awards Daily: I know this is your first movie role. What’s it like working on a film versus TV, since I know you also worked on ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat?
Jun Yu: Film’s a little different. I think film is a little slower. I know TV is a lot more fast-paced, so for me, it was nice. I feel like film sometimes brings out a lot more creative energy through the working process. It’s a lot more fun for me to do film, but I would also love to do more TV as well.
AD: Were you a fan of the original Mulan?
JY: Oh, huge fan! I was born around the time Mulan first came out actually, which makes it even crazier for me, since I’m just as old as the [original] film. Mulan was the only Disney movie that I’d seen that had anybody who looked like me, so I was just always in it, singing the songs, and now to be a part of it, it feels insane. I still can’t believe it.
AD: I think the movie does really well without the music, but did you wish you could sing in the movie?
JY: Oh, no! (Laughs) I think if I sang, I wouldn’t have gotten the role. I’m not much of a singer. With the director [Caro], her take on the film, I love it so much. There’s no need for the music. It’s so real and so great. Gorgeous. It’s a beautiful, beautiful film, and I really hope the film loves it as well.
AD: It reminds me of Wonder Woman. I got the same feeling after watching it. It just has great characters. You care for everybody, including Cricket. He becomes someone you’re rooting for along with Mulan. Did you do any training for the film? There’s a lot of intense stuff with the uniform movements.
JY: We got out there a few months before we actually started shooting, and we trained in everything you see in the film, like horseback riding, stunt training, physical training, archery. We pretty much have done it all. Everything you see in the film we were trained to do. It took a really long time. For me personally, riding the horses was the toughest thing, because I’m afraid of horses. Plus, it’s hard.
AD: That would be daunting! I love the part where Cricket is crying during training and then he does really well at archery. So you had to learn archery, too?
JY: Yeah, and I also had to get really good at crying. (Laughs)
JY: I was pretty good at archery. I shot my shots. I made a lot of them, but it’s funny because when we did actual archery scenes, I actually didn’t even shoot real arrows. I was trained to shoot arrows, but for me on set, I didn’t shoot a single real arrow. It was interesting.
AD: You fooled me! I thought you shot arrows for real. I keep thinking about how we get Mulan’s story obviously, but do you have a backstory in mind for Cricket? I feel like he’s also on a journey.
JY: I do, I do. Cricket is a big, big mama’s boy whose mom is always doting on him and has given him everything he’s ever needed. He’s never really needed to go out of his comfort zone. As he goes through life, he realizes he has lucky moments, and as he enters the Mulan world, he becomes more of who he’s supposed to be. He gains courage. It’s really beautiful.
AD: I think so, too. You can sense that from your performance and just this character. I like the part where he mentions he wants a girl with cherry lips. Do you think Cricket would have liked Mulan if he knew she were a girl?
JY: I would probably say no. Cricket likes very motherly energy. I think that’s more his route to go.
AD: (Laughs) So he’d be intimidated by Mulan. That’s funny. Everyone seemed to have such a good camaraderie in the film. Did you have any bonding activities on set?
JY: A lot of bonding and I could easily say maybe even too much bonding, but that’s what made it family. We spent every single second together. Any training, whatever it was; we lived with each other. We were connected 24/7 for like six months.
JY: Man, they’re my family for life now. I’m very blessed.
Mulan is playing on Disney+ and in theaters starting September 4.